Hometown: Reseda, California
Lives in: Phoenicia
Local influence: Parsley’s recent solo debut, Weeping Cherry, is “named after a big cherry tree at the bottom of my road. But also did you know that kamikaze pilots often painted cherry blossoms on their planes? So, in honor of my friends who were kamikaze pilots, it felt right.”
Singer-songwriter Ambrosia Parsley is best known for the spooky noir of Shivaree’s 1999 hit “Goodnight Moon.” And her new solo debut, Weeping Cherry, was fueled by, as she puts it, “conversations with dead people.” But Parsley insists that creating music is fun.
“I always sang and wrote songs, for as far back as I can remember,” Parsley says, but Shivaree was her first band. “I met [keyboardist] Danny McGough at a party in 1997 and [guitarist] Duke McVinnie just happened to be crashing on Danny’s couch at the time,” she says. “We wrote three songs together right away and suddenly we had a band. But, really, Shivaree was always more of a collective than a band per se, with members coming and going and different people playing on different songs on the records.” The band moved to New York City in 1999 upon signing with Capitol for I Oughtta Give You a Shot in the Head for Making Me Live in This Dump. Among the set’s tracks was “Goodnight Moon,” which got picked up for use in a watch commercial in Italy, leading to platinum sales of the disc there, and gold sales in France and Portugal. The band went on to accrue a following in Europe’s “wine-drinking” countries.
“Goodnight Moon” later made its way into the series “Dawson’s Creek” and was tapped by Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill: Volume 2. (A version of the song appears in Silver Linings Playbook.) In 2004, Parsley took a yearlong gig on Air America Radio’s “Unfiltered,” a show hosted by Rachel Maddow, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, and Parsley’s friend, the comedian Lizz Winstead. The segment, called “Ambrosia Sings the News,” ran for nearly 50 episodes. “It was crazy and a lot of fun,” Parsley says. “My husband and I would get all the newspapers, go to a coffee shop, and I’d write [the songs] up. It was the Bush years and there was no shortage of material—and it all happened to rhyme.”
Shivaree’s fourth album, 2007’s Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight Songs (Zoe Records), a collection of tunes about abusive artists like Phil Spector, Rick James, and Ike Turner, was recorded while Parsley was pregnant with her son Lucius. By then, the band felt it had run its course. “I hated being in videos—I’d much rather play Scrabble with my bandmates,” she says. “Plus, yeah, it took me a minute to adjust to my new life as a mother.”
So Parsley pulled the plug on Shivaree and settled into motherhood. She and her husband, who works in music publishing, commuted between New York and their Phoenicia farmhouse, which sits above the Esopus Creek. Upstate, she continued writing songs and recording. “Ambrosia’s vision as an artist is really unique, I think,” says former Shivaree member Chris Maxwell, who relocated from New York City to West Saugerties in 1998. “She comes at it from more of a literary angle, rather than just being a straight songwriter. Her songs are these cool little stories.”
Eleven such bittersweet story-songs form Weeping Cherry, which was supported by a successful PledgeMusic campaign. The album was released in France in 2013. The year of its making was fraught with the losses of several family members and friends, including ex-Shivaree drummer George Javori, whose funeral at sea is memorialized in the poignant “Catalina.” “With this album I just wanted to make something really pretty,” says Parsley. “But, more than anything, I want people to think about the dead friends I’m singing about. That’s what makes them present for me. It’s what makes them live again.”