"I just wanted to be in a band,” Millsap says. “Then I just kinda kept pursuing it.”
Images courtesy of All Eyes Media
Parker Millsap is a 23-year-old musician for whom the term “old soul” gets thrown around a lot, despite the fact he hasn’t lived long enough to be considered old. He’s been writing songs for his entire life, and jokingly considered his best writing to be whatever he wrote before he was six years old. He started playing music when he was nine, and by 13, he was proficient enough at guitar to start playing in church and a local garage band. That band, called The Funkhouse Fevers, played mostly cover songs like "Can't Stop: by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix, and '"Texas Flood'"by Stevie Ray Vaughan. It was only once The Funkhouse Fevers were accepted to compete in a local Battle of the Bands that Millsap began to seriously write his own stuff.
“It was kind of borne out of necessity; I just wanted to be in a band,” Millsap says. “Then I just kinda kept pursuing it.”
With a background like that, it probably won’t surprise you to hear the influence of Motown, country, Irish folk music, and Americana running all through this album. His parents had a very eclectic record collection, which had a lot to do when inspiring Millsap to write.
The track we’re premiering today, “The Very Last Day,” has a lot of those themes flowing through it. It’s bluesy but uplifting, definitely a track for fans of Chris Stapleton and the like. Listen now, and read our brief interview with him about his latest album, also called The Very Last Day (which you can pre-order here).
Noisey: So how are you feeling about this new album?
Parker Millsap: I feel good about it. We've been sitting on it for a minute. We recorded it in February and then kinda did overdubs and mixed through June, so it feels like it's taken a minute to get out. But I'm excited about it. We've put a lot of work into it.
I know your first album really shocked everyone with how good it was. Where did you get the inspiration for the second one?
I wrote a lot of these songs over the year-and-a-half between the last record and then recording this one, so they were kind of developed over a long time. But for a good chunk of it I was living in a small town in Oklahoma called Guthrie. I would just hang out and write songs, but it was the winter and it was... Oklahoma in the winter's kinda grey and brown; there's not much color in the winter in Oklahoma. So I decided I would have some entertainment to fit the mood outside, so I got into Walking Dead for a little while and then I read a bunch of apocalyptic book—Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Stephen King's The Stand, stuff like that —and yeah, so that's where some of it comes from. And some of it's just random ideas, they pop into your head and you try to make a song out of them.
A lot of times I'll develop a little character in my head and just make up a person and write about them. Or, like, ‘“Hades Pleads” on this record is just a song written from the perspective of Hades in Greek mythology. He's trying to get with Persephone. And yeah and then other ones... let's see, ”A Little Fire" is just like sitting down in a room like 'OK, write a song. What are you going to write a song about. There's this room around you, write a song about it, start there. You're in a box.' You just go from there, see where it goes.
Was there a moment when you saw someone and you were like, 'that guy's in a band and that's exactly what I want to do?' Or did you always kind of feel like that's what you wanted to do?
I started playing guitar when I was like nine. I was always into music, my parents were into music, my dad had a pretty interesting record collection. We didn't listen to a lot of radio.
A lot of blues, a lot of singer-songwriters. I grew up listening to Muddy Waters and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Ry Cooder and songwriters like Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, these kind of Texas storytelling songwriters. Just all kinds of stuff. And I didn't listen to a lot of the radio and I didn't watch a ton of music television or anything, so I was kind of isolated from a lot of the popular culture growing up as far as music goes. So I don't know if there was ever a point where... I think I really approached it more like, 'I think I could do this, I think I could make enough money to survive off of this.’
Were they supportive when you told them you wanted to be a musician?
You know, my parents have been great and they've been really supportive, and if it weren't for them I wouldn't have realized, 'oh, I can do this.' When I was probably 14 or 15, we'd done a few shows and my dad went and bought me a PA, a little simple PA rig, and he was like, 'if you're going to play shows, you've got to have your own PA.' So yeah, for a long time we hauled our own PA and played back to school bashes and stuff. And we'd make 100 dollars like 'hell yeah, that beats working a full day.'
How did you get your first guitar?
My parents. I think I asked them for a guitar for Christmas or my birthday and so we went to the music store and we got the one that they could afford which was like 70 dollars—I've still got it, it's actually on the wall right there—just a little classical guitar. And they got me a book and I figured out a tiny bit on my own, then after I had the guitar for a while they said, 'we'll get you some lessons.' So yeah, they took me to lessons and bought me a PA and guitar stuff, it's been great.
Left to right: Michael Rose, Parker Millsap, Daniel Foulks
I know you said you were working on this during the winter time, but was there any one specific you were listening to or anything that was driving you—apart from the awful Oklahoma winters?
There are kind of specific albums that I think parts of this record come from. Like, the Motown Number 1 Hits CDs. I forget what it's called, but Motown has this collection that's basically chronological from their first number 1, all Motown number 1s. I was listening to a lot of that but also listening to a lot of Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town and then the Arcade Fire record Neon Bible.
I think that's their best one, honestly.
Oh my God, thank you for saying that. I get in arguments about this all the time. People are like 'nah man, The Suburbs or Funeral and I'm like 'No, Neon Bible is the best record by far.'
Like, have you heard 'Black Mirror'? Obviously Neon Bible is the best one.
Yeah, my introduction to them; when I was in high school I went to Hastings and I heard it and was like, 'Who's this Arcade Fire indie band, I don't like indie music, but this is on the used rack, I'll get it.' I listened to it in my car in high school for two months and I was like, 'I hate this record but I feel like I'm supposed to like it because they're hip' or whatever. And then finally one day it clicked.
I wanted to talk a little bit about religion because this music... there's so many religious aspects. But your music in general: I know you've been ex-Pentacostal for a while, do you think your music is representative of what you were experiencing as you left the church? Is it at all being used to figure out who you are after leaving the church?
Yeah I think there's a lot of just processing thoughts about religion in the songs. That happens because I grew up steeped in it. I don't think church is bad. A lot of people, they hear my music and they think I'm making fun of somebody and then other people think I'm a Christian artists; that's really interesting. But my goal is to tell stories and make music. But those themes come up.
What are some of your favorite stories to tell through your music?
I like making up a character. Like, OK, come up with a few parameters for this characters and then see what they become by the time this song's over. I think I'm generally attracted to sad stories, which is what it is.
I hear that a lot from the country musicians I interview. You don't seem like a sad person though, do you have any idea why you would like sad music?
I'm sure there's a certain amount of catharsis. Also there's this certain thing like when a movie or a song moves you to tears, that's a different kind of experience to rocking out to a shreddy guitar solo. It's just a different thing. It's maybe more akin to when you get to the end of the novel and there's that oh my god point. Yeah, I dunno why I'm attracted to it. Also it's hard to write a happy song and it not come off as corny. That's a special skill. Smokey Robinson is pretty good at that one.
You have been called an 'old soul' a lot in interviews that I've seen with you, even though you're only, what, 22 now?
I'll be 23 in a week and a half, yeah.
Happy early birthday!
Do you feel like you're an old soul or do you just feel like you're a kid making music and people put labels on you because they want to or something?
More the second one. When I first started playing I played a lot of house shows and so I was interacting with a lot of older folks in Texas and it was like there was this generation gap and they'll just come up and tell you whatever - they're old and they don't care what you think. So people would come up and say that at shows and for a long time I was just like, 'you don't know anything about me! You don't know anything about my soul! I don't even know anything about my soul!' You know, I kind of got offended. But y'know, people are going to say what they're gonna say. Whatever, time is relative and I've been here as long as I've been here.
Annalise Domenighini is Noisey's social editor. Follow her on Twitter.