Charlie Parr: 'Stumpjumper' is a new fork in a long and winding road

Charlie Parr performs "Over the Red Cedar" live in The Current studio. (MPR)
  1. Listen Feature audio

    Apr 28, 2015 Listen to all 4 tracks:
    Charlie Parr In-studio (full session + interview)
    Charlie Parr - Over the Red Cedar (Live on The Current)
    Charlie Parr - Frank Miller Blues (Live on The Current)
    Charlie Parr - Falcon (Live on The Current)

"I'm like a balled-up Kleenex in a windstorm. I've just kind of gone wherever I felt like the day has wanted me to go." A folksinger both by trade and at heart, Duluth-based guitar maestro Charlie Parr is an embodiment of his genre: authenticity is his nature, simplicity is his mantra, and wisdom is his language.

Parr's 13th album, Stumpjumper, is released today through his new contract with Grammy-winning St. Paul label Red House Records. Stumpjumper is the first of its kind for Parr, an album complete with a full backing band and recorded outside of his native state in rural North Carolina. Adding to his recent list of accomplishments, Parr will be headlining the Varsity Theater on Friday alongside Duluth natives Feeding Leroy and the legendary Spider John Koerner.

Parr has become fabled around these parts as a mystical man of the road, brewing his meals by the heat of his Kia Soul engine and dozing off for the night at rest stops along the interstate. Existing somewhat apart from modern life, Parr keeps himself a healthy arm's-length from reality.

"I think at this point in my life, I'm almost unemployable," Parr admits with a grin. "I'm kind of just a little world unto myself. I listen to the news in the morning to figure out if the world is going to explode. Once I figure out that it's still just bad news, I put on music and ride and enjoy the moment. So yeah, I think sometimes I've kind of gotten myself into this place where I don't think I can get out of it now — because the way that I want to live is matching the way that I actually live."

Parr's peculiar lifestyle, though seemingly eccentric, makes a lot of sense if you know that one of his greatest influences is the author Harlan Hubbard. A shanty boater on the Ohio River, Hubbard rejected consumer culture and lived a bare-bones life that would put Thoreau to shame.

"His kind of philosophy, which I love so much, is love the life that you have," Parr explains. "Come to your life, and live it as you find it. And live in the world, and make it better as it is. Live in the moment. I want to be alive and aware and awake right now and appreciate that this is what is going on right now: this is what I should pay attention to. If I ever got in my head that I should tell anybody else what to do, that's what I would tell them."

For Parr, living in the moment comes easy. "The things in my life that are the very most important things are the weird little day-to-day things," he says. "Like, my daughter and I go for bike rides together. That little chunk of time is the very best thing that I look forward to for an entire tour, this ten minutes' worth of that or taking the dog for a walk. When I think back on a year's worth of time, those are the moments I remember. And big things like signing to Red House is a big deal for me, but it's not necessarily more important or meaningful than going for a ride with my daughter or hanging out with my son."

The Austin, Minnesota native has made it his lifelong aspiration to search for this beauty in the banal. Drawing much of his inspiration from his relationship with his late father, Parr vividly remembers the day he fell in love with the idiosyncrasies of everyday life. "One of the best moments of my life, ever...I was 14 or 15. My dad decided he didn't feel like going to the fireworks in Austin for the Fourth of July. And I was worried about Dad because it felt like he was depressed, so I decided to stay home. He went outside and started this little fire at the edge of the soybean field. We sat there in lawn chairs and tended the fire and didn't talk much."

"And then as the evening came down—we lived on the edge of this little town—and you could start to see all the little towns' fireworks go off one after another. And he named all of the towns. And then he told me some long, crazy story about [how] he grew up on a tenant farm in northern Iowa, and then just very abruptly got the shovel and shoveled dirt on the fire and went inside, and it was over. That's still one of the best nights of my life. Ever since then, I've always searched out opportunities to have moments like that again."

With a shiny new record deal, 13 album releases, and ever-expanding concert crowds, Parr remains humble, beaming down at his Birkenstocks in gratitude. "I've already got everything I wanted," he explains. "My musical goals were reached ten years ago. Everything now is like gravy and frosting and all that kind of stuff mixed together. Music doesn't feel like a vehicle to get to the top of the charts: it's something really personal. Having this kind of success is great, but it feels really separate from the music. It doesn't matter how many people [come to the show], it's the way it is all the time when I get to sit and play the guitar."

Steadfast to his style, the recent changes in Parr's career appear to have little effect on his own foreseeable future. "How I play is going to be how I play. I'm a one-trick pony, and I've always been. The problem with me is I have very little ambition, generally, because I have what I want. Whatever time has for me next, I'm happy about."

However, it appears this "one-trick pony" still has a few more up his sleeve. What's Parr got cooking under the hood for his next album? "I'm thinking about a tuba. Or maybe a trombone."

Selena Carlson is currently tackling a double major in journalism and music business at Augsburg College. In addition to writing, she is an avid enthusiast of all things banjo; biking; and breakfast for dinner.

Songs Performed

"Over the Red Cedar"
"Frank Miller Blues"
"Falcon"

All songs off Charlie Parr's new album, Stumpjumper, out today via Red House Records.

Session hosted and produced by David Campbell
Session engineered by Michael DeMark
Feature written by Selena Carlson

Guests

  • Charlie Parr

Resources

Related Stories

  • Charlie Parr performs in The Current studio When he traded a Johnson 9.9 outboard motor for a beat up Gibson 12 string back in 1979, Charlie Parr unknowingly and unofficially began a career as a world-class practitioner of traditional folk and Piedmont-style blues - though you'll never get him to admit it.
  • Charlie Parr performs live in the Current studios The new album from Bluesman Charlie Parr was recorded in his neighbor's garage - birds chirping, water on the floor, kids running by - and he feels that the setting allowed him to perform like he wanted.

10 Photos

  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
  • Charlie Parr in The Current studio
    Charlie Parr in The Current studio (MPR / Nate Ryan)
View 9 more photos

comments powered by Disqus