PARKER GISPERT'S musical identity has been almost entirely defined by The Whigs, the band he started in 2002 with drummer Julian Dorio and original bassist Hank Sullivant. The latter left in 2006 to pursue other endeavors, but the band soldiered on with bassist Timothy Deaux and released several critically acclaimed albums on ATO Records in the years that followed.
In 2016, after Dorio and Deaux had already begun pursuing projects and tours with the likes of Kings of Leon, Eagles Of Death Metal, and Grace Potter, the decision was made to slow Whigs activity for the foreseeable future. Gispert decided to put his energy into a solo career, which led to the creation of his debut Sunlight Tonight.
The album is set for a November 16 release, and he’ll be bringing those songs and more to El Rocko Lounge on October 12. We spoke to Parker ahead of the show to get a sense of what life is like as a newly-solo artist.
Let’s start with the beginning of the solo venture. You guys decided that you weren’t going to play as much anymore – is that how it started?
It was sort of just a gradual thing. Modern Creation was our last studio album, and we toured on that for a little over a year. Then Tim started playing with Grace Potter and now he plays with Kings Of Leon. Julian started playing with Eagles of Death Metal and Karen Elson, and now he does Band of Skulls and Lone Bellow. So they were doing different things, and we were still trying to do Whigs dates around that.
I just wanted to be playing more shows and working on a new record, and it occurred to me that if I wanted to do that sort of stuff – just like they had found their own things outside of the band, I needed to do the same thing. So that’s really where it got started. It wasn’t so much of a line of delineation, it was more just that the lightbulb sort of went off. It became obvious that this was the time that I was going to need to give [the solo project] a good go.
Is that kind of a weird feeling? I would assume that [The Whigs] has been so much a part of who you are for so long. Is it fair to say that it was an adjustment at first to move forward and do something entirely different?
You nailed it. It took a second for me to see it. I think everyone else probably saw it before I did. I’ve been playing in the band since I was a teenager, and it’s just been what I’ve done for so long. We’ve been through various points where maybe somebody left the group or there’d be a second of, “Uh oh, what’s going on?” and we would just power through it.
I think that by default, that’s where I assumed it was – that it was going to be something that we’d power through. And what became obvious to me was that we’d put so much pressure on the band to be the entirety of our musical existence for such a long time. So by doing these other things it has actually put less pressure on the band. It’s brought the band back to more of where it was at its infancy, when it was this great fun thing that maybe your life didn’t depend on. So it’s been really healthy for the band.
It was weird at first to wrap my head around the fact that I was going to need to strike out on my own and do something solo. But luckily, it was comforting as I started taking some baby steps, just realizing that I knew what to do. I’d been playing for so long that if there was a fork in the road or if I found myself in unfamiliar territory, I had enough experience to say, “You actually sort of know what to do here.”
So much of what gets people bogged down is the industry side and the fact that your every move has to be about the band. Did that new sense of freedom inform the solo project?
Well, sort of like what I was saying about knowing what to do, I feel confident in myself as a writer and performer. And I think it’s the best thing for me to be doing the solo thing. I think I was lucky that I had almost twenty years of playing in a small group where I was out front being the singer and primary songwriter. I had a support group, and now that I’m out doing it on my own I’m liberated to really focus on the art, the performance, the writing – all the things that are essential parts. I’m just thinking about those things, and not dealing with a group dynamic and how something I do might affect another person.
Or just the politics of voting on decisions.
Totally. And even, like, industry stuff. All that stuff is out the window. I’ve been pretty good about that in the past, not going to that place mentally. With this, it’s just like getting back to the primal impetus for wanting to make music and be an artist – which is that I want to write a bunch of songs, strike out in a different music direction, record them, put out a solo album, go tour on that record, and genuinely have no expectations in terms of what it’s going to “do for my career.”
When you made this record, so much of it is so different from the Whigs. I’d imagine that was somewhat purposeful. A song like “Through the Canvas” is the perfect example of the complete opposite end of the spectrum of what your style is. Was that totally intentional? What was that process like?
I think in the last few years of the band, I’d sort of doubled down on my skillset. I’d taken more and more time to work on my voice and my guitar playing. Just sort of thinking, “Hey, I’ve been in the band for a long time. I’ve devoted a large portion of my life to this at this point, and I just want to be better on a fundamental level as a singer and guitar player.” So when it came time to do the solo thing, it seemed like the perfect time to explore where I was at vocally or as a guitar player. Without having the drums and bass in the band to project over – we’re a really loud band on stage, and stuff like singing in a falsetto range or even a lower range doesn’t really work in The Whigs.
Before the band started, like in high school, I had always experimented with falsetto or singing in these different registers. So it just seemed like my opportunity to explore my vocal range, and try different things vocally and as a guitar player. On a fundamental level, I wanted to play acoustic guitar and challenge myself in both those respects. And that was pretty much my jumping off point for the record.
Did you write everything on acoustic guitar?
I wrote everything on an acoustic. I didn’t really do that, except for a couple songs, in The Whigs. When I started the band with Julian, which was at the end of high school, was when I bought my first electric guitar. And I kind of never looked back and never really played acoustic guitar again. So weirdly when this whole thing started, it took me back to this place that I was in before we started playing together and I was playing more acoustically.
What were some of the influences on the record? Were there specific artists or records where you said, “I want to make this kind of record”?
I’d say I listened to a decent amount of stuff that doesn’t really have drums at the forefront. Initially I kind of wanted there to be almost no drums. Musically, there was honestly nothing that direct. It was sort of a culmination of a lot of things that were not influences for the band that had always been a part of my foundation. There are pretty obvious ones like Neil Young or Joni Mitchell, or the Nick Drakes, Leonard Cohens, and Bob Dylans.
Probably a big one in there would be Fred Neil. Just things that you might not hear on a Whigs record. As far as contemporaries go, there’s this guy Steve Gunn that I like a lot. Or Ryley Walker. I’d just, like, get on the Internet and look for new tunings and then just mess around with that tuning. Before I knew it, I’d have a riff going on or something.
Is that hard to pull off live? I feel like every time I write in another tuning it’s an excuse to buy another guitar to play it live.
It is [laughs]. I started making this joke during my shows about how as a kid I’d see the Neil Young types with 12 guitars on stage and think, “What a dick. He’s just showing me all his cool guitars.” And then you realize they’re all in different tunings.
It’s more practical than I think people realize! Which actually brings me to my next question. I feel like every time I’ve seen you guys or watched videos, you’ve got different guitars. I’d imagine you’ve amassed a pretty large collection at this point?
I’ve sold a ton of them. In the last two years, I’ve sold pretty much everything except for a couple acoustics, a couple hollow bodies, and a few electrics that I’m using now for the Whigs shows. This, sort of, moment of transition and the advent of the solo project has been a little bit of a purge equipment wise and forced me to look around and question why I had so much stuff. But in general it’s been about a love of gear.
With the solo record, it’s been an exercise for me. I’m traveling light. It’s really just me driving myself everywhere. I’ve got a couple guitars in the car and just my skills. It’s just me, a stool to sit on, my guitar playing and my singing.