Graham A Parsons—not to be confused with Gram Parsons (RIP)—is a musician based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. His band, the Go Rounds, just completed recording their fifth full length album with Chris Koltay of High Bias Recordings. 

CV Henriette caught up with him over text, DII’s preferred mode of interview. Consider the imperfections—AKA typos—integral to the work.  

Record Labels: Earthwork Music (US) and Pedro y el Lobo (MX).  

CV Henriette: Hello, Graham A Parsons? Who are you? Thoughts on other Gram Parsons?  

Graham A Parsons: Hello CV Henriette. I’m the son of a full-blooded Polish woman from Detroit and a blue collar farm boy from Toledo. I’m many things but currently I’m wearing the hat of musician and producer, working in Corktown on the final details of the next full length Go Rounds album.

There is indeed another GP. He was the son of a Florida citrus magnate who became one of country music’s most influential and tragic songwriters. Heroin. Even The Rolling Stones had to kick him out of the Exile on Main Street sessions for being too fucked up. Many believe he was the main composer of ‘Wild Horses.’

My mother tells me I was supposed to be a girl, that the pregnancy was nothing like her other two boys. My name was going to be Lillian. 

CVhWe know each other. This makes sense. You spent the night at Koltay’s place? How was that? Did he feed you? 

GP: Yeah I slept top bunk last night. We worked until 3am and got back at it at 10.

I feel a sense of belonging in this space and am always so grateful to work with people I love hanging out with in general. It can be tricky, enjoying yourself while working, it doesn’t jive with the whole American culture of ‘work ’til you’re bitter and broken’, but I feel trusting and validated when it’s alongside someone like Chris who’s been on this path, unapologetically, for 20 plus years. Reminding ourselves that the work we do is important is a daily prayer for a shift in values in this backwards, wage-labor oriented nation.

Koltay didn’t feed us last night, but he did make us some impossibly rare coffee from an obscure Hungarian roaster this morning. 

Graham in Studio

Parsons in the studio—photo courtesy of Chris Koltay

CVh: You spend a lot of time in Detroit, but you’re based out of Kalamazoo. What brought you to Kalamazoo? Why do you stay? 

GP: I came to Kalamazoo to go to college. Western offered me the most money out of anywhere I applied, so that essentially made the choice for me. I didn’t know why I was going to school. I was in the environmental studies program and focusing on freshwater ecology. I wanted to save the world, I suppose. I dropped out of college for the third time in 2009 about three weeks after the Go Rounds were born.

Kalamazoo has been home to the project since.

CVh: That’s why you stay? 

I toured for a few years backing up Chris Bathgate and lived outside of Ann Arbor with him. That was a strange time and one that left me longing for the Kalamazoo community and music scene. We opened a studio downtown in 2013 called Double Phelix. We were hosting showcases, recording tons of local and some national bands, running after school music education programming in four public middle schools,  touring, and making our own music all the while.

Kalamazoo is affordable. Kalamazoo is weird af.

Kalamazoo is gritty in a way I find quite beautiful.

It’s a community that’s held me accountable in so many ways, and one that’s full of forgiveness and compassion.

Last album you’ve listened to in its entirety? 

GP: Haha. Funny enough it was the double album ‘GP / Grievous Angel ‘ by Gram Parsons! Found it in my car while cleaning after I thought I lost my only set of keys forever.   

I also played out Solange ‘A Seat at the Table.’  

Big Thief’s ‘Capacity.’  

Allen Toussaint’s ‘Southern Nights.‘ 

King Krule’s ‘The Ooz.’ 

CVhSong that’s changed you? 

GP: Sly and the Family Stone’s  ‘Que Sera Sera’ –  changed me as a musician.  

Big Thief’s ‘Mary’ – changed me as a human. 

I’m so fkin emotional! 

CVhTrue.  How do you listen to music at home? 

GP: If I’m cooking, I rock Spotify on a small system in the kitchen.   

Otherwise there’s a pretty positive amalgamated record collection and turntable in the house.  

GP

Parsons being a Leo. Photo courtesy of Maren Celest,

 CVh: Sun sign? 

 GP: Leo. 

 CVh: Last time you saw stars? 

 GP: I laid out in the garden at my house on Saturday night and could count twenty or so. 

 CVh: Most romantic time of day? 

 GP: Depends on the type of romance.

But… something about that mid-morning window… like 9:30-1030…I feel in love with the world.

And making love in the morning is quite often the most intense and sensual time because the body is so sensitive and awakened. 

I often seduce myself into creative romantics in the golden hour, tho. 

CVh: Notable memory from the golden hour? 

GP: Just the other day it was sooo sunny and raining at the same time during the golden hour… I love that! Also, I’ve been super depressed and creatively paralyzed for the last six months but I recently had a welcome release and wrote a song during the golden hour on the piano at my house. It took maybe an hour in total. Most songs are more work for me, but it seems like the best ones often move through me quickly and all at once. I used the last words of my friend’s mother which were , “all the love in the world goes with you. You go easy, but you go.”  

Remember when you and I drank champagne and ate strawberries during the golden hour? 

CVh: I do. I’ve always enjoyed your garden. And its many flowers. How’s it looking? 

GP: It’s looking pretty good! The milkweed has finished blooming and Queen Anne’s lace had begun to put on its show. I’ve been getting more into permaculture techniques and design and discovering a ton of new-to-me perennial fruits and vegetables. Goumi, sea kale, Nanking cherry, Turkish rocket, anise hyssop, good king Henry, lovage, marshmallow, arctic hearty kiwi! 

Flowers

flowers from Parson’s garden

CVh: What’s the connection between music and gardening? Besides the fact that you practice both. Or maybe that’s the only connection, you. Is there more?! 

GP: As many connections as you want to make I think are possible… 

CVh: Yes, but what connections do you make? 

GP: Hahaha.

Harmony and texture and two concepts that come to mind.

CVh: I’d like to point out to future audience the fact that there was a 48 hour lapse between my message and your response.  

What’s texture in music to you?

GP: Ha! Busted!  

In all honesty I have to water my garden right now and head to a basketball game!  

I will respond this eve … (It won’t take 48 hrs I swear.) 

CVh: Hi. 

GP: I still have to answer the texture one hey? 

CVh: Yes. 

GP: I think all sounds have a texture and a color, along with key and pitch and timbre …sometimes texture within musical arrangement is created by voices/instruments that play a supportive role, not that of melody, counter-melody or harmony. But all of those things can have their own texture of course! Texture! A ride cymbal with rivets or a plumber’s chain creates a sustained ‘whooosh’ – like tall, dry grass on a breezy day. can you see and feel that texture? A square wave coming from analog synth sounds like a hummingbird or a chainsaw and creates an edge or roughness within the music that sort of feels like a cat’s tongue on your skin…I know you’re a dog person, tho.  

Old recordings have so much texture!  

Recording to tape creates a warmth or glow you can feel… like a wooly blanket over the entire song.  

Many ways to look at it I suppose. But overall sound has more character and dimensions than most people think about.

I wonder what babies are hearing… 

CVh: What are babies hearing? What’s on your record player right now? What textures surround you? Where do you listen to music? Make music? Send photos. 

where Parsons eats and studies

GP: Currently on the record player: Ray Charles ‘A Man and His Soul.’ 

I really don’t know what’s going on with babies. I’ve only ever held one. But they’re so close to the realm between. They’ve got to “know” more than any adult human on the planet. It can happen that the older we get the more we are separated from the world and the eternal circle – at least in the western world/culture.  

I like to surround myself with plants and books and food and compassionate and uninhibited people — I like the texture of open communication and co-habitation. Like a good soft jersey cotton tee. 

CVh: What do you try to avoid? 

GP: I try to avoid going out. Being in large groups. Alcohol in excess or at all. My phone…. 

CVh: Ha! What was the first instrument you learned to play? 

GP: I took piano lessons for two months when I was 7 or 8…  

Otherwise I started singing when I was 13 and then started playing guitar and writing songs when I was 14. Played a lot of sports growing up. So much sport.  

CVh: Such as? Do you still play sports? Preferred method of exercise? 

GP: Hahaha you’re improvising! 

CVh: Absolutely! 

GP: You almost have to play hockey if you grow up in the U.P. There’s a pond on the farm where I grew up. I was skating from age 4, holding the back of a chair until my ankles were sure enough to support me on their own.  

I played hockey for 8 years. Baseball for 10.

Basketball in high school until my peers and coaches got a little too serious for my speed. 

CVh: Which is when you turned your focus to music? You were something of a child prodigy, yeah? You used to play gigs with some seasoned musicians while still in high school, as I recall hearing. 

GP: I still like to play basketball! There’s a unique game called ‘Aliens’ that combines the concept of ‘change’, the game of 21 and the Milky Way for a truly unique non-competitive experience. I also try to walk every morning as soon as I get up. No coffee, no phone, just water and out the door. There was a tart cherry tree on my route for the past month that served as breakfast. The black cap raspberries have been heavy this year as well. 

Piano

where Parsons composes

CVh: Nice. Way to avoid the last question. If you could only play one instrument for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

GP: Not avoiding it was the timing of our respective text blobs! 

Not a child prodigy.

My best friend Dan was. He played guitar and sang in our high school band.   

I’m still figuring out how to be a decent musician.

Buuut… 

I did play with older guys out after I dropped out of college for the first time.  

We played the Michigan festival circuit and did really well for a minute. I learned a good deal about music playing with them but also about being a professional and the trials of aging along a musical path.  

I would have to choose my voice if I could only play one instrument for the rest of my life. Otherwise I might choose lap steel guitar 

CVh: Those older musicians—do you keep in touch with any of them? Any names I’d know? 

GP: I’m jumping around a bit but— in high school I wasn’t playing with any seasoned players, but I was surrounded by them, and our band was playing real deal dive bar gigs in the UP. 4 hours, so smoky, so many people, innumerable Old Milwaukees consumed. We knew around 30 Covers and had 10 original songs. It was absurd. I was  destroying my voice. Blacking out from dehydration and oxygen deprivation. Drinking boxed wine in full swallows at 16 and getting back on stage. Glad I’m still here….Certainly nothing to be proud of, but something that shaped me as a singer and player regardless. Created endurance and power in my voice and allowed me to begin to understand the nuances of capturing and keeping the attention of an audience, amongst engendering other key skills like shaking the bread down from a sleazy promoter or venue owner.  — I don’t really keep in touch with the members of my former projects. Is everybody shitty at keeping in touch when moving on? How much of it is natural, to keep pulling on the threads, how much counteracts that polar momentum necessary when we need change, geographically or otherwise? — I don’t think you’d know any of the musicians I used to play with. Dan, whom I mentioned earlier died in a car accident when he was 21. My family and I started Farm Block Music Festival and The Dan Schmitt Gift of Music Fund in his honor. Greg Wright was the drummer I played with for a while. He passed five years ago in his late 40s. Mark McEvers is a great creative keyboard player and still lives just down the road from where I grew up. 

CVhFavorite music to come out of Detroit? Coming out of Detroit? 

GP: I don’t do favorites anymore I decided a year or so ago. Too much anxiety in choosing and then sadness when you think of all the things you didn’t choose as your favorite.  

But of course I love Motown and Iggy Pop and MC5. 

Jamaican Queens (and Prussia before that) really excited me. I still play the JQ ‘Wormfood’ vinyl sometimes.  

Honestly, I suck in so many ways and one of them is not knowing more about Detroit’s music scene. 

CVhHow should we end this interview? 

GP: I’m going to end this interview by taking my pants off and going to sleep! It’s late Courtney!  

Comments