Monday, May 12, 2014

Interview with Jack Parker + Homegrown (Album Review)

For years, Jack Parker has been the ingenious six-string slinger interpreting other people’s songs from the side of the stage. Bands like New Old Stock, Rocky Point All-Stars, Tumbledown, MxPx, and others have proven to be ample sonic stomping grounds for his agile guitar licks and his spot-on vocal harmonies. However, with Homegrown, Parker has taken center stage to write, sing, and play his own songs in his own way.

Homegrown kicks off with “It’s So Good,” an exciting opener that mixes the attitude of Parker’s Tumbledown twang with his meticulous ear for melody. One of the things that immediately strikes you about Parker’s debut is his vocals, which are a blend of Glenn Frey and James Taylor with his own Northwest inflections. This folksy tone carries through the rest of his songs, shining most clearly and plaintively on “The Mountain” and “Gone.”

Parker’s guitar skills – both acoustic and electric – also make Homegrown a must listen. Whether he’s strumming a backporch ballad or firing off greasy licks and solos, his attention to phrasing and tone are top-notch. Even for non-guitar players, the overall sound and feeling of Parker’s guitar-playing sticks out above the majority of what’s out there. Parker has years of experience under his belt and he knows when (and what) to play and, more importantly, when (and what) not to play.

I recently interviewed Parker about Homegrown, his move to front man, and his recent hand injury.

MSCS: You've been playing music for quite a few years. What made now the right time to release your own solo debut?
Jack Parker: I guess in my younger years I was more focused on being the best guitarist I could be. I wasn't as concerned with writing songs, so I have never really been a prolific songwriter. I had always played in bands that already had a prolific songwriter, like KW Miller (Rocky Point All-Stars) or Mike Herrera (Tumbledown, MxPx), so I was comfortable being a sideman. It wasn't until about 3 or 4 years ago that I started feeling the urge to write some songs of my own. I was already very familiar with the basic elements that made a well-written song by being around such great songwriters for so long. After coming up with a handful of what I felt were pretty decent songs, I figured I had better record them! 

MSCS: What does the album title Homegrown represent to you?
Parker: I wrote all of the songs at home in Bremerton, WA. I recorded at Monkey Trench Studios here in Bremerton, WA. I had it mastered by a good buddy Tony Reed (Mos Generator, Stone Axe) in Port Orchard, WA. I had the cover art drawn by my buddy Bo McConaghie (Black Dragon Tattoo) in Poulsbo, WA. Plus, my songs all kind of have a "homey/earthy" vibe... hence Homegrown.

MSCS: Your lyrics have an air of longing for home and a desire for settledness. Does that come from touring and everything that goes along with a musician's life?
Parker: Yeah, I suppose so. I've always loved traveling, but my favorite place to be in the world is at home... or at Mount Rainier. That place is heaven on Earth.
MSCS: You've played in a lot bands as a guitarist. How does it feel taking the lead on songwriting and vocals?
Parker: Honestly, a bit scary. Playing lead-guitar was always very natural and comfortable to me because I wasn't the main focal point. I didn't start playing solo acoustic shows until just over two years ago, and at first it scared me to death. However, I've gotten a little better at getting over my fear over the last couple of years. Singing very personal lyrics is tough sometimes, especially if people aren't paying attention. It's hard, but I just close my eyes and go for it.

MSCS: You recently injured your hand pretty badly. How did it affect your playing and the recording process?
Parker: Fortunately, the injury to my left hand happened after all the tracking had been completed, because I couldn't even play at all for about a month. That was a really hard month for me emotionally, because playing guitar has always meant the world to me. I didn't know when or if I would be able to play at all or with the same proficiency. It's been three months now and my index finger is still stiff and sore, but once it's warmed up I can play okay. There are some movements I can't do anymore, but I'm relearning how to play certain things differently so that they sound close to how I want them to. It may never be completely "normal" again, but I am very thankful that it wasn't worse, and that I can still play. Musicians shouldn't play around with sharp objects!

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