Local Camden rising star Logan J Parker is a searingly honest singer-songwriter with a unique vocal style. Like many female singers, she has battled sexism in the music business. She has been through heartbreak during the pandemic, but found solace with an oil-can guitar. Diving into social media, this Portugues-native has dialed it up and increased her fanbase tenfold over the last 12 months. For Camden Live, she opens up about her life, career and how working in a bank almost killed her plus reveals her secrets for beating those lockdown blues.
You live in the borough of Camden. Why did you choose to settle in Kentish Town?
The best thing about living in Kentish Town is being close to Camden, with all its pubs and live-music venues and all that craziness and artistic vibe. But Kentish Town is a little quieter and more laid back. When I moved to London in 2016 I started working in Kentish Town’s Spring Studios. I’m missing Kentish Town at the moment because I’m on a very extended Christmas holiday with my parents back in Portugal, due to the coronavirus. I love Kentish Town and I’ll be back in the spring.
How have you found the music scene in Camden?
I first visited Camden as a tourist with my parents and sisters. I’m a huge Amy Winehouse fan, and I remember walking through the market, seeing her statue, and falling in love with the whole area. The canal is so beautiful. Last January I made a music video for my song “”Cry Cry Cry”” set on a Regent’s Canal boat being punted from Camden Lock up as far as the Zoo, and it’s such an atmospheric, inspiring location.
Of course, Camden’s boiling with new music and artists and it’s really cool. I had a couple of residencies in Camden back in 2017 and 2018. One of my favourite Camden venues is the Elephant’s Head. They used to have weekly open-mic nights, and I played there. They had such a great crowd—different ages and backgrounds—and everyone was there for the music. A unique venue with a special vibe. I also used to play in the Pamban Chai and Coffee House in Camden Market, which was very chilled.
You’re a local girl now but originally an economics graduate from Portugal, and your first job was in a bank in Lisbon. What led you to change direction and become a full-time musician?
Music was always a constant in my life and upbringing. My parents loved music and I grew up in a house full of vinyl records, with everyone singing and playing music. They had records by the Who, Queen, the Rolling Stones, plus soul and Mississippi blues. I’d hear Ray Charles, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and ‘Screamin’ Jay’ Hawkins, and I was surrounded by all these early influences. So growing up I was naturally very musical.
At 17 my parents got me my first guitar—that’s when I started learning how to play, and started writing songs, almost without thinking. It was a natural process. Then at 18 I found myself in university, studying economics, and gigging around in Lisbon and I was thinking, well music is the thing for me. I talked to my parents about this and told them I wanted to quit economics and just be a musician. They made me promise I’d finish my degree, and then if I still wanted to do music, that would be fine. So that’s what I did.
When I’d got my degree I took my first job in a bank. It wasn’t a creative environment, and I wasn’t happy. Strangely enough, one of the conditions in my contract was that I could not accept any gigs while I was working for the bank. At the time I needed a job—actually I needed the money—so I accepted this contract. For the next six or seven months I was deprived of playing music for the first time in my life, and I discovered through this void just how important it was for me. On top of this I became ill with anaemia, collapsed in the bank, and was taken to hospital. I was very fragile, but this all helped me realize that this kind of life wasn’t for me and that I needed to quit the job. And that’s what I did. Then I just picked up my guitar, packed my suitcase and went to London to find out what I could do with my music dream.
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard you yet?
I always find that question hard, but I will try to be as clear as possible. I think my music is a mix of ‘60s and ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll blended with blues and soul. But it has a certain modern twist to it. I want to create something unique and original. And I feel like the world needs to hear more organic music, with real instruments—not electronically programmed music or autotuned vocals. So I am on a mission to make honest, organic and beautiful compositions. That’s what drives me as a musician.
You’ve been influenced by artists some people may not be that familiar with such as Melbourne’s The Teskey Brothers and Iceland’s Kaleo?
I grew up in this universe of old classics, and that was all I heard. Apart from Shania Twain, who was my idol back in the day, and the only modern artist I used to listen to. So when I found the Teskey Brothers and Kaleo a few years ago, I related to them because they’re from my time, they’re modern, but they remind me of all my early influences like Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, and even, in Kaleo’s case, Led Zeppelin. I was just blown away. These guys are doing exactly what I want to do, picking up on great influences and integrating them into their own style, making them sound contemporary but also beautiful. All the instruments were played for real, and the recordings are great.
What part does Portuguese life and/or music play, if any, in your songs?
While I was growing up my parents would play Fado, a traditional Portuguese style of music, which is very melancholic and sad. Lisbon, where I’m from originally, is famous for its Fado music: those mellow guitars, the Fado singers that wear black. They often perform in small cafés by candlelight. It’s all acoustic, no microphones. It’s theatrical but the audience is silent. It’s almost like a religious experience.
My dad always wanted me to be a Fado singer. I understand Fado better now because I’m older, and I respect it. I like it and admire it, but I can’t say I love it. It wasn’t really me, so I used to tell my dad, ‘no, I just want to play blues and rock ‘n’ roll’. But maybe, just maybe, Fado’s influence might emerge in my work from deep in my subconscious at some point in the future. You hear a little bit of other Portuguese influences in my song ‘Cry Cry Cry’, for example. Those guitars, that gypsy, jazzy kind of feel. When I listen to that track I feel it reveals a bit of my Portuguese background, and I’m proud of that.
Are your songs autobiographical or do they come from your imagination, or both?
Most of my songs are autobiographical, and they tell parts of my life story that happened to me. But some of my songs come from my imagination. It’s like an exercise I do: what if I did this, what would happen? How would something unfold for me? But most of the time, music finds me when I’m going through a bad period of my life, suffering pain, stress, anger, and that’s when I pick up my guitar. And those songs just come straight. I write the melody and the lyrics in as little as two hours, and get the song done.
For instance, my most recently released song, “”Sweet Songs of Love” was like this. I was going through a breakup, and it was Christmas time, and that song just came to me in an outburst. It was like a letter to myself. It was something I needed to write to make myself feel better. I realize now that much of my songwriting is like therapy for me. Every musician’s life is punctuated by difficulties and challenges and sad times, and that’s what makes us write and create music. It’s a cathartic process, for which I’m grateful. When I’m done, when I’ve said everything I needed to say, I feel relieved and much better, and I can move onto what’s next.
Do you listen to much music on Spotify
If I fall in love with a song the first time I hear it, I repeat play it like 1,000 times until I get tired and move on to the next one. I don’t often go back to my old favourites from my teenage years. I long for new stuff; I’m not usually what I’d call a nostalgic listener. It’s like when you fall for someone new, I want to be with that song all the time for next couple of months and then I move on to the next. The other day, for example, I heard “There Is a Light” by Shirley Ann Lee for the first time. It’s a gospel song that goes back to the 1930s. It’s the most beautiful recording I’ve listened to in years. It’s low-fi, but overflowing with emotion and feeling. I checked it out on YouTube too and have played it a lot. Spotify is brilliant for discovering music that’s new to you, and new sources of inspiration. Although, I have to admit that probably because of last year’s emotional breakup trauma my most listened-to song on Spotify in 2020 was “Turn Me On” by Norah Jones.
You support and have been involved with Extinction Rebellion. How important are environmental issues for you?
Very important. When I was still living in Portugal, I was a surfer and always tried to do some charity work. I did stuff for small environmental organisations that cleaned the beaches, and I used to play for free to help them raise funds. Maybe because of the way I was raised by my parents, I always felt that I ought to give back to the community, that I needed to do something good in the world. And music was that vehicle that would allow me to help. So when I moved to London, I was looking for institutions or charities that I could get involved with and contribute to, and I found Music Declares Emergency (https://www.musicdeclares.net) and Extinction Rebellion (https://extinctionrebellion.uk). I told them I’d love to get involved and if there was anything I could do to let me know. They asked if I could play for them at a fundraising event, a demonstration around a big pink boat they put in the middle of Turnpike Lane. It was a cool experience. So I’m always looking for ways to help the community, and here’s my plea: if anyone needs help, just get in touch.
You have a very distinctive vocal style: I can tell it’s you singing after just one bar. How did you develop this?
Early on, when I was 18 or 19 and still in Portugal, I got a lot of rejections from labels, or advice that I needed to change my vocal style. And I would get heartbroken and wonder why people couldn’t like me the way I was. I always felt in my heart that I should be myself and continue to be original. You need to be totally honest with yourself and others. If you’re always changing yourself to sign a contract, that’s not being a real musician. When I read about great bands that I love, I know that many went through the same experience of being rejected.
So I decided to carry on and try to improve my vocals while staying true to myself, exploring influences, practising and learning from YouTube tutorials. That’s how I refined my vocal performance. When you become more mature, you understand your vocals in a better way. Like knowing our bodies better. When we’re teenagers, we’re often not comfortable with our bodies, we don’t know how we appear to others and we’re not very confident with the way we look. So we feel very vulnerable. But later in life you start accepting yourself; the way you look in the mirror and the way other people see you. And it’s the same with music and your voice. You learn to recognize that your voice is yours, and is unique, and to exercise it like a muscle.
And that’s what I’ve been doing. It was good for me to be rejected early on because I’m very feisty so when someone tells me ‘no’ I tend to go against it to prove them wrong. I hope one day the people who rejected me will come along, enjoy my gig and say they’re sorry and that I was right after all! That’s my aim [laughs].
Lockdown has been difficult for everyone. How has it affected you and your songwriting?
My latest relationship ended during this pandemic. I was devastated because I felt deeply for the person. In the beginning I was blaming the lockdown. We were stuck at home because of this virus, constantly fighting, finding it difficult to understand each other. It created too much stress and tension. Basically, everything was falling apart. The circumstances would lead to discussions then fights, anger, sadness and tears.
I wrote a couple of songs about this,“We’ll Be Gone” and “Blue”. The first one is a poetic reflection on the pandemic and the second is about losing someone because you’re unable to deal with the difficulties of living together in crisis. So I lost something in lockdown, but maybe won something too, using the energy of the breakup to write songs to get rid of these bad emotions. And the upside of losing someone you love, is gaining time to devote to your work!
When you have nothing else, what can you do? You just go and do what you know best, right? Of course, I’ve been livestreaming during lockdown on FaceBook and Instagram, and fan engagement has grown. Before lockdown I had 500 fans following me on Facebook, now I have over 11,000. It’s really crazy. Wonderful, actually.
Looking back now, though, maybe that relationship wasn’t for me. When you truly love someone and life gets crazy, you won’t break up. However harsh the circumstances, you will hold hands and get through things together.
Of course, you’re a guitarist as well as a singer. What originally got you interested in the guitar?
When I was six years old my parents put me in the church choir and that was my first contact with music. I used to get such an adrenaline rush the day before rehearsals that I couldn’t sleep. I remember the first time that I sang in a small concert in the church, my parents were there, and I was so proud to be on stage with the other kids. I loved it, felt special, and realized, oh my God, this is the best thing in the world! So I’ve been singing longer than I’ve played guitar.
From the age of 16 I was cheekily asking my parents for a motorbike for my birthday, and they were like no way, we’re not giving you a motorbike, you’re gonna kill yourself. On my seventeenth birthday they gave me an acoustic guitar instead. I saw the guitar-case shape and initially felt disappointed but when I opened it and smelled the wood and the strings it struck me that this was so beautiful. I strummed the strings for the first time and in that moment I fell in love with the instrument. I still haven’t got a motorbike, but it’s one of my dreams, and one day I intend to make money from my music so I can get myself one!
Anyway, I thought the guitar was so cool, and after a few weeks I took it into school. I was pretty nerdy back then and wasn’t very popular but the moment I played guitar and sang songs all the kids would gather around me, and I would somehow feel special. So actually the guitar changed my life, and I’m so very thankful to my parents for their clever present. I sounded terrible on the guitar at first (my parents still have the tapes to prove it!), but it didn’t take me long to learn because I was so in love with it. I went online and picked up the chords for the songs I loved. Early on I would Google Pink Floyd, Santana and Ray Charles songs and learn them. The feeling of accomplishment when you learn new songs on the guitar is so powerful, and you just want to play them over and over again.
Tell me about your latest guitar and why you chose it.
With this whole series of lockdown songs, and with my online popularity rising, I secured an endorsement from Bohemian Guitars. It was my birthday last November and I was looking for a guitar to give myself. I already have a beautiful red Gretsch Chet Atkins signature guitar, but I wanted to try out an unusual, different-looking instrument and was browsing videos and found an amazing-looking oil-can guitar I’d never seen before. So I emailed the company asking if they’d like to collaborate, and they got back to me straight away saying they loved my music and sent me one of their guitars as a birthday gift. The body is made out of a recycled oil-can, and Bohemian, who are very ecofriendly, plant a tree for every one they sell. So this collaboration is the perfect combination for me. The guitar sounds great and its neck is so easy to play.
How has the recording studio experience been for you?
I’ve been lucky enough to record in the world’s first fully solar-powered studios, the Premises Studios. I first came across them in 2017. I’d been gigging in Camden and was asking around for advice on where best to record a couple of demos. I booked my first session there and was in the studio recording, when the sound engineer asked if I minded stopping for ten minutes because the studio owner and the head of BBC Music wanted to see the studio. I agreed but asked him if he could play my music really loud so when these guys came into the studio they had to hear my music. And that’s how I met Viv Broughton, the studio owner. He asked if it was me playing and singing. When I confirmed it was, he said it sounded very different and that we should go for a coffee to talk possibilities. That’s how everything started for me. With Viv’s help, I recorded my first EP at Premises and started to work with other musicians. Despite being pretty nervous before I go on a recording session, it was very exciting to collaborate with other talented people to record something new that will last over time.
So your studio experience introduced you to working with other musicians for the first time?
I started off solo, just my vocals, guitar and piano, and after a couple of songs we added drums and bass. Each one of us was in a different booth but all recording at the same time, playing together as if live. I loved that. A live recording with a band is completely different to working solo, or to having other instruments added to the mix later. Back in the day, bands would usually go into the studio and record all together. I think that creates a unique magic, with everything happening simultaneously on the spot. I always look forward to band recordings now!
How do you decide whether to perform live solo or with a band?
It depends on the occasion. When a small venue can’t afford the band, I just go and play solo. But whenever I get the chance to bring the band along, I do. I prefer playing with the band. It’s so much more fun, and I love the companionship with the other musicians. There’s a different energy.
What’s it like, having this direct, always-on social-media connection with your fans?
I have the utmost respect for this growing number of people who listen to my recorded music, watch my videos and now tune in to my livestreams. I’m very lucky to have fans that are so sweet, kind and supportive. I’m so grateful to them all. My huge struggle is to get back to everyone who writes to me. I tend to have a pile of messages and emails I need to respond to and this takes me a couple of days to go through. I have to admit that sometimes it can be a bit mentally draining, as I have no one to help me. But I always make an effort to get back to fans who write, because they’re the people who actually care most for my music and my work.
You’ve been busy too making music videos over the last twelve months, with views increasing tenfold from January 2020 to your latest single ‘Sweet Songs of Love’. What do you think it is about this song that his struck a chord with people?
People relate to honesty. So when you’re honest in your music you will probably get a good reaction from your fans. This song was an honest declaration. A love letter that’s mellow and romantic. I was told it was crazy to release a song on 25 December but I thought I should do it anyway because I wrote that song around Christmas time when I received a message from my then boyfriend saying he wanted to split up with me. It was a very difficult time. Maybe people can feel it in the music or in the lyrics or the vocal performance. If so, then my mission is accomplished because as a musician I just want to share something of my own emotions with people.
In my case, it’s all about love, and I’m glad people can understand and relate to that. I feel the world is in need of romanticism. People often get together now and are blasé about it, afraid to express themselves. They are afraid to embrace that feeling totally—physically and psychologically, maybe because they’ve been hurt before. This isn’t for me. You need to live every moment, making the most of it. And if you’re in love, go for it, embrace it. Don’t hold back. Whether it’s in love, in life, in your career, if you believe in something you have to go for it wholeheartedly. So I guess this recklessness is part of me and part of my music, and maybe people feel they need that in their lives. And I’m here to remind them!
How have you enjoyed the process of making music videos?
To begin with I was very nervous about the videomaking process, but a year ago I enjoyed making the exterior-location video story on the Regent’s Canal for ‘Cry Cry Cry’ that I mentioned earlier, directed, shot and edited by Greedy/Lensman. Music videos are the visual expression of a musical composition. And I’m a musician first, not a videomaker, but I’ve had to turn my hand to video work since lockdown, directing and editing ‘My Faith Is Hard to Follow’ and ‘Sweet Songs of Love’, and I’ve loved doing it. There’s a concern at the back of your mind, though, while you’re making a video to showcase a song. There have been times when I’ve loved listening to a new song by a favourite band, but have hated the music video. And if you hate it, you regret ever having seen the video, right? So I’m always apprehensive about how the videos will be received. But at the end of the day, you have to work with the tools you have, and at the moment everyone’s broke and there’s very little money to invest in high-production-value music videos. So I just picked up my iPhone and learned how to edit with Adobe Premiere (this took me hours and hours, by the way!). My basic rule for survival is if you can’t get something done, do it yourself. I feel proud in a way, because I don’t think I could have executed them better, and I’m pleased I now have all these new skills. The rising viewing figures show that fans are enjoying the results too, which makes me very happy.
How do you find the music business in London?
In the beginning, in 2017-18, I was eager to get a record deal. I was sending my music to managers, to the labels, and I would either not get a reply or they would say our roster is closed or full and we can’t accept any new artists. One day I met this guy who’d been to one of my gigs at Pizza Express, and who was representing a label (I’m not going to mention which one!). He said you sound great, your voice is amazing but we need to work on your image. You need to change your hair, maybe shave your head or dye your hair blue; it looks boring to me. I was so angry! I’m sure he talked to me this way because I am a woman. If I’d been a bloke I don’t think he would have said these things. This is wrong. Is music a haircut? Should we just be musicians for our image? Or are we here for something else, something deeper, which we can share? With our music we can share thoughts and lyrics and melodies. Anyway, that settled it. I was done with this shit, trying to interest a label. I’m not going to reach out to music business people anymore.
Instead, I’m going to throw myself into the creative process, writing, recording and performing, and do as much as I can myself, as well as I can do it, until someone comes to me and accepts or embraces me the way I am and the way I look. Of course, I would take on board a respected label’s constructive criticism of my music, but I totally reject the kind of sexist and musically irrelevant comments I heard from that guy at Pizza Express.
Now more than ever it’s challenging for ambitious musicians. How are you planning to make your mark over the next twelve months?
The pandemic has made it hard for everyone to plan ahead. You never know how and when things are going to change, and we’ve seen how the rules are being altered constantly at short notice. But in my head, I do have a plan! I’m going to release my first album in 2021, for which I’ve now recorded more than enough songs. All I need is a budget (actually, some money!) to get this finalized and out there for everyone. In the meantime I’m going to focus heavily on the PR side, contacting media channels to get more exposure for my work. I’ve just been on Portuguese TV, for example, singing ‘Sweet Songs of Love’ and being interviewed. It’s great that independent artists can grab the attention of mainstream TV and radio; if they like your music they will give you a chance. You make your own luck and just one media opportunity can change things massively. Small breaks can make a huge difference. So I’ll carry on doing this and pray for the best to happen.
And finally, Logan, if you had one wish that I could make come true for you, what would that be?
Please could you be so kind as to vaccinate everyone in the world so we can get through this pandemic and be free to go back to our lives and do whatever we love. If you could end this pandemic you would make me so happy!