Spotlight On: Parker

When I sat down to chat with Sam Lethbridge, otherwise known as Parker, he was fresh from having the music video for his song ‘Local Paradise’ exhibited at GOMA. It was one of thirty chosen from across Queensland in a Department of Education program called Creative Generation featuring the work of year 11 and 12 visual arts students.

‘Local Paradise’, like all of Parker’s tunes, combines pop and surf rock with a dash of teen angst. This multi-instrumentalist and his tracks speak truth to those rough and raw emotions of youth.

Sam’s not a high school student anymore, having graduated from St Andrews last year. He’s now studying a Bachelor of Contemporary Music at Southern Cross University. And he loves everything about the course – but mostly meeting other people as keen to play music as he is. 

Parker has had some big wins in his short career. In April he was awarded a Queensland Music Award for the Youth Category for his song ‘Sofa Bed’. This was quickly followed by taking out the win for the 2024 International Songwriting Competition Youth category. His latest single ‘Local Paradise’ which features many nods to local landmarks also hit 131,000 streams on Spotify. 

Parker’s entry into the International Songwriting Competition also brought him to the attention of the organisers of Prodigy Camp – an annual camp for 28 of the world’s most promising young songwriters and filmmakers. In July, he’ll be heading to Seattle to join artists from all over the world to develop songwriting and storytelling skills, work on solo and collaborative projects and professionally record a newly-written song. 

It was coming to the attention of Joel Madden (Good Charlotte and MDDN Records), though, that has most taken the 18 year old artist by surprise. 

“I was only 15 at the time and had just released my EP ‘Hunky Dory’. A family friend was into NFTs and was like, why don’t we put the EP on the NFT. I got a tiny bit of credit on Twitter and then someone mentioned Joel Madden in a post and said ‘Hey Joel, check this out’ and he did.”

Remarkably, that small online exchange has led to many open doors for Sam. He met online with Joel a bunch of times who connected Sam with the team at MDDN Records, who’ve all slowly been helping him navigate these early career steps.

At the end of 2023 when he’d just finished year 12, and while his mates were enjoying Schoolies, Sam was jetting over to LA to meet with some of the most prolific producers you could imagine. We’re talking about people who’ve worked with the likes of Ariana Grande and Lizzo.

“I was 17 and I’m walking into the big leagues,” Sam said. “Sitting in studios, having so much fun. It was just one of the best trips.”

Sam worked with three producers: Hozier, Hooks and Matt Squire. He flew over with 4 demos and worked on those, as well as completely new material with the producers. He’d arrive in the studio early in the day and stay until 5.00 or 6.00pm. One day he’d walk out with a fully-finished song and the next with a chorus or parts. 

“It was so surreal,” Sam AKA Parker said. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity. I was in Hollywood – it doesn’t seem like a real place. But it was. I had a constant smile on my face.”

“I am so inspired. I don’t think I’ve ever been so obsessed with music – that whole feeling of going into the studios and writing songs with producers. It was just awesome.”

Less than six months on and Parker has a pool of songs he’s sitting on, trying to figure out if there’s going to be an album.

“My goal is to have a single by the end of the year, but it’s just so hard to figure out which song to release – they’re all so cool,” he said. 

“I think I’m going to have a call with my manager (Justin Bishop, MDDN Records)” Parker said. “Hopefully we can meet together while I’m over there for Prodigy Camp and do some brainstorming of which order will be best.”

The Gold Coast Music Network reached out to Bishop, “From the moment I met Parker and his family, I was captivated. His journey into music is a testament to resilience and passion, and it’s impossible not to root for him. Despite his age, his musical talent and dedication are on another level. Witnessing his early success and industry recognition is not only thrilling but also a reminder of the power of chasing one’s dreams with unwavering determination.” Justin Bishop, Label Coordinator MDDNco, MDDN Records

Parker said he’d written three new songs just this week. He’s busy studying and writing and making the most of every opportunity that comes his way: a far cry from the day, aged just 9, he told his teacher Dale Norton that he wanted to learn ukelele. Parker said he lucked out with Dale – someone who not just taught him chords but also how to create melodies. Five years later he moved on to guitar. 

“That’s when I started to be like – I want to start properly writing songs. And I did. I wrote songs for a year and probably all of them aren’t too good,” he laughed. 

He played Buskers by the Creek with the Valley Vibes – four ‘little groovers’ from Currumbin Valley State School and won the Mullum Youth Mentorship in 2020. 

He was still in high school when he attended BANDCAMP – Gold Coast’s only full-day intensive for emerging musicians and he credits it with providing great motivation to document his goals and take steps towards them.

“I was so inspired to do that course,” he said. “I got to meet Brad Hosking and so many other people that day. It was so awesome and so helpful.”

Parker seems to have achieved so much already, but I ask him what his big picture goal is. Where does he see himself in 5 or 10 years time?

“I want to be fully established, fully immersed and respected in the music industry. I knew from year 9, this is what I wanted to do.”

For now, Parker’s got his eyes squarely focussed on Prodigy Camp and the opportunities it might spark. There will be a single out before the end of the year and a concerted effort to play more live shows, build a fanbase and work up to bigger gigs. He’s also working alongside another emerging artist Bronte – producing and supporting with her songwriting.

“Hopefully next year I’m making enough money to travel over to LA and make that happen more often – and one day, maybe move over there,” he said. 

“I just want to live off what I create.”

 

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