As Texas native Parker McCollum gears up for the release of his new album, the 15-song Never Enough (out Friday), he’s also in the thick of another process: home renovations.
“We just started painting the interior of the house, doing countertops, a new backsplash, redoing the floors and carpets,” he tells Billboard of the home he shares with his wife of one year, Hallie Ray Light. “I’m ripping out all four acres of front and backyard landscaping completely starting over from scratch. It was supposed to be a simple paint job and a few things—one month and one. But here we are,” he says with a laugh.
Not unlike renovating a home, the Conroe, Texas native knows well that the process of building something sturdy and sustainable takes time, patience and tenacity.
In a decade-span, McCollum has gone from touring around the Lone Star state and issuing indie projects like his 2013 EP A Red Town View and 2015 breakthrough The Limestone Kid, to earning two No. 1 Billboard Country Airplay hits (2020’s “Pretty Heart” and last year’s “To Be Loved By You”). He was named the ACM Awards’ new male artist of the year in 2022 and his most recent single, “Handle on You,” peaked at No. 2 on the Country Airplay chart.
In 2019, he signed with Universal Music Group — making McCollum a labelmate to his musical idol, George Strait — and issued his full-length, major label debut project, Gold Chain Cowboy last year. Like its predecessor, Never Enough was produced by McCollum’s fellow Texan Jon Randall, known for his work with Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley and more.
“He understands where I come from,” McCollum says of Randall. “Had I come to town and cut a bunch of beer drinking, tailgate songs, he probably wouldn’t have wanted to produce [my albums]. I think he kind of gravitated toward my love for songwriting and my hardheaded I am about trying to get it right and cut songs that possibly will stand the test of time.”
McCollum also has a strong slate of headlining shows set for this year, as well as select shows opening for Eric Church and Morgan Wallen later this summer.
McCollum is part of Texas’ long lineage of country artists, from Country Music Hall of Famers George Jones, Willie Nelson and George Strait to the 1990s Texas-to-Tennessee pipeline that included The Chicks, LeAnn Rimes and Clint Black. The 21st century has seen artists like Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves rise to enduring prominence in country’s mainstream, as well as a surge of Red Dirt artists and bands including Pat Green, Randy Rogers Band and the Eli Young Band. Lately, McCollum, along with artists like Charley Crockett, Cody Johnson and Koe Wetzel, are part of a fresh wave of Texans making their mark and further expanding country music’s reach. But for McCollum, it’s still Strait — with his 44 No. 1s on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart — who remains the standard bearer.
“He tours, puts out great records and does it with such class and represents the state of Texas as well as anybody ever could. And he didn’t have a moment at the top—he’s had several decades. When I think about the long-term of coming from Texas to Nashville, I think if the King of Country did things that way, there’s probably a nugget or two in there you could take away from that.”
Billboard caught up with Parker to discuss his approach to music, and the song from the new album that makes him “tear up every time.”
Going into making this album, you now have a multi-platinum single, a gold single and an ACM Award win. What was different about recording this time??
My writing and album-making process hasn’t changed since I was a kid in high school in my bedroom writing songs. I still go out to my ranch in Texas and listen to my favorite records to get inspiration, just like I did in high school. I don’t think that will ever change — the budget’s just a little bigger and the promotion is certainly a bit bigger.
What are some of those records you go back to?
That’s a long list. The Houston Kid by Rodney Crowell. Last year, I really found myself diving back into Flowers and Liquor by Hayes Carll. Some old Slaid Cleaves, and then John Mayer’s always on that list. He put out that Sob Rock record last year that kind of influenced a couple of these songs. And then of course, a lot of classic country — George Strait, Porter Wagoner, Ray Price, Willie Nelson. I just try to think, “If I was writing songs and had to play one for one of those guys, would I play these for them?”
“Things I Never Told You” is a sweet and clever ode to parents, and is one of the few songs on the album you didn’t write.
I only had to listen to it once and I knew I was gonna sing it. Around that time, I was almost done with writing for my record and I was feeling burnt out on writing and wasn’t feeling creative. My buddy Taylor Phillips texted me and I thought, “I haven’t cut an outside song in a while.” He caught me at the right time and sent me this song. The one line that sold me was, “I had a Playboy stashed in a Johnny Cash LP sleeve in my room.” I heard that and was like, “Damn, how did I not write that?”
What did your mom think when you played it for her?
I didn’t tell her I recorded it or anything. The first time she heard it was in tour rehearsals in a massive amphitheater, with all of our production running through the show. I got to rehearsing that song, and I can barely sing that song without tearing up, on the lines about her smiling face in the kitchen, that line always gets me. She was the only person in this 20,000-person place, sitting there listening to it, and it got to her, too. That was a cool, audience-of-one moment.
Several of the artists that you look up to began their careers before social media was an integral part of a music career. How do you balance time to be creative with the demands of social media?
I’m sure it drives my record label up a wall, but I don’t care for it, although it’s a great tool that can be used well. But I don’t post a ton about my personal life. You basically only see me with my wife or me onstage and sometimes a hunting photo. A lot of that really goes back to George [Strait] — you really only see him onstage. At the same time, we’re in a different time in the world and in society. You think of these songs nowadays that are just viral on the internet and they’re basically forcing them into your brain. I try to never do that — I’m not going to try to match an algorithm. Some people may call me old-school or even dumb for not doing that, but I think there’s something to be respected about it. I don’t want to be a social media star — I want to be a country music star.
“Have Your Heart Again,” which you wrote with Ashley Gorley and Lee Miller, originated several years ago.
I think melody has so much to do with it. Once I have a melody I’m just obsessed with, then I start writing. “Have Your Heart Again’ is a piano ballad and I wrote that melody when I was like 23. I had it for five or six years before I ever ended up writing it. That’s how it goes a lot of the time — not necessarily that long, but that’s a recurring theme I’ve noticed. If the melody and words come together and I can’t stop singing it, I know it’s a good song.
You have a top-shelf set of co-writers on the album’s opener, “Hurricane.”
I was riding a dirt bike when he came over, just piddling around the yard on it and he pulled in the driveway. He was there with Jon Randall and Randy Rogers, two of my best buds, and that kind of helps ease the vibe a bit. He already had the song’s chorus written and we wrote a couple of verses for it. It’s a great show opener or show closer kind of song and different from anything else I had done. Listening back to that song, I was like, “That’s the first time I’ve ever said ‘beer’ in a song.” That wasn’t my line that I came up with, so I still haven’t written it. So I guess that streak is still alive.
Randy Rogers previously managed you. When it came to deciding whether to stay only in Texas or to go for a Nashville record deal, what advice did he give?
He had started a management company and was my first manager for nearly three years. He was the first one that said, “You can be a star, but you gotta play the game and do your thing, go to that town and make it happen.” I was a young kid living in Austin, writing songs, and just wanted to sing country music and make enough money to take care of my family.
What are your career goals right now?
I would like to slide into the Country Music Hall of Fame one day, a long time from now — maybe when no one’s looking I can slide in the back door. We always want to grow our touring each year and to write better songs. But the other thing is I hope that I can get a few decades down the road and really be proud of how I handled everything I was blessed with, and if it all went away tomorrow, that I would feel the same way. I would hope that people, my family and where I come from are proud to know me and to be related to me, and proud of the way I’ve carried myself through all this. You try to respect the great ones that came before you, while not totally just ripping them off, but having your own version of country music. But it’s still keeping it real, writing songs and keeping it country.