Now/It's: An Interview with Lincoln Parish (Parish F/T)

Slowly but surely, we’re finishing up interviews that somehow managed to slip through the cracks from 2018. This week, we’re looking back at the time we spent with Lincoln Parish back in August, fresh off the release of his first official single - “What I Need” featuring Paul McDonald - as Parish F/T. He’s since released two more singles in 2018 - “Release” featuring Daphne Willis, and “Control” featuring Kevin Kelly. Think of Parish F/T as Nashville’s answer to Mark Ronson’s Version or Here Comes the Fuzz, but with more than a little bit of a Danger Mouse lean. There’s been plenty of coverage regarding Parish’s former musical association with Cage the Elephant, so if that’s what you’re looking for in terms of content feel free to look elsewhere (no offense). Our conversation with Lincoln Parish focuses more so on starting back at square one and working back up the proverbial ladder of Nashville’s burgeoning pop scene, as well as Nashville in general. Whether or not you’re in music, there’s plenty to glean from Lincoln Parish’s journey to become Parish F/T.

Now/It’s met with Lincoln Parish at Cafe Coco off of Elliston in Nashville’s “Rock Block.”

N/I - How have things been going for you today?

Lincoln - Good. I had a podcast thing - “Surviving the Music Industry” - it was cool. Nice and easy.

N/I - Has there been a learning curve getting back into the press/self-promotion cycle?

Lincoln - Not so much of the actually doing it, but more of the “how to balance…” aspect of it. Because I’m pretty much in the studio every single day. So learning how to balance doing the one versus another, it’s different…

N/I - Definitely two divergent headspaces.

Lincoln - Right. Because when I was doing with [Cage the Elephant], it was just do press, then play the show. Very cut and dry. You’re one-track minded, whereas now, my mind can be in a lot of different places.

N/I - I would imagine that hasn’t been too difficult, has it?

Lincoln - No. It’s just a little stressful sometimes….

N/I - That’s fair.

Lincoln - But nothing that’s not manageable.

N/I - Or else you probably wouldn’t be doing it.

Lincoln - Exactly [laughs].

N/I - I know you’ve got a [couple] singles out, like the one with Paul [McDonald], but how long has the Parish F/T stuff been going on?

Lincoln - The song with Paul was the one that kind of kickstarted the whole thing.

N/I - The proverbial catalyst?

Lincoln - It was also just the idea that I could even go ahead and do this. But Paul made a good point, where he was like “Mark Ronson did it.”

N/I - That’s true.

Lincoln - And I don’t sing or anything [laughs]. But neither does Mark. So I was like “Yeah!” even though I never thought about it. Then once we recorded, I played it around for people in my team, and the feedback was good, but the thought was “Okay, if you’re going to pursue this, you have to write some more.” So while I was writing more for other people, I started to think that I was going to write for this specific project. Just for me. But all the songs, I’m co-writing with the artists who end up on the tracks, like Daphne Willis and Kevin Kelly.

N/I - But that’s not your first real foray into songwriting, correct? At least in this realm?

Lincoln - Even a few years before I left the band, I was getting my feet wet. I had a [publishing] deal with Sony through the band at the time, so they were helping me out with a lot of writes around town, just to get me plugged in. So that was the first official taste. I just loved it, because everyday is different. Initially, I was trying everything. I was doing a lot of country stuff, but came around to the fact that it’s not really….

N/I - Wasn’t really for you?

Lincoln - Not necessarily my “jam” [laughs].

N/I - Why is that?

Lincoln - It’s just a different world.

N/I - It’s so established and engrained within the framework of town.

Lincoln - I listen to all kinds of music, even country stuff, occasionally. But it’s just a whole different world. I’m not opposed to it, but I don’t really do it all that often anymore.

N/I - That’s fair.

Lincoln - I’ve found what I can do that I’m excited about, so I just want to do stuff that excites me.

N/I - Follow the white rabbit, so to speak. As opposed to whatever has the highest percentage of guaranteed writes….

Lincoln - Well what I always say is that I didn’t want to grow up and be a musician only to hate what I do, or at least not enjoy it.

N/I - Sure. And you’ve garnered yourself some flexibility in what you can do, too.

Lincoln - Obviously, having experience from the band opened a lot of doors, in terms of getting cowrites and placing me in rooms.

N/I - Right. I was actually talking more about the production side of things - you’re not forced to live and die by six co-writes in two days.

Lincoln - I have a lot of respect for the people who just write, because I don’t see how they get by. If I didn’t have my production stuff to work on, then I’d just be waiting for another song to come out. Or even if you have stuff in the pipeline, it’s challenging. And I like that too about the production stuff where I might write for a month like three or four times a week, and then the next month, I might be working on a record with somebody and I’m not writing at all. I like that it changes things up. Usually, when I’m burnt out on one thing, I can turn around to the other.

N/I - That makes sense…. So with this stuff you’re doing, does it create a nice balance between those two worlds? Production and writing?

Lincoln - I’ve definitely shifted gears to focus more on my thing for the time being, but with that being said, I’m also working on other stuff in the meantime, too. I’ve been working on the new Lifehouse with Jason, their singer. We’ve written like ten songs for that project. So I’m going into the studio with them to figure out the first ones to cut. So yeah, my main priority is my main project, but I don’t want to say no to other things, too. I just try to stay as busy as possible. I’m the type of person where if I get one day off, I don’t know what to do with myself.

N/I - You get antsy?

Lincoln - I’m good for a day. I can totally chill on the couch for the day, but after that, I have to get out.

N/I - Get the shakes and then anxiety starts to set in.

Lincoln - I start thinking “What do people do?”

N/I - I get that. I’ve got to keep busy more often than not. So what’s a typical day like for you? Are you just working from sunup to sundown?

Lincoln - I try not to kill myself [laughs].

N/I - Working within reason, for sure.

Lincoln - Some days, if I have a band in the studio that I’m producing, that can easily become a twelve, fourteen hour day, but with my stuff, I’ve kind of been working on it in smaller increments. I might work on it for four or five hours a day, and then not touch it for a day or two while working on something else in the meantime and then come back to that. Because with the stuff I’m doing for my project, I’ve spent a lot of time spending a lot of time on it. The song with Paul came together in two or three days. That was really quick. But the song with Daphne, I spent almost six weeks working on the track. Not in a solid way, but I’d work on it afew hours a day, come back to it a few days later, maybe replay the bass in the pre because I didn’t want to change the bassline, or certain sounds weren’t quite right. Getting rid of parts all together and just seeing stuff. Basically getting things right and playing with it, which is important, because it’s easy to know what will work in a song, but when you go over and over again, then it becomes great. And I think it’s such a Nashville thing to get it done in the day - get it done from the demos to the final. A lot of times, when I’ve been writing this stuff, I try to get a really good vocal, and the “worktape” - if you want to call it that - is mainly just a guitar or a keyboard track and a little drum loop, then all the vocals that I think I’ll need. I’ll try to get all the vocals from the singer that I need. And then I’ll leave it like that to come back a day or two later to start producing it out. That’s how I do it for my stuff. If it’s for another artist - like Lifehouse - we’ll build it as we go.

N/I - A little more standard procedure?

Lincoln - The way I look at it, there’s no one beating down my door looking for songs, so I might as well spend my time on it.

N/I - That’s probably a more mentally sparing way to go about that process. Rather than trying to churn things out in that “Nashville style” you were talking about where you only have one day, so you’ve got to bring and finish everything within the day.

Lincoln - I usually tend to work a good five hours each day, but it’s anywhere between five hours to fourteen [laughs]. I get up pretty early, too. So if I have any mix work that I’m doing, I usually do it first thing in the morning.

N/I - A “fresh ears” kind of thing?

Lincoln - Yeah. I usually get up at 6:30 or 7:00 pretty much every day, so that’s when I usually mix. I’ll typically mix for the first two hours every day, and then go to the gym and come back and have a write or something in the afternoon. Just get the blood flowing. So that’s a typical day, I would say.

N/I - So when you got into the producing and everything “full-time,” did you run into a lot of “Nashville stuff” you referenced earlier?

Lincoln - I mean yes and no. I was just soaking it all in. I didn’t look at it as a negative thing. There were definitely people when you get with them, you don’t vibe together. I think some people get offended by that, but it’s just human, you know? It’s totally natural that some energy fields aren’t going to mesh together. That’s super rare, though. I’d say I have maybe three that were painfully awkward, but it’s been five years since I left the band, and I had been doing it a couple years before that, so in the seven, eight years that I’ve been doing cowrites, it’s only been three bad experiences. I’d say that’s pretty good odds.

N/I - Absolutely. Those are almost incomprehensibly good odds. That is a big part of - from what I’ve learned secondarily - connecting on producing things: connectivity. They’re mostly unrelated to the music itself.

Lincoln - Some people you just gel. Paul [McDonald] was one of those people.

N/I - He’s one of the easiest guys to get along with.

Lincoln - It’s funny. We had just gotten set up on a co-write and I knew nothing about Paul. He was starting to write for Modern Hearts, and I got two songs on that album. The first time we got together, we wrote that “Come On” song. It was funny, because my engineer, who had just started working for me a few months before that - he’s from Alabama, and Paul’s from Alabama. They come in and it turns out they grew up in the same neighborhood. I hardly knew either of them….

N/I - So you were probably left to play catch-up.

Lincoln - Right. But Paul is one of the best people.

N/I - Definitely. So you worked with Paul mostly on his Modern Hearts record?

Lincoln - Well we’ve kind of co-written non-stop since we met. On and off, because he’s always in and out of town….

N/I - And he’s got something like fifty some odd songs in the bag ready to roll, right?

Lincoln - Probably. Even since Modern Hearts, we’ve written twelve songs - “What I Need” was in that. So with some people, it’s really easy. The first time I wrote with Jason Wade from Lifehouse, my buddy Marty called me up and asked if I had a Thursday open and I was like “Yeah!” So Thursday comes around and we meet up - and they were supposed to write with someone else the other days of the week - but it was so good they went ahead and cancelled those and we ended up writing the rest of the weekend until Sunday. It was fun. It felt like I was in high school again.

N/I - When it goes well, it goes well. If it doesn’t go well, how is that? If it’s not instantaneous?

Lincoln - I kind of have a window of opportunity with songs. You have to have some kind of momentum in the first hour and a half, and if it doesn’t happen in that time, I kind of just check out.

N/I - That’s fair. That happens in all sorts of stuff. Sometimes you just fulfill the obligation.

Lincoln - I won’t necessarily call it after an hour and a half, but if it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours, I’ll try to as politely as I can say “I don’t think this is going anywhere, I don’t want to waste anymore of your time,” or something like that [laughs]. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. But when you’re doing it every day, you can’t get hung up on that.

N/I - It’s an exercise in diplomacy…

Lincoln - And you’ve got to write a lot of bad ones to get to the good one.

N/I - It’s that universal rule of ten percent, where if you write one hundred of something, only ten are going to turn out alright, and then one of those ten might be great.

Lincoln - Totally.

N/I - So since you’ve been doing the writing and the production stuff, have you seen certain groups, or artists, or acts come into town recently that have caught your eye?

Lincoln - Definitely the pop scene.

N/I - Well that’s what I was going to ask, the Parish project is definitely pop-leaning.

Lincoln - For sure. I think it’s great. I will say, the one thing is I’m kind of terrible about getting out to these things. They do have the mixers for people who - I’m not exactly sure what they’re called, “Nashville Does Pop” or something like that…. The New Nashville stuff. I think those are great, but the biggest thing is that there are a lot of those people here, but they don’t talk. Not in a negative way, they just don’t know each other. I think if more people knew each other and knew “This person does dope shit, and this person also does dope shit,” and hung out more, things would grow. If there were more of a community. That’s the thing in the country world - there’s a huge sense of community, but I think some of the pop stuff is the red headed step child of the city [laughs].

N/I - I get it. There’s definitely a space for more wanting, or to see it grow and expand. I don’t know if that’s because you have people from here or come here assuming that country world is too close-knit and they’ll just be outcast. The idea of having to start a “movement” on your own is definitely daunting, the problem is, it wouldn’t be if all the people wanting to “start a movement” knew the others were right next door, or down the street, or in the same town.

Lincoln - Exactly.

N/I - So when you’re working with these singles and records, are the people featured just from co-writes? Or are they a little more sought out?

Lincoln - A little bit of both. The one with Daphne, we wrote it about two months after the one with Paul. I kind of went into the write thinking I’ve got an idea on something…. When I built it out, it was definitely with me in mind. There are some people where now - because it was nothing I ever thought of until recently - it’s become “Let’s reach out to this person because I really like their voice.” Some writes, it hasn’t happened, where I wanted to get with somebody and we just couldn’t get anything. Then there are ones that come out of nowhere.

N/I - Where it’s way too good to pass up.

Lincoln - Exactly. A little bit of both. I go into each write with that conversation of “What are we going to write today?” and it’s “We can either write for your thing, or if you want to do something else, I’ve got this pop project.” Even with that stuff, I’m trying to take the tracks as far as I can and look back at the end of the day and see which ones really stand out. I probably have seven or eight that are pretty much done, but they’re in a pile. Some of them, after I’ve lived with them for about a month and listen to them, it becomes obvious they’re not hitting me the same way.

N/I - So I’m trying to think that first Mark Ronson collaboration record was. The one with Daniel Merriweather….

Lincoln - Right. He did that one that was Mark Ronson and the Business International. That was like the first time I had heard his solo stuff. That might have been back in ‘08 or ‘09.

N/I - Just before the 2010s roll around…. That’s weird.

Lincoln - I keep thinking that 2010 was two years ago [laughs].

N/I - It’s like the thought of 1980 being twenty years ago only to realize that it’s…

Lincoln - Thirty [laughs].

N/I - And it’s pushing forty now [laughs]....

Lincoln - Jesus [laughs]...

N/I - Anyway…. Would you say Ronson is a big influence on this project? Or someone to draw from?

Lincoln - I’ve definitely always been a fan of his production, but I’ve also always been a fan of Danger Mouse. He’s a huge inspiration for me. Danger Mouse and Phil Spectre and Jeff Lynne are the top three producer inspirations for me.

N/I - So less people who leave a definitive imprint on a project?

Lincoln - But can also be a chameleon. Because I would like to think - especially with other people’s music that I do - you can check one person’s record that I did, and go check out another I did on a singer-songwriter project… I would hope there are undertones to what I do, but I would like to think you wouldn’t be able to tell they’re the same person.

N/I - Like with Danger Mouse, there’s the Broken Bells stuff, and then there’s Modern Guilt, you don’t see the similarity immediately, but then you start to notice a thruline the more you listen, whether you’re aware or not.

Lincoln - Have you heard the first Electric Guest album? Mondo?

N/I - Oh dude. I love Electric Guest. And Danger Mouse didn’t do as much that second one right?

Lincoln - I think it was just Mondo.

N/I - I remember when Mondo came out….

Lincoln - I can’t believe that record wasn’t a huge smash.

N/I - And Asa does all that stuff with Portugal. He is straight up connected with these huge groups.

Lincoln - It’s funny, when I heard “Feel It Still” first thing I thought was that it sounded like the Electric Guest dude singing. It’s totally his background vocals on there.

N/I - Well “This Head I Hold” is almost like the tempo or template for “Feel It Still,” minus the piano. I didn’t know - by that point - if it was a new project all together, but it made sense, since he was involved. So more Danger Mouse on Mondo?

Lincoln - Definitely, but also everything he’s done.

N/I - He’s incomparable in a lot of ways.

Lincoln - And I even love The Black Keys stuff he did. I just love how he pushed it to another place when it needed to be. So he’s a big inspiration. Especially when people don’t even necessarily know I’m into this type of music. If it just helps people know I’m into it and get more production work, that’s a win win. I’m trying not to be too precious about it.

N/I - Why try and press the issue?

Lincoln - I’m just glad people are listening and seem to be enjoying it.