The Power of Parker Millsap

One of Nashville’s most dynamic young voices turns it up

Photo: Brennan Wesley

Parker Millsap at Austin’s Craftsman bar during this year’s South by Southwest festival.

Just south of downtown, Nashville’s Pinewood Social, a combo restaurant, bar, and work space, serves as a clubhouse for Music City’s creative set. It’s lunchtime, but open laptops outnumber plates on the rustic-chic wooden tables. A couple of guys at the copper-top bar are agonizing about being hungover, and a few people are throwing balls at one of Pinewood’s six bowling lanes. Parker Millsap takes in the scene before quipping, “Let’s take my hipster coffee outside.”

The day is postcard gorgeous, and locals are soaking in some sun after a brutally long winter. Millsap, who is twenty-five, eases onto a picnic table bench and faces the Cumberland River. His hair is more tousled than usual, and he may or may not have just rolled out of bed. But he’s jovial and excited to talk about his blistering fourth album, Other Arrangements. He glances back at Pinewood’s entrance as a grayish-blue Tesla pulls up right to the door. “That’s Jack White,” he says. Sure enough, Music City’s ultimate hipster steps out and heads inside. A few minutes later, a parking officer writes what appears to be a ticket. “Only in Nashville,” Millsap says with a grin.

Brennan Wesley

At first blush, White’s music could serve as a reference point for Other Arrangements, but only because he and Millsap share a love of Delta blues and gritty rock bands like the Stooges. Millsap’s previous efforts were grounded in acoustic troubadour territory, including his much-lauded 2016 release, The Very Last Day, which earned an Americana Music Awards nomination for Album of the Year. But Other Arrangements finds him traveling, for the most part, in honest rock and roll, embracing a greasy electric sound as his dynamic voice rages, cajoles, and coos. “I’m four albums in, and what’s exciting to me is that I get to change,” Millsap says. “I don’t have to meet this…whatever the ideal image of the songwriter is. I like to rock out.”

That freedom is palpable throughout the new album. Songs like the barreling “Let a Little Light In” and the slowly intensifying “Gotta Get to You” feel effortless and joyous, while Millsap simmers on the bluesy Led Zeppelin–with-a-fiddle “Tell Me” and lets fly on the almost-unhinged thrash of “Some People.”

Raised in a Pentecostal home in Oklahoma, Millsap established himself with complex character studies heavy on faith and religious imagery, as in The Very Last Day’s “Heaven Sent,” in which the main character is gay and worries about coming out to his evangelical pastor father. His writing on Other Arrangements is centered around love and relationships, but with a more straightforward, freewheeling approach.

WATCH — Parker Millsap’s G&G Back Porch Session

“There’s less Jesus and more sex on this one,” he says, laughing. “There was a lot of me putting myself in other people’s shoes and then really analyzing that. But the new songs are more direct. You don’t need a ton of background information about me or context of religion to feel a connection to them.”

The wind has picked up, Jack White has driven off, and Millsap gets up to leave. He’s going to pop in on his girlfriend of five years, who works for a nonprofit nearby. After that he’ll drive his white van—the one he also tours in—back to their East Nashville home. If Other Arrangements rightfully continues his ascent, maybe he’ll get a bus, but he’s not complaining. “Maybe what it boils down to is that I just didn’t want to write this record about other people’s problems, or even my problems, really,” he says. “I just wanted to write good, relatable songs that allow me to turn my amp up, and go out and see what happens.”