Charlie Parr Gets Intimate On ‘Stumpjumper’
Minnesota musician Charlie Parr says his work is influenced by history, folklore, and the musicians he makes friends with as he continues to tour the United States. KMUW’s Jedd Beaudoin recently spoke with Parr and has more.
In late 2014, musician Charlie Parr knew he wanted to make a new album, but he couldn’t quite figure out what to do with the batch of songs he wanted to record. The ideas in his head hadn’t taken their full shape. So he called his old friend Phil Cook, a fellow singer-songwriter best known for his time with the band Megafaun, for help. Cook invited Parr to his North Carolina home.
"He’d been living in Durham," Parr says. "He said that there was a great little farm out there and I should stop out there on my tour and I could hang out with him and play around with ‘em a little bit and see what they did. Phil had some friends out there and recording equipment. We sat down and in the space of about 14 hours had recorded the record. It just gelled. Everything fit together really well. I think Phil’s major role in all of that was being the fire lighter. I was just feeling not very confident. Phil made me feel very, very confident.”
The results of those sessions can be heard on Parr’s latest album, Stumpjumper, his first ever recorded with a full band--a band that didn’t know Parr before he showed up at the North Carolina farm where the record was made.
"There’s something about the experience of meeting someone and before you say, ‘What’s your middle name?’ or ‘Where are you from?’, just sitting down and beginning to play music," Parr says. "And not just any music but music that I’ve made myself and some of it has been created out of some pretty personal things. You’re suddenly intimate with someone that you don’t really even know. That creates a pretty unique bond.”
Some of the songs on Stumpjumper come from Parr’s personal experiences, but others are culled from the pages of history. One of those is "Falcon," a song about John Tanner, a man who was kidnapped by and assimilated into the Ojibwa Nation.
"John Tanner was abducted when he was about nine years old out of his home in Ohio. He was taken all the way up north of Sault St. Marie into the Lake of the Woods region, just north of Minnesota, basically. He was given to a woman and raised as part of the Nation and actually became a really, really accomplished hunter and trapper. He tries to go back home to find his family in his 20s or 30s and finds them, but he can no longer speak English. He speaks Ojibwa. He lives outside. He hunts for his food, so he doesn’t fit well into the European culture anymore, either."
If the story behind “Falcon” sounds like something you’d hear in a folk song, it may be because Parr was heavily influenced by folk and blues music as a younger man. Early in life, he stumbled upon a copy of Harry Smith’s famed Anthology of Folk Music, a collection that first appeared in the 1950s and introduced more than 80 musical acts to American music lovers, and almost single-handedly launched the folk music revival of the 1960s.
"My dad had three records of the six. But they didn’t have covers, so I wasn’t really, really sure what they were. I just knew that there was a lot of weird stuff on the ones that I had. It’s otherworldly," Parr says. "When I finally got the whole thing I was completely blown away. It still is a huge influence. Not just the individual songs. There’s something about the whole package, the way that Smith put this thing together and organized this and sequenced it that makes it kind of things of itself. I refer to the entire thing kind of constantly. I think I’m influenced as much by the whole set as I am by individual songs on it."
Charlie Parr’s Stumpjumper is out now. He performs on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. at Barleycorn’s.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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