Parker Gispert Re-Imagines Sinatra Classic "That's Life" (premiere + interview)

Photo: Alexa King / Courtesy of New West Records

Co-founder of the Whigs, Parker Gispert recreates the Sinatra classic "That's Life" following his pastoral, folk-cum-American Primitive masterpiece, Sunlight Tonight. "I wanted to have a tune that would extend a welcoming hand to different generations."

Parker Gispert releases a new single, his version of Frank Sinatra's "That's Life", on Friday, 11 October. The standalone release is, in part, a response to the positive reception he received once he added the tune to his live shows. But it almost didn't happen. Though he'd listened to Sinatra recordings featuring the track, he hadn't paid much attention to it along the way.

"I think I tended to skip over it or zone it out," the Whigs co-founder says. "Then, I had one of those weird experiences where it just felt like it was a song I could have written myself. The words really hit me and connected in a personal way. I started covering it once Sunlight Tonight came out."

True to Gispert's word, his rendition sounds like something that could have come from his own hand and his own experiences. One never has a sense of put-on, irony, or imitation here. Instead, it's a seemingly effortless performance that enhances the lyrical content and convinces the listener that they, too, might have lived the song.

As for how he translated it to his shows, Gispert says, "For the most part, it's just me and a guitar when I play live. I have a couple of pedals and an amp. I don't have a lot of options. I had to figure out the chords and sing along with them. I think that having my options limited helped me put it out a little more straightforward."

He adds, "I don't know a lot of covers, but I wanted to have a tune that would extend a welcoming hand to different generations."

Gispert, continued chatting with PopMatters about his lovely, folk-inspired 2018 album, Sunlight Tonight and how distancing himself from technology and the bustle of large cities became a muse in and of itself.

* * *

Sunlight Tonight came at a time when you were at a crossroad with the Whigs.

We'd been doing the band since 2001. It had always been in the back of my mind to do a solo record. Then, in the fall of 2016, both my bandmates were playing in other projects, they both were expecting children. I had just moved to a hemp farm about 45 minutes outside Nashville. Growing up in Atlanta, then moving to Athens, I'd never lived in a truly rural environment. But it just seemed to make sense. "Here you are. This is the time for your solo record."

It was about trying to depict where I was living. I got out the acoustic. Put new strings on it. I wanted people to hear the landscape. I also wanted to be able to hear where I was at in that moment in time years later. I could look back and remember. I think I wrote the whole thing in about three months.

Was this something where you said, "I'll grab a guitar in the morning and not have to do something in the context of the band"?

I made a concerted effort not to do what I had done in the band. I played an acoustic guitar on probably one song in five albums. I had never messed with open tunings and decided to do that. I looked up cool Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake tunings and wrote in that style. The Whigs had messed with strings a little bit, but I'd never had a harp on a recording.

Most days, I'd pick up a guitar, walk around the property. There was a 20-25-minute walk down to a little river. I'd just leave my phone behind. I'd maybe grab a pad of paper. Most days, I'd have at least an idea for a new song.

Photo: Alexa King / Courtesy of New West Records

Were there certain open tunings that seemed to yield more songs than others?

I didn't use any tuning for more than one track. I backed myself into a corner at one point. I don't have a lot of guitars. It occurred to me that I was digging myself into a hole, and I wasn't going to be able to play everything, so I left a few things off the record. I'd typically drop a string half a step or a whole step. There's only one where I have to disassemble a whole tuning.

Did you start to see lyrical themes emerging from being out in nature?

I did. A lot of times, I felt like the words were right out in front of me. I'd see a bird, and then an airplane would fly by, and I'd write a line about birds chasing airplanes. Whenever I'd get stuck, the images were right there before me.

Did you feel that you remembered more things by leaving your phone behind?

I heard Paul McCartney talking about how those phone memos and little notes rarely turn into songs. I realized that I had memos that didn't turn into things I was excited about. I'd sing the song over and over again, so I wouldn't forget it or sing a melody so that it became a little more ingrained in my head. I think I had a better relationship with the idea when I wasn't terrified that I was going to forget it.






The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.