A good night out drinking can find us making best friends out of people we’ve just met, but
the best nights out are the ones that catch us unexpectedly sharing our innermost feelings
and secrets with a complete stranger. Those uninhibited moments of truth and vulnerability
are the same ones mined by Dallas singer-songwriter Joshua Ray Walker on his debut full-
length Wish You Were Here. Through his incisive songwriting, Walker faithfully captures both
the highs and lows of working class living.
For an average of 250 nights a year, Dallas’ classic country torchbearer shares pieces of
himself with an effortless sincerity that has brought his audience to both tears and laughter –
often at the same time. Told through a melodic, character-driven writing style that’s honest to
a fault, Walker depicts a cast of subjects on his debut that are down but never out.
“I often unintentionally write from the perspective of characters that I dream up,” says
Walker. “I can usually attribute a character to a person I’ve met, or people that I’ve known,
combined with similar traits I find in myself. If it’s by poor decisions or circumstances beyond their control, I find inspiration from the
downtrodden and destitute. I see myself in these characters. I use these characters to explore things about myself in songs I’d otherwise
be too self-conscious to write about.”
Recorded by John Pedigo of The O’s (Old 97’s, Vandoliers) at Dallas Audio (where Willie Nelson recorded Red Headed Stranger) and
Studio B at Modern Electric Sound Recorders, Joshua Ray Walker’s debut instantly earmarks him as one of Texas’ most gifted lyricists
and musicians and a major force in the songwriting community moving forward.
“Life is about timing I guess,” Walker says. “I haven’t changed my approach or work ethic in years, but people are starting to pay
attention. I’m glad it took this long. If it had been possible to make my record any sooner, it wouldn’t be this record that I’m very proud we
+ Saturday, 2/16/19 @ 1:00pm
Joshua Ray Walker
+ Saturday, 2/16/19 @ 3:30pm
Hayes Carll –Wristband Event!–
+ Saturday, 2/23/19 @ 3:00pm
Jones Family Singers
+ Saturday, 3/2/19 @ 1:00pm
SteadyBoy Records Showcase with 3 Bands
+ Sunday, 3/3/19 @ 2:00pm
+ Wednesday, 3/6/19 @ 5:00pm
Author/DJ Session with Rene Villanueva (Hacienda)
Beginning Saturday, 2/9/19 at 10:00 am, Come into Cactus Music and Pre-Buy Hayes Carll’s new album “What It Is”, and receive a wristband to this very special and exclusive solo acoustic event! The performance will be followed by an autograph / photo session.
Don’t miss this unique opportunity to see Hayes debut material from his new album in an intimate setting.
SteadyBoy Records & Cactus Music presents – Super SteadyBoy Saturday Showcase! Four fab acts from the SteadyBoy Records Label Stable showcasing three terrific new titles!
– The Explosives
– Rex Foster
– Dirty Echoes
– Staehely Brothers
Earlybird specials with contests and giveaways starting at noon!
SteadyBoy is the power pop, rock and roll, high lonesome neon country soul home of music made and discovered by Texas Music Hall of Famer, Freddie Steady Krc (rhymes with search).
Freddie Steady has been making music of all kinds for thirty years, so it only made sense for the journeyman drummer, guitarist, singer, and all-around artist to create his own musical home. Label management and ownership was Freddie’s final frontier, a business venture rooted in a musical passion that began when the magic of television brought the Beatles into his Southeast Texas living room in 1964.
The SteadyBoy Records label was formed in 2002 when Freddie regained ownership of recordings he made under several of his widely varied incarnations. SteadyBoy is proud to represent these projects from the past right alongside the best in Rock / Garage / PowerPop / Psych / Country / Folk and more!
Beginning Friday, 2/8/19, you can come into Cactus Music and purchase Robert Ellis’ new album “Texas Piano Man” on CD ($10.98) or LP ($19.98) and you’ll receive a wristband for his ONLY Houston performance. You MUST come to the store to get your wristband and CD and/or LP. One wristband per CD/LP.
“Dressed head to heels in a white tuxedo, Robert Ellis has now fully embraced his role as Texas troubadour, putting a little Gram Parsons-style honky-tonk into the bedazzled piano-pop of Elton John” NPR Music
“Only the truly exceptional artists, with the right mix of confidence and wit – Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tom Waits—dare to scrap the template that first won them acclaim and basically start over, with a new, often sideways approach to their craft. That’s exactly what Texas native Robert Ellis has done with his latest album, Texas Piano Man.” Men’s Journal
“In an arrangement filled with oohs and ahhs that cross both Abbey and Yellow Brick roads, Ellis posits our hearts’ toil in the everyday insanity of the world, so that maybe the only sane approach to life is recklessly falling in love.” NPR Music
“…on his forthcoming album, Texas Piano Man, he dives deeply into a new persona: a white-suited, blue bonnet Elton John determined to challenge expectations of what it means to be a musician residing in the Lone Star State.” Rolling Stone Country
“Ellis can do shit kicking honky-tonk just as well as he can inhabit an ivory-tickling Lone Star State of Mind.” Rolling Stone Country
“Texas Piano Man…is pure raucous fun, eleven tunes that demand to be played at full volume while dancing around the shuffleboard table at your favorite dive.” Texas Monthly
“On Texas Piano Man, Ellis displays his mastery by blending the barrelhouse stylings of pioneering Texas musician Moon Mullican with the staccato rhythms of Elton John. The resulting sound feels like it would be at home in both a West Texas saloon and a Long Island piano bar.” Texas Monthly
A family group that has learned to grow where they’re planted. Having played festivals (ACL, SXSW, Houston I-Fest, & Folklife Festival), we understand teamwork makes the dream work. Having played the House of Blues (New Orleans, L.A., Dallas, & Houston) and have been guests of numerous tv shows and radio appearances, we thrive on making people feel the music, relieve their stress and leave the concert feeling refreshed, revived and renewed.
GURF MORLIX FOLLOWS HIS GROOVE AND DEMANDING MUSE INTO THE “IMPOSSIBLE BLUE,” OUT FEB. 8 ON ROOTBALL RECORDS
10th solo album from the Austin-based songwriter, producer, and award-winning Americana musician takes an unflinching look at mortality — including his own — and finds a sliver of light through the blues
AUSTIN, TEXAS — There was a time, and not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, when Gurf Morlix didn’t really think of himself as a songwriter. A guitar player, sure — armed from the get-go with the dead-aim chops and cool-handed confidence of a natural-born gunslinger. Later on, he took on the mantle of producer, too, parlaying his myriad strengths as an ace sideman into an equally lauded career helping a veritable who’s who of the most formidable poets in Americana find their “growl” and cut their deepest grooves on record. But songwriter? That handle took him a bit longer to fully embrace.
“I was always writing songs, since I was a teen, but I probably wrote 200 songs before I wrote a really good one,” Morlix insists. “For me, it was a tough code to crack.”
Nevermind the fact that his perspective on the matter was inevitably skewed by his years of working with such grading-curve-blowing talents as Blaze Foley, Lucinda Williams, Butch Hancock, Robert Earl Keen, Mary Gauthier, and Ray Wylie Hubbard: a high bar is a high bar, and Morlix, for all of his famed minimalist aesthetic both onstage and in the studio, has never been one to cut corners when it comes to quality. So by the time he finally did feel ready to step out with 2000’s Toad of Titicaca, there was no mistaking his debut for the work of an artist content to make due with just good enough. And now, nearly two decades later, when Morlix deems the nine new cuts comprising his 10th solo album, IMPOSSIBLE BLUE (due Feb. 8 on Rootball Records), to be “the best songs I’ve ever written,” take it as a matter of fact that every word, line, and note has been duly vetted by the toughest critic he’s ever encountered in his 50-odd years of making music: himself.
“The bar is still really high, and there are still songwriters out there that I always look up to, because the songs people like John Prine write — those are masterpieces,” says Morlix. “Writing like that is the goal. It’s not enough to just write a song and have it rhyme and try to make sure it doesn’t sound stupid; you have to say someting in a way that no one else has, and it has to mean something. And I think that I’ve finally gotten to where I’m doing that, because people really respond to the songs. That’s how you know. So, I feel like I’m getting pretty close.”
But as Morlix has learned both through studying the masters and from his own experience, writing to that level is not something that ever gets appreciatively easier, no matter how many songs you’ve written or how much fame — or at the very least, peer and critical acclaim — you’ve achieved.
“I came to realize over many years that it’s really hard, and you don’t settle until you have it as perfect as you can make it,” he says of the craft. “When I hear a John Prine song and every syllable and every word is perfect, and it sounds so simple that it’s like a Hank Williams song, I know that Prine doesn’t knock those songs out in 20 minutes. He gets an idea and then he works on it, and he might spend years on these songs that sound like they were just tossed off in half an hour. But it pays off if you really put the work into something like that.”
Case in point: “Backbeat of the Dispossessed,” the closing track on Impossible Blue. Like more than a few of Morlix’s most deeply affecting songs from albums past, it’s a heartfelt but haunted, bittersweet eulogy to a dearly departed friend, in this case his oldest brother in musical arms, drummer Michael Bannister. They met as kids in Morlix’s native Buffalo, played in the same bands together all through junior and high school, then migrated south to Key West and later lived together off and on in both in Austin and Los Angeles. More than once their friendship would hit the rocks and they’d lose touch for long spells at a time, but as Morlix sings in the song, “I always knew I would see you again” — until the day he learned that Bannister had taken his own life.
That Bannister, like Blaze Foley before him, would someday be memorialized in a Morlix song was inevitable. It just took Morlix the better part of a decade: not to get around to it, but to get it right.
“I worked so hard on that one song for five, six, seven years,” says Morlix. “I just kept going back and changing it and trying different things, until I finally got it into a form that I liked. Because if it was going to be my song about him, it had to be right. Michael was a simple yet complicated individual. He had a teenaged son, and he eneded up killing himself. How sad do you have to be to kill yourself when you have a teenager? That blew my mind: How could he do this?”
“That,” he continues, “is the ‘impossible blue.’ You never get over that.”
For all the time he put into it, though, “Backbeat of the Dispossessed” offers no answers, only more questions — as befits not just a paean to a complicated lost soul, but the soul-searching work of a man who’s spent the better part of the last two years taking a long, hard look at his own mortality. In February 2016, Morlix suffered a serious heart attack en route to a gig. He was soon back on the road and back in the studio, recording not just one but two of the strongest albums of his career (with IMPOSSIBLE BLUE following 2017’s The Soul & the Heal, the songs for which were already written before his heart attack). But that doesn’t mean Morlix just shrugged off the whole experience and lumbered on an unchanged man. Far from it.
“I think the main thing I took away from all that is that I realize that every day is a bonus day,” he says. “I’m living on bonus time now, and I’m just very aware of that, every day. Basically, I’m just in love with life more than ever now. Because here it is, and I might not have been here, but … here I am.”
As far as Morlix’s music goes, the impact of that awakening is perhaps most readily apparent at his shows. By his own admission, Morlix used to be “deathly afraid” of meeting and talking to audience members after a show, and even more reticent to reveal too much about what his songs were about while playing them onstage, prefering for listeners to come up with their own interpretations. But not anymore. “My show is a lot more confessional than it ever has been before,” he says. “I do a lot of storytelling, and I’ll talk about my heart attack or whatever else I’m thinking at the moment, and it’s really been working. People started responding really positively to the stories — just like with the songs — and I realized it’s all about communication, and how important that is. Because we need people to be talking to each other, we need community, and we’ve never needed that more.”
Naturally, the ever-evolving arc of his songwriting has begun to bend more confessional of late, too — though even his most open-hearted reveals on IMPOSSIBLE BLUE prove that living-on-bonus-time Gurf Morlix is still unmistakably, well, Gurf Morlix. Suffice it to say, it would take a lot more than a mere brush with death to flip his default switch from blues to zippity-doo-dah. When Morlix alludes to his heart attack — or rather, his life after his heart attack — here, it’s with the stoic resolve of a battle-scarred survivor, grateful to still be kicking but arguably still more more bewildered than enlightened: “My head is throbbin’, my world keeps wobblin’ / All the alarms are soundin’ / But my heart keeps poundin’.” (“My Heart Keeps Poundin’”). And in “Sliver of Light,” he’s right back on the road again, driving to yet another gig in another town, still peddling his own songs of the dispossessed. Some are leavened with dark humor or even a glimmer of hope — two wild cards he’s always kept up his sleeve. But often as not, they’re steeped in impossible sorrow, be it all-too-real like Michael Bannister’s and that of the ones he left behind, or dredged from the darkest corners of Morlix’s imagination. In the chilling “I’m a Ghost,” a restless spirit howls unheard for justice, and two songs later, a man mourns for a drowned lover at the “Bottom of the Musquash River.”
Indeed, true to its title in both spirit and tone, IMPOSSIBLE BLUE is arguably the bluesiest album Morlix has ever made. Granted, it’s not quite an all-out genre trip like his 2004 album Cut ‘n’ Shoot, which found that year’s Austin Music Hall of Fame inductee crashing the honky-tonks with a sincerely wicked grin; but when he drops lines like “crawling out of primordial ooze / learning how to sing he blues” (from “My Heart Keeps Poundin’”), there’s no mistaking his conviction as anything but sincere. If it’s not all in the groove, like the way the opening “Turpentine” rumbles like a tin-roofed juke joint flanked by train tracks, it’s in the words: The gut-twisting agony of jealous heartbreak served up in “I Saw You” could chill even Robert Johnson to the bone.
Hell, in the world-weary “Spinnin’ Planet Blues,” Morlix even allows himself the rare indulgence of an extended, honest-to-god guitar solo. “That’s always been in my lexicon to play like that, but I just never had a song that really called for it,” he admits. “But that’s a straight-up minor blues, and when I wrote it I realized, ‘Well, that’s different! That’s probably got to be on the record.’ Plus, Red Young is on there, too, playing amazing B3.”
Although Young — who Morlix hails as “one of the best B3 players in the world” — plays on only three tracks on the record, his stamp on IMPOSSIBLE BLUE is as vital as the unmistakable beat of drummer Rick Richards, who’s been Morlix’s not-so-secret weapon for the lion’s share of his entire recording career. Morlix, meanwhile, handles all of the guitars and bass as well as keyboards and percussion, with Austin rising star Jaimee Harris assisting on harmony vocals. Together they form a small but lethally efficient wrecking crew, as perfect an instrument for capturing the primal punch and stark beauty of Morlix’s music as his beloved Rootball Studio. A refuge inside the refuge of his lakeside home in Austin, Rootball is where Morlix has produced, mixed, and mastered every one of his own records — for no better reason other than that the results just always sound damn good. And as long as his heart keeps poundin’, you can count on him to keep on making them, just as he promises in “2 Hearts Beatin’ in Time”: “There’s a bit more I want to do / left unfinished a thing or two …”
After all, what’s the use of living on “bonus time” if you don’t use it?
Richard Skanse 2019
She calls herself a singer-songwriter, but as soon as Rebecca Loebe leans into the first notes of Give Up Your Ghosts, her first release for Blue Corn Music (Feb. 8, 2019), that definition starts to seem woefully inadequate.
Loebe is not just another talent. She’s a talent — a sophisticated, mature writer with a relevant point of view and an assured, nuanced voice that’s both elegant and earthy, powerful and delicate, with a range and depth she hints at more than flashes. When the moment’s right, however, she’ll glide up a scale like Norah Jones, or drop right into a crag in Fiona Apple’s sidewalk.
But timing and delivery alone don’t make an artist. There’s got to be substance as well, and Loebe fearlessly probes the rawest corners of her psyche to find it. “There’s a lot of me talking to myself,” she says. “I’m writing a lot of empowerment jams these days, and I think it’s because it’s what I need. I’ve written albums full of what I needed to say, but this album is full of songs I need to hear.”
And now she’s on a guerrilla mission to share messages others need to hear as well. “I like to write catchy songs about topics that are meaningful to me, but use fun hooks to put words in people’s mouths,” Loebe admits. “My favorite thing is to get people singing along before they even realize they’re singing about women’s equality or their own self-worth.”
Inventively marrying elements of folk, pop, rock, blues and jazz, Loebe takes vocal left turns when you think she’ll go right, or shifts from breezy to profound in a single phrase. And each surprising twist makes her music that much more entrancing.
Blue Corn’s Denby Auble was so enthralled by her 2017 album, Blink, he immediately invited her to join his Houston-based label (home to three-time Grammy nominee Ruthie Foster). By then, she’d already cast her spell over Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Competition judges, who made her a winner in 2009, and talent scouts for The Voice, who asked her to audition for the show’s debut season. (Her version of Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” charted worldwide and landed on the show’s first compilation album.) Two years later, Alternate Root magazine ranked her ninth on its list of America’s top female vocalists.
Turns out Loebe made the right choice when she decided she’d rather sing her own songs than work in a studio recording others’.
Born in Arlington, Virginia and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Loebe was always musical. She picked up a guitar at 11 and honed her vocals in high school (where she also joined the wrestling team). After graduating at 16, she became the second-youngest member of her class at Berklee College of Music, and one of too few women studying audio engineering. But when a mentor encouraged her stay creative, she realized she wanted to sing the songs she’d secretly written for years. She took a job in a Boston studio, but snuck in after hours to record the demos that became her first album.
Returning to Atlanta so she could tour without paying Boston rents, she hooked up with studio owner and producer Will Robertson, who’d helped birth that album and a follow-up EP. Bartering studio work for recording time, she recorded 2010’s Mystery Prize, which spent 2½ months on the Americana Music Association’s airplay chart and made its yearend top 100.
Amid constant touring, Loebe spent so much time in Austin, she finally moved west in 2011. That year, she also released a B-sides-and-outtakes EP, and watched herself singing to 12 million viewers on The Voice. She spent the next two years opening for Ellis Paul on her first national tour, and performing in Europe and Japan. She also started inviting songwriter friends over for weekly potluck dinners. They shared dishes, then tunes.
“For my last couple of records, almost every song has gone through the filter of that group,” Loebe says. “It’s not just the feedback that’s important — in fact, that’s not as helpful as having to think critically about everyone else’s songs each week, for months on end, because it gets me thinking critically about what resonates with me; what expresses an idea most impactfully.”
When she was ready to record Give Up Your Ghosts, she called Robertson first. “We’re very comfortable together,” she says. “We trust each other and have a longstanding agreement not to shoot down ideas. We try each other’s suggestions and then communicate honestly about how they’re working.”
They returned to Austin’s ChurchHouse Studio, where she’d recorded Blink. “I just love that space,” Loebe says. “There’s something really vibey about it. It has a lot of cool old analog equipment. Everything works well, but not too well. It’s not pristine or clinical; it’s just a very warm and inviting space.”
She also used the same players, originally recruited to capitalize on existing musical relationships because she didn’t yet have a gig-tightened band.
“I thought I’d take a shortcut and get a rhythm section that had years of chemistry,” Loebe explains. She started with longtime friend Andrew Pressman on bass. He called his jamming buddy since fourth grade, drummer Robin MacMillan. Then came Christopher Cox, another Pressman pal, on keyboards; Raina Rose, Loebe’s neighbor, touring partner and bestie, on harmonies; and another longtime friend, guitarist and harmony singer Anthony DaCosta, now a rising star in Nashville.
Loebe says their bonds were critical, not only because they had fun, but because they wanted to do their best to support or impress one another. The only players added for Give Up Your Ghosts were pedal steel player Gary Newcomb and vocalist Heather Mae, who contributed more harmonies.
But despite that familiarity, making this album was quite different from her previous experiences, Loebe says.
“Typically, I’d spend years writing songs, then pull 10 or 12 that felt like they fit together,” she notes. “In this case, I just went through this writing spree and had all of these songs swell up inside me at once. They were written within a three- or four-month period — one organic moment in time.”
That’s partly why the album seems to have a loose theme. Several songs examine struggles to fit in or overcome painful chapters, as in the wistful “Tattoo,” originally written for a character on a TV show. The same exercise produced the sexy, dramatic “Got Away,” which really showcases Loebe’s vocal range.
“Growing Up,” the opening track, addresses the challenges women face, starting in childhood, in what is still a man’s world.
Loebe wrote it during a songwriting retreat, but it wasn’t shaping up the way she wanted, so she took a break — and wound up having the pop ballad “Ghosts” jump into her head almost whole, in one stream-of-consciousness thread. It starts with the striking line, Have you ever tried to fall asleep, twisted in a stranger’s sheets.
In the chorus, Loebe sings, Give up all your ghosts, at least the ones you love the most, they’re never holding you as close as you are holding them.
“This line is the mission statement of the record, and practically my whole life right now,” Loebe says. “I’m trying to encourage everyone to let go of what no longer serves us. To stand taller, walk lighter. We can’t outrun our pasts, but we get to decide who we are and what we will let define us.”
Renaissance woman and singer/songwriter, Amanda Pascali was born in Queens, New York and is based in Houston, Texas. Amanda’s Immigrant American Folk Music showcases her traditional influences, but she is no copy of anyone. As the daughter of an Eastern European refugee with Sicilian heritage, Amanda writes with a sincerity which shows us that home is truly where the heart is.
Amanda’s music tells the story of a girl, transplanted from the Corona and Forrest Hills neighborhoods of New York City to the center of Houston, Texas. With a father who was thrown out of his home country for rebelling against the government, Amanda was driven from a young age to be a messenger of her family’s stories and diaspora. Her words tell of her experiences growing up in the light of her family’s compelling memoirs and the grave semblance to the plight of refugees today.
In 2016, Amanda recorded a solo, self-titled EP which she released before forming her trio- Amanda Pascali and The Family. The Family consists of seasoned accordion player “Uncle” Felix Lyons, who turned seventy years old on the night of their first show together, and violinist Addison Freeman who is classically trained and experientially tempered to the folk tradition. The group formed after all three musicians joined the Houston Balalaika Orchestra, playing traditional Eastern European music in a living room on the south side of town. The trio’s debut, full-length album is to be released in the winter of 2018.
Accompanied by her family, blood related or not, Amanda Pascali has released music and performed internationally, including packed houses in Italy and Romania. Her art is inspired by the love story of her parents as working-class immigrants in the 1980s as well as the stories of first-generation Americans throughout the United States. Her music is consistently carried by the one thing that joins both love and revolution: great passion. In addition to speaking at scientific conferences and conducting field work in the mountains of west Texas as an aspiring geologist, she travels the eastern hemisphere piecing together the stories of her family and documenting them in song. Amanda’s music, now coined Immigrant American Folk, delivers a powerful narrative on being “too foreign for here, too foreign for home, and never enough for both.”
The Houston Press describes Amanda and The Family as “Houston’s newest artist for you to adore” and “a welcomed addition to the Houston music scene […] with songs that will be stuck with you for days”.
Parker Gispert was still in college when he helped form the Whigs in the early 2000s. But after five critically-acclaimed albums, hundreds of tour dates all over the world with the likes of Kings of Leon, Drive-By Truckers, the Black Keys and many others, and television appearances everywhere from the Late Show with David Letterman to Jimmy Kimmel Live! , the Athens, Georgia-bred rockers decided to pull back on activity in 2017.
Which left Gispert, who had spent the majority of his adult life either in the studio or on the road with the band, at a crossroads.
“It occurred to me that if I wanted to record and tour that I was going to need to do it solo,” the singer, songwriter and guitarist says. “I’d always thought about it in the back of my mind as something that I wanted to do one day, but ‘one day’ had never really come.”
Now, ‘one day’ is here in the form of Sunlight Tonight , Gispert’s debut solo album (produced and mixed by Emery Dobyns). The eight-song effort finds Gispert, known for leading the Whigs through raw and jangly southern-garage rave-ups, taking a decidedly different musical approach—biting electric guitar riffs are cast out in favor of gentle acoustic picking and strumming, and his band mates’ raucous rhythms are traded in for minimal accompaniment that includes light bass and drums, orchestral strings and even trumpet. Gispert’s lyrics, meanwhile, are his most introspective and personal to date (albeit with a bit of humor thrown in here and there) and they’re delivered in a vocal style that finds him pushing out on his range. “I didn’t need to project over a band, so I was able to sing in registers I hadn’t really used before, like a lot of high falsetto,” he explains.
The end result showcases a different side of the artist, to be sure. But it’s one that Gispert felt compelled to explore. “A lot of guys from rock bands that go solo, they just hire another bassist and drummer and go make another album,” he says. “I didn’t want to go that route.”
Ultimately, his change in musical direction was helped along by a change in geography. A longtime resident of Nashville (by way of Atlanta, and then Athens), Gispert last year accepted an invitation from a friend to visit his 100-acre hemp farm, located roughly an hour outside Music City. “It was like out of a total time warp,” Gispert recalls of the property. “No heat or AC. No animals. No active crops. Water from a well. It was just, like, a house and a plot of land. I ended up staying there for a year.”
That plot of land was where Sunlight Tonight came into being. “I would wake up early and get my guitar and walk outside and come up with all these songs,” Gispert says. “And without a band to turn to as the deciding factor on, say, a melody or a lyric, I ended up turning to the scenery and the landscape I was dealing with instead. The farm was like my collaborator—it kind
of answered everything for me, as weird as that sounds. And the songs started coming pretty quickly.”
The first one that came is also the one that opens Sunlight Tonight —a psychedelia-laced meditation titled “Through the Canvas.” Built on a bed of acoustic guitar and cello, the song finds Gispert laying out what is essentially a statement of purpose: “Suddenly I got up / Suddenly I could move / shook off all the bullshit that was weighing down my shoes.”
Explains Gispert, “With the Whigs, I had been in that band since I was a teenager. So when that slowed, I found myself in a place where I was almost paralyzed, like, What do I do next ? It was just confusing. But that song sums up what happened when I got to the farm. It was like, suddenly I got up, grabbed a guitar, walked down to this big field and…”
Shook off all the bullshit?
Gispert laughs. “Yeah. And bullshit was exactly the word to describe it. It was all the worries. All the fear. All the drama. All the stuff you can’t even articulate. After I put all of that behind me I was able to set out on this journey of making a solo record.”
That journey ended up being very unlike any Gispert had embarked upon previously. For starters, he says, “I wrote all of the songs for the record while outside, and that’s something I’d never done before. Usually I’d be in a cramped apartment or a studio space—not, like, walking around outside in a big open field at 1:00 AM, just singing and playing.”
He laughs. “And the good thing is, I was on this secluded property, so nobody could see me—it didn’t matter if I looked like a total goofball just wandering around in my jean shorts strumming an acoustic guitar.”
The material that Gispert came up at the farm with was primarily acoustic-based, but at the same time still incredibly diverse, from the dark folk of “Magnolia Sunrise” to the ambient tones of “Life in the Goldilocks Zone”; the T. Rex-y groove-glam of “Volcano,” to the lo-fi garage-fuzz of “Is It Nine”; the exuberant mariachi-horn-rock of “Too Dumb to Love Anyone” (the one composition Gispert says was originally written with the Whigs in mind) to the oddball genre exercise “Do Some Country.”
That last one also features some witty wordplay (“I am a rock artist,” Gispert sings, before adding, “I paint pictures on limestone”), as well as a unique origin story regarding its title. “I was at a Nikki Lane show,” Gispert recalls, “and in between songs this woman in the audience kept yelling (in a heavy southern accent ) “C’monNikki! Do some country !”And my friend and I were just like, ‘Man…that would be such a sweet song title!’ ”
There are other lighthearted moments on Sunlight Tonight, such as the nursery-rhyme-like “Is It Nine,” on which Gispert attempts to determine which number would fit best into the alphabet. The genesis of that riddle? “It was just a ridiculous question I asked myself, and I had never heard a song about that particular question before,” he explains. “So I thought for my first solo album it would be a good idea to have one track that was uniquely ‘Parker.’ Because there are so many love songs or political songs or whatever out there already.”
Which is not to say that Gispert shies away from those topics on Sunlight Tonight . “Too Dumb to Love Anyone,” for one, addresses his present station in life as an unwedded man. “I’m 36, and most of my friends are at that point where they’re getting married and having kids,” he says. “And my friends’ wives will say things to me like, ‘Parker, when are you gonna meet
somebody and join the club?’ So I always say, the only thing standing in between me and a great relationship is that the idea has never occurred to me.”
Then there’s “Magnolia Sunrise,” which unfolds somewhat uneventfully, with Gispert grabbing breakfast at a local diner (“Coffee, Tennessee / grits made to order”) before an anxious waitress shatters his mundane tranquility: “There’s still a lot that could go wrong,” she tells him. As the guitar accompaniment builds and the orchestral strings turn frantic, Gispert intones, ominously, “One Saturday morning / there will be no warning.”
The narrative, Gispert says, “is based on a real interaction I had, at a diner right down the road that I’d go to all the time in the mornings. I ended up talking to this waitress who was having irrational fears of, like, a hurricane coming, or a nuclear threat. It brings up this idea of, you could be chilling out, enjoying your day, and when you least expect it, that’s when something happens—tragedy could be right around the corner.”
Clearly, Gispert’s environment and experiences at the farm factored heavily into the words and music he wrote for Sunlight Tonight. But when it came time to record the material, he left his rural surroundings behind and headed back into Nashville, cutting tracks at Blackbird Studios and Hacienda Studios, with producer Emery Dobyns (Patti Smith, Antony and the Johnsons) at the helm. Dobyns also added various instrumentation to the tracks, alongside contributions from Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, former Sparklehorse vocalist Sol Seppy and Adele bassist Samuel Dixon, among other musicians. “It was like there was one phase of the record, which was me alone writing everything,” Gispert says. “And then there was the second phase, the studio phase, which was very much a team effort, with Emery shaping the record sonically and production-wise.”
When it comes to playing this material live, however, Gispert has been going it alone—an atypical arrangement for him onstage, but one that he’s been finding incredibly satisfying. “I love it a lot,” he says about being out on his own. “I feel really comfortable up there by myself, and in some respects I’m able to connect with the crowd in a way that I never was able to do with a band.”
That said, Gispert still gets plenty of opportunities to play with his band, as the Whigs continue to reconvene for sporadic live shows, including a recent spate of dates celebrating the tenth anniversary of their 2008 record, Mission Control . But far from his solo endeavors having a negative impact on the group, he’s found the opposite to be true. “I’d always been afraid of doing something solo because I thought it might mess up the band vibe, but now I’m able to see that it actually helps,” Gispert says. “When we do get back together to play, it’s fun and it’s fresh and it has new life.”
As for what the future holds, Gispert is open to any and all possibilities that might follow in the wake of Sunlight Tonight . “Because I didn’t even see any of this happening, you know?” he says. “So I can’t really say what comes next. But it’s almost like a weight off my shoulders to not really know where I’m going from here.”
One thing he can say for sure: the farm that served as both inspiration and companion to Gispert throughout the writing process for Sunlight Tonight is now a thing of the past.
“I’ve moved away,” he reports. “I’m living over by a lake now.” Gispert laughs. “I’m trying to switch it up.”
Parker recently co-wrote a song with Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin for Alice Cooper’s latest studio album “Paranormal.”
Parker grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and later lived in Athens, Georgia where he graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Philosophy. He currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.