Real Life

Meet the Kiwi Kate Bush

Raglan artist Para bola West makes ‘modern music for your ancient soul’

Kiwi musician Parabola West once kept the songs she wrote as a “self-soothing little secret”, but now she’s sharing her gift – and her little slice of paradise atop a hill in the Waikato – with the world on her first album.

Born in the US, this artist is no ordinary singer-songwriter. Her tunes are grounded in the off-grid Raglan lifestyle she and her husband David adopted to bring balance to their frenetic lives in the corporate world.

“We have about 8.5 acres and there’s farmland all around, so it’s very serene and quiet,” says Parabola, 43, whose real name is Amy Tucker West. “We’ve planted a lot of native bush, so the birds are always coming and when we walk down the road, we get these incredible views where the ocean just rolls out. We’re connected to this much wider space of nature.”

The couple hasn’t had an electricity bill in seven years, powering their dream home with six solar panels and a wind turbine. They purify wastewater through a “bacteria farm” and the end product gets pumped underground to their orchard.

Growing their own food has been their latest challenge, says Parabola. “At this climate, up on the mountain, the possums put up a good fight! We didn’t come from farming backgrounds, so we’re still learning.”

Being immersed in nature has also seen the singer add more of a magical dimension to her music, which is a mash-up of folk and electronic tunes with a dash of fantasy.

“I really love old-world sounds, like medieval and traditional folk instruments, but I also love synth-pop and electronica, so there’s this weird hybrid blend – it’s modern music for your ancient soul.”

It’s been said her songs share “the same dramatic DNA with Kate Bush”, an artist who’s back at the top of the charts thanks to the show Stranger Things showcasing her 1985 hit Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).

“Kate’s been such an inspiration with her fearless ability to explore her own creative whimsy and unabashedly be herself,” says Parabola. “She never tried to conform and fit into pop culture. I’m delighted Stranger Things has brought her back to the forefront because there’s so much to appreciate about her craft.”

Parabola also adds visual imagery to her own music, creating a range of exquisite characters – from a frozen-hearted snow queen to a moon witch and a melancholy mermaid – to bring an extra dimension to each song.

She explains, “When I’m in the recording studio, I get a lot of visuals and when the sound matches the picture, then I know that it’s right. Each song is like a character.”

These fantasy characters feature in a limited-edition art book that accompanies Parabola’s album Stars Will Light The Way, which was photographed between lockdowns. “It was so much fun to transform into each character – an absolute wild ride,” she says.

Raglan artist Para bola West makes ‘modern music for your ancient soul’

Born just outside of Boston, Parabola grew up with her mother and sister after her parents divorced, only getting to know her sailor father when she was older. Music was always part of their lives, but she opted to study English literature before her mum, who’d been diagnosed with cancer when Parabola was 10, passed away.

“I really struggled to get back into university,” she tells. “I just needed some time and a bit of a change.”

That change came when she joined British band Dreamfield and moved to London. Falling for a Kiwi, she arrived in New Zealand in 2003 and admits to having culture shock when they moved to “beautiful and serene” Matatā in the Bay of Plenty.

When that relationship ended, Parabola threw herself into corporate life, eventually owning a recruitment company she now runs from Raglan. Meeting David, he told her such beautiful songs needed to be recorded, so she plucked up the courage to ask a friend with a home studio if he could help her. At the same time, she was building her own solar-powered parabolic stove, a cooker that uses the sun’s energy to heat food, which led to her musical alter-ego’s name.

“I was fascinated by how the parabolic curve of the stove focuses light into one spot and it occurred to me that’s what music is like for me,” she explains. “I take all my emotions from other places and focus them, like a parabola, into music. That’s when it became a Parabola West recording, as opposed to Amy making her songs in the lounge.”

When she’s not creating music, Parabola will put on a fantasy TV show and dip into her crafting kit to make elfin crowns for friends and fans.

“It’s important to indulge in fantasy and whimsy – and it’s a part of life that’s really hard to reclaim when you lose it,” she grins. “Who doesn’t like to get dressed up in crowns? I certainly do!”

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