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Charlie Parr plays songs from 'Little Sun' at The Current for Radio Heartland

Charlie Parr performs songs from "Little Sun" at The Current for Radio HeartlandRadio Heartland
  Play Now [20:16]

by Mike Pengra

June 02, 2024

Making his latest album, Little Sun, got Charlie Parr out of his comfort zone. First of all, he left Minnesota for a few weeks to record in Portland, Oregon. Second, Parr is typically a solo artist, but he worked with a producer and a number of musicians to create Little Sun. Parr’s assessment in retrospect? “It was wonderful,” he says.

Little Sun released on March 22 of this year on Smithsonian Folkways. Before embarking on tour in support of the new album, Charlie Parr visited The Current studio for a session hosted by Radio Heartland’s Mike Pengra. Watch and listen to Parr’s song performances above, and watch the interview video below. Just beyond that is a transcript of Parr’s interview.

Radio Heartland
Charlie Parr interview with Mike Pengra in The Current studio for Radio Heartland

Interview Transcript

Mike Pengra: I'm in the studio with Charlie Parr today, and I'm excited because we're going to talk about Little Sun, your latest album, which came out, we just figured out, in March. Congratulations, by the way.

Charlie Parr: Thank you. Thank you, I appreciate that. 

Mike Pengra: This album was a little bit different than all the rest of yours. Tell me about the recording process of doing this. You did it out in Portland, right?

Charlie Parr: Yeah, I did it in Portland. I wanted to work with Tucker Martine.

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Charlie Parr: He's a producer. He has a beautiful studio in Portland. And I had talked to him before. I talked to him during COVID time when I was working on my last record. And I had even sent him demos and I really wanted to work with him. This is the producer that did Bill Frisell's records, you know? Like people that I really, really love. And I wanted to go to Portland, my favorite guitar player, Marisa Anderson, lives in Portland, I wanted her to be involved. And at that time, it just didn't work out. Even the songs felt like they were kind of resistant to, you know, giving them over to a producer. And so that record, it didn't work out. Then this next batch of songs came around, and they felt more malleable, they felt more fluid. I sent demos to Tucker, and we talked again, and it seemed like it was going to work. So we set up a time.

A man sits behind the sound board in a studio control room
Producer Tucker Martine in the control room at his studio, Flora Recording and Playback, in Northeast Portland, Oregon.
via Facebook

And you know, it's a matter of trust, you know, you're giving your creation to someone else. I've never done that. I've always, like, had my ideas about recording, have always been pretty clear before I go to the studio. And now, you know, I had given him my demos and handed these over and was driving out to Portland without having a clue what was going to happen. And it was wonderful. You know, it was the feeling of — he and I got along really, really well from the very beginning. He assembled a group of musicians who, you know, he intuited were going to be like minded, and they were; you know Marissa was there. You know, all the folks that he got involved were kind to me and my music, they were enthusiastic, they were excited to be there. You know that Tucker's space has a lot of options that we could, like, play around with. And whereas before I would sit down in a studio, and it was like a show, you know: "I'm gonna play these songs, and then we're gonna go, because this is not cheap." Now, you know, the studio was booked. And I had a little apartment a few blocks away. And I was like, walking to the studio in the morning and getting ready to go and playing songs. You know, there's only eight of them, you know, I figured, what are we going to do? We just played the songs and played them again, and played them this way and played them that way and added this and took that away and did this and did this over here and tried something new. I got to play harmonica on a record. I've never done that before.

Mike Pengra: And it's also you you worked with other musicians, which is something you didn't do before. I mean, you usually are solo, correct?

Charlie Parr: Usually I'm solo. Well, I've got my my people like Mikkel Beckmen, you know, this small kind of group of folks that I tend to have around when I want. Most of the time, I'm just playing by myself, especially when I'm on the road, you know, it's a solo show. But in this case, you know, we'd sit down and play the songs in the live room, with just like a trio of me, bass and drums, and kind of kick them around a little bit. And then we started adding in all these other pieces.

Mike Pengra: In post production, usually. 

Charlie Parr: Yeah, as tracking or as overdubs or whatever, which I had never had experience with that before. And it was really fascinating to me, and I was, I really enjoyed it. I found myself really feeling inspired, I guess, by the process and by Tucker and his process, you know. And immediately after the record was done, and we'd started the mixing process, Marisa and I took off on a tour and went to San Diego and back, and it was great. I really am grateful that I got to have that experience. I don't know if I'll get to do it again in my lifetime, but I'm really grateful for it.

A woman plays guitar onstage
Guitarist Marisa Anderson
Natalie Behring/Getty Images

Mike Pengra: I'm talking with Charlie Parr in the studio today. Little Sun is his brand-new record came out in March. And that first song you played, "Ten Watt," you used this 12-string guitar sitting here. Tell me about the history of this guitar. 

Spider John Koerner sits for a photo
Spider John Koerner, photographed in northeast Minneapolis on Feb. 16, 2024.
Shelly Mosman for MPR

Charlie Parr: This guitar belongs to Spider John Koerner. And he would have acquired it some time in the late '70s or early '80s as a six string. It is a 1948 to 1950, '51 Gretsch, it was made in Brooklyn, New York. And John had it modified from a six string into a 12 string, had the pin bridge moved back several inches and a floating saddle installed. And he played it for a long time. And then, at one point, a couple years back, he called me up and said he wasn't going to play the guitar anymore. He felt like he wasn't able to do it the way he wanted to do it. And he wanted me to have this one. Another one of his guitars is on permanent display at Palmers Bar on the West Bank. And this one, I promised him would go on the road, and people could see it and play it. And you know, I've been a fan since the first moment I heard John play. And he's been probably the single greatest inspiration to me as far as a guitar player, and especially a 12-string guitar player, songwriter, and, you know, someone who, you know, modifies instruments and makes efforts to change things to get to a sound that he was looking for. I find that incredibly inspirational.

Mike Pengra: Yeah.

Charlie Parr: I don't know how many times I've gotten to see John play live. Or how many times I've gotten to see Koerner Ray and Glover as a trio play live. You know, I'm extremely grateful to have seen the three of those people play.

Mike Pengra: And an honor to play this axe here.

Charlie Parr: And now to get to play this and take care of it and being kind of its caregiver, you know, for as long as I can play, and then find the young person that will need to have this guitar going forward.

Mike Pengra: Yeah. Do you think you would do another album like this where you did some overdubbing and have a larger crew of musicians? Or do you think your next one, you'll be back to more solo work, or?

Charlie Parr: I think I'm naturally a solo artist. I think the next record will probably be, you know, a solo record again. But even this last record, you know, going back to John, I, you know, this last record, the record that Tucker and I were kicking around the most was Running, Jumping, Standing Still, which Willie Murphy and Spider John collaborated on together. You know, so, you know, there's that. I probably will end up making another solo record. I don't know when. I've got a couple of things I want to finish in the next year. I'll get probably get back down to working on some new music, but I'm almost 100% sure it's going to be a solo record or something pretty similar to that.

Mike Pengra: Well this one's gorgeous.

Charlie Parr: Thank you.

Charlie Parr - Little Sun
Charlie Parr, "Little Sun" album cover
Smithsonian Folkways

Mike Pengra: You said, I think I saw on your website, that you've got a pretty busy schedule coming up. You said you're going off to Europe next summer or fall?

Charlie Parr: Yeah, well, the rest of this year is booked, you know, which is good.

Mike Pengra: Yeah. Right.

Charlie Parr: Because if you're not bailing, you're sinking. But I have — this week, I'm heading south. I go to Canada in July. August, I'm taking it easy. September and October, Mikkel and I are flying off to Europe for almost six weeks worth of, you know, bumming around Europe and England, playing shows and trying to stay out of trouble.

Mike Pengra: What fun. Geez! And then we can have that conversation again about driving on the left-hand side of the road when you get back from England.

Charlie Parr: We'll see how that works, right.

Mike Pengra: Charlie, thank you so much for coming in. And congratulations on this record.

Charlie Parr: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. I appreciate it.

Mike Pengra: All right.

Songs Performed

00:00:00 Ten Watt
00:03:56 Little Sun
00:08:03 Boombox

All songs from Charlie Parr’s 2024 album, Little Sun, available on Smithsonian Folkways.


Charlie Parr – guitar and vocals


Guest – Charlie Parr
Host/Producer – Mike Pengra
Video Director – Eric Xu Romani
Audio – Evan Clark
Camera Operator – Eric Xu Romani
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Charlie Parr – official site

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.