‘The Very Last Day’ is Only a Beginning for Parker Millsap
Considering the foreboding title of Parker Millsap’s newest album, The Very Last Day, it may make sense that he played in a cave two weeks ago.
Millsap joined Kasey Chambers, the McCrary Sisters, and Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors at a taping of PBS’s Bluegrass Underground in the Volcano Room, a subterranean amphitheater 333 feet below ground at historic Cumberland Caverns in Tennessee.
In The Very Last Day’s title song, Millsap sings: “I wanna feel/That Great Atomic Power/When it yields/That final fiery shower/Ain’t no shield/Can save you in that hour/But I won’t cower.”
Even a cave may not provide adequate protection, though, as Millsap continues the lyrics: “When that eruption lays us all to waste/Gonna clutch my heart and lift my face/Watch that mushroom rushing up to space/Gonna sing Amazing Grace/You know there ain’t no reason being so afraid/ Yeah you can try to hide/ But it’s gonna get you anyway.”
Aside from the apocalyptic lyrics, Millsap says the album has “a more band-centric vibe” than his previous, self-titled album.
“Everybody really stretched out and found creative ways to complement the songs,” he says. “I guess the tunes on both records come from the same place where all songs come from: the ether in that elusive gilded cup of the muse.”
Heading to The Very Last Day recording sessions, Millsap says his aim was to make the album “feel more like a band recording than a bunch of overdubs. So, I wrote some tunes and rehearsed them with my band, and we played the tunes on the road a bit before we went into the studio.”
The Very Last Day was recorded in Maurice, Louisiana, and mixed in Nashville. Millsap moved to Nashville two years ago after spending most of his life in Oklahoma.
He grew up in Purcell, a small central Oklahoma city 13 miles south of Norman, where he and his family attended a Pentecostal church three times a week for most of his youth.
Parker, who says he now doesn’t consider himself very religious, first picked up an acoustic guitar at age 9 and later went electric after listening to the music of Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He formed a cover band, Fever in Blue, with classmate Michael Rose, who plays bass with him today.
After graduating from high school, he moved to northern California and was an intern at Prairie Sun Recording Studios, where Tom Waits recorded Bone Machine and Mule Variations. Millsap returned to Oklahoma and started writing songs.
Did his upbringing in Purcell influence his music?
“Hard to say from the middle of the forest,” Millsap replies. “I lived there for my first 19 years, so I learned to play music, write, speak, walk, and make change for fireworks transactions there. The worst thing about Purcell is that it’s a long drive to most gigs.
“I am fortunate to have been so isolated from the music industry and showbiz for the majority of my life. It allowed me to learn to love music and songs and to understand that showbiz and the industry don’t matter much compared to the act of creating and celebrating the act of living through tunes.”
Like any musician, Millsap also lives through other artists’ songs. Some favorite albums he listens to are Leonard Cohen’s 2102 release, Old Ideas, and Bob Dylan’s 1980 born-again-Christian release, Saved.
“They are wonderful and make me feel alive,” Millsap says.
Millsap’s own recording history began at the age of 19, when he and Rose recorded Palisade in Norman, the home of the University of Oklahoma. The 2012 indie release, which Millsap sold from the back of his van, was followed by his self-titled album in 2014 and last year’s The Very Last Day – both on the Okrahoma/Relativity label.
Palisade has stood the test of time, Millsap says. “I think it takes about 500 years for the plastic on a CD to break down, so I imagine that little record’s still got some life in it. We still play ‘Palisade’ (the album’s opening cut) at every show and have since probably 2011.”
Millsap says he has always played cover songs live.
“When I first started gigging, I didn’t have enough material to do a full set of original material. We cover mostly old blues tunes that no one is sure who wrote them, such as ‘You Gotta Move’ and ‘Hesitation Blues.’ I like doing them, because they’re fun to sing, and a lot of folks haven’t heard them.”
Millsap points to performances by Shovels and Rope as the best live concerts he has attended.
“I openly wept at multiple Shovels and Rope concerts. I love when people let go, and those two (singer/songwriters Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, who comprise the indie folk duo) do it in the most beautiful and honest way.”