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Parker Millsap gets vulnerable, explores songwriting process on new album 'Be Here Instead'

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Tim Duggan / provided
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Parker Millsap
If Bob Dylan had an iPad growing up, he'd probably use it.
Parker Millsap

This is Songwriters & Tour Riders, a music podcast from KOSU and Oklahoma State University and hosted by Matthew Viriyapah.

Parker Millsap is a singer-songwriter from Purcell, Oklahoma. On his latest album Be Here Instead, he explored writing from a more vulnerable and personal point of view in a way that felt like he 'was sneaking up on himself.'

The album was produced by John Agnello, who had previously worked with bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and Kurt Vile. Together, they recorded the album with a full live band, while also experimenting with different effects and tools.

Listen above to hear more about how he started writing more using an iPad and feeling more fearless in his approach to songwriting.

On trying new songwriting techniques

In the past, before this record, a lot of my songwriting was done thematically almost... I just stopped having as many conceptual ideas about what a song should be about. And I started playing more and more with just music.

And I started using the iPad a lot. It has so many built in drum machines and synthesizers and rhythm loops. And I was just like, 'why haven't I ever done this?'

So I started doing that, like trying to trick myself into being creative. Kind of backwards from how I used to do it. Used to, I would have an idea, and I'd sit down with a guitar, and I'd just bang it out until I felt like the idea was done.

But with a lot of these songs, it would start with a weird musical idea that would be stuck in my head for weeks. And then finally I'd record and figure out if there's a beat that could go behind it. And then start overdubbing, just putting tons of guitar solos on top of guitar solos, and eventually I'd find the melody in one of the guitar solos. Just a very long way to do it. But very freeing creatively.

This record, I didn't feel like I had to do it a certain way. I know how songs are made. I can just kind of follow the muse and use different tools to get to the same place. I feel like I was able to reach a certain kind of fearlessness as far as approach to songwriting.

On being more vulnerable

I was more inclined to trust the producer's ear a little bit more than my ear from time to time. So there are some moments like that where I feel like I exposed myself a little bit. And I think that's the brave thing about music is showing your imperfections and as long as you're not a terrible singer that's what people connect with— the human quality.

A lot of my earlier records were more focused on character driven narratives... But with this record, I feel like maybe just a lot of that was maybe because I was younger, and I just didn't feel like I have a lot of experience to draw on. And some of it was just me realizing its time for me to be me in my songs, rather than telling someone else's story.

There was just more on my heart that was about me that I wanted to express.
Parker Millsap

It's weird to me how unintentional a lot of them were. A lot of these songs, I'd have some music going... and then just whatever the first lyrics that came to mind were, I would just try to capture whatever it was I was thinking about and just go. No editing. Don't think about what the song is about. Just start writing down thoughts and try to make them rhyme.

And I think I ended up just kind of like sneaking up on myself and figuring out what I was thinking about by just going.

I found that like the kernel, whatever that first lyric or first concept was that I would think of while I was messing with the music, ended up being the central piece of the song.

Music featured in this episode:

  1. Parker Millsap - Rolling
  2. Parker Millsap - In Between
  3. Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Day
  4. Dinosaur Jr. - Almost Ready
  5. Parker Millsap - In Your Eyes
  6. Arcade Fire - Everything Now
  7. Parker Millsap - Always
  8. Parker Millsap - Dammit
  9. Parker Millsap - Heaven Sent
  10. Parker Millsap - Vulnerable
  11. Parker Millsap - Now
  12. Parker Millsap - The Real Thing
  13. Parker Millsap - Being Alive
  14. Parker Millsap - Passing Through

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Matthew Viriyapah is KOSU's production assistant and host of the music podcast Songwriters & Tour Riders.
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