Parker McCollum comes from a particular type of family — the no-nonsense, hard working kind. His was the sort of upbringing where “if you’re going to do something and you’re not going to do it one-hundred percent you shouldn’t do it all.” It’s why the 25-year-old singer-songwriter treats each song he writes with a painstaking level of dedication, reverence, respect and, as he’ll readily admit, even a bit of obsession. McCollum says that when a particular melody or lyric or emotion is tugging at him he might just stay in his room for days at a time working it out. He can’t help himself.
That’s because for the Austin-based singer and multi-instrumentalist the end result is worth the occasional pain in the process. “That’s where I find my identity,” McCollum, who broke out with the revealing and critically adored 2013 debut The Limestone Kid and now returns with his highly anticipated follow-up album, Probably Wrong, says of penning soul-baring, honest and forthright Americana anthems. “It just takes over,” he says of the songwriting muse and, one senses, his ever-winding and sometimes gut-wrenching journey as an introspective musician. “I didn’t choose this life. It chose me.“
Set for release on November 10 independently, Probably Wrong, pulls back the curtain and reveals McCollum like never before. The 10-track LP, written after the dissolution of a long-term relationship, is equal parts introspective and transcendent. It’s also the most honest McCollum has ever been in song. There’s an inherent pain that bleeds through in the raw honesty of stunning songs including “I Can’t Breathe” (co-penned with Micky Braun of Micky & The Motorcars) and “Hell of a Year.” For McCollum, putting his most intimate thoughts and feelings to song is more of a welcome relief than an act of bloodletting. “I don’t talk about my feelings very often,” he notes. “I keep a lot of things in most of the time and I don’t want anybody else to have to deal with my shit. I just write songs instead.”
In the wake of The Limestone Kid’s release and its lead single “Meet You in the Middle” finding success at regional radio, McCollum says “in the blink of an eye” his life drastically changed. The then-22-year-old went from a life of hanging out on his couch and passing his days strumming the guitar to traveling from one gig to the next. Not as a nobody, but rather a revered traveling musician with a fervent fanbase. McCollum always wanted to be a singer-songwriter but he admits he was caught a bit off guard by the buzz around Limestone Kid. “I was playing catch up for two years,” he says.
In speaking with McCollum, it’s easy to detect the sense of wonderment and romance he still attaches to the brutally honest songwriters he first revered during his teenage years. Men like Townes Van Zandt, Todd Snider, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and James McMurtry — even as a wide-eyed and innocent young man, McCollum sensed these musicians were speaking to a more powerful truth. “It would jerk my soul out of me,” he says of encountering and quickly becoming enamored with their music and subsequently dedicating his life to molding songs of a similarly revealing bent. “There’s nothing else I’ve ever encountered that has had as much influence on me,” he explains. “That’s all I wanted to listen to. It was my thing.”
To that end, when he began writing the songs that would ultimately comprise Probably Wrong, McCollum felt it necessary to be alone with little more than his emotions and a guitar. “I needed to write this record and be on my own,” he says of what led him to end a two-year relationship and retreat inward. “I felt very misunderstood throughout the entire situation,” he adds. “I broke my own heart for the first time just to write this record.” For six weeks, McCollum did nothing but stare at a piece of paper filled with soul-crushing lyrics and engage with his sadness. “And I’m not a sad person,” he says with a laugh. “But I had done it to myself intentionally.”
The pain still lingers, but McCollum says accessing it to write his new album allowed him to pen some of his most poignant material to date. “Hell of a Year,” which he calls his “sleeper favorite of the record,” came from McCollum breaking down one night in his truck in a fast-food parking lot. “My heart’s out of love/I fell out of line/I swore I’d never leave again/And I lied,” he sings over a gentle acoustic guitar figure. “When I set out to write this record this was the type of song I was gunning for,” he says of “Hell of a Year.” “It was the hardest song I’ve ever written as far as being that honest. But after doing so I could go back to being happy for a little bit.” On the slow rolling “Misunderstood,” the singer throws his hands in the air and makes peace with what he can’t control. “You told me I was no good/It’s alright babe/I’m pretty used to being misunderstood.”
Singing such soul-baring songs is a decidedly therapeutic act for McCollum. “When the melody is so spot-on and it hooks me, everything that I have been bottling up or not talking about comes out.” It’s why the singer says he lives to perform. “Next to the songwriting, the live show is most important,” he offers. Though, seeing as many of his gigs are rowdy, upbeat affairs, he says he searches for the right moments to pepper his set with more emotional numbers. “I’m constantly trying to find ways to make our live show better,” McCollum says. “And my confidence level keeps going up and up. Most of the time onstage I’m running around like I’m the man,” he adds with a laugh, “but I’m definitely not.”
The goal going forward then, McCollum insists, is to never remain stagnant. He idolizes musicians like John Mayer whom he says are always redefining their creativity. He intends to do the same. “My goal is to totally evolve and reinvent myself with each record I make,” McCollum says. “It’s about changing with each record and really not giving a shit. And if you can pull that off, well, that’s a pretty special thing.”
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