By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Music has always been a part of Parker Millsap’s life. And for this 20-year-old Purcell native, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
With original songwriting and a voice that can be described as earthy and raw, this Americana rising star is making a name for himself in the local music scene.
Millsap recently returned from a tour with John Fullbright, fellow Oklahoma Americana musician recently nominated for a Grammy. Upcoming gigs include his weekly free show at The Deli, 309 White St., 7 p.m. Tuesdays, as well as his free-admission performances during the Summer Breeze Concert Series 7:30 p.m. June 16 at Lions Park, 450 S. Flood Ave., and Jazz in June 7 p.m. June 20 at Brookhaven Village, 3700 W. Robinson St.
For more on Millsap visit parkermillsap.com.
Q: What inspires your work?
A: It depends. I write songs in batches, it seems like. There will be this batch of songs that has a theme and then another batch of songs that has a different theme. For “Palisade,” the record that we put out almost a year ago — a lot of guilt.
Growing up around here it’s a pretty common thing to grow up in a conservative house, deal with lots of, “No, don’t do that,” and stuff like that. That fueled a lot of songwriting for a while. My parents were the types of parents that weren’t always on my back and the people at my church weren’t that way either. I was just a guilty kid. I just felt guilty. I am a pretty driven person and I have pretty high expectations for myself. When you have really high expectations for yourself and a really rigid set of rules that are kind of unrealistic, it doesn’t always necessarily mix very well.
That was a lot of it for a while, but lately it’s just been stories. My girlfriend is a big fan of these huge story archs. She reads these fantasy novels where there’s 14 books in the series and they’re all a 1,000 pages. And then I like “Of Mice and Men.” I like this itty bitty story and there is a climax but at the end of it it’s just “some people did some things.” To me that’s real. That’s the kind of thing I like.
Q: What is your creative process like?
A: It’s different every time. A lot of times for me it starts with a little idea and I’ll jot down a phrase on a piece of paper. Then I’ll think about if for a while, and when the idea gets big enough that it won’t just fit in my head, I start writing.
I read this book called “On Writing” by Stephen King, it’s Stephen King writing about writing. He said you have to make a job of it because after a certain point it’s not just some magical thing, it’s like a job after a certain point. So lately, when I’m home, I try to write a little bit each day. Sometimes it produces songs that aren’t really worth anything but when a song comes along that is worth something I sit down and work it out.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the future? What’s your goal?
A: My goal is to move out of my parent’s garage. (laughing) That’s really my only goal right now. I just want to be able to keep doing music and move out of my parent’s garage.
We’re releasing a record in hopefully September, and it will be distributed by Thirty Tigers, which are the people that did John Fullbright’s record and the Turnpike Troubadours. We should be done mixing in June and then we’ll start figuring out the rest from there. But it should be out in September, hopefully.
Q: What was your goal when you started?
A: What was my goal when I started playing music? To meet girls. No, I wasn’t very good at sports. (laughing) When you grow up in Purcell and you’re not very good at sports, there’s only so many options, I guess.
I pretty much just dedicated myself to it. I’m not really driven by grand visions of being rich and famous. I just want to write a good song. I want to move people. I think that is the driving factor for anybody who’s really in it is just to move people or make people really think.
Q: Why do you think that element of music is important? Or is it important?
A: When you grow up in church — and especially around a lot of music — it’s a spiritual thing. I’m not particularly spiritual, I’m pretty much a skeptic, and I’m not really religious but that’s the one thing that feels very real to me.
I don’t cry very often but within the past year the few times that I have cried have been because of music. So it’s like maybe I can do that to someone else. I think there’s a Kurt Vonnegut quote and he said something like music is the only proof of existence of a god I’ve ever found. And Kurt Vonnegut is a big skeptic and he’s grumpy but even he found in the music — if there is a god, that’s where he is, he’s somewhere in that. I feel the same way about it.
Q: Does performing make you nervous? How do you feel about performing?
A: The performing is fine. I don’t like waiting for the gig to start, like I get anxious but not nervous. I’ve got to have something to do in that period between setting up and playing.
Q: What do you do to fill your time now?
A: Well, Frisbee now. We figured out that a Frisbee is probably one of the more important things to have on the road.
Q: Is there anything else about being a performer that you don’t enjoy?
A: We don’t make a lot of money. (laughing) No, I feel like I’m built for it. We’d never really been on tour for any extended period of time besides maybe for two days before we went out with Fullbright a few weeks ago and it didn’t phase me. It felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
Q: Do you have a band that travels with you?
A: Yeah, for the Fullbright tour it was just me and my base player, Michael Rose, but we’ve also been playing with a fiddle player named Daniel Foulks, and he hopefully will get to go on the road with us more as money allows.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to someone who’s interested in being a musician?
A: Don’t do it. (laughing) No, it’s extremely fulfilling, it’s just a lot of work. You’ve got to be committed to it. It has to be the only thing you want to do. Just like any job, any job that requires a whole lot of work I think your heart has to be in it or it has to require a really big dollar sign. There’s a chance, like a one in a million chance, that you could make a lot of money but you can’t be in it for that, you can’t be in it for anything except for you have to do it.
Q: How would you feel if you were one in a million though?
A: I wouldn’t complain.