India Parkman: The language of modern music … and life

The cover of Parkman’s new single ‘Bride or Groom’. Photo by: Elina Bjorheim
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How a developing artist is forging her own path in the international scene. Macy Saddington reports.

“It made me think a lot about the music that I wanted to make, and how I want to make music that a 25-year-old woman would listen to, understanding the experiences that they have been through.”

Singer-songwriter India Parkman’s metamorphosis from university language student to rising musical talent has had an array of interesting bends in the road along the way. 

The London based artist has stacked up millions of views on both TikTok and Spotify, gaining mass praise on both platforms.  The 25-year-old musician has also created a groundswell with her song Bride or Groom, which began on TikTok. 

A regular BBC Music Introducing collaborator, Parkman has progressed and evolved in leaps and bounds as an independent artist.

Born in Singapore and raised in Herefordshire on the English-Welsh border, Parkman began playing piano at age four, sharing music with her siblings

“I’ve got twin brothers and my dad was obsessed with the idea that when they were older, they could impress people at parties by playing the piano. He was like ‘let’s get India to do it too!’ So being trained in the classics was just something I did from the age of four until 18,” she says.

“I got to quite a high level but I didn’t take my exams because I used to find them incredibly stressful. It made learning and playing piano not very enjoyable for me but I continued lessons with my teacher.

“To this day, I’m a terrible sight reader. I can follow a sheet of music but I’m very, very jealous of people who can have a piece of music and just play it. But if I heard something, then I’d be able to replicate it on the piano.”

India Parkman: The language of modern music ... and life
Singer-song-writer India Parkman. Photo by Elina Bjorheim

She studied Spanish and Japanese at university while exploring music in her downtime, before encountering some challenges. 

“I went to university in Edinburgh and then after two years, I got kicked out. I failed an exam by 2 per cent. They told me it was a ‘first attempt’ paper only, which meant that I would never be able to sit it again and although I tried to stay, they wouldn’t let me go on to any other course,” she says.

“I tried to appeal the decision, but I am a firm believer in everything happening for a reason.”

The a cappella experience

Two years later she transferred to Cardiff University in Wales. Settling in was made a lot easier through reconnecting with her musical roots and joining the university’s a cappella group.

“I feel like it’s the same type of people that join a capella groups and it’s such a great and growing community in the UK. I really feel like it’s influenced my musical art, just in terms of harmonies and interesting vocal arrangements and things like that and I really want to bring it more into the next few songs that I release.”

It also led to a role as a choir member for the Netflix television series Sex Education.

“There was an open casting call for a choir that the show wanted for season two. I’m pretty sure my [all-girl] group had auditioned, but I was abroad at the time. I think that the casting directors were very set on having guys and girls, so the mixed group got it and they filmed for season two,” Parkman says.

“Then when season three came around, they basically were like, we want you back. So a lot of my friends did season three as well and the way that I got into it was one of my friends had put my name forward, and obviously they needed the right numbers. Honestly, it was so much fun.”

The issue of age

Living in a flat full of actors, writers and performers of a similar age, the 25-year-old has tussled with the online concept of age and its relevance (or otherwise) in the modern music industry.

“It’s been an interesting one with my age actually. I have been told by some people that I’m too old to be an artist. I have spoken to other people about it, who think ‘that’s absolutely ridiculous’.”

There’s a trap that I think a lot of artists have been kind of pulled into, which is that you need to appeal to teenagers, because teenagers are your main market, particularly on TikTok.

That’s fine, but there are teenagers to do that I guess. Not that I’m like preaching or anything like that but I really don’t think that anyone should change themselves to try and appeal to a certain market.”

Parkman’s most prominent song, Bride or Groom, had very strong beginnings, clocking up millions of views on TikTok and almost 200,000 listens on Spotify in its debut month. The song resonated internationally with listeners from LA, London, and Melbourne. 

A ballad of unrequited love

The song tells the story of a woman at a wedding, where the love of her life is getting married to someone else.

“I think unrequited love is probably one of the most heartbreaking scenarios you could possibly be in. It’s just the worst kind of heartbreak, worse than someone just rejecting you maybe even perhaps worse than a breakup,” she says.

“People who have been through breakups would probably disagree with me, but I just think that if you’re in love with someone, and they’re actually taking love, and giving it to someone else, and you have to watch it happen, it’s heartbreaking. I love writing about unrequited love. I don’t know why, it just draws me in.”

India Parkman: The language of modern music ... and life
Parkman in London | Photo by Elina Bjorheim

The emotional ballad was conceived on New Year’s Eve of 2020, with the majority written in one evening. 

“I feel when I’m writing, especially when I’m writing for myself, I like to kind of close my eyes and imagine a movie reel playing. In my case I’m quite a visual person so I like to imagine a whole story and I saw it very, very clearly, I could just visualise it, so I feel like that’s why it came quite quickly,” she says.

“I posted a little snippet of it, which did quite well and it all flowed from there. At the end of the day, I’m just really glad it’s out there and that people have resonated with it.”

Finding a balance on social media

Parkman has nearly 90,000 followers on TikTok, and has found it both positive and challenging.

“I have spoken to other artists and I think that, when we post something on TikTok, everybody kind of crosses their fingers and hopes that it does well. But I didn’t. I didn’t expect that it would get this response, which is insane and obviously, I’m super, super grateful.

“I find it hard to not compare myself to other artists. I’ve been okay with it normally, but I guess with this one, I’ve felt so much of my own pressure as well, that I was very focused on the numbers. To remove myself from that, the messages that I’ve received have made me not worry about it.

“I’m really glad that people have gravitated towards it. I’m glad that even five people have listened to let alone how many there have been at the moment!”

Parkman had been posting covers and original music on YouTube since 2013, but it was her presence on TikTok that captivated a large audience with viral music moments. However, it required some weighing up.

“It’s hard because you have to find a balance, I like keeping certain things private. I think that for a lot of the music industry, promoting your own music requires you to give over a lot of yourself as a person to promote your art, which is absolutely fine.

“I think there’s definitely a way you can find balance. For instance, I don’t think I could ever vlog 24/7. It’s probably because I’m surrounded by a lot of people who don’t use social media a lot and I’m actually quite grateful for that, because it brings me out of it.

“I think it has been proven that, there can be generally negative effects of social media, on mental health and things like that. So sometimes it gets difficult because part of me, is very much like, ‘I wish that I could take a break from social media’ because I do feel like it is part of the job, especially since TikTok favours consistency.

“So if you have a little hiatus because you’ve gone on holiday, or you’ve gone to see your family, it is going to notice – and the numbers will be lower, and then you feel like crap and it can be an endless cycle really.”

Staying true to yourself

However, she sometimes felt that online expectations were impossible to maintain as it became an effort to do something that didn’t feel natural. 

“I feel earlier, I was trying to do the whole thing, like I’d sit down, I’d make sure that I put all my makeup on and do my false eyelashes, spending an hour getting ready. I found it unsustainable and almost disheartening in a way. When I saw that videos of me with more makeup on were doing better than ones with me without, I didn’t like that. However, I really feel like you can gravitate your own direction and you can pull your page in a way that you want it to go,” she says.

But on the positive side of things, I think TikTok has provided this amazing thing, which is where one person who is just sitting in a room, writing music or doing their own talent, could post it online and become an internet sensation. 

“It’s amazing the amount of careers that have been made on TikTok. I really think it’s brilliant.

Parkman is most recognisable on TikTok, with her unique “vintage” voice often being compared to the likes of Dolly Parton and Stevie Nicks.

“Honestly it is so sweet. I am just honoured to even have my name in the same sentence as Dolly Parton or Stevie Nicks. I guess the emphasis of my voice has changed a lot throughout the years.”

“I think, I just developed a style and found what felt natural in my voice. I also went through a phase where I was kind of singing quite stylised.  I still have bits of it now, but not as much as when I was finding my feet. I watch old videos of myself and I think I do sound a lot different, but it wasn’t an active change. It just kind of happened as I went along with what felt right.”  

Live and solo

Before the pandemic, Parkman performed at the Wychwood and Worcester festivals and is hoping to return to the stage soon. 

“I really enjoyed it, I’d love to do it again. I haven’t performed live solo since then. Obviously, I have performed live with my a capella group, but it’s a bit different when you’ve got people with you.

“I think I need to get more confident in performing live. I get deathly nervous before I go on stage, but once I’m on, I’m normally fine. I think that the type of venue would be really important to me as well. I’m such a lyrics person that I’d love people to have a good time, but to also listen to the story almost as if they were going to an open night for poetry. It would be really cool to kind of have a very intimate venue that’s not too in your face, almost just like a little gathering or something.

“I don’t know how that would come about. I don’t have formal management at the moment, which is something that I would really like, because I feel like self-marketing can only take you so far. So, I think it will come in time, but I’m definitely very open to doing more live shows.”

There have been many calls online for a music video for Bride or Groom.

“I’d absolutely love to! If I had the funds for it, I would be planning it right now [but] obviously, it’s really expensive being an independent artist. I just have to be sensible about where to place things, and for sure right now, I think the main priority is, to just keep on putting music out.”

The next steps

“I feel like if I get it right, and if I release more music, and hopefully have a bit of financial backing sometime in the future, Bride or Groom is the first song that’s getting a video. I am very adamant about that because it just feels so visual, especially when I was writing it.

Many of those who follow Parkman’s music on TikTok have wanted to know when she might release an album. 

“I mean, I’d love to do an EP and I’d love to do an album. I’ve always wanted to have an album that has a story thread going from beginning to end. Bride or Groom actually has a sequel and a prequel song. I wrote them after Bride or Groom was out but didn’t really write them in the sense of ‘I’m going to write the sequel and this prequel’, it just kind of happened.

“I’d love to release those one day, maybe even just on SoundCloud or something. In this sense, I’m kind of glad that I’m independent because I can have a proper think about it.”

Throughout, Parkman has placed emphasis on her song writing, particularly for other artists.

“I love writing for other people. It’s very much a labour of love on the side of what I’m really trying to do, which is pursue career as a writer, because I absolutely adore it,” she says.

@indiaparkman

Reply to @beckaboos pov: the person you’re in love with is marrying someone else.. #singer #songwriter #originalsong

♬ Bride or Groom – India Parkman

“I think that when you’re in a room writing for someone else, there’s always going to be that little extra 5 or 10 per cent that you are keeping inside artistically because it’s very particular and personal to you. Authenticity I feel like it’s so important in music so, sometimes, you preserve that little bit for you, which is why I also love having personal projects that allow me to be fully 100 per cent myself.”

New music is on the way this year.

“There is new music coming. The next song is a bit different from Bride or Groom. I guess I’ve had more time on the production side of things this time, so what I’ve been trying to do, is create a shift from the music that I released a couple of years ago, which was more poppy.

“Now I’m trying to go more into bringing that kind of vintage style. It’s drawn from ’40s, ’50s and ’60s musical influences to keep it quite classic. I then like to put a modern take on it, with more modern production. So that’s what we’ve gone with for this new song.”

“It’s [also] different to Bride or Groom in the sense that it’s based on real events and real thoughts that I’ve had, as opposed to a story that is made up. So yeah, I’m hoping to release it very soon and hopefully people like it.”