Parker Millsap Becomes Vulnerable, Explores Songwriting Process On New Album “Be Here Within”
If Bob Dylan had grown up with an iPad, he would probably use it.
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 last album Be here instead, he explored writing from a more vulnerable and personal perspective in a way that made him feel like he was “sneaking up”.
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 experimenting with different effects and tools.
Listen above to learn more about how he started writing more using an iPad, and feeling more fearless in his approach to songwriting.
Trying new songwriting techniques
In the past, before this album, a lot of my compositions were almost thematic … I just stopped having so many conceptual ideas about what a song should be. And I started to play more and more with just music.
And I started to use the iPad a lot. It has so many drum machines, synthesizers and rhythm loops built in. And I was just like, ‘why haven’t I ever done that?’
So I started doing that, like trying to cheat myself to get creative. A little upside down from the way I used to do it. I used to have an idea, I would sit down with a guitar and hit it until I felt like the idea was over.
But with a lot of these songs, it started with a weird musical idea that was going through my head for weeks. And then finally, I would record and look for if there was a beat that could go behind. And then I started doing overdubs, just putting tons of guitar solos on top of the guitar solos, and eventually I found the melody in one of the guitar solos. Just a really long way to do it. But very liberating in a creative way.
This record, I didn’t feel I had to do it in a certain way. I know how the songs are made. I can just follow the muse and use different tools to get to the same place. I feel like I was able to achieve some form of fearlessness when it comes to approaching songwriting.
Be more vulnerable
I was more inclined to trust the ear of the producer a little more than my ear from time to time. So there are times like that where I feel like I’m exposing myself a bit. And I think what’s brave about music is showing your imperfections and as long as you’re not a bad singer that’s what people connect with: the human quality.
A lot of my previous records were more about character driven storytelling … an experience to build on. And part of it was just me realizing that it was time for me to be me in my songs, rather than telling someone else’s story.
There was just more to my heart that was about me that I wanted to express.
It’s strange to me how unintentional a lot of them were. A lot of these songs, I had music … and then whatever first lyrics came to mind, I was just trying to capture what I was thinking and going for it. No editing. Don’t think about the song. Just start writing down your thoughts and try to rhyme them.
And I think I ended up enjoying sneaking around and figuring out what I was thinking by just going there.
I found that, like the core, whatever first lyric or concept I thought of as I played along with the music ended up being the centerpiece of the song.
Music featured in this episode:
- Parker Millsap – Lamination
- Parker Millsap – In between
- Kurt Vile – Wakin on a pretty day
- Dinosaur Jr. – Almost Ready
- Parker Millsap – In Your Eyes
- Arcade Fire – Everything Now
- Parker Millsap – Always
- Parker Millsap – Damn
- Parker Millsap – Heaven Sent
- Parker Millsap – Vulnerable
- Parker Millsap – Now
- Parker Millsap – The Real Thing
- Parker Millsap – Being Alive
- Parker Millsap – Passing