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Oklahoma’s Parker Millsap draws musical inspiration from Chicago

The intriguing singer-songwriter says the city’s blues heritage “has always fed my soul.”

Parker Millsap
Tim Duggan Photo

The evolution of music phenomenon Parker Millsap is not an easy one to explain, mostly because Millsap is a somewhat complex guy.

“I used to think for a while that all of the energy was getting soaked up here,” Millsap says from his Nashville balcony as he switches between swigs of coffee and water. “So for a long time, I would get up early before everyone started working just so I could start pulling the energy out of the air here before everyone else did.”

He laughs heartily at the sheer illusion of the thought, and then takes a breath. And then he laughs again, as if it minimizes just how deep his thoughts often go or how those thoughts have turned into lyrics that have quietly made him one of music’s most intriguing music makers.

“I really do like Nashville,” says the 26-year-old who was raised within the church pews of the Pentecostal churches of Oklahoma. “I toured a lot when I first moved here so I was sort of slow to make friends, but yeah, its really easy to tour from here since so many big markets are just about four to six hours away.”

But as much as he loves Nashville and as much as he owes his grassroots success to his upbringing in Oklahoma, Millsap is the first to admit some of his strongest musical roots are implanted firmly in the concrete sidewalks of Chicago.

“I don’t think I would be here without Chicago,” continues Millsap, who is set to take the stage yet again at FitzGerald’s on August 14. “The blues music coming out of Chicago has always fed my soul. I can’t get enough of it.”

He also can’t get enough of the people here, either.

“Chicago always has the best of crowds too,” says Millsap, who had the opportunity to share the stage with the legendary Elton John at the Apple Music Festival in London back in 2016. “They truly come for the music, you know? And when you have faith that your audience is truly here for you, you can take more risks.”

Of course, Millsap admits that it took him awhile to get comfortable enough to take those risks. Having first picked up an acoustic guitar at the tender age of 9 years old, Millsap recently returned to the electric guitar and his younger days in which he would do his best to emulate artists such as Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Parker Millsap
Parker Millsap
David McClister

“I hadn’t played with an electric guitar since I was a teenager,” says Millsap. “But once I started playing around with the riffs and licks again, I started remembering how much I once loved the pedals and the texture of the sound. I basically wanted to record something I hadn’t done before. There was no resistance to what we could do.”

This strategy soon became the success story of his fourth album “Other Arrangements,” which was released last year.

“I’m more in love with the whole process of recording and such because it’s finally becoming profitable for me,” Millsap admits. “I mean, streaming and distribution channels are changing everything. If I look at my career, it’s mostly been a blast. I’ve been to a bevy of strange and wild places and just the chance to have music in my life is something I am very grateful for.”

He takes a sip of water, or maybe it was more coffee.

“Most of the things that have been hard in my career has really been self-inflicted,” he says quietly. “Its been mostly magic.”

And now more than ever before, the magic of Millsap’s music has served as an ever-intensifying inferno to a growing fandom craving more and more of his soulful sound and transformative narratives that come to life in the lyrics of his songs.

“Music can be the shepherd of transformative experiences,” he says, his voice trailing off a bit more with every word. “That’s a very real thing, you know. And that kind of thing can come from a symphony or a rap song or the most jarring EDM music you can find.”

Or it can come from the music of Parker Millsap.

“Well yeah, I guess,” he chuckles. “I don’t really think about that too much. I’m constantly thinking about what I can get better at. I guess I have learned to trust the music to talk through me now more than ever before.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.