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Parker Millsap Talks Bad Singers, Speaking in Tongues on Chris Shiflett’s Podcast

“I was surrounded by people who really are terrible singers,” says the songwriter, who was raised in the Pentecostal church

Chris Shiflett's 'Walking the Floor' podcast

Parker Millsap is the guest on a new episode of Chris Shiflett's podcast 'Walking the Floor.'

James Coreas*

Fresh off a quick solo tour through Europe, Chris Shiflett returned to his podcasting duties with a new episode of Walking the Floor with Parker Millsap. Not that their conversation was entirely new: Shiflett says he culled the episode from his “backlog” of recordings, having sat down with the Oklahoma-reared singer-songwriter in November. Besides discussing Millsap’s more recent LP, 2018’s Other Arrangements, and their shared love of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, here are five things we learned from the musicians’ chat.

Millsap learned his finger-picking style from Travis Linville, with whom he took guitar lessons as a teenager.
“I’d never seen anybody do that, so the first lesson I was like, ‘What’s that thing on your hand?'” Millsap recalls. Most of his learning, however, came while he was in school: “I was in high school at the time, so I had one of those spiral notebooks. I just took the bottom six spirals and spaced them out to about a guitar string spacing, and during class I’d keep my thumb pick and just [play],” he says, imitating the noise of a guitar. “So I was practicing finger-picking patterns all through high school on my binder.”

The Pentecostal church put Millsap in touch with the higher power of music.
“In the Pentecostal church there’s this interesting thing that happens where it sometimes seems like the goal is for the preacher not to have to preach,” says Millsap, who got his start playing music by performing in the church. “It’d start out with some hymns and at the end of 30 minutes people would be going insane, speaking in tongues. It really opened me up to, like, this is a deeper power, and this always happens during the music part. People don’t speak in tongues during the sermon part. People get really worked up and have these spiritual, one-on-one connections with this greater thing during the music part.”

Church also trained him to appreciate an un-processed singing voice.
“So much of the singing voices we hear are heavily processed, they’re super processed, and they’re perfect,” Millsap observes. But that wasn’t the case in the church: “I was surrounded by people who really are terrible singers — but they’re not doing it to be good at singing, they’re doing it for a higher power, a spiritual purpose. It comes across as really beautiful. I got used to hearing these kinda fucked-up voices, but I’d be going, ‘Oh, that’s great. What a cool voice.'”

Millsap may not listen to much country, but he loves the Rolling Stones.
“I love singers that make you laugh and make you cry, the whole emotional range, because that’s what music is capable of. Mick [Jagger]’s great at that — being sassy and then sounding like an old man,” Millsap says, adding that “the Stones doing country is some of my favorite country.” Beyond that, his tastes tend to be a little more regional specific. “A lot of the other things I listen are singer-songwriters. I think of them as singer-songwriters, but other people think of them as country — Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, these Texas dudes,” he says.

Elton John invited Millsap to sing with him in London thanks to Rosanne Cash.
“The Elton story is one of those things that sounds like a bunch of namedropping,” Millsap says of the time he joined John at Apple Music Fest in 2016. “Rosanne Cash was at some fancy person dinner party that Elton was at and had a copy of my record and gave it to Elton, or played some of it at the dinner party. A month or two later I got an email from his people basically like, ‘Hey ,Elton likes your record. Do you want to come perform in London?'” Millsap sums up the experience as both “crazy” and “insane.”

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