Performing Sunday from 2:25-3:00 on the Palomino Stage
By Noe Gutierrez
It’s an overcast day in Nashville and Parker Millsap has his guitar in hand and lukewarm coffee on the table as he contemplates the writing of his next song.
Coachella Valley Weekly spoke with Millsap a week before his Stagecoach Country Music Festival 2019 appearance and in the middle of his tour supporting his most recent release, Other Arrangements. Millsap will be performing at Stagecoach on the Palomino Stage on Sunday at 2:25 p.m.
CVW: How are you feeling about Stagecoach? I know this is your second time performing.
Millsap: “I’m excited, we’ve done Stagecoach before. I’ve got a reminder on my phone to get on the plane. We’ll fly in the 27th and we play on Sunday the 28th. I think it’s been three years. I love playing festivals because I get to see a bunch of other bands. Us touring musicians don’t get to see a lot of other bands because we’re always on tour. I love playing for festival crowds; they’re in it for the whole day and are committed to the music experience.”
CVW: The Stagecoach line-up continues to expand types and genres. It seems you fit right in.
Millsap: “It leans more towards what I would consider mainstream country; the headliners are more mainstream country which is pretty cool. I’m honored. I don’t care what you call the music. I’m just glad I have a place to play.”
CVW: There’s a continued debate about labeling artists and pigeonholing music. I see the benefits and the challenges. What are your thoughts?
Millsap: “I love so many different kinds of music and I try to draw from all the music that I love from Vivaldi to the Grateful Dead to Vampire Weekend to Hank Williams to John Lee Hooker. Any of those are up for grabs. I love all music. People who are really into jazz have told me I was really good. I don’t think I play jazz but I’m honored somebody thinks that.”
CVW: Your long-time bass player, Michael Rose, is also your childhood best friend. What has it been like growing up and playing with him?
Millsap: “We’ve known each other since I was 14 and he was about 16. I hope he’s having a good time. I love Mike. I love playing music with him. He’s had a big last year, he and his wife just had a baby so that’s a whole new thing in his life. He’s my brother. We’ve sat in a vehicle together for about a million miles, sat, and played together a million times. I hope he still likes playing with me. We draw from a lot of the same influences; we grew up in the same town. We were the only two kids that were into blues music at Purcell High School when we were there. We’re kindred spirits. I’m glad that the universe helped us find each other.”
CVW: You’ve performed at Stagecoach before but you’ve also played Pappy & Harriet’s.
Millsap: We played Pappy & Harriet’s the last time the day after our Stagecoach set. That’s a pretty beautiful place ya’ll are at, serene and in the middle of nowhere but still close to the city. I love the California scenery. It’s always a treat, palm trees and the whole bit. As for Pappy’s, I love the space. It really feels like you’re out in the middle of the desert. I love the small intimate crowd. Everyone that showed were are either their regulars or they drove a long way to see us, so they were pumped. I didn’t know Paul McCartney played there. I got to see him play Austin City Limits for the first time about six months ago. It was phenomenal.”
CVW: You have a string of Canada dates coming up this summer. What do you see as the differences between the U.S. and Canada?
Millsap: “We’ve performed there before, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. And we did one show in Saskatchewan in the middle of the fields. They’re a little more polite than the American audience. They are real music fans. I love playing Canada. We’ve got to do a lot of cool things there. They have all kinds of cool public support for artists in Canada on a national level. I’ve met quite a few Canadian artists I’ve toured with on the road who have been helped to get started with their careers.”
CVW: Can you tell us a little about your family and support system?
Millsap: “I have a sister who lives in Western Australia. I’m from Oklahoma and moved to Nashville about four years ago. My parents still live in Oklahoma. I got engaged recently and I’m getting married. She’s got a regular job. My job is normal to me but…she works in the non-profit world for an agency called Collective Impact. It’s a cross-sector involvement to try and solve large social problems. It’s a complex thing with non-profits and local government and they get them all on the same page. For example, if we want to lower the childhood obesity rate by 5%, your businesses have money, your non-profits have expertise and your local people can enforce it. It’s pretty intense stuff. She does more of the systems level stuff. It’s her job to get all those people in the same room and get them all up to speed. She asks, ‘here are these problems, so how can you all fix it?’ She’s one of the organizers basically. She’s in constant contact with 100 different people. These projects that she’s working on are long-term projects. She’s pretty amazing. I can’t do any of that. I’ll just play guitar.”
CVW: Can you please share your songwriting process?
Millsap: “I usually just sit down with a guitar and notebook and just start throwing paint at the wall and see what looks good and follow that. A lot of times it starts as one little lyrical line, if I say, ‘I liked how that feels to say that’ or ‘I liked the image that lyric puts in my mind’ then I’ll try to unpack that central idea. And sometimes it’s a musical idea, and it’s the same thing like, ‘I love playing this little lick’ or ‘how can I write a song where this lick will sounds really good.’ It’s exciting. A lot of times It’s not until after the fact that I can tell I’ve done something good or bad, I just stay focused on the ‘doing’. Every once in a while I’m like, ‘holy shit, I did it! I made something cool.’ But pretty often I make something that’s not great and I just don’t release that stuff.”
CVW: How would you describe your artist/fan connection? Is there a balance between writing/performing for yourself and/or others?
Millsap: “It’s somewhere in-between. I really don’t think, ‘what are my fans gonna like?’ I trust that my fans are fans of something about me, whether it’s my voice, my guitar playing or songwriting, they’re gonna dig whatever I put out. I’m not trying to be weird just to be weird. I do think about, ‘will this connect? can people, can someone connect with this? whether it’s one person or just me.’ A lot of times it’s just reminders to myself. So I do think about connection and I definitely think about what’s gonna sound good live more than studio because I spend so much more time playing live than in the studio.”
CVW: Is there a reawakening that has to happen prior to your album releases?
Millsap: “It’s a constant reinventing with slight adjustments here and there. Two years later when I have a batch of songs together it may seem like a reinvention from the outside. Like this record I just put out. It’s heavier, more electric guitar-focused. From the outside, it seems like a real change of direction. For me it felt like slight little one degree turns. After the end of two years, it’s a couple of degrees.”
CVW: Where are you in your level of music maturity?
Millsap: “I think I’m a better live performer. I think I’m a better singer. I think I’m a better guitar player. I think it’s because I have a lot more stage hours under my belt since the last time we played Stagecoach. I think last time we performed it might have even been as an acoustic trio. So this time we’re a full band, electric guitar, etc. I think it’s a much more mature sound.”
CVW: What types of trials have you experienced recently?
Millsap: “Lately I’ve been focusing on lyrics and trying to write lyrics that are meaningful. There are certain songs that I’ve written that after a year or just a couple months of playing them live, something about the lyrics don’t sit right with me or the music doesn’t quite feel right. Like it has lost its meaning. I’m trying to write songs that will full-on hold on to their meaning and for me not to be disconnected from them.”
Millsap: “I was 21 when I moved to Nashville. I was touring a lot during that period. If you’re considering moving to Nashville, I’m still trying to figure it out. My piece of advice to any up-and-coming musician would be to buy the Donald Passman’s book All You Need to Know About the Music Business. It’s like 250 pages explaining how labels and publishing works, music copyright, etc. It basically gives you a bunch of information so that you can make an informed decision if you decide to try to make money playing music.”
CVW: Do you have any new music forthcoming?
Millsap: “I don’t have any studio time booked yet but I have a bag full of songs that I’ve been working on so there’s new stuff on the way. I’m also going to get to co-produce the record which has been a goal of mine for a while in the next year so that might stall my new stuff.”
CVW: Anything else you’d like to share?
Millsap: “Yeah, tell them I’m a really nice guy!”