As forest fires ripped through northern B.C. last summer, a small “soccer mom van” carrying three-piece band Parlour Panther weaved through the smoke, stopping at campsites and music festivals all along the way.
“You’re driving and see the red sun and are like. ‘Is this the end?’” guitarist and vocalist Steph Hodgins recalls, interviewed alongside keyboardist Lee Newman and drummer Charles Wesley at an East Van coffee shop. “It was pretty crazy.”
But the band carried on, bringing its unique brand of East Vancouver queer rock to venues from 100 Mile House to Prince Rupert.
Fresh off the release of their first full-length album, Hot Magic, Hodgins, Newman, and Wesley are hoping for a touch less smoke as they prepare to hit the road once more and “queer up” small-town B.C.
“That’s part of our mission, to, you know, make these spaces queer even if it’s just for one night,” Newman says. “To make this queer space for people to come and celebrate being queer and being themselves”
In conversation, it’s obvious the members of the group are comfortable not only with each other, but with their own individual senses of identity. There’s an easy rapport between Hodgins and Newman, who are engaged to be married, and long-time friend Wesley. Parlour Panther was born in the early stages of Hodgins and Newman’s relationship, five years ago. Newman says the inspiration for the band came from negative reactions the couple received from friends and family when they first started dating.
“We got inspired to write about our queer love and to empower ourselves and increase this more positive celebratory attitude about it,” she explains.
The pair quickly brought in Wesley, who had worked with Hodgins in other bands. Parlour Panther also originally included a bassist, but he ended up dropping out due to scheduling conflicts.
“He just eventually got too busy,” Hodgins says. “But he actually helped develop a lot of the songs on the album, a lot of the cool bass parts and grooves and stuff.”
The band’s sound evolved a lot in those early years, from a more folk-driven approach to the synth-heavy groove that permeates its tracks now.
“We weren’t even going to use a full drum kit,” Wesley notes. “And then I was like, ‘Oh, a full drum kit would be fun.’ And within a few months it turned into a rock band pretty quickly.”
The group released Hot Magic a couple of months ago on Bandcamp, the album being an amalgamation of a lot of different themes.
“There are two different streams that we went on. One of them is more love songs, so just love and being in a queer relationship, and then the other stream is more of a narrative approach,” Hodgins says.
The group writes collaboratively, with all three members contributing lyrics, riffs, and beats. Hodgins mixes and produces all of Parlour Panther’s recordings, alongside handling all of the technical components of the group. Newman is the de facto band manager, booking dates and organizing logistics. On its website, Hodgins is simply credited as “wizard”, Newman as “mastermind”, and Wesley as “prolific song contributor”.
Laughing, Newman says having a romantic relationship with Hodgins plays into the group’s songwriting: “The song ‘SEXXXXX’ is literally just about having sex with each other.”
Balancing their romantic relationship with their musical one is an ongoing process. “We both love music, so I think it brings a good spark to our relationship to be rock stars and have that experience together,” Newman says. “But, yeah, we had to figure out how to work together as artists, so just doing a lot of communicating is really the key.”
With their engagement, Hodgins and Newman say they aren’t going anywhere anytime long-term. But Parlour Panther, the band, has dreams for the future. Newman muses about a potential songwriting retreat in Europe, and all three members agree that putting in the effort to stay together is important, as it’s easy for bands to fall apart.
“The biggest obstacle in any band relationship is staying together,” Wesley says. “Steph and I have been in two bands that have broken up now. That’s always the biggest obstacle—continuing to be creative together and be on the same path.”
In the immediate future the group will tour across B.C. again this summer, with planned stops at the ArtsWells Festival, Hootstock in Prince George, and the Hazelton Hops Hootenanny, as well as various individual shows. Hodgins says they’re particularly excited to return to Prince Rupert to perform.
“Last time we were there, we met a tugboat captain in real life!” Hodgins says, laughing.
“And he was a big fan, so hopefully we’ll see him again,” Wesley adds. “It was amazing, actually. We had never played there before and we had the place packed.”
Ultimately, Newman says the group is just excited to keep making queer music: “We talk a lot about being true to yourself and listening to your instinct and your heart, which I think is big in the queer community. Being the truest version of yourself and how you sometimes have to work really hard even to do that.”
Parlour Panther plays a pre-Pride showcase at XY on Thursday (July 26).More