Interview: Parker Millsap Turns Bluesy Roots, Church-Going Childhood Into ‘Other Arrangements’
Parker Millsap may be a rising star in the Americana, country and roots format, but the 24-year-old singer-songwriter says that, lately, he's been listening to a lot of hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak and Chance the Rapper all make regular appearances on his Spotify playlists.
"Genre's an illusion, maaaan!" Millaap jokes with The Boot. "The blues, in all its iterations, always hits home. What I like about a lot of hip-hop, and a lot of pop, is that I hear echoes of the blues, and that always feels like home to me. Any funky bass line is descended from some form of the blues, way back."
The singer's fourth studio album, Other Arrangements, which arrives Friday (May 4), takes that love of the blues in another direction: towards rock 'n' roll. However, Millsap explains that whether he plays in an acoustic or electric setting is often largely practical, and not always an artistic choice.
"I played [electric guitar] in high school, but in my high school band, my drummer moved on, and so it was just me and my bass player left, and it's hard to make anything work with an electric guitar, an electric bass and no drummer," he notes. "I got an acoustic guitar and started getting into songwriting at that point, because a lot of the songwriters I looked up to were more acoustic musicians."
One benefit of playing his electric guitar with a full band, however, is that at live shows, people dance: "A lot of the new songs are easier to move to, so I see a lot more head bobbing and 'white people dancing,'" Millsap says with a laugh. "I keep changing which [song] is my favorite on Other Arrangements, which is unusual for me. Usually, right before a record comes out, I'm nervous. I'll be thinking, 'Oh man, all these songs are awful! I can't believe I made this record!'
"But I really like all these songs," he goes on to say. ""Tell Me" is probably my favorite one to play live. It's akin to a blues song, but it's not quite a blues song, which is something I've been trying to write for a little while."
Millsap credits his bluesy foundation to being raised in a family that always loved music, through which he was frequently exposed to songs that weren't being played on the radio in his hometown of Purcell, Okla.
"My dad was not a musician, but he was an avid listener and music collector, and he was into all kinds of cool, off-the-beaten path music," Millsap explains. "I remember listening to a lot of Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Muddy Waters, Lyle Lovett ... quite the mix! I feel lucky that I was exposed to it while I was young."
The first musician of the family was Millsap's mother, who loved to sing in the car and in church. In fact, the church was Millsap's first musical outlet: His family attended a Pentecostal church three times a week, and all of his early performances took place in church.
"I'm probably only now getting to the point where I've played out of church as many times as I've played in church," he admits.
"I'm just really comfortable in sacred spaces ... I think they're designed to make you feel at home, peaceful and safe."
Millsap plans to hit the road in May in support of Other Arrangements, and will wrap up with a series of international stops in August and September. One of his first shows, however, will take place in a venue that was originally constructed as a church: Perkins, Okla.'s Old Church, which hosts the Cimarron Breeze Concerts series and songwriter showcases, was built in 1892 as the Methodist Episcopal Church, and features all the architectural hallmarks of the kinds of churches where Millsap played as a kid.
"It's really comfortable for me, that kind of space, even if I don't necessarily subscribe to the things those places profess," he says. "I'm just really comfortable in sacred spaces. I think I could say that about any space that's designed for a sacred use, whether that be a temple or a synagogue or whatever. I think they're designed to make you feel at home, peaceful and safe."
For more details on Other Arrangements, or to follow along with Millsap's tour stops, check out his website.
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