In a town cluttered with singer-songwriters culling from the dense history of folk, blues, and pop, it takes something extra special to get your voice heard above the din. One of the few artists able to reach those heights is Brooke Parrott. This wayward spirit has been stirring up quite a storm throughout the U.S. and U.K. with her poignant storytelling and the rambling lilt of her rich, evocative singing voice.
Parrott is gearing up for a quick NW tour that starts tomorrow, April 13th, in Portland at The Woods and ends with two nights in Port Townsend (check the rest of the tour dates below).
As musicians, we rely on our creative instinct like people with regular jobs rely on their beat-up Subaru (in Portland, anyway) to get them to work. It’s a tool – we don’t understand how it works, and it may falter from time to time, but we know that it will get us there eventually.
But where does that creative instinct come from? We spend an entire music career trying to cultivate it, but I believe it initially comes from what we listened to during our early years.
As horrible a question as it is to be asked (almost as bad as “What does your music sound like?” and equally impossible to describe), what we answer to “Who are your early influences?” is perhaps more telling than we think. When we’re young and don’t yet have much of an opinion on music beyond the latest Sesame Street song, we are at the mercy of our parents’ listening habits. I know that when I was a child and experimenting with songwriting by recording long strings of nonsensical (but rhyming, always rhyming) songs into a Playskool recorder, I was probably absorbing the records I’d been hearing and unknowingly getting an education in harmony, song form, and rhyme.
Overall, I think Paul Simon had the biggest influence on me as a songwriter. It took me years to grasp the complexity and difficulty of writing a simple lyric; something he has more than mastered. Conversational, subtle, evocative – he has an ability to express a range of conflicting and ineffable emotions in just a few words.
Joni Mitchell taught me the weight of an unexpected image (“I could drink a case of you, darlin’, and still I’d be on my feet”), and Carole King the power of a well-crafted song. They were also the first really strong and successful female musicians that influenced me, and both of them provided models of what my life as a musician could look like.
Later on, Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings by John Prine introduced me to a little twang and country sensibility for the first time – something that would lie dormant for years, and later creep into my writing after a fortuitous visit to Nashville. One of the things I love most about John Prine is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and has the ability to swing between “Angel From Montgomery” and “Let’s Talk Dirty In Hawaiian” effortlessly. There is no pretension or glamor in his lyrics, no attempt at overblown poetry, just a sincere and disarming honesty.
There are, of course, many other musicians and albums that influenced me over the years, but these are some of the records that raised me and determined the makeup of my musical DNA. May we always be as receptive and willing to learn as when we first fell in love with music, and may our music always be worthy of falling in love with.
Brooke Parrott May 2011 NW Tour
April 13, The Woods, Portland OR, 8:30pm
May 2, Comet Tavern, Seattle WA, 8pm
May 3, Calypsos Coffee, Coeur D’Alene ID, 7pm
May 5, Gibliano Brothers, Spokane WA, 7:30pm
May 6, Cebu Lounge, Hood River OR, 9pm
May 7, The Granary, Eugene, OR, 7pm
May 14, Clockworks Café, Salem OR, 8pm
May 17, TBC, Vancouver BC
May 18, The Cabin Tavern, Bellingham WA, 8pm
May 19, Mandolin Café, Tacoma WA, 6pm
May 20, Hi-Fidelity Lounge, Bremerton WA, 8pm
May 21, Boiler Room, Port Townsend WA, 8pm
May 22, Port Townsend Brewing Co., Port Townsend WA, 3pm