Originally from Oklahoma, Parker Millsap released his latest album, “Be Here Within”, earlier in 2021. As with previous albums, the new record combines elements of R&B, folk and rock in a distinct mix that earned Millsap critical acclaim throughout his recording career. .
Songs such as “Rolling” and “Vulnerable” lean on the soul influences of the Nashville-based musician, while “The Real Thing” gently recalls the English folk of artists such as John Martyn and Richard Thompson.
Gospel remains another well from which Millsap draws, as evidenced by “It Was You”. Like John Hiatt’s “Have A Little Faith in Me”, he blurs the line between love song and hymn. “Empty” and the title song are reminiscent of the music of British pop groups such as ABC and Spandau Ballet.
Millsap says that a slightly different approach to the writing process and a focus on creating songs that allowed him to show off his vocals was at the heart of the record.
He recently spoke with KMUW about the making of the album and its artistic evolution.
I see each of your records as an evolution of the previous one. I’m wondering what you think are the main differences between “Be here instead” and “Other arrangements?” “
A lot of the songs from the short story came together in a way that was new to me. On “Other Arrangements” I started to broaden my sonic palette if you will. I started listening to other types of music and went back to my blues guitar roots a bit. But with this new batch of songs, I took some of the ideas I got from “Other Arrangements,” like using drum machines, and took them a step further. Many of these songs were written around drum machines or loops. With a lot of these songs, I would do quite a demo on my computer or on my iPad that was just music. I would have the musical idea but not the lyrics. I said, “I’m just going to build the song and then later see if I can come up with any lyrics.” Some songs were made like that.
So the songs came from different places than I have done in the past. Usually there is a lot to sitting down with the acoustic guitar and having a concept for a song or a certain story that I wanted to tell. This time it was the music first and the lyrics were more [about] whatever happened to me that popped up. I would get some idea of the lyrics, I would try to sit down and write as fast as possible without over-analyzing or thinking, “What am I trying to say? There would be a lot of touch-ups later to improve it.
But I understood that to trust my instincts [would mean that] I usually ended up saying what I wanted to say. I didn’t always know what I was trying to say until there was a full song, but then I could say, “Oh yeah. This was how I felt.
When did you start working on the record?
I guess we started recording at the end of April 2020. I had written pretty much all of the material leading up to the lockdown. Around the time the lockdown happened, which was around the time I started rehearsing with the band. We did a few rehearsals in the basement for the first few weeks of confinement with all the windows open. This was before anyone could get tested, before we really knew what was going on. Then we stopped the rehearsals for a few weeks. Then the COVID tests came out about two weeks before we entered the studio.
So, yes, everything was written before the pandemic except “In Between”. I wrote this song a week or two after confinement. That’s when I realized, “This is serious. There is going to be a before and an after.
The pandemic was happening and there was also a huge tornado going through Nashville if I remember correctly.
My wife is running a tree planting campaign here in Nashville. I was helping him plant trees the day before containment and the day of containment. Then we heard, “OK, by tonight everyone stays home.” We were just running around town doing that.
The tornado was that week or the week before. There were all these tree plantings to try to replace all the ones that were lost in the tornado. So on the day the lockdown happened we dug like 30 holes and planted 30 trees, tried to drive them into the ground before it all really stopped. It is a strange but pleasant memory for me.
It’s not about taking anything away from what you did on the previous records but, on “Be Here Within”, I think the vocal performances are so wonderful and dynamic. I wonder if you were more intentional about how you sing and what you sing.
Yeah, I was. I feel like I’m still learning what works for me and my voice. “On Other Arrangements” there are a lot of rockers who are fun to sing live but also difficult to sing night after night. So when I was writing “Be Here Within”, I was definitely aware that I was going to have to sing these songs a lot. So that meant writing songs where I could give myself a break to avoid being amplified and screaming all together.
But it’s also a part of my voice that I find pretty cool and worth showing off. I wrote some of these songs on the piano and [that contributed to some of what you’re describing]. And doing the music first and then singing back has made me take a different approach because I don’t use half of my brain to play guitar and the other half to sing. When I use my whole brain and body to focus only on singing, it feels a lot more intentional to me and it happened naturally.
I listen to a lot of soul music and wanted there to be a soul element to it. I’ve learned that often it means singing more quietly. Get closer to the microphone. It’s awesome to go “Waaaaaaah!” back here [away from the microphone] but get really close to the microphone and show control and nuance? It attracts people.
Sometimes I talk to singers who wrote and recorded songs in their twenties where they sang at the top of their lungs and now they’re 60 and they have to go out and perform these songs every night. I sometimes wonder if they blame their young me for creating these songs that are so hard to sing.
I saw Jeff Lynne and ELO last year. I have seen Elton John several times. These guys have been doing it for a long time and they still ring the bell unbelievable. It takes a lot of control and a lot of practice and breathing. I also love to hear stories about Roy Orbison. He has one of the most dramatic voices, huge. But, apparently, in the studio, he was singing really soft. All the voice you know and love from Roy Orbison, he doesn’t exactly sing at the top of his lungs. He was just awesome two millimeters from the microphone.