Parker Gispert was still in college when he helped form the Whigs in the early 2000s. But after five critically-acclaimed albums, hundreds of tour dates all over the world with the likes of Kings of Leon, Drive-By Truckers, the Black Keys and many others, and television appearances everywhere from the Late Show with David Letterman to Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the Athens, Georgia-bred rockers decided to pull back on activity in 2017.
Which left Gispert, who had spent the majority of his adult life either in the studio or on the road with the band, at a crossroads.
“It occurred to me that if I wanted to record and tour that I was going to need to do it solo,” the singer, songwriter and guitarist says. “I'd always thought about it in the back of my mind as something that I wanted to do one day, but ‘one day’ had never really come.”
Now, ‘one day’ is here in the form of Sunlight Tonight, Gispert’s debut solo album (produced and mixed by Emery Dobyns). The eight-song effort finds Gispert, known for leading the Whigs through raw and jangly southern-garage rave-ups, taking a decidedly different musical approach—biting electric guitar riffs are cast out in favor of gentle acoustic picking and strumming, and his band mates’ raucous rhythms are traded in for minimal accompaniment that includes light bass and drums, orchestral strings and even trumpet. Gispert’s lyrics, meanwhile, are his most introspective and personal to date (albeit with a bit of humor thrown in here and there) and they’re delivered in a vocal style that finds him pushing out on his range. “I didn't need to project over a band, so I was able to sing in registers I hadn’t really used before, like a lot of high falsetto,” he explains.
The end result showcases a different side of the artist, to be sure. But it’s one that Gispert felt compelled to explore. “A lot of guys from rock bands that go solo, they just hire another bassist and drummer and go make another album,” he says. “I didn’t want to go that route.”
Ultimately, his change in musical direction was helped along by a change in geography. A longtime resident of Nashville (by way of Atlanta, and then Athens), Gispert last year accepted an invitation from a friend to visit his 100-acre hemp farm, located roughly an hour outside Music City. “It was like out of a total time warp,” Gispert recalls of the property. “No heat or AC. No animals. No active crops. Water from a well. It was just, like, a house and a plot of land. I ended up staying there for a year.”
That plot of land was where Sunlight Tonight came into being. “I would wake up early and get my guitar and walk outside and come up with all these songs,” Gispert says. “And without a band to turn to as the deciding factor on, say, a melody or a lyric, I ended up turning to the scenery and the landscape I was dealing with instead. The farm was like my collaborator—it kind of answered everything for me, as weird as that sounds. And the songs started coming pretty quickly.”
As for what the future holds, Gispert is open to any and all possibilities that might follow in the wake of Sunlight Tonight. “Because I didn't even see any of this happening, you know?” he says. “So I can’t really say what comes next. But it’s almost like a weight off my shoulders to not really know where I'm going from here.”
One thing he can say for sure: the farm that served as both inspiration and companion to Gispert throughout the writing process for Sunlight Tonight is now a thing of the past.
“I’ve moved away,” he reports. “I’m living over by a lake now.” Gispert laughs. “I’m trying to switch it up.”