Parker Millsap is ready to have some fun. Over the course of his first three albums, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter has developed a heady reputation with his fire-and-brimstone folk and Southern Gothic storytelling. But on his latest LP, Other Arrangements, Millsap shows that, for him, growing up means learning to let loose.
“I got a buddy down in Texas who says, ‘If they’re moving, you’re winning.’ I like that,” says Millsap over the phone from his parents’ house in Purcell, Oklahoma, where he visited recently from his current home in Nashville. “I want to write songs that anybody can listen to and find something to relate to without having to know about truck stop chapels and the geopolitics of central Oklahoma.”
Released last week via Okrahoma Records and Thirty Tigers, Other Arrangements, Millsap’s fourth full-length, is his tightest, sharpest and most infectious set of songs to date. Known for his oft-cited youth spent in the Pentecostal church, the new album sees him put his prodigious talents as a guitarist and lyricist to use in writing pop and, more often than not, love songs for what he dubs, with devilish glee, “gospel sex music.”
“It’s not that I decided where I stand on any of that; it’s just not what I’ve been thinking about lately, or what I was thinking about when I was writing these songs,” Millsap says of his religious upbringing, which took center stage on some of his most well-known songs, like 2014’s “Truck Stop Gospel” and 2016’s “Heaven Sent.” “Musically, I’ll never be able to escape that Pentecostal, gospel influence because those melodies and those types of images just strike a chord with me.”
Those tent-revival rhythms morph into a rock & roll backbeat on Other Arrangements, which sees Millsap mingle the sacred and profane to rollicking effect. The largely acoustic treatments of his previous efforts get beefed up to shake, rattle and roll through high-wire opener “Fine Line” or praise-and-worship-worthy “Coming On,” which climaxes with the help of a gospel choir. Yet his rough, rootsy edge remains, especially when he trades telepathic licks with fiddle player Daniel Foulks.
In fact, much of the album’s bristling energy comes down to the rapport between Millsap and his bandmates, which also include bassist Michael Rose and drummer Paddy Ryan, who was only solidified in the lineup since the release of their previous album, 2016’s The Very Last Day. With the help of producers Shani Gandhi and Gary Paczosa, Millsap wanted to channel the electricity of a live show that’s garnered him comparisons to a young Elvis Presley.
“It’s spiritual, but I’m not going to say gospel-Jesus spiritual. For me it’s just pure spiritual, giving myself over to a bigger thing, whatever that is – whether it’s community service or playing your heart out in service of this song,” Millsap says of playing in concert. “There’s this headspace I’m in, and the band feels the same way, where we’re all sharing at the same time in this thing and it feels bigger than just me.”
In much the same vein, Millsap hasn’t so much abandoned his religious imagery as he’s used its framework for other means of devotion – namely, of the romantic variety. He says he owes much of that change in perspective to his girlfriend of five years, who relocated with him to Nashville before the release of The Very Last Day. In fact, she was the inspiration for “Let a Little Light In,” the first song that Millsap started from the album and the last one that he finished for it.
“She’s got a real job, so she’d come home from work and I’d be home playing guitar and there’d be no light in the house, all the shades would be drawn. I was just in this cave, and she’d be like, ‘What are you doing?'” Millsap recalls with one of the many peals of laughter that pepper his conversation. “It really quickly grew to something bigger in my mind, like, ‘Lighten up.'”
Other Arrangements is littered with double and even triple entendre as Millsap explores the shared space between love, belief systems and the creative process, an overarching theme best embodied by the title track. “As soon as I got to the chorus, it was like, damn. For whatever reason, it hit me and I just knew, OK, this is the title track,” he says. Though it was the first song completed, getting it to the finish line didn’t come easy. “A lot of the songs on the record I rewrote and rearranged multiple times before they became the versions you hear on the record,” he says.
Such revising isn’t out of character for Millsap – he says he compulsively rearranges furniture in his apartment – but it marks a change in his approach to songwriting. “A lot of the record is really me learning to trust my instincts,” he says, explaining that he was quicker to throw out ideas that weren’t working in the belief that he could write something better. It also made for a compact set of songs, fitting in 12 of them in under 35 minutes. “A lot of the songs on the record are at or under three minutes. I love that. I love when you hear a song and want to hear it played again immediately – like, ‘That wasn’t enough of that one,'” he says.
In Other Arrangements‘ case, that self-assuredness certainly translates to playability, a fact that suggests Millsap may only just now be hitting his stride. “Hopefully I’m having a little more fun every time. I think I am, even if it’s just because I get to play louder and scream a little more during each show,” he says. “For anyone who hasn’t experienced that, being able to scream at full-grown people and then they clap for you, it’s just magic.”