We recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Stella Parton, the incredibly talented sister of Dolly Parton, to chat about her new music, her upcoming visit to Ireland, changes within the music industry, specifically the digital revolution, and how U.S. fans can be far less receptive than fans overseas, but don’t worry! Stella Parton loves you all!
Read our full interview with the delightful Stella Parton below:
Kristyn Clarke: So lets start with CMA Fest, I am sure everything with CMA Fest was such a whirlwind and you are such a busy lady, What can you share with me, I know there is definitely work going on with a new album, How far along in the process are you?
Stella Parton: Well, I am a little over halfway through and I was actually working on songs this morning and trying to work on the material I will be doing in Ireland next week. So I am having to learn a duet this morning but I am trying to also mix on the album over the phone between me and the engineer. I am working on two or three songs even today that are gonna finish out the album.
Kristyn Clarke: Oh wow, So can you tease me a little bit with the direction that you are going with some of the music?
Stella Parton: You know it is going to be real stripped down, It’s gonna be real straight ahead, it’s all going to be fresh, new stuff for me. Some of it is kind of like all my stuff, tongue and cheek. Everybody thinks that sometimes my stuff is real serious but they don’t get the joke. [laughs] Because I have this real ribald sense of humor and sometimes people think “oh lord that’s so serious” or “that’s strange” but some of it is supposed to be funny. I got this one song that I wrote called “Dirty Rotten Dog” and its just the funniest thing and I think it’s just hilarious but it’s kind of a little country blues piece and you don’t know if it’s about a dog or about a man. So it’s just real cute.
Kristyn Clarke: I supposed that could be either couldn’t it?
Stella Parton: Well sometimes, it depends on the guy and the dog.
Kristyn Clarke: Absolutely! Is it refreshing for you as an artist to take that stripped down approach to everything without all the production elements and all that?
Stella Parton: Well, you know I have always kind of gravitated that way because I’ve always carried a 4-piece rhythm section all of these years that I have toured and everything. I don’t mind having more embellishments on certain things and I’ve cut stuff that were more pop oriented back in the 70’s when I was on Elektra Records. They’ve try to flavor it more contemporary or pop flavored and that was okay but I always really gravitated towards my real traditional sound and because I grew up with a guitar and a vocal. I just kind of like to go that route and that is what I am doing with this album. I just want to be able to go out with a guitar player, a bass player, myself playing some rhythm and someone on beat box and just tour that way.
Kristyn Clarke: I love it, I love that raw sound it kind of gives that live feel to it. It gives it that perfectly imperfect sound, which is great.
Stella Parton: Well, you know you’re never perfect in live performance unless you’re really just minding your tracks, and even that doesn’t have any quality to it. You can’t move to it, and if you move to it, you have to just stay on the track and I have had to do that at times for economic reasons and I hated it. I didn’t like it, I don’t like it and I did not want to do it, so I felt like most of stuff I always recorded. 90% of things I’ve done I produced it myself. So I like a little bit of the imperfections, I am not a perfect sounded singer. I don’t think I am a great vocalist, I think I am a good interpreter of lyrics. So I think I can interpret a feel and I can float that along over a melody. That’s kind of how I think most of my music is and I am not as much of a great storyteller writer as some of the people in my family but I feel like I know how to get the point across and tell a story and to me that’s kind of what I am trying to do with these songs. Just make it lighthearted, some of them are very lighthearted, I just finished one this morning, I just had to balance some of the stuff out and I got this beautiful song I wrote about my parents. I feel like they kind of channeled and I was just their channel and they wrote it themselves. I thought I could never get the vocal on it that I wanted, which is kind of like their relationship. It was conflict within by itself but I finally got it, It’s called “Last Rose Of Summer.” It is such a beautiful piece.
Kristyn Clarke: That’s amazing, Is your target release date later this year?
Stella Parton: Yeah, I am hoping for around maybe September or something like that. August or September.
Kristyn Clarke: I love that you mentioned your interpretations of things like other songs and everything. Because with “Mountain Songbird“, I thought a lot of your interpretations or takes on a lot of Dolly Parton’s songs were brilliant. How hard was that to choose?
Stella Parton: Well you know, I was there when she wrote that stuff and Porter Wagoner produced that stuff for her at the time and I think he had influence on the way she cut the stuff but I try to just strip it back down to the way I knew she or I felt like she felt when she was writing just her and the guitar. I tried to interpret it from that angle and I produced it that way, I arranged it that way just like I would try to chime in and sing some harmonies cause I probably heard most of those songs before she took them into the studio. I would be at her house sometimes and she’d be working on something, even like with “Jolene” and stuff like that. So you know, I heard them fresh and raw just like she wrote em and I wanted to keep that kind of quality to this product and I wanted her songs to stand out on their own cause I think she is such a brilliant storyteller. I kind of gravitated towards the storytelling songs of hers and of course “I Will Always Love You” and some of that stuff just because I knew that some people would expect it. Then when I put the tribute show together, I had to do some of that stuff like “9 to 5” “Here You Come Again” just because I knew people would expect it. I really just wanted to have that raw quality and I didn’t really concern myself with what the fans or public wanted to think of my version of it. I just always tried to stay real honest about whatever I am doing, whether you like it or not, I am not slick in anyway. I am just honest.
Kristyn Clarke: I thought it was absolutely brilliant, you did a wonderful job.
Stella Parton: Well thank you I just wanted to stay true to the story and leave it that way and if it came out okay then great. I just wanted to be true and honest and you know let the song be the ground piece and not the production or me trying to vocalize some way that wasn’t necessary. I did the same with “I Will Always Love You,” I mean who can outdo Whitney Houston or even Dolly’s version of it or Vince Gill or any of these different people who have done that song. I thought I just want to throw these harmonies on it cause that is kind of where we learned to sing. Our uncle Bill taught us all these, Louvin Brothers, and The Everly Brothers harmonies and stuff so I thought, I am just going to put these harmonies around this chorus where I think it needs to be and Dolly loved it that way. She thought it was a fresh approach to it and I tweaked it that way not because I knew everything but because it just felt right.
Kristyn Clarke: Being a true renaissance woman, you know you have writing, recording, performing, acting and you’re speaking engagements as well, Is it hard to switch hats for you or does everything just fit in it’s own space?
Stella Parton: Well, I think of my life as a kaleidoscope of colors and so each piece just fits into the kaleidoscope, I just turn a little and it’s a different shape then turn a little more and it’s a different prism. So it all just seems natural to me cause I’ve always had to wear so many hats. If I was going to stay in the traffic and if I was going to survive I had to do it all myself. So I just kind of learn to thrive doing that and I was creative so it was okay, I am good with it. I am not one to sit around and wait for someone to discover me if I had done that, I wouldn’t have done anything.
Kristyn Clarke: That definitely makes sense, and I mean we have seen so many changes within the music industry over the years. You have over 30 albums under your belt personally.
Stella Parton: 37 albums to be exact.
Kristyn Clarke: That’s amazing! What is one of the big changes in the music industry that has had the biggest effect on your approach to recording. I know back in the day you would release an album and it would support a tour. Now it is the exact opposite, where the tour now supports the album.
Stella Parton: You know the internet has really leveled the playing field for an independent artist like myself. That has been the biggest change I have seen Kristyn. I think that’s kind of leveled the playing field for us indie artists and record companies can’t hold us hostage like they used to be able to. I like that because I have always been an independent spirit anyway. I never liked for somebody to tell me how to dress or how to fix my hair or what to do about my image, how to phrase a song, and you know what key to sing it in. I needed to just be honest and true and if you were good enough to get some attention on a professional level then why reinvent the wheel. It’s like you’re already a big wheel if you got enough attention within the industry to be on a major label, so why decide to change all of that.
Kristyn Clarke: Absolutely, I feel like the whole label thing just really doesn’t matter anymore, as there is just so many avenues for discovery for music. I mean I know it could be very overwhelming at times but it absolutely opens the door for a lot of talent to shine through.
Stella Parton: Well that is what I love about it, I just think we gotta think of ways to get the exposure and that is why social media is good. If we are get music distributed properly, like they have reissued my three Elektra Records albums on Amazon.com now so they can be digitally picked up through Amazon if anybody wants them. My albums Country Sweet and Love You and Stella Parton are all reissued and I am really excited about that, that was reissued in February. So my music now, my full catalogue with all the albums I produced myself and those three. So people who want to get my stuff, can get it now and all of it. You can pick up the full enchilada of 48 years of music that I have been cutting myself.
Kristyn Clarke: It’s so wonderful that it is so easy now for all of this to be at our fingertips.
Stella Parton: I think so too, and I love that we have YouTube. We went through all my archival video and digitized it out and put it all up on YouTube so people can see all of my old scruffy shows, my old raw sounding stuff, the good stuff, the bad stuff, and the indifferent. It’s like they can see that I am a working artist for all these years and there it is in black and white and in color.
Kristyn Clarke: How fun was it to look back and see all of that?
Stella Parton: Oh, it wore my butt out I will tell you, I was back out there. It was like looking at a picture and it takes you back. I was exhausted both emotionally and physically by just having to go through that with the guy who was putting all of that up for me. I thought oh my gosh, it’s like I am back on that same summer tour, on that same bus with my son being 12 years old saying “Mom i’m hungry and Mom i’m bored” in between shows and stuff. Now he’s got a 2 year old, and it’s like oh Jesus I am glad I am not our touring in the back of a bus this summer while I am trying to get this stuff up on YouTube.
Kristyn Clarke: He probably gets paybacks now. [laughs]
Stella Parton: Yeah [laughs] but you know what I am glad to have it all up so people now have access to all of my stuff because you never know by the time you get to be this age, you don’t know what could happen. With the way the world is currently you don’t know what could happen, so at least there has been a recap and we got everything available for anybody who would be interested in the future or in the present. Here is Stella’s stuff, some of it is great, some of it is awful but its like ugly pictures. I don’t throw my ugly pictures out anymore then I throw out my good ones, I think that is all part of me.
Kristyn Clarke: I think that’s all life, Sometimes I am like ‘oh why am I editing this picture’, you know what just leave it alone!
Stella Parton: Yeah, just leave it alone; it is what it is. It is all part of us, we are all good, bad, and ugly. Some all in one day or one hour and we just have to embrace ourselves and our journey and live our lives just authentically as possible. That takes a lot of pressure off of us, at the end of the day it only matter what you think of yourself.
Kristyn Clarke: I love how active you are with your fans on Facebook, I saw so many interactions with fans when I was checking out your page and it’s amazing to be able to do that now that that veil of secrecy between musician and fan has been lifted.
Stella Parton: Well you know I chose to do that. A lot of people have social media managers hired to do that for them and some of the people that help me with Twitter and Instagram say you are too transparent, you shouldn’t do that. I said hey listen these people are the ones that stood by me and every little thing I have, and I want to be and am going to be right up front with them. I chose to do that when I decided that I would do it, and I thought no I don’t want to have someone else decide what I am supposed to say, and how it should be worded. Everybody knows I don’t punctuate properly, they know it’s me. So they know I am pretty damn clever and pretty quick on the drop. So I just let it go.
Kristyn Clarke: I think it’s great because that kind of interaction really does continue to stick with fans and they remember. They go “hey I spoke to her and she answered me.”
Stella Parton: Well, you know the other thing is I always felt like I was on a mission and that my work was like a ministry. I can tell if somebody just wants to bug me or just is needy or nosey, but I could also tell if they need a word of encouragement. If I am in a position where I can do that, I am going to do it because they deserve it.
Kristyn Clarke: Is that kind of what that idea is about the Funhouse Church is about and everything?
Stella Parton: That is why I chose to make that, I have seen so much negativity on social media that I just though you know, I prayed about it, I though if I am going to use these tools that are available to us now, I am going to use mine for good or else I am not going to do it at all. I am at that age where I had to acclimate to the new world, I thought how am I going to do this, how am I going to approach this. I approached it like I have done it always just doing the right thing. I got a FB message lastnight from a man who was in the military when I was in NCO club working in Germany or some place. He said “I remember seeing you on stage in Germany and the management this couple to sit down at your show and you said absolutely not it’s their anniversary and I want them to do what they want to do” so they were the only people dancing and they tried to shut them down and I said No this is their night you let them enjoy themselves. I don’t care, I want them to enjoy themselves, this is my show and you may be the manager but they brought a ticket to get in here so you leave them alone. He remembered that, I just always liked you after that because you stood up for your fans.
Kristyn Clarke: That’s amazing, I know you have done a lot of touring in Europe and in the states as well. How does the fan base differ?
Stella Parton: Well, I feel like the audience here in America are not quite as appreciative cause we have access to so much and I think they can be less appreciative in US. I hate to say that about us but it is true. In Europe and in the U.K. and all over the world where I have worked they just appreciate you more because I think they maybe had to sacrifice a little more to get to ya. So I just enjoy working out of the country cause they always make me feel so appreciated. People don’t know how hard we work to get to them to get to the stage. The stage is the easy part, that is just the frosting on the cake but lord it is a lot to stir up that cake to get there.
Kristyn Clarke: That’s funny cause I have talked to musicians of every genre from Hard rock and Metal to Country and Pop and they all say the exact same thing. That you know there is only one or two radio stations over there so they are not getting the same amount of access that we have here in the states. They say the same thing, it is just a different animal as far as appreciation goes.
Stella Parton: I think they just appreciate us more. I have been in here working on so much I am probably a little bit to chatty and running off trails cause I am trying to do to many things at once.
Kristyn Clarke: Other than heading over to Ireland, what does the rest of 2017 hold in store for you?
Stella Parton: Well I am just trying to finish this album and then we will see what happens, I will probably go back out on tour. Just try to stay busy and stay out of trouble. I am working on a couple of TV projects, which I would love as the way the world is today, it is almost scary to get on stage. You have to take your chances though.
Kristyn Clarke: Yes, well, we definitely hope to see you in the Philadelphia area sometime soon. We cannot wait to hear the new album.
Stella Parton: Thank you so much for talking to me today.