Music

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.

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