Parker Millsap, the 25-year-old folk-rock and roller from Oklahoma, who can already claim receiving an American Music Award nomination, being featured by Austin City Limits and catching the attention of Sir Elton John – is currently celebrating and touring behind the release of his most ambitious and genuine record Other Arrangements. Millsap is wrapping up the current leg of his tour, before taking a scheduled break, before heading off to Europe. During a recent stop, just outside of Boston, Millsap sat down with Glide Magazine to discuss the new record, his early musical experiences and of course – collaborating with living legend, Sir Elton John.
Parker, your new record is fantastic, It’s very eclectic. But, before we dig into it, can you share a little bit about your musical experiences?
Most of my early-musical experiences were in church. I grew up playing guitar in church. We went to church a lot when I was a kid. It was a Pentecostal church and music was a big part of it. From age nine to seventeen or eighteen, I was playing music three times a week in there. That’s where a lot of my live music experience comes from. My parents weren’t strict about what I could or couldn’t listen to. Because of my dad, I was listening to Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett. I also listened to Krokus, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. It was all over the map. My parents both love music. They were music heads. I feel lucky that I got to listen to all of that growing up. I was able to draw lines between songs by say, Led Zeppelin and the gospel songs we heard in church share a connection. I also got a lot of experience playing music in front of people in church. That’s where it started out.
Other Arrangements has a solid mix of musical styles. There’s definitely more rock and roll than on your previous releases. Was this intentional, or did it come from a more organic process?
A lot of it has to do with my live show. With my last record, The Very Last Day, we started touring with a drummer. I start to bring more electric guitar into the mix and gradually the sound of my show got a little bit louder. By the time I got around to writing music for this record, I was in that headspace and I loved playing rock songs live. The song itself became a vessel to get me more hyped up. The more intense a song is, sonically, the more likely it is that I might yell or do something inspired by the music.
The record is bookended with two drastically different songs. The opening track, “Fine Line” is raw, frenetic and has a Jack White flair to it. And the last track, “Come Back When You Can’t Stay” is a melancholy duet with a Gospel influence. Was their track placement intentional?
Sequencing is always funny. I typically don’t think about the sequence of songs until we have everything recorded and the songs are pretty much done. Then I might ask how we can put the songs together? It was intentional for the front end of the album. I was thinking if you accidentally had your speakers on too loud and hit play, I did want to kind of scare you a little bit. “Come Back” is just a nice, long breath at the end of the record.
Who sang with you on that one?
Jillette Johnson. She actually co-wrote that song with me.
In between “Fine Line” and “Come Back”, you have a little bit of everything. “Singing to Me” with its acoustic guitar and string section stands out. As does, “Coming On” with its “Pop-Gospel” influence. And, it sounds like you needed to vent some frustration in “Some People”.
“Some people” definitely sounds like a rant. It got started because of bad driving and bad drivers. We spend so much time on the road that’s a sacred place for me. We’re all pretty much going about 70 mph out here on the highway and we should be able to be nice to each other while on the road. Because if we’re not nice, someone’s going to die. I see a lot of bad driving while we’re on the road and it really frustrates me.
They’re all wonderful tracks. But, if you could only share or promote one track – which one and why?
The title track, “Other Arrangements”, is the one for me. I love playing that song. Musically, there’s a lot going on in it that I really like. It has the hardest guitar part that I’ve written and that I’m actually able to pull off. I sing over that part during the chorus and it requires all of my attention. I can’t let my mind wander when I play it. Also, it was the first one that I finished for the record. So, it’s my baby.
Have you had time to reflect on Other Arrangements? If so, what did you come up with?
Yes. We had about five months with the masters, before the album was released. This is the first album that I didn’t hate before it came out. With my previous albums, I would listen to them a couple of times and dwell on the things that I would’ve done differently. But with my new one, I was at peace with it. It may just be, that it was my fifth or sixth recording since high school. Maybe it’s just my confidence. For this album after I wrote the songs, I didn’t try to over-engineer the front end. On my previous records, I’d have all these big ideas about what it was going to sound like or what it was going to mean to people. On Other Arrangements, I was more focused on the process and trusted my instincts a bit more.
Yes, this album has a lot less direct storytelling. On my previous records, there’s a lot of first-person narrative and it wasn’t my perspectives. There was a lot of me telling someone else’s stories from the first person. On the new record, it’s more just pop songs and me feeling love or feeling despair. It was a bit more direct.
Do you think that’s the album’s theme? Love and despair?
Yeah! And all of the places in between. Lyrically, the theme is about relationships and how they develop. It’s about how it feels different between the first day and maybe the 3,000th day.
Is there a song from Other Arrangements that you’ve come to enjoy performing more, as the tour has continued?
Yeah! “Fine Line” and “The Very Last Day”, the title track from the last record. They’re both blues songs and I just love blues music. They feel right at home. They’re not the standard I-IV-V blues format and I get to yell in ‘em. So, it still feels like me.
That’s one thing that I noticed while listening to Other Arrangements, is that you have a wide spectrum of tones and frequencies to your voice. It’s great to listen to record where the singer doesn’t sound the same in every song.
Thanks for noticing. I love that when I listen to my favorite records. A lot of my favorite bands have singers deliver a huge range of emotions. I like when there’s a mix with a ballad, something that’s beautiful and orchestrated and then ether’s something raw and in your face. A lot of my favorite singers like Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Ella Fitzgerald are capable of hitting every point on that emotional scale. Music is a reflection of life and it contains all of those things. I’m trying to cover all the bases.
In regard to performing live, what should we expect at your shows and what do you hope people walk away with at the end of the night?
It’s mostly a rock and roll show. We do an acoustic set in the middle. I try to make it feel bigger than the record and hit all of those emotional points. I want it to flow and pull energy from all different places. There’s a fair amount of improvisation, within the context of the songs. We all play our parts a little differently each night. The guys in the band are great. It’s like we pass the ball around on stage. Michael will play something on bass and Dan will echo that on the fiddle. Then Bones will do something special on the drums later on in the night. It’s really fun.
The Luck Mansion Sessions with Sarah Jarosz was such a beautiful collaboration, especially in regard to that version of “Your Water”. Your voices gelled quite nicely.
Yeah! Thank you. I love singing with Sarah.
Do you have a bucket list with people that you would you like to record or perform with the future?
Well, I wrote a song with Elton John. Who could I think of after that? Collaboration is funny. I would really love to work with a Hip Hop artist. Someone like Chance the Rapper. If you’re listening Chance, hit me up! I would love to dip my foot into that world because, I don’t know what it’s like. I only know how to make the rock and roll/folk record. I imagine that the Hip-Hop scene is a whole other world and I’d love to be a part of it.
So, how did you wind up writing a song with Elton John?
A mutual friend, Rosanne Cash, gave him a copy of my self-titled record about three or four years ago. He reached out and invited me to play at one of his shows in Las Vegas. He came to one of our shows. Then one night I got drunk and I sent him an email asking if he’d like to write a song with me. He responded in about ten minutes. He said, “Let’s do it!” I was like, oh Fuck – it worked. I flew out to Vegas. His staff picked me up. He’s super nice. Then I went and watched one of his shows and we hit the studio the next day. Some of his band came and hung out. They played on a few tracks.
So, you recorded too?
Yeah! There’s two mystery songs in the bag. They’re not on a record yet, but they should be released eventually. It’s surreal!