‘I can’t stop being me’
Parker Millsap comes home with confidence
Parker Millsap can’t seem to get away from his Pentecostal, Oklahoma roots.
Not that it’s what 25-year-old singer, songwriter, and guitarist aims to do. Millsap’s four internationally-acclaimed albums are filled with characters Okies know so well. He muses fondly about playing the three chords he knew for his Purcell congregation in a past life. On his latest release, Other Arrangements, you’ll still hear his soulful, pleading voice backed by a gospel choir.
Parker Millsap brings his band—featuring longtime collaborator Michael Rose on bass, classically-trained fiddler Daniel Foulks, and drummer Andrew Bones—to Cain’s Ballroom on Sept. 28. He’s coming back to his home state to take you to church, but maybe not in the way you think.
Alexandra Robinson: So you were in Europe for a couple weeks, right?
Parker Millsap: Two and a half—almost three.
Robinson: I know there’s a huge “Americana” fanbase there, and that always surprises me for some reason. What are your European audiences like?
Millsap: It’s interesting. They’re just as enthusiastic between the songs, but they don’t clap during the songs as much. And then in Denmark, they do this thing (and in a lot of Scandinavia) toward the end of a set: If you really nail a song or something, they’ll all start clapping in unison [mimics claps]. I would love it if people in the States did that.
Robinson: Well maybe we’ll try to get that movement going!
Millsap: ‘Can you guys all just clap in unison really loud for me?’ [laughs]
Robinson: I knew I loved Other Arrangements the moment I heard the line about Texas drivers in “Some People.” [“They got their Texas plates / they’re gonna cut you off.”]
Millsap: If you’ve driven in Texas you know what I’m talking about!
Robinson: Was there a particular instance that inspired this? Or was it a handful of Texans that did this to you?
Millsap: [laughs] There were multiple instances. I mean, most of our touring at the beginning was in Texas, so we were going back and forth between Oklahoma and Texas—and Texan drivers are pretty aggressive [. . .] I don’t want to lose any Texas fans over this interview! [laughs]
Robinson: You wrote this album both on and off the road after moving to Nashville. Did that change your creative process?
Millsap: Yeah, it did! I don’t know why but a lot of the songs kind of came from more guitar riffs. I wrote a lot of the music before the lyrics on this one—and on previous record I wrote, like I had an idea for a story and I’d have a set of lyrics that I’d put music to. But this one, guitar lines and stuff came first and everything else kind of followed.
Robinson: How do you feel when your music is described as “gospel-tinged”?
Millsap: I’ve spent so much of my life playing and listening to gospel and gospel-inspired music, blues, soul, things like that, and I just can’t really escape that. I’m fine with it!
Robinson: It seems like you’re starting to get a little more interested in jazz, and jazz forms, and the experimental nature of it. Is that recent?
Millsap: Yeah, it is [. . .] I feel like I’m just learning more about music [laughs] and learning to appreciate different things—and how to incorporate those things and still be me, you know? Something I’ve learned is that I can’t escape being me anyways.
Robinson: Do you come back to Oklahoma often?
Millsap: I try to. There are things I miss about Oklahoma. I miss the big sky thing. It’s always a little cloudy in Nashville. And there are way more trees in Nashville—I wanna see the storm rolling in! I don’t like it to sneak up on me!
Robinson: The Sir Elton John said that you and Sarah Jarosz “restored his faith in music.” That’s insane! What’s it like to have his fandom?
Millsap: Yeah, it’s kind of insane. I’m just grateful and kind of baffled. I’ve been fortunate enough to kind of hang out with him two or three times—it’s always surreal [laughs]. What’s truly great is he’s a music head he wants to talk about old blues piano players and Aretha Franklin deep cuts. It’s inspiring that you can be on that level and be an international superstar and he’s still way into the craft and what he does.
Robinson: You’ve gotten to play a lot of really cool gigs—Elton John’s Apple Music Festival in London, and The Ryman in Nashville, to name just a couple—but what does it mean to you to be playing a headlining show at Cain’s Ballroom?
Millsap: I love playing Cain’s! It’s always great. Tulsa is one of the first cities besides Norman or the McClain County Fair that we played! [laughs]
Robinson: What was the first Tulsa venue you played?
Millsap: The Colony! I love that place.
Robinson: You said Other Arrangements is the first album you’ve felt totally confident about releasing. Where did you find that confidence?
Millsap: I’m not sure [. . .] I was trying to figure it out, and I think I reached the 10,000-hour rule or something? Where you put 10,000 hours into something and then you’re competent, basically [laughs]. Yeah—I think sometime in the past two years I hit my 10,000 hours, so now I feel like it’s not so mysterious and I can work, you know?