Parker Twomey caught up with us to chat about his new album All This Life, what it’s been like working with Beau Bedford and the gang at Modern Electric Sound Recorders in Dallas, TX, touring with Paul Cauthen as part of the Hot Grease Fire band, how sorrow is priceless for songwriters, and what it was like to film his new music video “Til the Morning Comes” live in Big Bend National Park. “[Big Bend] is pure beauty and such a great place to get away from all this noise.”
5 Questions with Parker Twomey by Sam Shansky
1) Let’s go back a few years. You started playing live with your dad in a band around age 10, and then by your junior year of high school, you were interning (or maybe that term is too official) at Modern Electric Sound Recorders in Dallas, TX. Talk to us about your band with your dad and what music you played back then. And then how did you get from there to Modern Electric? Who brought you into that world, or did you go knocking on their door?
I started playing music, writing songs, and performing when I was 10. My dad’s a drummer, so I grew up with loud music in the basement a few nights a week when his buddies would come over to jam and drink beer. Eventually, that led to my dad, one of his best friends, and I gigging around Dallas. We rocked out those early years. I loved bands like Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Elliott Smith, Ryan Adams, and The Smashing Pumpkins… So the music we played at the time was more representative of those bands. I actually modeled my first guitar rig after Billie Corgan’s rig, with the Phaser and Big Muff Fuzz pedals.
I started working at Modern Electric my Junior year at “Booker T. Washington.” I knew I wanted to work there and help out where they needed help, so I hit Beau Bedford up and showed up every day—pretty much for a few years. Modern became my second home at that period in my life. I spent more time there than I did at school or home.
2) Flash forward a few years and a few tours on the road as a member of Paul Cauthen’s backing band, and you begin the process of cutting your songs, songs which would become your debut album, All This Life. I want to hear about those sessions, but could you share with us first about your time on the road with Paul? What were some highlights for you?
My experience playing with Paul has been entertaining and fulfilling. I joined his band at the beginning of 2019 (we still played to 30 people a night). Within a few months, I started to see his audience grow into what it is today. Being a part of a band when it’s taking off is one of the most exciting things I think you can experience in this industry. When Paul released Room 41, I remember we played a series of home state shows, Dallas, Houston, and Austin. They were all sold out, which was a huge deal to us. Then we went to Europe for the first time together, touring the new record. It was over there that I first noticed a real “buzz.” We played this epic show at the “Paradiso,” which was the turning point in my mind. It was the moment everyone realized something was happening. The European crowds were responding so well to our energy. Paul would light joints on stage and get the front few rows high while we were lighting it up on stage. We put on a show and gave people an “experience.” I think the night of the Paradiso show was when our live “sound” really came together for the first time. Paul dubbed us – Matt Pence, Charley Wiles, Ben Barajas, myself, and Paul, the “Hot Grease Fire” on stage that night. The next day we flew back to the states, and Paul’s crowd started growing exponentially.
Not only has my experience in this band shown me ways to “make it” for myself in my career but it’s also introduced me to road-living and brotherhood for the first time in my life. There’s nothing like traveling around the world for extended periods of time, in close quarters, with a band family. Everyone shares the same passions, and it’s always a new adventure.
Within a few months of joining Paul’s band, we played Red Rocks and The Grand Ole Opry, which were also incredible experiences. I had just graduated high school and was 18 at the time. I remember answering an interview question a few months prior, asking about what I wanted to accomplish in the future. I responded that I wanted to play Red Rocks. It was like the universe directly answered my call. Such an “ask and you shall receive” moment that freed my mind in a lot of ways. I always set high goals for myself, but after those shows, I realized that I could do anything I wanted to do. I don’t limit myself and believe I can accomplish what I set my heart and mind to. Those shows were validations from the universe to me that I was on the right path and that deciding not to immediately go to college was the right move for me.
While I’ll always remember performing with Cauthen and his band, the moments I most cherish were when we were all just hanging out—from “Castle-Hunting” throughout Europe, boating on lakes, off-roading in a limo, spending off-days in the river, and dining together throughout the world. It’s been a wild ride.
3) Looking at All This Life, who did you tap to record with you and what were some highs and lows you experienced during those sessions?
We cut the album at Matt Pence’s recording studio, The Echo Lab in Argyle, Texas. I had Beau Bedford and Matt Pence produce the record together. Beau additionally played keys on most of the tracks and some guitar, and Pence engineered, mixed, and played drums and percussion. Jake Greenburg assistant engineered, and Randy Merrill mastered the album. Charley Wiles played electric guitar on the record, who also plays with Cauthen, and is a producer and engineer in his own right. Scott Lee played bass on the record, and Matt Combs played all the orchestral strings, fiddle, and mandolin. We recorded the record in two sessions and mixed it over a few months. I can’t think of any lows we experienced during the session. Everyone was so easygoing, and I called a team together that I knew had great taste and compatibility. I also had a strong vision and trust in my players, which helped smooth things and kept everything moving.
We recorded All This Life in April and May of 2020 over the COVID-19 pandemic. The sessions were actually the first time a lot of us slowly reintroduced ourselves into society. My family has a lot of health complications, so I was reasonably cautious. I think the heightened state of the world contributed to many of the special qualities All This Life embodies. We all felt a relief to be in the company of our friends after such isolation. It was truly special.
Bonus: What were some key themes you were aiming to address in this collection of songs?
From a songwriting standpoint, the album thematically touches on love, pain, and self-reflection, among other things. I decided to include variations of my songwriting style on the record. I wanted to create a unique sound based on my charcuterie board of musical influence rather than boxing myself into trying to abide by a specific genre. I just wanted it to be authentic to who I am, and we achieved that. It’s so representative of who I was at that time.
Bonus: Who are some of your songwriting heroes, and what makes them great to you?
Elliott Smith is at the top of the musical artists’ pyramid for me. He was the first artist I ever really resonated with. Melodically and lyrically-emotionally one of the greatest to ever do it. With Elliott, I love Jason Isbell and Taylor Goldsmith. Ryan Adams is also up there in my book. I gravitate to the way he crafts songs and his vocals. When I listen to his music, I can feel his pain, along with Smith’s. I also love Matt Berninger of The National. His unique writing style, sound, and emotional depth particularly. I think all the artists I’ve mentioned are extremely authentic to themselves, are reflective, and have a lyrical depth and unique perspective. I admire those qualities of a songwriter.
Bonus: Who are some songwriters folks have recommended to you, but you haven’t listened to much and have been meaning to check out?
I’ve recently been recommended to check out Aurora because I have a special place in my heart for pop music. Also, I haven’t had a chance to listen to John Moreland’s latest record, Birds in The Ceiling.
4) Of all the songs on the album, “Pneumonia” stands out for its edgier or more sullen lyrics. Mind sharing on the inspiration behind that tune?
“Pneumonia” was born out of my relationship with sadness. I’ve always thought that sorrow is priceless, profound, and can be one of life’s most effective tools in providing meaning, inspiration, creativity, and depth. Personally, sadness can be euphoric at times. Over the course of my life, I’ve found a friend in it and am comfortable with it in, I think, a healthy way; it isn’t something I seek. But, when I encounter it, I try reconstituting its negativity into positivity. One night I think I just thought that I was happier when I was depressed because, like many writer’s experiences, I felt that aspects of my writing were perhaps more profound and that I was more productive in pits of grief and despair. I don’t know if I actually feel happier when I’m depressed, but I’m definitely unbothered by it. I’ve lived with a towering depression my whole life.
While we’re on the topic, “Pneumonia” is a special song to me on the record because it exercises a side of my personality that isn’t highlighted as obviously in its neighboring songs. There was some debate over whether the song should make the record, but I’m glad it ultimately did.
5) We’re thrilled to host the World Premiere of your new music video, “Til the Morning Comes,” filmed live in Big Bend National Park. Please walk us through the day(s) you spent there and what it was like to film in such an astounding environment. Had you been there before?
I’ve been going down to Big Bend to go backcountry camping, which is one of my favorite things to do, for the last handful of years. It’s pure beauty and such a great place to get away from all this noise. My dad and I went down last February during the full “snow” moon to shoot a few live videos and camp for the last time before it got too hot. We’d spend days hiking and would shoot a live performance video whenever we felt inspired. My dad loves to shoot videos; he does it for a creative release—so it’s a win-win for both of us!
We had to shoot the “Til The Morning Comes” video quickly because of how the sun was positioned in the sky and the shadows it was casting off me onto the road. It was also tricky because getting a live take without cars ruining the shot was tough, as we were filming on one of the main roads. We shot it in one take the first opportunity we saw there were no cars in sight. That night was pretty rad. We went to a hot spring bordering Mexico on the Rio Grande and watched the moon go from one side of the sky to the other. I love it down there. The stars are phenomenal when it’s the new moon side of the month. It’s one of the darkest skies in the country; if you time it right and are at the right location, you can clearly see the milky-way.