Charlie Parr: With this job, there's no way to retire
Folk music has a long, storied past in Minnesota. Locally, the music dates back to the days of Bob Dylan and Koerner, Ray, and Glover, as well as folk instrumentalists like Leo Kottke, Steve Tibbetts and Paul Metzger. Among the current crop of roots-style pickers, Charlie Parr has sailed above as a performer for over a decade now.
With a very rich approach to his resonator guitar and banjo he fashions a hypnotic blues based sound that gives age to his voice and playing. But Parr has conjured up a subtle shift in his playing as represented on his new record Hollandale. Using less of a song form and the space to improvise on melodies and rhythms, with the aid and encouragement from good friend Alan Sparhawk of Low, Charlie breaks new ground for himself and the modern day folk music scene. Released again on Duluth's Chaperone Records, Parr will be celebrating Saturday at the Cedar Cultural Center.
Amid all the activity Gimme Noise got Charlie on the phone. On a break in his pickup truck we chatted about Hollandale, music and the very healthy roots music scene.
Gimme Noise: Hey Charlie, great to talk to you. I just saw on The Cedar's Twitter that your show Saturday just sold out!
Charlie Parr: Yeah, I just got word from them that we sold out. I guess there's no accounting for taste!
Knowing you are going to be featuring this album, which is a bit different for your stuff, it's cool people are down with what you got going on.
I'm bowled over by it, I'm very happy that it's sold out. Really though, I have been easing a lot of this style of playing into my sets this past year. Anyone who's seen me in the last year has heard my more instrumental, improvised stuff. I did a show the other night with Alan Sparhawk at Sacred Heart and we did the whole thing. I mixed in my other stuff, it felt really natural. It was nice having Alan up there with me. It didn't feel like I was too far away from what I been doing. But it's definitely different for me. I don't have always have that confidence, then at the end of the night I felt I did all right.
As far as the different approach for the music on Hollandale I read that Alan really encouraged you to go in that direction.
Alan? Absolutely. I listen to a lot of instrumental guitar players: John Fahey, Jack Rose. Alan and I trade music back and forth. I mentioned at one point this kind of music was one thing I have always wanted to do. He was absolutely encouraging. Recording in that way with Alan was really comforting. He has a great presence about him. I thought to just do this for me. I didn't have much expectaions. When we listened to what we had done, and Chaperone wanted to release it, it gave me a boost. The new songs I been working on are not necessarily hybrids but lyrical songs come out the way they come out. But my guitar playing is definitely informed by doing this.
Especially in the Twin Cities, the folk, rootsy, old timey or as I like to call it, "beards and banjos" music scene has really become a thing. You certainly have been a part of it and perhaps an inspiration in town to a lot of picking and grinning types. How do you feel about the scene?
I love it for one thing. It also feels really normal to me. I was raised with all of this kind of music. I often think my Dad would've loved this. All we listened to was folk music. He liked banjos and blues guitar players. When I had ideas I would play music in the '80s, I was a folkie and couldn't play anywhere then. Now it's really different. A lot of rock clubs are giving folkies a night. Everywhere I go I meet people who can really play. They have deep feelings about this kind of music. I think its really astounding.
In a way what I like most about it is how natural and organic the scene has grown. It's been bubbling under and a big part of the Twin Cities music scene forever, but now is probably more popular as a sound more than ever. It's natural growth I think makes it a real thing to a lot of people.
I think that's right. I was talking about this with a friend. He noticed the same thing around the country. I have met a lot of people whom you get the impression would be playing this music no matter what. I just want to play this. I've always felt that way. I never expected to play like this let alone play a place like the Cedar and fill the room. With the folk thing, I think of guys like "Spider" John Koerner. He was a big influence on a lot of people. Then the music kind of passed away. But he was still there and there was still people connected to what he was doing. I've told people I know "Spider" John and people have a glazed look over their face. They don't believe me.
You've probably performed or at least shared gigs with Spider I would imagine. You ever record anything together?
I have been super lucky to one, meet the man but also I have gotten to play on stage with him a few times. It's just amazing. The man has an insane sense of rhythm. I would love to sometime, sit down and do something for a record. More along his lines than mine.
So aside from this record, what else you been up to? More records? More songwriting?
It's been a good winter for me. I been enjoying the winter. I actually felt good about an old fashioned winter. I took some screws out and made an ice-bike out of my Mom's old bike. It's great for getting around the streets in Duluth. I been working on some music, though. I soon will be collaborating, making a record with Davina from Davina and the Vagabonds. I'm going to Raleigh soon and make a record with Phil Cook from Megafaun. He's been my friend for a while. He and Justin Vernon recorded one of my songs with the Blind Boys of Alabama. He had a bunch of nice ideas with me. It will be cool to record out of town, there's a farm out there with a studio. Other than that I'm not leaving the country this year but will live on the road for a while. I have my truck set up with a heater in the back.
Man, you got this thing all figured out. You have a tight one-man operation going there!
Oh man, I been trying to tighten it up even more! I can bascially drive, then live and sleep in the back and cook on this heater which keeps me warm at night. With gas so expensive, it's best to not have to worry about spending money in restraunts and hotels. This is what I do. Not spend any money and stay on the road for another year. Live day to day. With this job, there's no way to retire. You don't retire from doing it, you know? Just check in with "Spider" John.
Charlie Parr with Chicago Farmer perform at the Cedar Cultural Center, Saturday February 1. 8pm THIS SHOW IS SOLD OUT.
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