Parker Gispert isn’t someone you are used to seeing with an acoustic guitar.
Although he’s been playing solo shows recently, for most of the last decade and a half he has led the Athens-based group The Whigs, a big, brawny rock band that deftly blended jangly college rock charm with bold stadium-rock verve. Their records were always highly polished, cavernous affairs, with sharp power-pop songwriting plied to adventurous alt-rock grandeur. It was always a pretty heady trip.
According to Gispert, though, every version of the band’s songs were always fully conceived as solo, acoustic-guitar songs.
“I always had a dummy-check system in place,” he says of his songwriting practice. “I like to take songs to the band that are already worked out in acoustic form, just to make sure they were sturdy enough at the core that they didn’t need drums or bass to exist.”
That made it easy for him to transition to this recent spat of solo shows when drummer Julian Dorio was busy with a newborn child and bassist Timothy Deaux was on tour with Kings of Leon as an auxiliary multi-instrumentalist. But it’s not like these are simply bang-it-out rock songs reduced to open mic night status. Gispert says he’s altered the songs to fit the acoustic setup, often to the point of being unrecognizable.
“I’ve been playing the Whigs’ songs stripped down with different arrangements, maybe some more fingerpicking,” is how the front man describes it. “If you knew the song already, you would be able to identify it. But to casual bystanders, I tried to make it its own entity, so it wasn’t just a guy playing guitar without a drummer and a bass player.”
The Charleston show will mark the debut of some new material Gispert intends for a solo album and what he hopes to be the bulk of his solo shows going forward.
“Some of the first artists I was really in to were people like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Guys like Fred Neil, who I really like a lot,” Gispert explains. “A lot of artists who weren’t always electric, that often have entire albums of just them and guitar. So while the other guys are doing other stuff, I want to remain busy and do what I love to do, which is perform live and write and record songs. So it’s more just a chance to challenge myself to do something different, which I’m into.”
While this new direction will give him a chance to stretch his wings as a singer-songwriter, and possibly re-introduce some of the Southern-inflected rootsiness of the early Whigs sound that evaporated as the group reached its mature state, Gispert’s heart is always going to be in rock ‘n’ roll. He speaks of it with the fervency of a true believer, even as the genre is less ascendant and his bandmates are temporarily occupied.
“As a kid I grew up loving Guns N Roses and Metallica, but when I got into college it was bands like Pavement or Dismemberment Plan,” he points out. “Those were the shows I would go to and the planet I was in. But when I saw the Strokes, kind of the first time I saw something like that, it was really exciting. They were playing the 40 Watt, which is a rock club, but they kind of had a more traditional stadium rock thing going on. Everyone was dressed real cool and it wasn’t as indie rock, and I found it refreshing and invigorating.”
And to this day, he seems driven by that enthusiasm.
“I don’t think it’s going anywhere. It’s kind of like being a jazz or blues musician in some sense — guys who are out there doing it because they love it,” he says. It’s very clear they are performing the music because they love jazz. They don’t really care if their jazz music is going to get them on the front page of a magazine or something.
“That’s why I’m still in it,” Gispert adds. “I just love the music as a genre. I just love rock music.”
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