Acclaimed singer-songwriter Parker Millsap has announced the release of his new album. BE HERE INSTEAD arrives via his own Okrahoma Records and Thirty Tigers on Friday, April 9. Produced by the legendary John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Waxahatchee), BE HERE INSTEAD is heralded by today’s premiere of the luminous new single, “The Real Thing,” available now at all DSPs and streaming services. The song—which features guest vocals from Nashville singer Erin Rae – is joined by an official companion video, streaming now at YouTube.
“It’s a song whose meaning has revealed new layers to me over time,” Millsap says. “At first it was about being on the road and missing my wife, then it was about my general distaste for internet communication, and then the pandemic hit, and it became about having to depend on that type of communication and being starved for physical closeness. The thesis of the song is: Facetime ain’t shit.
“For the video, without any prior input from me, Jacq Justice came up with a concept that perfectly framed these new themes the song was revealing to me,” Millsap continues. “What is the “real” connection? How do we find it and foster it these days? Is technology allowing us to stay in touch when we couldn’t otherwise, but hindering the quality of communication? ARE WE TRAPPED IN OUR OWN REFLECTION?!”
Millsap’s fifth studio LP and first new album in close to three years, BE HERE INSTEAD, marks a stylistic shift from the gritty and high-energy folk of the Oklahoma-bred, Nashville-based artist’s previous output. Mainly recorded live with Millsap’s full band, the album sees a departure from the guitar-and-notebook-based approach to songwriting that shaped his earlier work. Instead, Millsap has followed his curiosity to countless other modes of expression, experimenting with everything from piano to effects pedals to old school drum machines (a fascination partly inspired by the early-’70s innovations of Sly Stone and J.J. Cale).
In another creative breakthrough, Be Here Instead forgoes the character-driven storytelling of his past in favor of a more introspective and endlessly revelatory form of lyricism, an element he traces back to the charmed nature of his songwriting process. “Because the lyrics were appearing seemingly out of nowhere and with no prior intent, some of them started to feel like transmissions from my subconscious, rather than the preconceived linear stories or waking thoughts of my earlier songs,” says Millsap. “They feel like words I needed to hear from myself and not just things I wanted to say to someone else.
“My wife’s grandfather was an artist who did watercolor paintings,” Millsap continues, “and a few years ago I decided I wanted to try it. I very quickly found out that watercolors are really hard to work with – you have to embrace your mistakes, and then let them guide you along. It’s made me think about how when you mess up, you’re basically revealing your humanity, which is what music’s all about. When I listen to records, I love when Ray Charles’s voice cracks, or when you hear the squeaking of the kick-drum pedal on a Led Zeppelin song. Anything that shows the living, breathing quality of the whole thing, that’s always wonderful. That’s what we’re here for. So don’t be afraid to let it happen.”
Though BE HERE INSTEAD sees Millsap broadening his already ambitious musical vision, the album remains firmly grounded in the sophisticated musicianship he began honing while growing up in the small town of Purcell, Oklahoma. Inspired by Texas singer-songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Millsap started writing songs on acoustic guitar in his early teens before making his official debut at the age of 19 with 2012’s PALISADE. His self-titled sophomore effort arrived in 2014, followed in 2016 by THE VERY LAST DAY and 2018’s OTHER ARRANGEMENTS, the former of which reached #1 on Billboard’s “Americana/Folk Albums” chart en route to an Americana Music Awards nomination as “Album of the Year.” All were met by a growing fan following and widespread critical applause, with NPR’s Ann Powers praising “the wild, vast power of his voice and his remarkable charisma,” adding, “This guy can yodel, he can sing a soul song for real, he can preach and he wiggles his leg like Elvis. A star in the making.”
Millsap has also made his name as a captivating live act, sharing stages with the likes of Jason Isbell, Patty Griffin, and Lucinda Williams and lighting up such major festivals as Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and Newport Folk. In a particularly memorable turn of events, a 2016 show in Atlanta alongside fellow singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz drew raves from none other than Sir Elton John, who declared the performance to be “one of the best concerts I have ever seen…it restored my faith in music.”
With BE HERE INSTEAD, Millsap has created a uniquely powerful piece of work touched with both unbridled imagination and lucid insight into the search for presence in a chaotic world
Photo by Tim Duggan