Photo Credit: JC Medeiros
At the end of the summer, Cassadee Pope was touring around the country, taking along with her another amazing country artist, Aaron Parker. When I visited my regular haunt for the show (House Of Blues Orlando), I actually went for fun (not work, which is unusual for me) with family. To say we were all surprised by the power a man and his guitar had on an entire room of people, would be a lie.
Following an incredible show, both Cassadee and Aaron stayed behind and spoke to everyone. They didn’t rush off or act diva-esque, like many imagine artists to do; they genuinely wanted to speak to the concert-goers. I put on my journalist hat and watched this, realizing that a new breed of artist may actually be emerging: a relatable, approachable one. I ended up asking Aaron if he would like to do an interview, and we exchanged emails. To my surprise, he actually emailed back. When we arranged the interview, I expected ten minutes, done and dusted, just like many of my others. However, the “interview” became more of a conversation, which you can check out below:
PS: Thanks for doing the interview. How are you?
AP: Pretty good, thanks. How’s the weather in Florida today?
PS: Oh my gosh, it’s boiling today. I think it’s like…96 degrees today, so I’m dying.
AP: Oh man, that’s hot. We had fun down there. We really enjoyed the fans. They were just amazing people. I didn’t know so many people in Florida loved country music. It’s just a really cool, special place.
PS: It is…I mean, the amount of people that are country music obsessed down here is actually pretty brilliant.
AP: Yeah, and to play the House of Blues in Disney, which is one of my favorite places on the planet, I get excited driving in! [laughs] It’s like, “Go here for Hollywood Studios,” or “Go here for Magic Kingdom.” It is just really cool. You don’t even have to be a kid, and you still get excited!
PS: Did you go into any of the parks?
AP: No, we just played and then scooted out.
PS: Yeah, we noticed your buses leaving, and we were super late leaving. I just kept thinking, “Wow, they must be exhausted.”
AP: You know what? We weren’t. Well, it doesn’t hit until about halfway down the road, and then it does, and you’re just like, “Ugh…I need a Red Bull or something…” I don’t normally caffeinate before shows, just because it’s too much. My heart feels like it’s pounding out of my chest when I add it with the excitement I already feel. Just to call this a job is amazing. I mean, I came from landscaping. When I was twelve, I started a landscaping company and I would go to other people’s houses and mow their lawn with their lawn mowers. I didn’t have a mower, so I’d find some sweet…elderly folks [laughs] and I’d go and ask if they wanted me to mow their lawn, obviously for a good deal, because I was using their equipment. So I mean, I’m used to the heat at least.
PS: So Florida was really nothing, weather-wise, to you.
AP: Not really, I would “work” in any weather! I find it funny calling it work. I have the best job in the world. I mean, I get to travel around and meet new people who love great music. That amazes me. I am so grateful for it.
PS: Well, you have such a knack for, not just writing songs, but for storytelling. I noticed during your show that you told little stories before each song, kind of telling the audience what the song was about. How important do you think the stories behind each song are?
AP: I think there are songs that you write that you have a real, physical, emotional connection to; you know, autobiographical. And those are really special because often you’ll find that others have been there and experienced it as well. You know, whatever happened, whatever kind of car it was, the location, it doesn’t matter; it’s what the experience was and the people you were with. It’s about being able to resurrect that in someone and make them want to come back again and hear it. I think it’s very special that you craft that when you write your songs. I try to take the approach that my heroes took. Garth Brooks and George Strait, some of those guys let the best song live; if they wrote it or didn’t write it. I try to mix the two; my songs and my experience. If we write a good song that day, you know [laughs]. Some days, you don’t write a good song at all! [laughs] If you do, and it works, then it’s great, but if it doesn’t, you try and find something in the marketplace, in Nashville, with the writers that can give you that feeling that your going for. “What does the world need to hear?” is a question that I ask myself everyday when I go in to write. What do they need to hear? It’s not about me. I mean, yes, my voice is coming through the speakers or the PA system, but really, to me, metaphorically speaking, it’s about that single mom in Illinois, who works at Blockbuster, and what is she doing in her normal day? A lot of people cannot relate to someone moving to Nashville to play their guitar, but someone can relate to the hardships of normal life; someone can relate to waking up and going to work at six in the morning and landscaping all day long, and construction work, and stuff I grew up around. I strive to take the spotlight off of me that sense, and try to emote something that runs true for humans, something the world needs to hear.
PS: You are probably one of the first musicians I’ve ever spoken to that takes that approach, and it’s a very powerful one, I think. Do you think other musicians could really benefit by trying to approach their audience from that perspective?
AP: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if other musicians would benefit, because that’s their decision, I guess. It’s just such a blank canvas of an industry. I mean, you can really do whatever you want. Thirty albums a week are released to Spotify. People are making records at the nicest studios in the world and from their closets in their home. So different artists do have different ways of approaching it, but, I’m not reinventing the wheel or anything; I’m trying not to anyway, I’m just doing it the way my heroes have done it. There’s a way to do things, and there’s a way that works, and with Frank Sinatra, he never wrote anything, Kenny Chesney wrote a little bit, George Strait didn’t write anything, you know? And that’s not to credit or discredit singer us singer/ songwriters, but even Elton John had Bernie Tolpin and Bon Jovi had Desmond Child. To try and out-write a talent, that’s beyond me and beyond any ego I may have. I approach it with, “Hey, man, you guys are virtuosos in writing and connecting with humans.” Again, “What does the world need to hear?” We just go in and have fun with a stack of songs we like, and just weigh it out, and decide which one is the best. Some of your favorite songs weren’t written by the artist, which is not to say he isn’t credible, because it resonated with the world. It’s really about speaking to the normal guy. That’s what I am. I just picked up a guitar at nine years old and quit guitar lessons, stumbled through high school and college—I didn’t even graduate college! And now we’re on tour. I’m just a normal human trying to play normal human music. I guess what I mean is that I’m interested in making human music, not just country music. I’m from the south, and I love it, but there are songs you and I both connect to that are considered country, but they’re not really country, they’re human. No matter where you’re from, you can connect to it. It’s been a long road, but I hope I answered your question [laughs].
PS: I like longer answers! [laughs] You know, you said about touring, and you just wrapped up touring with Cassadee Pope. What was that like?
AP: Oh, she is such a talented sweetheart. And I mean, she can sing! Her voice is amazing, first of all, and she’s so approachable and her fans really see that in her. That’s why they come back. She has something that connects with them. She wants to be part of their lives; I noticed she has a genuine interest in people. Whether or not that’s common, I’m not sure, I’m sure you can answer that, but it’s cool to see and it’s refreshing. She was really nice to me, and, I mean, I was in Disney World, so anytime I’m there, I’m excited [laughs].
PS: Did she teach you any tricks of the trade?
AP: We met briefly and we hung out for a little bit, but we both had a lot of things we had to get done as far as daily routine and then, there’s showtime and load out, so we hung out in passing. There wasn’t really enough time for her to delve into her Jedi ways as far as touring [laughs].
PS: One thing I think you both did brilliantly when you were at the venue: you stayed and spoke to everyone. I think every single person in attendance got the opportunity to meet you guys and speak to you. You asked me if that was common, and it’s not, it’s really rare. My family and I all commented on that, because a lot of artists play and then get out. Do you think it’s important to connect with fans one-on-one when you can?
AP: Absolutely. It is so important. I can only speak for me and my band, but I think it’s important for country folks. Where I come from, you know, we’re a buncha huggers. Like, when you come to the house, we’re gonna hug you. It’s not usually a shaking of the hand, it’s a big hug, it’s a “welcome home,” even if you’re not from the area. I kind of think that’s only natural for me to take that approach when it comes to my fans. The fans that come out to hear the music come out for that; when I go out to a show, I want that! [laughs] I’m still a fan! I’ve stolen everything I could from James Taylor, Bob Seiger, Garth Brooks and those guys when it comes to the connections with fans. It’s a special time. Now, in the world that we’re in, it’s more important than ever.
PS: That is so cool to hear. Obviously, when you were playing, I noticed a lot of female attention on you, and definitely some freaking out…
AP: [laughs] Yeah…that happens sometimes.
PS: How do you deal with the attention like that?
AP: Um…well, you know, it’s funny, because I’m happily married, and I have a little boy. So the attention is wonderful. I’ve been touring since I was in tenth grade. I toured with a band, we were called Slap Out, named after a town in Alabama. Slap Out, Alabama. It was the smallest town you could find in the state. You could drive through it and not even know you went through. So we thought that was a cool name, and then we went around to all the frat parties we could. We toured Southern Miss, Auburn, just everywhere. We tried to go everywhere we could in the southeast. It was really a 90’s rock/pop cover band. That’s where I got my start in performing when you’re in the frat party arena, there is definitely some funny nights and…attention. So I don’t know if that changes it, but I mean, they’re so sweet to me, and I am so thankful for that. Without people who are following and interested, there is nothing, so I’m very grateful.
PS: Aww, that’s very sweet. You know, you just mentioned you had a little boy. Does he understand the concept that, you know, “Dad is a touring musician” or is he too young for that?
AP: Oh, he’s seven months old.
PS: Oh yeah, way too young!
AP: He’s a little peanut [laughs].
PS: Well, congratulations.
AP: Thank you very much. He’s one of the biggest blessings I’ve had in my life, and truly, probably the biggest blessing, and one of the happiest moments. Every time that little guy looks at you with those eyes and he smiles, it’s the purest smile you’ve ever seen, and that’s what babies do. They’ll make a grown man talk like a child, it’s so funny. It’s really funny to watch when I’m at Starbucks, because I’ll take him with me, and people walk by and are like, “Ga ga ga ga ba!” [laughs] I really just want to make a video of people’s reactions, and compile it together just to watch it back to back to back. I think it would be really funny to be like, “What is that person doing?”
PS: Please make that video. The world needs it [laughs].
AP: [Laughs] I might have to. But he is so sweet, he is amazing. He’s my heart!
PS: Have you asked other musicians that are parents how to cope with being a touring musician and a parent, or are you winging it?
AP: It’s definitely been a transition to learn how to do that. Children are truly the main spotlight in your life. When all this is over, when the music is over and I can’t tour anymore, my family is all that I have. Family is really all we have anyway, in the end. So learning to balance while getting things done is definitely tough for a creative to learn [laughs]; a business-minded, truly left-brained person probably wouldn’t have as much difficulty, but me, I’m always creating, always trying to make something. So it’s a balancing act, but it’s been fun. It’s a fun transition.
PS: I can only imagine. Kids are so fun, especially once they start talking. Some of the things they come out with are incredible.
AP: Oh, I can’t wait. He’s not there yet, but I can’t wait.
PS: Will you be encouraging him to pick up an instrument or start singing or are you going to just let him find it himself?
AP: You know, I’m gonna go with number two. I’m not going to push him, because we’re all born with different gifts. We all have an opportunity to use them and to perfect them. We’re all born with something. I don’t want to…force him in any direction that may not be his gift, but, rather, help him find what it is he is naturally good at. That takes a lot of different exposures, whether it’s football, guitar, baseball, I mean, heck, hockey, I don’t know, painting. I just wanna find what he’s naturally good at. I think that’s what takes a lot of the frustration out later in life. I mean, not graduating college for me, I don’t recommend that, but I was not an average student, because I was always trying to create something in class [laughs]. In fifth grade, I got in trouble for drawing an airplane in class. I was so proud of it. I mean, you were looking at it straight on from the nose, and, it was probably a lot crappier than I remember it, but in my mind, it was a masterpiece…but, yeah, I got in trouble for drawing that plane because little known to my attention span, the teacher was doing math problems on the board, but I was pretty busy trying to create this masterpiece. So, you know, we obviously always get in where we fit in, in life. I’d like to help him, in that way.
PS: Well, bringing it back to you and performing, you were very comfortable considering it is, quite literally, just you and your guitar. Is it a stylistic choice to perform like that or would you prefer to have a huge backing band?
AP: When you go just you and your guitar, there’s no room for…messing up. It’s just you out in the open [laughs], but I think there’s something with an acoustic instrument that you can’t really get with a band. That is this intimate, raw thing, that, at this point in our lives, with everything that we have, from iPhones to YouTube to the radio to Spotify, even billboards are electronic now. Very few things are analog and raw or acoustic. I think that’s why it kind of makes it a spectacle [laughs]. I also do love playing with a full band when we’re able to do that, because you’re able to let loose, not thinking about making the right chord every time, or the things you do when you’re solo. There’s no room for messing up when you’re solo, you really do have to be on the whole time [laughs]. I am not a born-guitarist guy, I had to work for it, because I am not naturally fast with my fingers, so anything I’ve got, I worked very hard for.
Photo Credit: JC Medeiros
PS: Well, you were really good. Everyone was amazed.
AP: Well thank you very much.
PS: The fact that you can capture a room’s entire attention with just a guitar is impressive in itself.
AP: I’m just honored that people came and listened and so thankful that people respond. It lets you know that you’re going in the right direction. It’s something an artist definitely craves. As artists, all you’re doing is singing their story. There is no wall. There is no wall between the crowd and me. What I mean by that is that I’m just singing about us. That’s what I strive to do, sing songs about us, about growing up and learning lessons. I mean, everybody learns…I hope [laughs].
PS: Some people more than others.
AP: Yeah, exactly!
PS: Okay, so I have one more question for you: Do you have a favorite song to perform live, and if you do, why?
AP: Hmm…that’s a good question. Let’s see…You know, depending on the venue and where we are in the country and who we’re with, it all factors in. Either one can be different. I’m very new to people’s ears, so normally, it’s me coming out like you saw, and the reaction is whatever it happens to be. I think my favorite song to perform live is probably “Real Fast,” which is a song that I wrote about my grandfather and the story that he told me, just seeing my change in my personality whenever I met the girl of my dreams. He said, “Boy, you got a good one, I can tell by the way she put that smile on your face. It seems you’ve grown out of your old rowdy days.” You know, there are certain things that you don’t see, because you’re just changing with life, but people look at you, and they notice the difference. It’s usually your grandparents that notice that stuff, or if you’re real close with your parents. “Oh, yeah, I remember that, but then you settled down whenever you got her,” or “Whenever you got him.” So yeah, “Real Fast” is something that rings true because life is short. Even though my grandpa was a merchant marine for forty nine years on a ship, and had to leave his family for months at a time, which I can’t imagine doing, it’s one of those things that resonates with everyone, that life does go real fast and you better take note of it, you know, you better kiss her in the pouring rain and tell her that you love it. It’s things I think we look back on, it’s obviously 20/20 and you can’t see it in the moment, just tell your girl or your guy that you love them and just [laughs], don’t forget to do it. Neglect always lets the weeds invade our lives. “Real Fast” is very pertinent.
PS: Thank you so much for doing this interview, it has been a real pleasure to speak to you and kind of get to see how your brain works, which is one of my favorite parts about interviewing.
AP: [laughs] I hope I wasn’t too complicated. I’m so grateful. I just pick up a guitar, it’s the fans who give me a gift, the biggest gift, that allows me to do something I love every night, and I could never thank them or show them the amount of thanks I feel. It’s beyond words.
PS: Well it’s all back to you, you really deserve it, you’re a great person and very talented. This is your year, my friend.
AP: Thank you, Liv, thank you.
For more on Aaron Parker, please visit his official website.