A trip back to the country finds Parker Gispert flipping his Whigs
It’s a familiar scenario. Musician gets tired of the rock and roll routine and heads to the country to find some space and recover his sanity.
Parker Gispert, a member of the Atlanta-based band the Whigs, pursued the same path, using his band’s hiatus to get his head together and figure out a new way forward. It had been a hectic few years — encompassing five studio albums, an endless series of tours, high profile television appearances, and more — and clearly the band needed a break. Gispert found himself at a crossroads and uncertain where to proceed next. When a friend invited him to spend some time on his 100 year old farm — sans heat and running water no less — Gispert decided that was the respite he needed.
“I’ve always lived in the city or around the city, and I’ve never really lived out in the country like that,” he recalled. “It coincided with the band not doing as much, and I wanted to record an album and wanted to go on tour, but it sort of occurred to me I was going to have to do it solo for the first time. So it was that realization, and finding myself out in the country, that broke everything down and made it a lot simpler. I was out there with my acoustic guitar. I just had the words and the barebones of the songs to square away before I went into the studio. So I went out there and I had the whole album written in about four months. I spent the next few months recording and wham, there it was.”
The resulting album, Sunlight Tonight, marked a decided change of pace in other ways as well. It shakes off the ragged edges of his work with the Whigs and substitutes instead a series of sublime, seemingly psychedelic melodies, most infused with cellos, acoustic guitars, strings and keyboards, as well as an imagery that suggests far horizons and endless possibilities. It’s a gorgeous album to be sure, a sound that suggests Nick Drake immersed in ecstasy.
“I love Nick Drake,” Gispert insists. “At this point, mentioning that might be a bit of cliche and I am aware of that. But I really do think he’s great. Some of my favorite artists still include him and Joni Mitchell and Fred Neil and Neil Young — influences I might not have been able to incorporate into the rock band. It occurred to me early on that this was my chance to explore those influences.”
Indeed, Sunlight Tonight is a revealing record as well. The lyrics suggest some unexpected scenarios that seem to probe deeper designs. The first song, “Through the Canvas,” begins auspiciously enough with these opening lines:
“Suddenly I got up, suddenly I could move, Shook off the all the bullshit that was weighing down my shoes.”
“I didn’t know what was going on with the band, and I had been playing with them since I was a teenager,” Gispert explains. “I was used to booking the shows with the group and recording with the group, and so when that wasn’t happening as much, it got really frustrating and I didn’t know what to do. It was almost paralyzing, like ‘Oh man, what’s next?’ So then I was out there on that farm. That became the opening line of the record because it’s sort of like, all of a sudden, here’s what’s going to happen. I grabbed my guitar and went outside and started writing songs and forgot about all the bullshit and everything I was worried or apprehensive about. I put it all behind me and started on my new journey.”
“Too Dumb To Love Anyone” is one of the more self-effacing songs of the eight song set, a reaction, Gispert says, to people urging him to find a partner and commit to a relationship.
“All my friends are married and they’ve started families, and a lot of time I’d get this thing like, ‘Hey Parker, you need to meet someone,’ or ‘Hey Parker, come to this party and you might meet someone there.’ The joke is that I choose not to be in a relationship right now, and when somebody tells me that, it’s like they think maybe I haven’t thought of it yet. So I thought that was kind of a funny premise for a song. I wrote it for the band originally. It was a Ramones, punk rock kind of thing, and the only holdover from the band that I really liked. So I decided to put it on my record.”
Other songs are more sinister. “Volcano” suggests a suicidal scenario.
“Blow my brains on the boardwalk
Slit my wrists in the sand
Red blood running like rivers
Lava lakes in my hands”
So was Gispert contemplating suicide?
“It was a graphic fantasy,” he maintains. “It has this casual beat and chill feel, and then there’s the juxtaposition of this kind of super graphic, suicidal fantasy. The volcano has to do with the pressure I felt before I decided to do this album. Am I going to have to get a job? Work for the man? What’s going to happen here? I realize the song is pretty intense and rather graphic, but I also thought the imagery was very visual and the metaphor was too good not to write it. However, I was a little apprehensive because I thought it might be too graphic.”
Happily then, the songs that follow — “Life in the Goldilocks Zone,” “Magnolia Sunrise” and “Caught in the Moonlight” — are seemingly sedate by comparison, each capturing the meditative mood of his surroundings in the most descriptive terms.
“Magnolia sunrise over the mountains
Clean air, in your hair, another Saturday morning / Birds racing airplanes out in the country / Time flies, hypnotized, it’s just another Saturday morning”
The only interruption comes with “Is It 9?,” a rumination on the power of numbers that provides the album’s most singular uptick in energy.
“It refers to John Lennon and how he was obsessed with the number nine,” Gispert suggests. “I started writing songs about that. It was a question I never heard before — which number makes the best letter. ‘4’ is kind of an ‘h.’ An ‘l’ is kind of a ‘1.’ A ‘9’ is kind of a ‘p’ or a ‘g.’ I really just wanted to have a song about a subject that nobody had ever written about before. It was a change of place, and quirky, and I just felt since I had gone straight from ‘Goldilocks’ to ‘Magnolia’ and that the music was going to get a little slow, I needed a quick intermission, like a wake up call. Maybe catch somebody off guard.”
Ultimately, the album provided a catharsis and the respite Gispert had been seeking all along. Peering back in retrospect, he says he couldn’t be happier.
“I was so blown up living in the country, and being out there where it was so peaceful made me want to relay what I was looking at in the way it felt when I was out there,” he reflects. “A lot of the music is almost the soundtrack to where I was living. Every time I got to a crossroads of what I wanted to write about, I would just look out wherever I was on the farm, whether I was looking at a big full moon or watching the roses blow around in the garden. It was all just right there in front of me. It was reporting on what I was experiencing at the time.”