FMQB & 97.3 KBCO Present
NAKED GIANTS + PARKER MILLSAP
13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue
Boulder, CO, 80302
This event is all ages
Watch & Listen
‘SLUFF’ is a word that means both everything and nothing, but it definitely sums up the three distinct personalities that make up Naked Giants. Depending which member you ask, SLUFF is either slang for the black gunk that comes off your shoes when it snows in the winter, an acronym that stands for South Lake Union Fuck Face (a reference to the tech bros who have infiltrated Seattle in recent years) or what a snake does when it sheds its skin. It’s also the title – and a song on – the band’s debut full-length.
Formed in 2015, the Seattle trio – guitarist/vocalist Grant Mullen, bassist/vocalist Gianni Aiello and drummer Henry LaVallee – put out debut EP R.I.P. the following year and have been steadily building up their reputation as a live act in the meantime, and having as much fun as possible while doing it. Because as much as the three-piece – who are all in their very early 20s now – have their heads screwed on and are fiercely intelligent people, they also want to let loose and enjoy being in a band. After all, that’s kind of what being in a band with your closest friends is all about.
“I just want to make as much noise and have as much fun and get as sweaty as I can,” says LaVallee, “and if that resonates with people, that’s who I want in my life. That’s who I want to play music for.”
That clash of the cerebral and the intelligent – the desire to say something meaningful but also just have some fun – is what underpins the very essence of who Naked Giants is. It’s a band of contradictions. Their music, which is simultaneously timeless and modern, new and old, is loud and brash and raw, but there’s vulnerability there, too. In fact, debut album SLUFF is a melting pot of ideas and sounds that, on paper, don’t seem like they would go together, but which form one phenomenally cohesive whole.
“These are songs that we’ve played live for a long time,” explains Mullen. “We wanted to showcase the different kinds of songs we’ve written and put them all onto an album that flows together, making it tie together into something that means something.”
That’s exactly what they do on SLUFF’s twelve weird and wonderful songs. Recorded with producer Steve Fisk (Nirvana/Screaming Trees/Beat Happening/Car Seat Headrest/Low/Minus The Bear) in Seattle at Avast! and Soundhouse Studios over the course of two and a half weeks in October, the record is a dizzying mélange of influences and ideas. It swirls with hyperactive restlessness as 1960s harmonies share space with 1970s riffs while at the same time battling an undercurrent of punk rock and more modern indie influences. The song “TV”, for example, is a kaleidoscope of sound that seems to take in the whole history of rock’n’roll but reframes it in a more contemporary context.
“From our perspective as millennials where everything is accessible all at once,” explains Aiello, “there is no difference to us between punk and classic rock or anything like that because we’re all observing it at the same time through the same lens. And yes, history exists, but if you’re just flipping through something on the TV, it all kind of conflates together – kind of like the song does.”
Needless to say, that song simmers with tension, and it’s not the only one. “Everybody Thinks They Know (But No One Really Knows)” is a jaunty, upbeat jangle but with distinctly sinister undertones, “Slow Dance II” is a sumptuous, soulful track with a desperate, raw and bluesy swagger. “Dat Boi” is a rash of brash guitars that’s soon swept by an off-kilter, psychedelic melody while closer “Shredded Again” is a graceful, lackadaisical comedown after the rush of energy that precedes it. Raucous and rabid, but also considered and complex, Naked Giants’ music is the sum of all their influences and then some. And then some more.
“What’s really interesting to me,” ponders Aiello, “is we have very different influences, so when we’re jamming it’s like it’s being pulled apart and pushed together in so many different directions. And I think that’s a good thing.”
Then, of course, there’s the quasi-grunge title track, which chugs along with an ominous yet uplifting attitude as its title is shouted with a fervent zeal – “SLUFF!” – and which carries with it both the weight of the world and the reckless abandon of youth.
So while Naked Giants are happy to play the role of the dumb, hedonistic rock band, don’t be fooled for a second – they’re one of the brightest, smartest acts out there at the moment. And this is also just the beginning of what they’re already planning to be a long and rewarding career. Even at this early stage, they’re taking it as seriously as they are just having a good time. They have a lot to say and they’re not afraid to say it, but they also relish in what making music has, even already, given back to them.
“Performing on a stage has been very purpose-giving,” says LaVallee. “Being in a group of people all experiencing music together brings a strong sense of community, which excites me. Hopefully going forward we’ll be playing to more and more people. I want us to spread respect and fun rock’n’roll music to a whole lot of people. That just seems like a good deal all around.”
“We’re just here to play music,” says Mullen, “so the more it goes well the more we’ll be thinking about our own art and our own voices. And that’s really the progression of it – personal growth and artistic growth. And whatever people think of that on a greater scale when it reaches them is all kind of up to them.”
“Not everyone gets to go onstage and have a microphone in front of their mouth,” says Aiello, “so that’s a certain amount of responsibility. If you’re given the responsibility of having a microphone then you better say something pretty important. The pressure is to learn and listen to as much as we can so we can say the right thing and hopefully impact people.”
Sooner than most, Parker Millsap has learned to trust the process.
Now four albums in at the ripe age of 24, the Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter has earned the chance to live his life as a professional musician. His work has been hailed by global audiences and industry alike while taking him to esteemed stages around the world. His three prior full-length releases—2012’s Palisade, 2014’s self-titled LP, and 2016’s The Very Last Day—showcased a primal mastery of acoustic folk rock, with their flourish for revelation and fiery dynamics, all recorded with extreme precision, purpose, and efficiency. But as he began work last year on his new album, Other Arrangements, Millsap opted for a change, allowing himself the time and space to let the work evolve in a new and distinct light.
“I was learning to trust my instincts and to not second-guess myself, and let the process take me there,” Millsap says. “I had to remind myself that I’m allowed to have a good time, and not to be so serious all the time. My fiddle player, Dan, always says, ‘It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey,’ and it’s true. I’ve done this enough times that I can make this work, I can make it good. Trust the process and your instincts, and learn to trust the universe. So, this is the first record I feel entirely comfortable putting out into the world. We were just trying to catch a bit of the magic of guys in a room figuring it all out in the moment.”
The result is his most accessible collection of songs to date, as Other Arrangements is filled with tunes whose inspiration trades divinity for ubiquity—and some you can even dance to. To hear Millsap tell it, this pop sensibility is no accident.
“For me, this record is about trying to write pop songs,” he says. “When I say ‘pop’ I mean how a Beatles record was pop music: the songs provide a variety of musical and emotional information; there are funny, sad, and happy moments; multiple tempos; ballads; rock and roll songs. It’s a radio playlist for 45 minutes, trying to hit a bunch of touchstones. Like I usually tell strangers who ask, I play rock and roll music but I have a fiddle player, too. That seems to get to the point.”
Growing up in small-town Purcell, Oklahoma, Millsap was raised in the Pentecostal church, the lens through which he would first experience music. He furthered his abilities while playing in a rock cover band during high school, showing legitimate guitar chops and a rich voice. As a teenager he also began to craft his own tunes, revealing a preternatural knack for songwriting, which eventually would take him around the country.
The songs on Other Arrangements accumulated over the past year and a half while Millsap was on and off the road. Though he prefers his writing to be a solitary pursuit, due to the chaotic nature of constant touring he was forced to piece things together in a different way. The result was his first album-making experience without the luxury of detailed, advance planning, yet he rose to the challenge by recognizing the freedom in the new situation and embracing the evolution.
“I didn’t try to force it on this record,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to blow anybody’s mind, just to get stuck in their head. I want songs I can play live for people to respond to, and that have a broad scope solid enough that you can form them differently every night. That’s how jazz happens: you take a good pop song and start messing with it. Every once in a while I sit down and lightning strikes and in fifteen minutes I’ve got the whole thing, but it’s hard to come by. This was very much a process.”
While the recording was more of a patient affair, Millsap did enjoy moments of spontaneity as well as different methods of creative inspiration. Typically most comfortable writing with an acoustic guitar, he began tinkering with drum machines and tape loops, as well as sketching songs on bass and piano. By leaving his comfort zone, he was successful in finding all sorts of new musical directions, as standout track “Your Water” reveals. Originally recorded with the musician Sarah Jarosz for a seven-inch release for Third Man Records, Millsap was excited to revisit the song with his band and in the process found new footing.
“‘Your Water’ is good example of that change,” he says. “We rearranged it for the band, added all this weird guitar stuff in the solo section, three or four layers of slide guitar in different octaves. But the song is very simple; it’s got this push-and-pull with a hook. It’s a pop song but there’s some weirdness on it—kind of like how the whole album has distorted fiddle all over the place. There’s a lot of fun audio stuff going on here.”
Elsewhere, tracks like “Fine Line,” “Let a Little Light In,” and “Gotta Get To You” crackle with urgency and an upbeat energy, while the album-ending “Come Back When You Can’t Stay” shines with some of the more stirring and familiar gospel qualities fans of Millsap will recognize. But songs like “She” and the title track boast a slow-burning self-assuredness that showcase the singer’s control of perhaps his most impressive instrument: his powerful, earthy, wise-beyond-its-years voice.
Considering all this change and growth, there is no doubt that “Other Arrangements” is a fitting title for this collection. Given to spontaneous reinterpretation of his songs during live shows as well as his propensity to uproot, Millsap has embraced the notion completely, his tongue firmly in cheek.
As for the lyrical theme of the album, Millsap—who has been with his girlfriend Meg for over five years—simply shrugs. “Most of the songs are love songs, and about the various stages of being in a relationship: the highs, the shitty parts, trying to get laid, whatever. I’m learning about love and relationships all the time; the lyrics here touch on all the different feelings you can have for somebody else as you start to sharpen each other and make each better.”
“I’ve started to understand records as snapshots,” he says. “Other Arrangements is just a picture of various pieces of the people we were when we made it. Next time it’ll be different; we’re gonna continue to change. This record was a lot easier for me to make, good or bad. I learned to trust and challenged myself to do something simple. Instead of blowing a mind, get it stuck in a head.”
It can take years, careers even, for some artists to learn to look inward for that type of confidence. For Parker Millsap, the journey of his artistic process has become as important to him as any external watermark or destination.
“This record is where I learned that I’m allowed to change, and that people expect it and it’s good. I wanted this one to be different from the last; I realized while making it that I didn’t have to do the sad, folky thing with Jesus lyrics and acoustic guitar, but that I could write artsy pop songs like Van Morrison. I wanted to prove to myself that I could write something universal. Songs are primal—even in jazz there’s a base, a guideline. I just want to hear somebody be honest with me. Whether in a saxophone solo or a groove or a great phrase, it’s worth looking for the honesty in everything.”