Master Of Our Own Unique Nonsense: Parker Twomey

In some cases, an album cover wins you over before you’ve even dropped the needle on the record. Such is the case with Parker Twomey’s debut LP All This Life, whose art suggests the arrival of someone substantial. Twomey’s headshot showcases the wide-eyed beam of someone prone to brilliance and immortality, conjuring the blissed-out vibes of a David Geffen-approved Asylum Records photoshoot and Laurel Canyon optimism. But there’s also the music, the real reason we’re here.

Elsewhere, Twomey has been placed in the lineage of storytellers like Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Elliott Smith, comparisons that are complimentary and well-intentioned. But it’s best to encounter him on his own terms and talents, the work of someone equally inspired by indie music, True Detective, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and Penguin Classic paperbacks.

The 21-year-old has been honing his craft for over a decade, performing solo, studying performing arts at Booker T. Washington High School, touring alongside country artist Paul Cauthen, and working behind the scenes at Dallas’s Modern Electric Sound Recorders. With All This Life, Parker finally enters the spotlight with an assured collection of sometimes-pensive, sometimes-buoyant songs that instantly resonate, only to hang around, giving pause for reflection.

CF- You’ve grown up around music– in a performance arts high school, in a recording studio, and on stage. Not exactly the typical teenage existence. What are some of the lessons or takeaways from those experiences that you wouldn’t have received otherwise?

PT- There are many lessons and things that I have taken away from it. I don’t know if I could just pinpoint one, but I think the first thing that comes to mind is that I’ve been basically performing since I was 10 in front of people, and I’ve realized over the years that there is a simple kind of consciousness shift– that’s the way I describe it– when I’m performing. It’s like I tap into something; it’s almost spiritual to me, similar to when you pray. It’s like you shift your consciousness when you’re sleeping or dreaming. It’s like an altered state in that way. I think that’s been really healthy for me to have as I’ve walked through my life. Maybe lot of people describe it as like an outlet or something– I don’t know if that’s too cliché– but it’s like a consciousness-shifting outlet, I guess. And I love the relationship between audience and my art when I’m performing. I think there’s a lot of value in that too.

Since you’ve been doing this for so long, do you ever worry that the initial spark you feel might be going to fade over time? Or is that something that you feel is inexhaustible, that it’s innate and it’s a part of you from here on out?

I think that everyone has that spark, that they’ve got a candle that starts off the flame that’s lit proverbially, and for sure, it could exhaust, but I’m I’ve always been really aware of that possibility, so I make an extra effort to really exercise it every day and also just constantly seek inspiration. And my sources of inspiration are definitely always changing, too. I don’t want to reinvent the same song over and over again. I feel like if I were to do that, then my passion would start to feel like work. I think because of my awareness, I feel like I can carry this flame, so to speak, and keep it going throughout my whole life and hopefully pass it down to my kids.

Elsewhere, writers have made mention of your age– how young you are. Some people say that you need a few years of real experience, real living to write real songs. This might sound logical, but then I think of how most of my favorite groups were creating some of their best work before they were 25 or even 21. How are you able to connect with so many people despite being a newcomer?

I think that any human, regardless of their age, their expressions should be [considered] valid. One thing that I’ve been meditating on a lot, now that I think back, is maybe a good answer to this, and it’s that art is just the master of our own unique nonsense, especially when I’m thinking about like you said, there are so many artists who are creating their best work when they’re younger. Lorde did Pure Heroine when she was 16, and I know Taylor Swift, she’s where she is because there are so many genius qualities about her as well. I believe everyone has this inner genius like I was talking about earlier, and sometimes we can harness that easier when we’re younger before the world has put these metaphysical restrictions on ourselves that we learn along the way. I also feel like I was doing some of my best work when I was younger, and now I feel like I’m evolving and working and doing better work, but it’s just different. You can only offer that innocent, childlike experience one time in your life, so it’s a beautiful thing to be able to capture it. Everybody kind of longs for that as they get older, too.

And while we’re on this thought, when I was growing up, writing songs, I did often run into people who didn’t take me seriously because of my age, and that was that was something that I did struggle with. But I think there was a humility that came with that too that I found really valuable, and it did make me who I am, just always facing people not believing what I was singing about, even though it was who I was and what I was experiencing. Getting thrown in the pit of fire can be a good thing, too.

How has your approach to songwriting changed over time? Have you become more methodical or less concerned with process?

I think my approach has changed because of the circumstances of my life. I’m touring a lot more nowadays, and I have the luxury of being able to write at any given time. I have to be much more deliberate in my schedule, which can be hard because you can’t just channel that creative urge at any time that you decide. I find that I do a lot of my writing either in hotel rooms or after a tour when I can decompress at the desk. I do really value routine. It’s something that coincides with my art and my creative process. When I am touring, I notice that I have a lot more unfinished creations when I’m on the road. The amount of voice memos in my phone is still going up, just the amount of finished thoughts aren’t really translating as well as they do when I have more time on my hands at home.

Making sense of those fragments can be fun when you have the time…

There is something, though, that I’ve enjoyed as I’ve gotten older in terms of writing, a kind of almost a stream-of-consciousness. When I’m possessing so much new information and and things that are inspiring me, sometimes you tap into something; it’s almost like you’re a vessel for a higher power or something. Maybe that’s too cliché, but sometimes it feels like a song just comes to you, and those can be really beautiful moments.

What else inspires you these days besides other music?

Right now, I’ve been romanticizing life in the woods or something like that. Those kinds of visuals internally have kind of been inspiring my songs the last couple of days. I journal every day to keep that creative spark going, to find some sort of inspiration. I love reading literature. I also have been really into mythology and astrology lately, exploring religions of all kinds, immersing myself in it and then immersing myself in a life without it. I’ve been doing that for the last year or so, and it has been a struggle, but I’ve found a lot of inspiration in that struggle.

I’m also inspired as an observer. I’m always watching the world around me and taking notes– I take notes all the time. And then through those observations, I’ll find a bunch of topics and questions to ask myself, and I’ll journal on those throughout the day. I would say that’s a part of my routine when I’m at home and on the road, so I think there’s just a lot of inspiration in that too.

I just read this book called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, and that directly changed some of my mindset. I’ve been reading Pride and Prejudice right now and about to start Dante’s Inferno. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I haven’t read so many of these classics, but it’s a goal of mine to finish the 50 Penguin Classics and a lot of Greek mythology, too.

And then my social life, too, just living in Dallas and being on the run with the band. There’s a lot that just comes with person-to-person interaction.

In your song “Pneumonia”, you sing “I’m happier when I’m depressed, always down. Sometimes sadness makes me smile”. Do you need those valleys of depression to create, to be the best writer?

I don’t think I depend on it, but I do feel like I’m probably more comfortable when I’m in an emotional valley because I’ve lived in one my whole life, basically. I know that a lot of writers have this conundrum where they’re like, “I feel more profound when I’m in the throes,” and I do relate to that a lot, but I try not to let it be a crutch because I also know that that sadness and writing about your pain is one of the most common topics to write about, so I realized that, but I also just gravitate towards emotional darkness and the depths. There’s so much uniqueness in the way that people talk about the pain and what they’ve been through. That is a huge chunk of the human experience, right there.

I know folks compare you to Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, and Townes Van Zandt, but there are also modern elements to your sound. What are some artists in your rotation that might surprise your fans?

I do love all kinds of music, and I think my rotation always looks so different. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Lorde, that Pure Heroine record. I love it so much, so maybe people would be surprised to hear that. Elliott Smith is one of my favorites, and he has been since I got into music. Let me see… Let me look in my library right now. I love The National a lot. I love them. It’s just such a unique style, and then the sound– it’s a whole universe. I dig Dawes– Taylor Goldsmith’s lyrics are really incredible. He’s one of my favorite writers, too. And Jeff Tweedy. That’s kind of a maybe a little charcuterie board of what I’ve been with.

You’re in flux or motion throughout the record, specifically in songs like “All This Life”, “Counting Down The Days” and “What Good Is Running”. Some recurring motifs are running or searching for something. Is that search part of the artist’s curse, always being on the lookout for something to experience, something to chronicle?

Yeah, I do feel it is. Maybe it just comes with constantly reinventing yourself too, every day, but yeah, I feel like I have a clear vision for who I want to be and what I want to accomplish. I’ve got goals and everything, but yes, maybe there’s a search for that purpose, maybe still an unsatisfaction or a longing that persists. I’m always looking for something that isn’t there, or maybe I can see, but can’t grasp, all across the board, whether it’s spiritually– I think that I’m extremely spiritually driven– or in my day-to-day life, with my relationships with family and friends, or those that I work with, or just in my art, too.

I guess it’s just the big questions– the whos, the whys, the whats, the whens, and all things that come with those. I never want to allow myself to be content either, and maybe that’s not the healthiest way to live, but I would rather reach my fullest potential than be comfortable. Maybe that’s not what a therapist wants to hear, but I don’t want to get complacent. I think that there’s a lot of probably pressure and stress and mental issues that manifest from that kind of perspective, but I think it’s worth it. Overall, I’m the kind of person that I am because having that perspective makes it worth it for me.

Your album closes with the song “Family”, where you envision yourself growing old, porch sitting with someone you love, having a family. We talked about your searching– is this the pinnacle of achievement for you?

It’s definitely up there. It’s definitely something that I would love to accomplish in my life, and it’s on the top of the mountain, so to speak, with a few other goals. Companionship and sharing a life with someone else is one of the most beautiful things and seems like one of the simplest, but in reality, I don’t know how simple it actually is so the song is about that, that desire and as I get older and get more defined, I think that it may be harder to find what I’m looking for, but maybe it’s when I stop looking that I’ll find it.

But it’s also about appreciating the family that I have here in my blood family and my friends. Over the last maybe five years, my mother was diagnosed with an incurable cancer, and my two sisters have had autoimmune problems. The life, the cards that have been dealt to my immediate family haven’t been the best. It’s really made me appreciate each day that I have with them and have a higher emphasis on family in my life, too. I wanted to embody all of those feelings in that song. I hope a lot of people can relate to it.

All This Life is available now on all your favorite digital platforms.

Charlie Farmer is a Georgia writer and professor who loves his wife, his daughters, his students, his cats, his books, his LPs, and everything else one should love in life.