From the age of 11, Parson James knew he was destined to leave South Carolina and never look back. Biracial, gay, and an aspiring singer, James knew his conservative hometown had little to offer him, so he escaped to New York City at 17. Obliging his mother’s wishes, he enrolled in college, but performed open mics at night. Countless shows later, James soon found himself soaking in the L.A. sun, fine-tuning the follow up to his EP "Temple."
We had the pleasure of catching up with James shortly after his soulful performance on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and the Late Night Show with Seth Myers.
Out: What is it like to be an openly gay artist?
PJ: I remember at first it was sort of weird because it wasn’t really embraced. It was just sort of like, "Oh that’s cool, but maybe you shouldn’t say anything right away. Make it an enigma.” But that’s not the type of person I am. I’m an open book. There’s no way I can write a song and not have it be about personal experiences. And if that involves having the first line in a song be about being in love with a man, that’s okay.
You grew up in South Carolina and were heavily involved in the church. Not exactly a gay-friendly space. How was that?
I knew from the age of 11 I wanted to get out of South Carolina. There was not much it could give me. I’m glad that I grew up there because I learned so much from having a small community, but it was sheltered and guarded. Religious beliefs take precedence over everything that runs the community. One of these places with a "Hear no evil, speak no evil" mantra. Doing everything they want, but behind closed doors.
So it was difficult?
My mom had it way more difficult than I did, to be honest. She had me when she was 16. But it wasn’t the fact that my mom had me as a teen that drove people crazy. It was the fact that my mom was white and my dad was black. She got kicked out of her parents house, people put burning crosses in her yard, and she had racial slurs yelled at her and my dad. But I can’t recall having a horrible childhood. She would always look at me say, "You have the most beautiful skin color and eyes. You are little different, but that’s great."
How has your past influenced your music?
At first it was so hard to write because I was in my head. But then producer I was working asked, "What’s your story?" I sat for an hour and was like god damn, I have a lot of stories here. My dad’s drug addiction, the racial tensions my mom faced, the church. The main questions I ask in my music is: Why am I wrong for being myself, while you can go and do whatever you want to do? Why do I have to be quiet when I want to be proud? All these pent up things I went through as kid and held in I’m letting out now.
Your music has a heavy gospel feel to it, even though the lyrics do not necessarily always deal with spirituality. Are you still involved with the church?
No, I’m not a man of the church anymore. I can’t sit in a Christian church and sit through a sermon. Because no matter how welcoming the priest is, it is just something I cannot believe in. The Bible does say being gay is a sin. Therefore, I can’t really view myself as part of the faith.
Who are your major musical inspirations?
James Brown, Lana Del Ray, Johnny Cash. People who are very honest and don’t hold back.
10 years from now, where do you see yourself?
Kids. I was just talking about this other day. I need to have at least two kids. I want to be an epic dad who balances touring and parenting. Have a little cottage, writing music, and delivering whatever is touching me at the time.
Check out Parson’s new single "Sinner Like You" below and be sure to keep your eyes on this rising star: