Parker McCollum, understandably, is ready for another cup of coffee. It’s a quiet January morning, and the Texas-bred country singer is speaking to American Songwriter over the phone from his home in Nashville where he’s enjoying a rare moment of calm following an insanely busy year.
In 2021, McCollum released his debut studio album Gold Chain Cowboy, nailed his first late-night performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live in a single take, launched his own line of wines (more on this later), and got engaged. As if that wasn’t enough, he also wrapped up the year with a sold-out New Years’ Eve show at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. The best part of that show? His mom was in the crowd.
Now, McCollum is gearing up for another insanely busy year. He plans to play at least 150 shows in 2022, which shouldn’t surprise anybody who’s followed his schedule over the last decade. The 29-year-old cut his teeth as a touring musician before signing to MCA Nashville, and he remains one of the hardest working artists on the circuit. Of course, he’s not just touring for the sake of touring—he’s also hitting the road in support of Gold Chain Cowboy, an album featuring co-writes from the likes of Tony Lane, Randy Montana, Miranda Lambert, and Rhett Akins. Lead single “Pretty Heart” is nearing 100 million streams on Spotify alone, but we’re convinced that the driving “To Be Loved By You” will herald the next phase of McCollum’s career—it’s the type of heavy-hearted, radio-friendly anthem that hits equally hard in the stadium and the dive bar.
McCollum, now based solely in Music City, spoke to American Songwriter about writing uptempo heartbreak songs, fine-tuning his live show, and relistening to his favorite Randy Travis hits. Check out the conversation below.
American Songwriter: How’s the start of your 2022 going?
Parker McCollum: Man, it’s really good. We just played the MusicFest in Steamboat Springs. We headlined the whole thing and snowboarded for three straight days for about eight hours a day.
AS: It’s been exactly a year now since you dropped “To Be Loved By You.” Were you surprised by that song’s reception or did you know it would strike a chord with your fans?
PM: I kind of knew that song was one of the better songs I had written. I don’t think anything that I do is particularly good so the fact that it’s doing anything at all is pretty surprising to me. But at the same time, I usually think all my shit sucks.
AS: But you felt there was something there that was special?
PM: All my shit is so sad, heartbreak love songs, which are my favorite kind of songs, which that song still kind of is, but it’s still real uptempo and rocking and feels good, so it seemed like exactly what I was going for.
AS: Totally. It’s very much a fun, driving take on heartbreak.
PM: Yeah, which I think I needed desperately ‘cause I was really getting bored of standing up on stage singing slow sad songs every day.
AS: Might as well switch it up with a fast sad song.
PM: Yeah, I think I’ll try to rip myself off with that one and do it again.
AS: Were you surprised by the reception of the album overall?
PM: I mean, it felt exactly like the other two albums. I sat around thinking that it was not good and that I had missed the mark, that I was not good or talented, then it was [received] really well and I’m like, “Alright, maybe I’m not that bad!”
AS: Which of those songs have been your favorite to play live?
PM: “To Be Loved By You” is definitely one of my favorites to play. “Rest of My Life”—the band goes off stage, I do acoustic, just me and harmonica. I really enjoy playing that one. That was my favorite song off the record. And, you know, “Why Indiana” is actually a song that I really enjoy during a live show.
AS: Do you have a special arrangement for that song live?
PM: Yeah, there’s a couple of different arrangements that we do just to build up the intro. But other than that it’s pretty straight to the record.
AS: How else do you keep the live show fresh, either for you or for fans?
PM: We try to build a new show every couple of months, just as far as arrangements and setlist and stuff like that. It’s kind of surprising, none of it’s gotten stale yet. I guess that’s a good thing. There’s a lot more tempo on this record than previous records, or a lot more upbeat, fun songs, but none of them are pop-y or lack meaning or anything. All the songs definitely come from the right place. I mean, we’re playing arenas and huge amphitheaters and stuff, so we needed to beef up the setlist and this album helped us do that.
AS: So what makes a good live set for you? How do you know when it’s really landing?
PM: It always seems like it falls on me. I always try to figure out what was weird about tonight or what didn’t feel right about tonight. It’s probably because I was hungover or I didn’t warm up enough. It always seems to fall back on me. So the nights that I really take care of my shit and really am ready to play and fully dialed-in, it’s like nothing else matters ‘cause I know the band and I are hitting and we sound great. It’s just like anything else – some nights you’re not gonna be feeling it, so I really am grateful and I really appreciate the nights that it feels good.
AS: Speaking of performing, I know you made your late-night debut a little bit ago. How’d it feel to play Jimmy Kimmel Live?
PM: Man, that was really cool. To play one of those shows is something I’d wanted to do since I was a little kid. I saw Ryan Adams & the Cardinals on Conan one night I think when I was really little when he was doing the super hard rock thing. I’d wanted to do it for a long time. So to get to be in that studio and be out in LA for a couple of days with the guys, just ding donging around and having a good time… We did one take and they were like, “That’s it.”
AS: Around this time last year you also announced a wine brand. Where’d the wine project come from?
PM: My aunt is partners with a couple of vineyards out in California, and when “Pretty Heart” had gone No. 1 she was like, “Hey, I have this red wine that’s really, really good and the country radio was really good to you through COVID. You oughta name this wine ‘To Be Loved By You’ for your next single and send it to all the radio stations as a thank you.” So we did it and bottled it up. Once it arrived we tasted it and everybody was like, this is not just some cheap red wine. I mean, it’s really, really good. It’s been elevated to reserve status, aged in French oak barrels for however long. Really high-quality wine. We were like, this is too good to be a gift, so we started selling it on the website. We sold out like two thousand bottles in the first couple of days.
AS: Who would have thought that 2021 was the year you become a wine brand.
PM: I know! That was the last thing I saw coming.
AS: Did you have any other highlights from 2021?
PM: I got engaged back in July, got to meet and hang out with George Strait for a little bit, got to go to Randy Travis’s house and hang out with him, threw out the first pitch at a Rangers game. Golly, what else? Just crazy shit. Sold out 20,000-person amphitheaters. It’s been absolutely unreal.
AS: How was New Years’ Eve? You were in Texas?
PM: Yeah, we played Oklahoma City on the 30th, and then on New Year’s Eve, we were in Fort Worth at Dickies Arena and then January 1st at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
AS: How was that Fort Worth show?
PM: It was nutty, man. My mom lives up there so she got to come out and bring all her friends. We sold it out, so that was a pretty good way to end the year.
AS: You’re playing these bigger venues now. Does it feel different to play for audiences of that size?
PM: Nah, I’ve been playing those venues in my head for so long, you know? It’s just watching your dream unfold in real-time. It’s a pretty cool experience.
AS: Have you been writing or recording any new material recently?
PM: I’m always bouncing something around in my head as far as writing. I haven’t been recording at all but I’m sure that is just around the corner. I’m so busy, you know. I’m playing 150 shows this year, not to mention all the radio shows they’ve got me running around the country doing. It’s really hard to find time to get in the studio. But I’m sure here in the next 60 days we’ll get in there in some capacity.
AS: Do you find time for yourself these days?
PM: No, none of that. It’s pedal to the metal right now. The next 24 months will probably determine the next 20 years of my life, so it’s go-get-it right now.
AS: Are you a New Years Resolution type of guy?
PM: [laughing] Absolutely not, no. Man, my only goal this year is to just remain locked in. I feel like throughout the year I get so busy. You start touring so much. My ultimate goal this year is just to take as good care of myself mentally and physically so that I can sustain this kind of schedule.
AS: How do you usually do that?
PM: The gym is kind of my sanctuary. I know it’s a cheesy thing to say, but it’s my place where I can go and just be myself for a couple of hours and go crazy. I go to the gym all the time on the road. That helps a lot. And eating – eating and sleeping.
AS: What are you listening to on the road these days?
PM: This time of year I always get into the old Randy Travis hits—“Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart,” “Look Heart, No Hands,” “Forever and Ever Amen.” Those songs just put my mind where I want it to be this time of year, so it’s been a lot of old Randy Travis lately.
Gold Chain Cowboy is out now via MCA Nashville. Listen to it here.
Photo by Tyler Conrad / True PR