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For Bryan Thomas Parker, music is a necessary exorcism

Bryan Thomas Parker is part of that weary and admirable crew known as the full-time working musician. The Tucson guitarist, bassist and singer-songwriter regularly juggles multiple gigs each week — sometimes even on the same day. Still, Parker took some time to catch up with us on writing and playing music, finding a great backing band, and continuing the rock troubadour tradition.

TucsonSentinel.com: You're an interesting cat, BTP. You've played in a number of rock bands in Tucson, but you're also one of a handful of local folks who seem to really have a knack for the folk-rock troubadour, storyteller tradition. How did you end up heading down both of those paths at once?

Parker: I am a singer-songwriter. I make my living playing folk music in restaurants and get my jollies rocking out in bars, but at the core I just see it as an art form and medium in itself. I try to switch up the musical color on my pallet as often as possible. Recently, the mantra has been something one of my bandmates said: 'BTP does whatever the fuck he wants to.' If I have to pick an aesthetic, I wanna be the musical offspring of Willie Nelson and Lou Reed."

I started writing songs when I was about 11 years old. I didn't have any real instruments, but I had one of those little made in the '90s toy Casio keyboards. I am not even sure I had any clue what the notes were. Just natural harmonics and a kid exploring his creative side.  I grew up on country oldies and then discovered punk rock and played in a thousand crappy bands. 

In my mid-20s, a buddy gave me Woody Guthrie's dust bowl record and I realized that songs are much more effective when they tell a story. Plus, the politics were raw and aggressive just like punk. That drew me in. Didn't take me long to figure out it paid OK, too. My step-dad had so many cool records growing up. That got me writing. But I did handbells, choir, dancing, acting, and live ensemble singing as a kid. Just kinda was meant to be.

I enjoy blurring the lines in between genres. I believe an effective writer should be able to span across generation and genre-specific lines to get their message across. 

TS: Lately you've been playing a lot of gigs with your ensemble group, Bryan Thomas Parker and Friends. Can you introduce us to the band?

Parker: I honestly still don't really understand how I ended up with this cast of characters. But, I am grateful to them. 

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Fed (aka Federico Hall Pennacchini) is a monster on bass and Joe Miller is the most solid and yet diverse drummer I have ever worked with. I also work very closely with Ted Riviera from the Gunrunners, Mike Monzel who has been my buddy for coming up on a decade, Cody Hudman of Brokedown Palace, as well as any one I can get to come jam when the mood strikes. I love family bands and 'BTP & Friends' is more or less exactly that.

Ted is a huge mentor to me, as has Mike.They have both been in the Tucson scene for decades. I rely on all the 'Friends' for support and advice really. Drawing from others only makes you wiser. I need all the help I can get there. 

"The 'Friends' and I have been fortunate to perform at too many venues to count at this point. Among the folks that really help me keep a roof over my families head are the Parish, Royal Sun, Surly Wench Pub, The Loudhouse, Boca Tacos, and Saint Charles Tavern. They've all been amazing to us and I love playing them all. 

My favorite quirk about being a semi-oft gigging musician is that there is always awkwardly drunken dancing dude at every gig. He knows all the lyrics to "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" too, and always asks 'do you know any Johnny Cash?'"

TS: When I met you a few years back, you were one of a few musicians I knew who lamented the mysteries of building community in local live music circles. Flash forward and you've started to build a reputation for putting together shows and lending a hand to younger artists and newer bands. It's been kind of a cool evolution to witness.

Parker: Community is everything. It's the reason people like myself can even exist. Music brings us together...That sounds hokey, but it's true. I love setting up shows that force bands and artists of different genres and their fan bases to mix it up some. It goes back to challenging our preconceptions and discovering something new that moves us. 

My advice to "newbie" musicians? Don't quit. Yeah, it's hard and lonely and not a very good living. But if you have that impulse just don't quit. So what if you suck now.You don't get any better by giving up. Listen, learn, practice, get out and perform in front of people you don't know. Oh, and don't be a dick if you can help it. No one likes that guy. 

I have learned that I know next to nothing about everything. I have also learned to approach everything with an open heart and mind and that if I work hard to offer people an experience that they can relate to that I can continue to feed, clothe, and house my family. I've also learned to not express every single half-baked thought on Facebook because the piranhas are always hungry for blood."

TS: What's your music and songwriting process look like? And how does playing live music compare to the process of writing and recording?

Parker: Melody comes first. Usually with a lyric idea or a hook attached. I just find the chords and rhythm to fit the melody. Then it's just trying to capture a coherent story or message. In recording, I find I like to layer on every idea I have and then peel it back until the song finds its voice. 

I usually try not to write or perform stuff that I don't understand or can relate too on a personal level... Influence-wise, other than the plethora of music I consume myself, my wife is a constant muse as are my girls. Both good and bad. Being broke, being drunk, being a fighter, and being honest. Those tend to be core themes. 

I love playing live. I really do. It's about meeting new faces, bringing people in for a moment and sharing my experience and perspective. Then there is the rush of performing with the band. Writing and recording is a necessary exorcism for me. I believe every song is a living snapshot of who you are in the moment."

TS: In addition to being a pretty constantly gigging musician, you're a full-time dad to three daughters. What creative/artistic wisdom do you have for them if they decide to follow in the family musical tradition?

Parker: Be proud of challenging yourself and your preconceptions. That's the message I am trying to teach my daughters.Music is one of the most effective communicators there is. Like all art forms, it too requires a balance between a kind of homage to heritage and a leap into the unknown. Luckily, my girls love to jump!"

TS: What's up next for BTP and Friends?

Parker: "The Friends and I are in the process of finishing up our next full length release, "New Frontiers." That should be out in May/June and then we are hitting the road this Summer. Time to explore and meet new people. 

I am also releasing a solo online only EP, "Kelvin" in March. There will be a single for that record out in the next week or so.

In the meantime, you can catch BTP and Friends at The Loudhouse on Saturday night with Saint Augustine and Gaza Strip. Doors open at 8 p.m.

And the countdown continues...

March is now just around the corner and the live-music silly season remains under way, with some touring bands cancelling last minute, others adding last-minute shows and tons of support from local bands. This week, for instance, features Old Pueblo visits by Diet Cig and Kimya Dawson.

On the locally grown front, the live lineups are diverse this week, from the Mardi Gras-flavored jazz of the Muffalettas to the desert blues of Austin Counts to a rather novel all Black Sabbath tribute night by alt-lounge act For Love Or Absinthe.

Meanwhile, there's still stellar traditional rock and indie to forget your troubles to, including a can't-miss shared bill with the Rifle, Michael Ely and Weekend Lovers and a fun, loud, edgy night of punk tinged alt-rock by Gaza Strip and friends.

As more and more bands make their way to SXSW or cross our path on early spring tours, expect at least a few more weeks of weird, interesting and must-see lineups.

Check your local listings

Friday, February 16

  • The Muffulettas - 7 p.m. at Monterey Court
  • Austin Counts - 7:30 p.m. at Borderlands
  • Big Business - 8 p.m. at Hotel Congress
  • Motive, Olden, Guardians - 8 p.m. at the Loudhouse
  • Pantera Cover Up Eyes, Go Black, Elyzian, Sorrows - 9 p.m. at Flycatcher
  • Jim Howell Band - 9 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern
  • The Rifle and Weekend Lovers - 9 p.m. at The Dusty Monk Pub 

Saturday, February 17

  • For Love or Absinthe's Black Sabbath tribute - 9 p.m. at Dusty Monk
  • Jimmy Carr and the Awkward Moments - 4 p.m. at Che's Lounge
  • Santa Pachita - 6 p.m. at Playground
  • Andy Hersey - 6 p.m. at The Parish
  • Dent May, Moon King, Liquid Summer  7 p.m. at Hotel Congress
  • Gaza Strip, Saint Augustine, Bryan Thomas Parker, Robbers Roost - 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse
  • For Love or Absinthe's Black Sabbath tribute - 9 p.m. at Dusty Monk

Sunday, February 18

  • Brokedown Palace - 7 p.m. at Royal Sun
  • Kimya Dawson, AJJ, Cesar Ruiz Band - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress

Monday, February 19

  • Diet Cig, Great Grandpa & the Spook School - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress 
  • Miss Olivia and the Interlopers - 7 p.m. at The Parish
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