When I called in the late afternoon, Parker Millsap had been running errands around Nashville.
He’s modifying some of his guitars, and has just checked out at The Home Depot. This is evidence that even for a signed and touring musician like Millsap, the lifestyle is not always (if ever) luxurious. He’s a member of a new class of musician, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter loaded with gritty, through-his-teeth blues trying to break through the noise of a post-Napster, post-MySpace generation.
By these conditions, simply putting “musician” on his tax return is validation enough, but he is also sure to make some new fans when he plays the Southern Living Biscuits & Jam Outdoor Concert this Saturday, June 8, at Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. His record The Very Last Day was released in late March and has been highly lauded by NPR Music and Garden & Gun. Millsap got his start in his home state of Oklahoma, eventually venturing out to tour Texas, and has recently made the move to Nashville. As we talked, I could feel his youthful enthusiasm through the phone. He laughs a lot—a genuine, humble identifier.
HG: 23, living in Nashville, playing music. That’s got to be a good place to be.
PM: (laughing) I feel pretty good about it.
HG: How has the move to Nashville changed you personally? Your music?
PM: (laughing—again, this is in the likable way) I’m still the same person, I think. Living here makes it a lot easier to tour. East of the Mississippi there’s a lot more cities within six hours.
There’s two cities in Oklahoma, and all the ones in Texas are three or four hours away.
HG: Have you ever spent time in Charleston before?
PM: We played Charleston... I’m trying to remember when. I’m new to the South, so I’m bad with names of cities with “Char” in them. There’s like three Charlestons and then Charlottesville and then Charlotte. So, I assume we’ve played there.
HG: We’re the Charleston by the beach.
PM: Yeah! We played the room... they have a patio outside but they also have an indoor space... Big murals?
HG: Sounds like The Pour House.
PM: Yes, that’s it! We figured it out!
HG: We did it!
PM: (more laughing—I like this guy)
HG: The show in June is going to be outdoor. Do you have a preference for indoor versus outdoor?
PM: I like playing all different kinds of shows. I like each show to have a different dynamic, it gives you something to respond to. Indoor rooms are great because you can get quiet, but outdoors, it’s always a big party.
HG: What’s your approach to live performance? When you step on stage, what’s going through your head?
PM: I try not to think too much about it, just go out there and play. Go have fun. That’s the reason why I do it. I’d say the shows are pretty high energy. It’s like... almost a rock show. My band is fantastic. My bandmates have been with me five years, eight years.
HG: It’s so important to surround yourself with those people. There’s something about knowing people for a long time.
PM: Right, playing music is an intimate thing. You have to be paying attention for it to really work. You have to pay attention to each other.
HG: The songs on the record, The Very Last Day, have really strong characters and profound moments. How do you take the world around you and then put it into lyrics and music?
PM: Keeping the antenna up. Seeing something, reading something, filing it away. Sometimes it’s a really small idea. Think of a .zip file. I don’t really know what that is, but I know that you get it and it’s small, then you download it and it unpacks a bunch a stuff. That’s how I approach songwriting, trying to pull out as much as you can.
HG: That’s kind of a strange metaphor, but also, it really works.
PM: Ha, yeah, it’s a weird way to think about it.
HG: Your history with the Pentecostal Church seems to permeate your songs—sometimes blatantly, other times it’s more of a feeling.
PM: It was a big part of my life from age four until about eighteen. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. Most of my music experience, both playing and being an audience member, was in church. But the intent of the praise and worship service is different than a rock show. It just shifts more towards singing together, up, instead of at someone. There’s a lot of unconscious singing that happens in church—they’re singing to God, so they’re not worried about how it sounds. That’s how I was introduced to singing, how actual voices sound.
HG: What’s your relationship with church and faith now?
PM: I think whatever people believe is fine as long as they don’t hurt each other.
HG: Anything else I left out? Something you want the readers to know?
PM: Come to the show—or else!
He was laughing when he said that, of course. But in all seriousness, I can’t wait to hear those newly-modified guitars.
Parker Millsap will be supported by The Secret Sisters.
Food by Swig & Swine, Home Team BBQ and Callie's Biscuits. Booze provided by Coast Brewing, Cooper River Brewing, Holy City Brewing, Palmetto Brewing, Tradesman Brewing and Spire Wines.
Ticket price includes concert, food and beverage. Must be 21+. Price: $75. Purchase here.