THERE’S NO MISTAKING IT, Tracy McNeil and Dan Parsons look chilled and happy, with what in the old days might have been called a bit of colour in their cheeks. Not bad for a couple of musicians trying to live – let alone make a living – in Australia in 2022.
“We’ve been doing a bit of work, haven’t we” says Parsons, and he doesn’t mean the beers they have just raised in my direction. Though those bottles are full.
“We’re starting over really, eh,” says McNeil, who if you didn’t already know, is Canadian. And excited. “We’re starting from scratch, so it’s like we’ve got everything to build.”
The couple, who once were mere bandmates – but that was two albums and some “closeness” ago – are speaking to me from what undoubtedly is a house, a fixed to the ground abode. This is unexpected.
It’s not that I was expecting them to be camped out in a bus stop on the Newell Highway, but the last time I spoke with McNeil, in early 2020, their plan was to pack everything into a van and hit the road out of Melbourne for the foreseeable future, happily turning themselves into road dogs.
“Well, we are in an absolutely empty apartment,” McNeil says, in partial defence. “We don’t have a couch, we are sitting on the floor, because we have sold all our furniture. We’re going back to life on the road.”
Yes, 2020 “destroyed our life on the road”, two years of the plague forcing them to sell the van and park their dreams, ending up instead at Parsons’ family property somewhere north of and warmer than Melbourne. The trade off? All of a sudden they were writing a bunch of songs together for the first time. Then there came the album, self-recorded and produced, awaiting release with at least one more single preceding it. And now there’s a new van and a booking at the Port Fairy Folk Festival in March.
“That’s our plan eh, to do lots of touring,” says McNeil. “Lots of touring.”
But let’s go back a bit. They had a band: Tracy McNeil and The Good Life, whose most recent album was 2020’s You Be The Lightning. And a damn fine piece of West Coast rock it was too, Parsons’ guitar providing the counter and flourish to McNeil’s songs, and his move from solo artist and loyal sideman to her life partner also proving extremely satisfying for all parties.
That seemed to be going well, the rest of the band even liked them still (and the Good Life will return). Why start anew as Minor Gold? McNeil turns to Parsons and points him at the question.
“I think, without getting into the nitty-gritty of how one feels about one’s career after doing it for X amount of time, Tracy and I really hadn’t diversified in music really, ever,” he says. “Just speaking from my end, as a writing project I’ve kind of just done my own projects since 2006. Maybe it was wanting to have the control that comes with being a solo artist or not wanting to have to rely on other band members, I mostly kept it strictly just me.
"But this felt like the most natural and most creatively compatible scenario.”
His collaborator and partner doesn’t disagree. “Everything is born of the creative space you’re in,” says McNeil, who had mostly written for her band project, and hardly ever with another writer. Not even, or maybe especially not, Parsons. “Any little tiny glimpse, where we would just muck around after rehearsal or wherever we were on the road, the writing would happen so quickly but we would never give it any fuel: it would just be an idea you let go.”
Living together, being with each other 24 hours a day even if it wasn’t in the van, helped that compatibility and offered that fuel. None of the songs, their leanings decidedly in the land of ‘70s pop, sounded like The Good Life songs, nor Dan Parsons songs: this was something new as the first single, Mona Lisa, revealed.
There was, she says, “a slipstream, and you know what fits in that stream”; these had, he says, a lyrical content that aligned.
“The material we were writing was getting us excited,” says Parsons. “And we decided we were going to try and push it up the hill and see if it rolled.”
Reader: it rolled.
If there is a thematic centre to Minor Gold it is escape – from previous romances, from previous homes, from Covid and lockdown and bank managers and anything keeping them from the road – something which would come as no surprise to anyone now. But escape wasn’t into a void, it was into cleaner, fresher … brighter climes.
“Often the feeling [when he’s written with others] is I’ve had to compromise too much to get to the finish line and the result is actually worse off,” says Parsons. “But that’s almost exactly the opposite we feel in this project. At the end of it we feel buoyed very much by the power and the succinctness and simplicity of the songs. It’s easier, freer, and maybe, hopefully, a little more accessible than some things we have written in the past.”
Beyond the thematic, the musical concept, as described by McNeil, is “two voices, two guitars: a duo, not sounding like a rock band but truly letting the songs shine through.” That doesn’t mean barebones, for Parsons as producer has worked on layers and shadings, infiltrating the occasional extra instrument (he plays more than a handful of instruments after all), while enjoying a new set of limitations.
As McNeil puts it, “strip everything away and it’s just us and the songs”, but don’t be fooled by the two voices/two guitars bit into thinking Minor Gold are some hushed acoustic folk duo or a friendly country act of the old school.
Folk’s in there, rock’s in there, but there’s no hiding from their pop love – they are both fans of Taylor Swift – and the promise of what Parsons calls “acoustic versions of ‘80s romance pop”, with McNeil eulogising like a born-again Christian banging away on a street corner “you can have structure, you can have great choruses, you can have hooks and [be] succinct”.
Ok, ok, we get it, pop music-without-blushing.
“That’s where we come from, hey,” says Parsons, sounding half Australian half Canadian all of a sudden. “That’s really what we feel is our strength, more than our voices and guitars, the ability to write decent pop songs.”
Indeed, while we may go in thinking Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings or Milk Carton Kids, Minor Gold see a connection instead with Californian duo Mapache, described by Parsons as “a lefty and a righty so beautiful mirror image on stage; phenomenal acoustic guitarists and singers; they’ve even been described as a blazed up Everly Brothers”.
“We’ve taken a lot of influence, not so much musically but mostly from their vibe, and their sense of fraternity,” he says. “That’s also what has been such a great thing for us, this sense of togetherness. I’m an only child and I’m a solo artist, so I’m fairly like, alone, and this has been a great thing to be able to do this together.”
Jeez, alright, get a room. Or a van.
Incidentally, there is story behind the name, Minor Gold. The low-key and warm, more talking to you than shouting at you, vaguely country rock-ish, small but cherished, suggestions are there in the name, and welcomed, for sure. But it’s actually a bit simpler. Minor and Gold are the maiden names of their mothers, and when seen next to each other as they were filling out identification forms, everything just felt right. Sweet eh?
However, if you’re planning on hacking McNeil and Parsons, they’ve changed the passwords. They might be looking to escape the corporate, form-filling, everybody’s-got-responsibilities life, but Minor Gold aren’t stupid.