Parker McCollum comes from a no-nonsense, hard-working family. His was the sort of upbringing where “if you’re going to do something and you’re not going to do it one-hundred percent; you shouldn’t do it all.” It’s why this 25-year-old treats each song he writes with a painstaking level of dedication, reverence, and — as he readily admits — even a bit of obsession.
Parker says when a particular melody, lyric or emotion tugs at him he might stay in his room for days working on it. He can’t help himself.
That’s because, for the Austin-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, the result is worth the painstaking process. Parker — who broke out with the revealing and critically adored 2013 debut The Limestone Kid and returned with the acclaimed, Probably Wrong — says, “its like the songwriting muse takes over. I don’t choose when it hits me, but when it does, I pay attention — and it’s always worth the focus it asks of me.“
Probably Wrong (Nov. 10, 2017), pulls back the curtain to reveal Parker’s depth of artistry. The 10-track LP, written after the dissolution of a long-term relationship, is equal parts self-flagellating and transcendent. It is also the most honest he has ever been in song. There’s an inherent pain that bleeds through in the raw transparency of stunning songs including “I Can’t Breathe” and “Hell of a Year.” For Parker, putting his most intimate thoughts and feelings to song is more of a welcome relief than an act of bloodletting. “I don’t talk about my feelings very often,” he notes. “I keep a lot of things in most of the time, and I don’t want anybody else to have to deal with my stuff. So, I write songs instead.”
In the wake of The Limestone Kid’s release, and its lead single “Meet You in the Middle” finding success at regional radio, McCollum says “in the blink of an eye” his life drastically changed.” The then-22-year-old went from a life goofing off with his buddies and passing his days strumming the guitar to traveling from one gig to the next, not as a “nobody,” but rather a revered traveling musician with a fervent fan-base. McCollum always wanted to be a singer-songwriter, but he admits he was caught a bit off guard by the buzz around Limestone. “I felt like I was playing catch up for two years,” he says.
In speaking with McCollum, it’s easy to detect the sense of wonderment and romance he still attaches to the brutally honest songwriters he first revered during his teenage years. Men like Townes Van Zandt, Todd Snider, Steve Earle and James McMurtry — even as a wide-eyed and innocent young man, McCollum sensed these musicians were speaking to a more powerful truth.
“It would jerk my soul out of me,” he says of encountering and quickly becoming enamored with their music and subsequently dedicating his life to molding songs of a similarly revealing bent. “There’s nothing else I’ve ever encountered that has had as much influence on me,” he explains. “That’s all I wanted to listen to. It was my thing.”
To that end, when he began writing the songs that would ultimately comprise Probably Wrong, McCollum felt it necessary to be alone with little more than his emotions and a guitar. “I needed to write this record and be on my own,” he says of what led him to end a two-year relationship and retreat inward. “I felt very misunderstood throughout the entire situation,” he adds. “I broke my own heart for the first time just to write this record.” For six weeks, McCollum did nothing but stare at a piece of paper filled with soul-crushing lyrics and engage with his sadness. “And I’m not a sad person,” he says with a laugh. “But I had done it to myself … intentionally.”
The pain still lingers, but McCollum says accessing it to write his new album allowed him to pen some of his most poignant material to date. “Hell of a Year,” which he calls his “sleeper favorite of the record,” came from McCollum breaking down one night in his truck in a fast-food parking lot. “My heart’s out of love/I fell out of line/I swore I’d never leave again/And I lied,” he sings over a gentle acoustic guitar figure. “When I set out to write this record this was the type of song I was gunning for,” he says of “Hell of a Year.” “It was the hardest song I’ve ever written as far as being that honest. But after doing so, I could go back to being happy for a little bit.” On the slow-rolling “Misunderstood,” the singer throws his hands in the air and makes peace with what he can’t control. “You told me I was no good/It’s alright babe/I’m pretty used to being misunderstood.”
Singing such soul-baring songs is a decidedly therapeutic act for McCollum. “When the melody is so spot-on, and it hooks me, everything that I have been bottling up or not talking about comes out.” It’s why the singer says he lives to perform. “Next to songwriting my live show is most important,” he offers.
Though seeing as many of his gigs are rowdy, upbeat affairs, he says he searches for the right moments to pepper his set with more emotional numbers. “I’m constantly trying to find ways to make our live show better,” he says. “I take cues from the fans who show up night after night — I pay attention to what songs they sing along to, what makes them move, smile, holler or just dance. I work to meet them where they are and take them higher. I have the best job in the world.”
The goal going forward then, Parker insists, is to continue to invest in his craft; to grow. He reveres musicians like John Mayer — who Rolling Stone Country compared him to in its January “New Country Artists You Need To Know” list — whom he says are always redefining their creativity. He intends to do the same. “My goal is to evolve and step into a new version of myself with each record I make,” McCollum says. “It’s about challenging myself to dig deeper. As much as I do this for the fans, it’s also for me, and stepping up into the artist I know I can be.”