The raw metallic resonator guitar sound of Charlie Parr registers as a magnet of sorts – in the same way we’re drawn to the curious sounds of Tom Waits and even the indie folk of The Mountain Goats. Over the course of 13 plus albums since 2002, the Minnesota native has developed a catalog of music that stuns with his road weary voice, string instrument command and home spun lyrics.
Parr is part of the Duluth, MN, music scene (Alan Sparhawk and Low, Trampled by Turtles) but he made his new album Stumpjumper (out 4/28/15) in the South this time, traveling to rural North Carolina to record with fellow musician Phil Cook (Megafaun, Hiss Golden Messenger). Parr joined Cook and a cast of local players, setting up in an old outbuilding on the “Down Yonder Farm” outside Hillsborough, NC. As well as being the first album Parr has recorded outside of his native Minnesota, Stumpjumper is his first to feature a full band.
Glide is proud to premier “Falcon” (below) from Stumpjumper- a rhythmic stomper that sounds ‘bygone era’ in the most pure and unfiltered way. Parr isn’t reinventing anything, but he brings a ferocity, sincerity and authenticity much welcomed in today’s musical climate full of pretenders. We recently had the privilege of speaking to Parr about Stumpumper and his take on what makes The Charlie Parr sound tick.
I wanted to say that I get a lot albums sent my way and your new one Stumpjumper immediately caught my attention as one of the most intriguing and enjoyable listens of late. Do you feel this recording is you most definitive to date of who you are as a musician and artist?
The last three albums I did were so different from one another and each of those last recordings represents what I do. This one is just another piece of what it is that I’m up to. I don’t think anything is definitive. You know, time is weird that way – each moment is its own definition. I think its other people will make that decision. Take Bob Dylan – some people will say that Highway 61 Revisited is the definitive record and some people will say that it’s Blonde on Blonde or some other record. I don’t think there is a definitive Dylan record, they’re all a part of that stream of Bob Dylan’s timeline. I’m not comparing myself to Dylan, just using that as an example.
What songs on Stumpjumper are you most proud of from a songwriting standpoint as being songs that have the chance of being timeless?
I doubt that any of these songs are timeless – I mean, I’m not Bob Dylan, I’m just another doofus with a guitar who happens to hanging around in Reno right now [on tour] ….
I just don’t really think about that too much. The song on Stumpjumper that I’m most happy with is “Falcon” because it is a song that I intended to write. A lot of times you don’t really mean to write a song — it’s like someone snuck up on you and attacked you; you didn’t really mean for it to happen. “Falcon,” on the other hand, I wanted to write that song. I’d read the book by John Tanner and it meant a lot to me.
As a songwriter- what do you most try and communicate through your lyrics and music that makes a song a Charlie Parr song? What inspires you today to write vs 15 years ago?
They’re all Charlie Parr songs because I’m Charlie Parr – I can only write what I write. I’m a very much a person that lives in the moment and the songs that I write reflect that. Fifteen years ago, in 2000, my wife, Emily, was pregnant, we were buying a house and trying to figure out the money thing. We were very poor and we were struggling, so I was probably writing about those kinds of things. Now I live most of my life out of a car and we’re doing better financially. I have two children that are 8 and 13 and everything is different. But then, everything was different yesterday than it is today, it’s a hard question to answer. I’m interested by every little thing going on around me and it’s changing all the time.
How would you describe the essence of your sound (tone or instruments) and when you go to be experimental – what does it sound like?
The first guitar I played was a 12-string when the strings ring together, I was seven years old, and that sounded amazing to me. And I have been completely taken with the sound of resonator guitars ever since I first heard one so that’s an extremely important part of what I what I want to hear when I play. So much of the time I travel with those guitars – a National resonator and a 12 string are the two sounds that I love the most. A close third is the sound of an open back banjo for me. I’m kind of done looking …. unless I learn to play the trombone. I really like the trombone.
I also play in the Devil’s Flying Machine which is two electric guitars and drums – droning psychedelic trance blues. I play this weird Gibson ES-347; it’s a really odd one, not a 335, and it’s got some extra switches. It’s super heavy and has this weird tone. It’s amazing. We can drone away on the same song for an hour – I still have to find the right amplifier for it.
When do you go with the guitar vs banjo for a song- is it a mood thing or is it something deeper?
They’re very much interchangeable to me. I think it’s more of a mood thing. I use a lot of the same tunings back and forth between the banjo and the guitar. One time something will sound really good on a banjo and last night for example – Betse [fiddler Betse Ellis] and I pulled out this really funky version of “Up Country Blues” on guitar and I was really pleased with it and I’d always played it on a banjo before …
Stumpjumper was recorded with a full band which you don’t do very often if at all. Did having others working with you make it challenging in any aspect? Why did it take so long to record with a full band and how do you think they changed your overall work?
I haven’t recorded with a full band before because I hadn’t felt like I’d wanted to. This came up because I had batch of songs that felt different than the other songs that I’d written, almost like I didn’t get what they were going to sound like it all. Each song had two or three alternate arrangements and I wasn’t sure where to land on it. That’s why I reached out to Phil [Cook of Megafaun and Hiss Golden Messenger] because he’s a dear friend and I like and respect his music. I called him up and said, ‘I have songs I don’t understand’ and he knew right away what I was talking about. So he invited me out to North Carolina. I didn’t even send him a demo; I did nothing. So we talked on the phone and he said, ‘look I’m going to have some buddies out here, let’s see what happens.’
I try to be a humble person and let things kind of develop as they will. This was one of those moments. I showed up and played them my songs and these guys were like, peas and cheese right out of the gate. My aunt used to say that – every pot luck you’d hit when I was little someone would inevitably bring the salad of green peas and cubed Velveeta and they went together great. So it was immediate. I was like, ‘wow, these guys are great and I love them and they played my songs with so much care and brought so much to them, they lifted them out. We had so much fun, everything went as smoothly as it could have gone.
You played a show at the Ryman in Nashville opening for Trampled by Turtles, which must be nice and rewarding after all these years. What was the experience like playing in a famous room like that?
It was fine, they treated me really well. It’s a beautiful venue and I was honored to be there. But at the end of the day, when you get to sit down on the stage and play the guitar, you don’t really notice where you are – it all goes away while you’re playing. It was great to catch up with the Trampled guys, they’ve been friends for years.
Did you ever feel like the chances of touring nationally and playing in such renowned venues might have passed you by? What advice would you give to other middle-aged artists still trying to get heard nationally?
I started playing in the 1980s and I reached my goal already. I’m a massive fan of Spider John Koerner [legendary MN raw acoustic folk blues group Koerner, Ray & Glover] for as long as I can remember. My goal was to play the places that John played. I wanted to play the Viking Bar so bad – I was playing on the same stage as Spider John Koerner! I was beside myself. And since that time I have not set any other goals for myself because the guy who is my end all and be all – I got to meet him and I got to play with him. I could retire man! My advice is, it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you want to play just play. Spider John is still playing. There’s no retirement, you just play until you can’t play. I haven’t had a “job” in 11 years – I drive around the country and I play the guitar. Anyone who can find anything to complain about in that scenario should get a job.
You are a self-taught guitarist and banjo player who grew up listening to his dad’s recordings of America’s musical founding fathers, including Charley Patton and Lightnin’ Hopkins, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. Do you feel if not for you dad you would have searched out these artists?
Dad definitely influenced what I listened to but he also was an encourager of me seeking out other music. Like, Charlie Patton wasn’t in my dad’s collection but he encouraged me to seek that kind of music out. So I got a head start from my dad and I’ll never forget that.
Were you ever a rock and roll fan and listened to stuff like the Beatles and Stones? Who are your all time favorite artists and inspirations?
I love rock and roll. My favorite rock and roll artist is Captain Beefheart but I love a lot of different kinds of music and I listen to as much of it as I can. My biggest influences on the way I personally play are some of the old guys like Bukka White and Manse Lipscomb, guys like that. But I’m also really influenced, in the guitar world, by John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho, But then again, I’m influenced by everything. I love music and listen to it every single day.
Stumpjumper is available for pre-order on Amazon and iTunes Visit here for more information on Stumpjumper.