20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers
Published November 5, 2021
In part 45 of our continuing 20:20 Q&A series,
Parker Millsap —Nashville-based singer-songwriter—
joins us to share about growing up with music in a Pentecostal church, his new album Be Here Instead, the importance of restoring our ecosystems, and more.
Be Here Instead (2021), has garnered considerable air-play and positive attention from the heavy-hitters of the musical press. Rolling Stone lauded Be Here Instead as “… a pristine listening experience …,” and American Songwriter praises Be Here Instead as “a striking alternative from practically everything else that’s out there. It reflects, by all measures, a solid burst of brilliance.”
To us as long-time followers of Parker’s music, it very much feels as though this is the pure music of his being.
Which is one reason why we at NoteWorthy Music are so thrilled to present Parker Millsap once again in Springfield, Missouri. This is sure to be an unforgettable performance: Parker Millsap, Thursday, November 11, the premiere of our Queen City Roots series, emceed by Jessica Balisle and opened by molly. at SBC’s The Cellar.
We are so pleased to welcome you as our 20:20 guest, Parker. Thank you for joining us.
~Bambi Grinder, NoteWorthy Music
20:20 with Parker Millsap
NWM 1: Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
Parker: Parker Millsap. He/His. Singer-songwriter. I’m from Oklahoma but have lived in Nashville for about seven years.
NWM 2: ‘Heaven Sent’ from your second album, The Very Last Day, is a favorite of ours from among the plethora of songs showcasing your consistently impressive songwriting.
Please share about the inspiration and conception of this song and its importance to you.
Parker: Growing up, I had some gay friends who weren’t treated very well. I think this song came from seeing their struggle and trying to highlight the disconnect between the welcoming love that the religious community preached and the ‘other’-izing and meanness that they practiced.
NWM 3: Name three things that make you smile.
Parker: Trees. Flowers. Dogs.
Seeing and feeling the power and joy that free and collective music-making brings people was and is inspiring to me.
NWM 4: Please share a unique childhood experience that you feel helped contribute to who you and your music are today.
Parker: I grew up singing and playing in a Pentecostal church. I feel like outside of church, not many people in America get to participate and experience live music in a ritualized, non-commercial setting. Seeing and feeling the power and joy that free and collective music-making brings people was and is inspiring to me.
I also think the sense of wild abandon that is so prevalent in charismatic Pentecostal church (speaking in tongues, being ‘slain’ in the spirit, ecstatic dancing, fiery sermons) gave me permission—and even encouraged me—to tap into that ‘other place’ that music takes us to.
NWM 5: We love your new fifth album, Be Here Instead. It feels as though it is the pure music of your being.
And we aren’t the only ones who love it: Rolling Stone calls Be Here Instead “… a pristine listening experience…” and American Songwriter praises it as a “striking alternative from practically everything else that’s out there.”
Please tell us about Be Here Instead, your conception and approach as compared to your previous albums, and why it is special to you.
Parker: First, thank you. I’m really proud of this record, and I’m glad y’all like it. These songs feel very personal to me. Most of the songs were written music-first, which is kind of a departure from my previous work, which was usually based around a specific lyrical concept or character study for each song.
I ended up writing things that felt like they were addressed to me, from me.
For this record, I tried to focus on getting a musical idea going first, then I would record it and listen to it a lot until some lyrics popped into my head, and then just try to run with it. I ended up writing things that felt like they were addressed to me, from me. A few of the songs are straight-up reminders to myself to be grateful or to relax or to be kinder. Others are meditations.
I also used different instruments to write the songs. I was pretty strictly a guitar guy until this record, where I used pianos, synths, drum machines, iPads, loopers, and yes, guitars, to write the songs.
NWM 6: The introspective and lyrical songwriting in particular stands out in Be Here Instead. This is something of a departure from the character-driven storytelling of your previous work.
Tell us about this shift in focus and its significance.
Parker: I don’t think the shift was intentional. I think I was just ready to tell some of my own story.
NWM 7: What song always makes you want to stop and dance?
Parker: ‘Sugah Daddy’ by D’Angelo. The grooviest.
NWM 8: You have a very grounded, literally real approach to music. In the behind-the-scenes video for Be Here Instead, you talk about how this style of recording makes you sound less perfect, but more human. You also have said: I love when Ray Charles’s voice cracks, or when you hear the squeaking of the kick-drum pedal on a Led Zeppelin song. Anything that shows the living, breathing quality of the whole thing—that’s always wonderful. That’s what we’re here for.
We appreciate this beautiful, genuinely unharnessed approach to creating. Please share with us how this is manifested in your work and how it has shaped you as an artist and as a person.
Parker: I am growing out of believing in mistakes and growing into believing that everything is improvised exploration. It frees me up, but encourages practice and preparation.
I’m surprised by how small the world gets once you start to travel.
NWM 9: What are your before-you-go-on-stage rituals?
Parker: I like to get a good 15-minute vocal warm-up before the show if possible. Sometimes I can’t ’cause there’s no green room, or the opener is kind of quiet and the green room is right behind the stage, or I’m playing Mario Kart with the band and forget.
NWM 10: If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
Parker: Ella Fitzgerald or Charles Mingus
NWM 11: What is a favorite of your songs? Please tell us a little bit about it.
Parker: I really like playing ‘Palisade’. It’s one of my oldest songs, but it’s still fun to play, and we’ve been extending it into a kind of live jam.
NWM 12: You have developed a love for painting. Please share about this new creative pursuit and what it has revealed to you about yourself and your art.
Parker: Painting comes and goes in seasons for me. I don’t do it everyday like I do with playing guitar, but I always love diving back into it. Doing something without any instruction, expectation, experience, or regard for the rules is fun. It helps me bring some of that beginner’s energy back to the music.
It motivates me to try to make people as happy as Elton [John] makes them.
NWM 13: What is something that has surprised you in your life or career? Tell us a bit about it.
Parker: I’m surprised by how small the world gets once you start to travel.
NWM 14: You have received perhaps the highest compliment we have ever read:
‘Last night in Atlanta, I saw one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Parker Millsap & Sarah Jarosz. Both were astonishingly good. … It restored my faith in music.’ – Elton John
What was your reaction when you heard this, and how does this level of praise affect you and your work?
Parker: I am always appreciative of compliments, but that one hits a little different! Hahaha. Elton is a hero, and it’s an honor to know him. He really makes the world a sparklier and better place. It motivates me to try to make people as happy as Elton makes them.
NWM 15: In the aforementioned interview with Rolling Stone, you speak about the importance of caring for the planet, which is our ever-present and continuing concern and focus as well.
Please share about your revelations and how they have impacted you and your personal goals.
Parker: This question would take me a few days to answer. This planet is the only thing we have. All our gadgets and knowledge cannot change that fact. Most of our modern human culture is based on extractive industries that harm the planet and its millions of other species in exchange for money, which exists only in the human mind. We must move our economy away from fossil fuels and toward the restoration of our ecosystems. We must listen to what indigenous people have been trying to tell us for the past 600 or so years.
This planet is the only thing we have. All our gadgets and knowledge cannot change that fact.
Most of my existence depends on destructive industry, so I’m trying to untangle myself from the vast web of blood money, figure out ways to reduce my consumption, put my skills to their best use, and advocate for policies that benefit the earth and its inhabitants rather than corporate entities’ stock prices.
NWM 16: Strangest road story?
Parker: Too many to count.
NWM 17: What is a unique trait or quality that sets you apart from the crowd?
Parker: I’m a white guy who plays guitar and writes songs…I’m definitely part of the crowd.
Music is a way to say thank you to the universe for inviting you to its party.
NWM 18: With the surge of the Delta variant and mounting difficulties and challenges in the United States and throughout the world, cautious optimism wanes. To us, it seems prudent to pause a moment, take a breath, and take stock of our own well-being and those things for which we are thankful.
From the Beatles and the Troggs to Bryan Adams to Snow Patrol, music has long suggested love is the answer. Considering gratitude as an expression of love, do you share that draw to live in gratitude in the face of such challenges? And if so, how does gratitude manifest in your life and work?
Parker: I am grateful. Growing up in church, music was seen as a method for praising and thanking a higher power. Though I’m not really a Christian these days, I’ve held onto this belief. Music is a way to say thank you to the universe for inviting you to its party.
NWM 19: What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you that we might not know to ask?
Parker: I am very good at Mario Kart, and I like to rollerblade on fresh pavement.
NWM 20: What’s next for Parker Millsap?
Parker: More songs!
Parker Millsap | “Now, Here” | Be Here Instead
The fifth album from Oklahoma-bred singer-songwriter Parker Millsap, Be Here Instead emerged from a wild alchemy of instinct, ingenuity, and joyfully determined rule-breaking. Produced by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Waxahatchee) and mainly recorded live with Millsap’s full band, Be Here Instead marks a stylistic shift from the gritty and high-energy folk of his previous output, including 2018’s acclaimed Other Arrangements and 2016’s The Very Last Day (an Americana Music Association Awards nominee for Album of the Year). With its adventurous yet immaculately detailed sonic palette, the album warps genres to glorious effect, at one point offering up what Millsap aptly refers to as a “disco-Americana showtune.”
Although Be Here Instead often finds Millsap wandering into new terrain, the album remains firmly grounded in the sophisticated musicianship he began honing as a kid growing up in the small town of Purcell. Raised on Texas singer-songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, he started writing songs on acoustic guitar in his early teens, then made his debut at the age of 19 with the 2012 album Palisade. With his self-titled sophomore effort arriving in 2014, Millsap released both The Very Last Day and Other Arrangements to widespread praise, with famed rock critic Ann Powers dubbing him a “star in the making” and Rolling Stone stating that the latter album “mingle[s] the sacred and profane to rollicking effect.”
Through the years, he’s also made his name as a captivating live act, opening for the likes of Jason Isbell, Patty Griffin, and Lucinda Williams and taking the stage at major festivals like Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and Newport Folk Fest. And in a particularly memorable turn of events, Millsap joined singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz for a 2016 show in Atlanta and drew raves from none other than Sir Elton John, who hailed the performance as “one of the best concerts I have ever seen” and noted that the night “restored my faith in music.”
To learn more about Parker, visit https://www.parkermillsap.com/
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