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Interview: Parker McCollum on ‘Gold Chain Cowboy’ and being back on tour

We spoke to the rising country music star about his debut album and more.

It’s safe to say that Parker McCollum has rapidly become one of the hottest new stars in country music.

Originally from Texas, his first major label single ‘Pretty Heart’ shot to the top of the Billboard US Country Airplay chart, and follow-up ‘To Be Loved By You’ is heading in the same direction. Earlier this year he also released his debut studio album, ‘Gold Chain Cowboy’, which reached the top 10 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.

I recently caught up with Parker to talk about the album, his approach to his songwriting, working with Wade Bowen and Miranda Lambert, heading back out on the road after Covid (including plans to come to the UK), having his own wine – and why he’ll never release a Christmas record…

Congratulations on the success of ‘Gold Chain Cowboy’ – how have you found the fans’ reaction to the album?

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Well, you know, I get really weird when I put out records Miss Laura, and the weeks leading up to the release I just think it’s not good and I worry – it’s a whole deal for me every time. And I just thought this one was gonna be kind of, I didn’t think this one would be received well and it’s just been… everything seems like it’s been great. I try not to look at it but sometimes you can’t help it.

One thing which stands out to me about the record is the range of styles on there. Was that something you consciously wanted to do with this album or did that evolve as you were in the process of putting it together?

Yeah, you know, this was my major label full length debut. It wasn’t my first album but it was my first album on a major and I knew it was gonna be the introduction for a lot of people to me across the country and obviously farther out. And I just wanted to make sure that very early on I made it very obvious that you can’t pigeonhole me. There’s no one thing that I can do. I just wanted to show that there’s nothing I couldn’t do as far as stylistically or as far as a genre goes or whatever someone wants to call it. I really wanted there to be kind of across the board on this record. Still what I do and what I’ve always done, the sad, slow heartbreak country love songs that I love so much. But I just wanted to take a couple chances and let people know that I can step out of the box. You can’t put me into a corner and into one category. I get to do whatever I want. That’s the beauty of music.

There’s some songs on the album where you’ve had the idea for a few years and I’ve read about your ‘vault’ of songs as well. How was narrowing it down to the 10 tracks on the album? Did you find that challenging?

You know, it wasn’t as challenging as you would think. And I think that’s ’cause I’d been writing – I write so much and I had some songs… I really thought the album was gonna come out last year. I thought we would finish the album last year and then Covid happened obviously so it didn’t happen. And so I’d had several songs that I’d wanted to be out for a while that I had to live with for a while. It kept coming back to the circus every time that I’d visit the vault of songs that I had. There was just a few I felt I had to get out, that I had to get over and get behind me. And so those spots were pretty much filled on the record in my mind.

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And so there was really only three or four holes left in the album where I got to go, “OK, maybe I’ll write one”. And then the next month or so before we finished the album for that spot. And then the other spot, maybe it’s a song that I didn’t write too long ago. But it almost felt like I had to get these out so I could get to the next record and really get my mind on a fresh bed of songs. I’m the weirdest songwriter in the world – I’m sure I’m not the weirdest but it’s just such a complex with myself on… There’s some songs I write that really yank everything out of me and I have to get ’em out there, they can’t sit any longer.

You’ve got some amazing co-writers on this record as well like Miranda Lambert and Wade Bowen. Were there any standout moments from the writing of this album for you?

Yeah, the Miranda write was certainly a treat. She’s a Texas girl and I’m from Texas and I’ve just been such a fan of hers for so long and got to be on tour with her for a small little bit last year before Covid started. And really just love everything about her, how she’s never sacrificed the integrity of her songwriting and still been able to be a superstar which I think is really the ultimate goal. So just to get in a room and write with her was such a treat. Like with Wade, it was great. Randy Rogers, obviously, him and I are very close. Getting to write with Jon Randall’s always a treat, you know, me and him have gotten very close. And Tony Lang, what a legend – what a treat to write with him.

Is there anyone you’d like to work with in future – either in terms of songwriting or recording something together?

That’s a long list, Miss Laura. That is a long list and I hate to jinx any of ’em. But yes, there are a lot of those people.

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You’ve touched on your songwriting process already. Do you have a typical approach or does it vary?

It’s raw, I would say, as it can possibly be. It’s just all a feeling, you know? I do the co-writing thing obviously where I go and sit in a room and try and write a song, I’m just not very good at it. You know, the best songs that I’ve ever written just happen. There’s a song on this new record called ‘Rest Of My Life’ – I was standing in the shower and just boom, turned off the shower at 10 o’clock in the morning, wrote the song in about 20 minutes and got back in the shower. And then there’s a song on the record called ‘Heart Like Mine’ where I had written that first verse and hook five years ago, and never touched it, until one day finally finished it with Tony Lang. So some days I’ll sit down and it just pours out, even when I don’t even want it to. And then sometimes I won’t write a song that’s worth a damn for two months.

Do you ever get writer’s block, and how do you deal with that?

I just do not pay attention to writer’s block. I don’t acknowledge its existence. I guess I get it, yes, but for me everything is so melody driven. Once I have a melody, a good melody’ll fix writers’ block any day. A melody that I’m just obsessed with, that I think is worth the time, the words’ll start pouring out.

Park McCollum - Gold Chain Cowboy
Credit: Snakefarm Records

I also wanted to ask about ‘Pretty Heart’ which has been a huge hit for you. Did you always know that was a standout song? Or has its success surprised you?

Well I can remember the night I wrote the melody and the hook. The original hook was ‘what does that say about me that I could love somebody like you?’ Then I had a recording of me just singing that over and over again. And I was like, “man that’s really cool, what a cool line that is, what a cool perspective”. And that was in 2015 I recorded that. And then in 2018, 2019, I was having one of my first co-writes ever with Randy Montana and I just didn’t wanna go in empty handed and stumbled back across that recording and thought, “man how did I forget about this one?” I brought it to Randy and we kinda changed it up a little bit, kept the root idea and the root melody.

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I really thought… I remember we wrote it that day and I was like, “man, that was such a good idea and we ruined it”. I went in the studio and cut it and when I was in the studio I remember thinking, “OK, this is better than I thought it was”. But I never thought it would go number one, gold and platinum. I did not think it had that kind of juice. So I’ll take it!

How have you found getting back out on the road and touring again after Covid?

Oh, you know, it’s just been a long time coming. It feels so good to be on the road. It’s just so good, Miss Laura. It’s so good to be on stage and see big crowds and be at shows and just the whole… every little detail about I miss and I’m so glad that it’s back.

Has there been anything that you’ve learnt from the experience of making music in a pandemic?

I don’t know. It just feels like the last year didn’t even happen. I’m like, “what did I just do for the last year?” It’s like time travel almost. It just seems like a blur. But I didn’t write any during Covid. I didn’t feel like an artist, I didn’t feel like a songwriter, I just felt like a normal person. And so since touring started it’s like boom, here’s these creative juices just flowing. It’s like my body and my brain just know that when we’re in this mode it’s time to be creative. So that was a bizarre experience to live through. Glad I lived through it and I can’t explain how happy I am touring is back.

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How have you found the audience’s reactions to hearing the new music live?

I mean they love it. They love it. It really, really makes you feel good as an artist. And I know I probably shouldn’t admit that. It really makes me feel good to come out of Covid and put out a new album and just to see their faces light up any time we play something off that new record. It’s really cool.

I saw the clip on Instagram recently of you playing guitar for Randy Travis. How did that come about and what was that experience like?

We have a mutual friend who runs some social media stuff for Randy and reached out to me and said, “hey, Randy’s a big fan, he saw you had a wine, he wants to try it, would you wanna come over to the house one day this week?” I was like, “sure, I’d love to”. It was as simple as that. I thought we’d be speaking for 15, 20 minutes, bring him some wine, let him try it. Ended up staying for three hours, his wife cooked dinner for us and I played guitar for him for about an hour. Signed his guitar, his actual guitar. He had me sign it. Oh man, I don’t know. That’s the first time in my life I’ve ever actually woken up the next morning and said, “did that happen?”

I wanted to ask you about the wine actually. Again, how did you get involved with that and what’s that been like for you?

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So my stepmom, her sister owns a winery in California, and she had come to me with the idea. My dad really got the idea in her head and he said, “hey you just had your first number one song, why don’t we name this new wine I have To Be Loved By You” – which is the name of my current single – “why don’t we name it after that and send it to all the radio stations as a thank you for pushing my song number one”. And I said, “that’s a great idea”. So we go through the whole process and the branding and the labelling and sourcing the grapes and taste test and all that stuff.

Taste test was the last step and we tasted it and it was phenomenal. We were like, “this is better than most of the wine we drink anywhere, this is really, really good”. We were incredibly impressed. So good that we decided we were like, “we’ve gotta make this available to the public”. So we sent it to the radio stations, did that whole thing and then started the process of selling it on our website. I think we sold 10,000 bottles in three weeks off of one Instagram post. It’s just crazy. We got four different ones out now, we can’t keep ’em in stock, we don’t have staff to stock ’em that much. It’s crazy.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

That’s a long list. That’s a really long list. You know, ‘Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning’, Willie Nelson, that is certainly up there. Man, what a long, long list. ‘The Grandpa That I Know’, by Shawn Camp – if you’ve never heard that you should listen to that. That’s a song I wish I’d written. But yeah, that’s a long list, Miss Laura.

What do the next six months or so look like for you? Is touring and promoting the album the main focus at the moment?

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I mean, Miss Laura, for the next six months I will do absolutely nothing but work. We are playing so much catch-up. It’s an absolute grind right now, I’m tired all the time, I’m worn out all the time and I’m hungry most of the time – we’re always missing food and missing dinner and lunch. But it’s so good to be back and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

When it’s safe to travel again, have you got any plans to come over to the UK?

We’ve talked about it as a band for a while. We’re always like, “wonder if we’ll get a chance to go over there and play”. We want to so bad. So as soon as we have an opportunity to I don’t think we’ll pass it up.

And lastly – obviously the album’s only just come out but you’ve talked about having new songs you want to get out there, so do you have any plans for a deluxe edition? And are you thinking about the next record at all yet?

You know, I’ve got some interesting opportunities I can’t really talk about yet that have been presented to me, and I’ve got some stuff in the works, some songs I’m really, really keen on right now. But I don’t know. I’m just gonna enjoy the rest of this year. I’ll write a lot during the Christmas holidays, it’s a great time to write songs, but until then I don’t think so. I’ll just ride this wave.

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Although now you’ve mentioned Christmas…

There will be no Christmas albums, no ma’am, not from me! No, I love to listen to Christmas music, but I’m not much on singing it.

Parker McCollum’s album ‘Gold Chain Cowboy’ is out now on MCA Nashville.

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