Tula Vera trots out two lead vocalists & guitarists in Clay Parcells and Dylan Drummond, joined in rhythm by bassist Joe Jansen and drummer Margaret Marino. One of New Jersey’s best rock bands in the DIY and club circuits, the group just released its fourth album/EP, “The Moon & Her Creator,” on June 23rd. Music reporter Bennett Kelly spoke with Parcells by phone in early June.
Bennett Kelly: Starting with a New Brunswick question, when and where was your first New Brunswick performance?
Clay Parcells: I was 15 years old. It was at Scarlet Pub, and Caroline Romanelli booked it. And I was 15, which we didn’t tell anybody [laughs]. And when I got there, they’re like, Where’s your ID? Yeah, um, I don’t have one. What do you mean you don’t have one? Well… I’m not 21, and neither was Dylan and neither was Calvin, our drummer at the time. And they ended up letting us play, but they put X’s on our hands and told us we had to stand in the corner whenever we weren’t playing. Or not quite the corner, but just not the bar.
But everyone was super nice though, and very chill, and people were into it. And that was our first New Brunswick show. And Caroline [Embrace DIY Productions] also does Gurlzilla now, the Gurlzilla Collective, and ended up booking us for that, like, years later. She was one of our earliest supporters.
BK: Yeah, she’s still doing a lot up in, I think, Madison and Asbury. And I knew you and Dylan had started as teens, and that was your first New Brunswick Tula Vera show at 15. How long have you been a band now? You two started it with another drummer and then it’s morphed a little bit.
CP: Yeah, it’s definitely morphed. Dylan and I have just kind of grown up playing together. This iteration of Tula Vera, which I would say is the iteration where it’s Margaret [Marino] and Joe [Jansen] as mainstays in the group now, as pivotal pieces of the puzzle, is about eight years. And then Dylan and I have been making music together for about nine. Yeah, it’s kind of crazy [laughs].
BK: And with you two, you’re the two primary songwriters of the band, is the rough breakdown that a Dylan song that he sings is his idea, and then a song that you sing is one that you brought to the band?
CP: Yes and no. There are a few songs where I’ll write it kind of entirely in terms of the original, you know, guitar chords, vocal, lyric, melody. And I’ll bring that to the group and then everyone kind of will come up with their parts. And then there’s stuff where Dylan will do that. Especially almost the entire first record [self-titled, 2017] was like this. And then I think maybe one of the songs was like this on the second record [“Again and Again…” in 2020], where Dylan will send me guitar parts and then I’ll write a vocal melody and lyric to it. So the songs that are like that, generally, not always, but generally I don’t play guitar on those. Those are the songs where I’m putting my guitar down and jumping around.
So sort of the three main ways we have in terms of writing songs right at this moment is, Dylan writing chord, lyric, melody and bringing it to the group; me doing that; or Dylan and I co-writing stuff together.
And then Margaret and Joe again are important pieces of the puzzle in terms of what the songs sound like. And they definitely have a lot of say in terms of what’s going on with, obviously, what they’re playing and sort of the vibe of the tunes.
BK: And this new EP was recorded in Red Bank with Doug Gallo? And that’s been a recurring partnership,
CP: Yes. Yeah, Doug recorded our second record, and then also the last EP [“Shapeshifter,” 2022] and the newest one as well. We had a couple of engineers in terms of the actual recording process that worked on the second record. But Doug is kind of our main person now, it’s been awesome working with him on everything.
BK: And I think this is back last February, but we had talked about your release plan. So now this June release is your second EP in as many years. It looks like you’re executing that plan as you had intended. How do you think it’s all going? Do you feel like you’re hitting all those targets that you had?
CP: We definitely had a change in plans, in terms of who is helping us out with this release. We’re back to doing it kind of on our own. I don’t know. I think I am excited about everything we’re up to. We’re gonna be going on tour at the end of this month, which is gonna be sick. And I think that in terms of what we’re trying to do as a group, I feel like we’re still kind of chugging along and on the same track we were before. So I think it’s going pretty good. I think after this we’re going to be working towards a full-length record, which I’m excited to do again. But it might be a little bit of time before we release another body of work after this one.
BK: And then yeah, nice big tour to support it. You’re kind of going all over the midwest and the south. Is that what I saw?
CP: Yeah, it’s the midwest. We have one date in Canada, which I’m really excited about. Dylan has dual citizenship there, so I think we might be seeing some of his family and that’s going to be super fun. And then we’re going to the south a little bit as well. And starting in Vermont. We’ve never really gone north too much, so we’re hitting a few places we’ve never been, which I think is going to be cool.
BK: When you’re on the road, have you played other basement DIY scenes similar to New Brunswick?
CP: Yeah, we definitely have. We have one spot on this tour called The Jungle, which is in Massachusetts outside of Boston. We’ve also played some houses in upstate New York, like New Paltz we’ve played house shows, as well as Alban. And we’ve done some DIY stuff in Troy, and also we played a show in Syracuse that was kind of a DIY thing. So we’ve done a lot of house stuff in just the state of New York as well. And Philly, too. We’ve played a decent amount of house shows in Philly as well.
BK: After that Scarlet Pub show, did you pretty soon after start playing house shows in New Brunswick?
CP: I think for a few months there was a little bit of a lull in that. Just because that was a bar, it wasn’t a house. But once we played one of the houses, we started getting asked to play a bunch of the other ones.
But it took a little bit of time, I think, just to get into that scene. Just because, we managed to sort of become a New Brunswick band for a while without having any of us go to Rutgers or live in New Brunswick [laughs]. Margaret now is going to Rutgers, but that was years later, and it’s at the Newark location. So I think it took a little bit of time. We started playing at the Meatlocker [in Montclair] a bunch. This was like 2015, 2016. And then we kind of sort of broke into the house scene, and were playing a bunch of shows there.
BK: Did you play that big New Brunswick church show earlier this year?
CP: Yes, we did. That was a blast. It was Milky Mansion in tandem with the Laundromat, which is another house. And then they put that together, and had a ton of vendors. And also a lot of mutual aid, they had a queer self-defense group come with a table. Yeah, that was the biggest show I’ve ever seen in New Brunswick, actually.
It was so cool because I just feel like for years, we’ve been really needing a space that can hold more people, because we play all these house shows and they’re just capped after, or sometimes before the show even starts. So they’re turning all these people away at the door, because when you hit, like, 80 people at a house, you kind of got to cap it [laughs]. So it was really cool to have a show where they could let everybody in, and there were pre-order, pre-sale tickets, too, and they sold a ton of those.
And yeah, it was a really special show. We were really grateful to be a part of it. It was cool. They had drag performances in between the bands, this curtain thing would come up, and while bands were setting up, they’d have these 15 minute drag performances in between. It was really well organized. There were a lot of students that helped out with putting it together with staff t-shirts and everything. It was super well organized. And they raised a lot of money for some organizations.
BK: So one of the cool things about seeing you outside of a basement is I feel like you step up the production aspects of it. I know when you go to see Tula Vera, you know you’re going to get a killer music show, but then you can also get your mind blown on some of the performance aspects. At a place like, coming up at Our Wicked Lady [June 24 in Brooklyn], you even have a theme of “Dress Fancy” on the flyer. So how have the performance aspects developed for Tula Vera? Do you feel like you’re in a good spot with how you’re putting on a whole night and not just a set of tunes?
CP: We played at Brooklyn Made last week, which is a really big stage and a great sounding room. I love getting to be able to move around, and walk into the crowd, climb all over stuff [laughs]. I think that makes me happy to hear. Putting on a show is pretty important to us. Because you can listen to stuff on Spotify, but there’s a reason you go out to see it live. And a big element is the music, but I also know I like having something to watch. I want to watch a fun show. I think just getting to play places that have some more space and better sound is awesome, because we get to move around, and I’m not like, moving a little bit and then having the headstock of my guitar hit Joe in the gut.
It’s nice to be able to move around. Even though we do love a packed house-show, which has such a special energy that’s really fun. But we are definitely trying to start to move out into playing more venue spaces. Just have more room to kind of move and do stuff.
And I also just started making a lot of artwork for the band, all those new show poster stuff I’ve been making. I started doing some little animation, drawing videos and stuff like that. I feel like more and more we’re starting to kind of look at the whole picture in terms of what the vibe is for the music visually as well. But it’s just because I am super into all that stuff. So we’ve been making some new merch that’s going to be special for this show. We’re making bow ties, which I’m really excited about [laughs]. And yeah, so having more space just gives more freedom to a lot of these kind of wackier ideas that I have. And then the band adds to and are luckily open too as well [laughs].
BK: I’ve seen you a few times and you and Dylan are both pretty ridiculous guitar players. And then Joe and Margaret are pretty enthralling to watch too. You can’t look away when you’re on stage. Some bands, there’ll be a band member who might not like the live aspects as much or someone who doesn’t want to be on the road. But it seems like you four are all pretty together on what you’re trying to accomplish and how you play together on stage. Do you feel like you’re still all in tune, marching in the same direction on all those aspects?
CP: I would definitely say so. We all just love playing shows. We’ve always been kind of a live band, and we are all really itching, actually to be on the road more.
I just think we’re at a bit of a crossroads, a little bit. Just in the sense of, how to get to where we’re going next. Because we definitely have these DIY roots that are really important to us, and are not trying to disregard that in terms of, if we start to look into booking or management or whatever. We want those people to really understand that that’s the background. And there’s also so much you can do for yourself, that it can be a little bit of a daunting task to figure out what to do next. But I do feel like whenever people see us live, they sort of get what we’re about after that. And we’re just sort of now navigating how to get that energy into other elements of what we’re doing. But yeah, I feel like we are pretty much all on the same page.
I feel pretty lucky as well, just that we obviously play a lot of shows together and we do all this stuff, but the band is all kind of my best friends too. So I feel just really lucky that, we’re a band, but they’re also just very good friends of mine as well [laughs]. And that definitely makes it easier to be on the same page with things.
BK: And then a professional question for you. I think you’re working at Leesta Vall Studios now.
CP: Yeah, I am.
BK: Does that help you navigate the business side of things differently now that you work there as well?
CP: I don’t know if it’s necessarily helping me navigate the business side of things. But because we get so many bands and so much music from all over the country, and sometimes the world as well, that I just feel like I’ve managed to meet so many bands and so many artists from everywhere through Leesta Vall. Which has been super cool on a musical level, because I’m cutting records and it’s just so much fun musically. But it also has helped me just to know what bands are out there, and what people are doing, and sort of make some new friends and connections elsewhere. And there’s this one band, Glass Animals, that came to a show of ours in D.C., seeing that we were playing there after I had cut one of their sessions. And so that’s been a really cool element between having the band and working there, just with how much music and how many bands I’ve been exposed to and been able to meet. So that has definitely been cool.
BK: Now for the EP, I see you’ve got “I Hurt You” and “Liar Bitch” out already. So what else is going on the new EP?
CP: So there are two songs on the EP that we have never played live, actually. One of them maybe we played once. So this EP is really interesting because there’s sort of a back-end of all of the music that we have. We have a very big sort of catalog of songs that we don’t play live, that we’ll work on as a band. And I feel like this EP was a really interesting sort of dichotomy of both, where there’s some of these songs where we play them live a lot, and then there were a few songs that we were able to just treat them kind of as studio songs first. We’re going to be playing them at the release show. One of them is called “Miles Away” and then the other one’s called “Daisy Road.” And then there’s “I Sang to the Moon,” which we’ve been playing live, that my best friend April Gloom reads off this sort of letter that I’d written to the moon at the end of the song. And we’re going to be getting some friends to join us as well at the release show for some of the performance aspects of the show and playing with us, which we’ve never done before, that I’m really excited about.
So those songs, and then “I Hurt You” and “Liar Bitch” is what makes up the EP. So we’re going to be playing all of them at the show on June 24th. I don’t know whether some of those songs that we haven’t really played live will become a part of the sort of group of songs that we play. We kind of just follow what feels good to us. We obviously want to play what people want to hear as well, but we’ll see what feels good and just sort of follow that.
BK: Cool and those extra performance aspects, is that for this release show, as opposed to going on tour with those elements?
CP: Yeah, it’s just for this show.
BK: “Dress Fancy!” is on your flyer, so it’s kind of for the audience. Have you asked that before?
CP: No, we’ve never done this before. I’ve been telling everybody to do it. We’ll see what happens with that [laughs].
But I hope some people pull up in fancy clothes. I’ve been telling people to wear the most outrageous thing in their closet, or to just come as you are. I’ve had a few friends, someone said they have a wedding dress that they should wear. And my plan is to get some of those elastic bow ties so I can give them to the people that aren’t dressed up [laughs], that haven’t dressed up, so that no one will be left out.
So I’m hoping people do that. Because I love dressing up, and I like having reasons to dress up, and I just feel like it’s kind of a ridiculous idea in a fun way. My aunt was an opera singer, and she had all these gowns, and my other aunt held onto them. So I found them in the closet in the guest room that I was staying in, and I just started trying on all of them [laughs]. And they fit me perfectly. And so I was like, I need this. But then I was like, Now I need a reason to wear it. Now I want everyone to dress up too [laughs].
It’s going to be cool. And I definitely think again, in terms of that performance element, we care about the visual stuff. And I also really believe in dressing the part, and I kind of think going full-send in kind of a ridiculous way can be cool. So that was sort of the vibe for this one.
BK: You’re two weeks out, and do you have any shows before then?
CP: No, that’s our next one. We slowed down a little bit this month so that we could kind of promote that show and gear up for our tour.
BK: And last question I think, is “Sunspot” making the rounds in your live set still? Special occasions, maybe?
CP: Special occasions. And you may have that question answered at this show on the 24th.
Check out Ben’s review of Tula Vera’s June 24th EP release show, published on the Look At My Records! music blog based in Jersey City. For more Tula Vera, listen to the new EP on all the streaming services, and support the band on Bandcamp.
Ben Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today. In 2022, he won the first place award for Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage for his coverage of the New Brunswick music scene, from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists.