"It's been great—people move more during the show, which I think was one of my hopes," he said with a laugh. "You know, when there were chairs and the venue people sold [tickets] by the chair, they put them aside."
It's easy to guess why. With his latest release, the 24-year-old, Nashville-based singer-songwriter moved away from the brooding, acoustic folk-blues of earlier albums like The Very Last Day (Okrahoma Records, 2016) in favor of swaggering, electric rock and pop. It's quite a change of pace, but Millsap always believed the album would win listeners over.
"This one is actually the first one that I felt really confident about before it came out," he said. "Everything up until this point, there's been this real nervousness—'What's gonna happen when it comes out?' But with this one, I don't know if it's because I believe in the songs more or I've done it enough times that I don't have to freak out every time. There's always that little bit of nervous energy, but the songs are really fun to play. And if they're fun to play, hopefully they're fun to listen to."
Reviews of the album suggest that Millsap's hopes have been realized. Rolling Stone called Other Arrangements "his tightest, sharpest and most infectious set of songs to date." NPR's Jewly Hight praised the album's witty lyrics and dynamic vocals, finding Millsap "more magnetic than ever."
Boiseans can judge Millsap's new material for themselves when he and his band play The Olympic on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
- David McClister
Growing up in Oklahoma, Millsap listened to a wide range of artists. Hearing bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and songwriters like Robert Earle Keen and J.J. Cale made him think about making his own music.
"Bob Dylan did that for me," he added. "Lyle Lovett did that for me and still does. There's a bunch of random ones. Ry Cooder's guitar playing, that was a big exclamation point going off in my head when I first discovered it—'What is that? How is he making that sound? Why does it make me feel good?'"
Millsap also found inspiration closer to home. As an adolescent, he took guitar lessons from Travis Linville, a fellow Oklahoman who has worked and toured with such acclaimed songwriters as John Fullbright, John Moreland and Hayes Carll. The Oklahoma Gazette once called Linville "the Oklahoma roots scene's Swiss Army knife, a guy who can do a little bit of everything and has done a little bit of that for everyone."
"He had to quit giving me lessons because he was going on tour," Millsap said. "He got a good road gig and was not teaching guitar lessons anymore. And then it clicked: 'Oh, this isn't just a hobby for people.' I'd never quite put it together, I guess, that there was something between rock star and teaching guitar lessons."
Following the release of his debut solo album Palisades (Okrahoma Records, 2012), Millsap started getting attention for both his songwriting and his live shows. A performance at Nashville's Tin Pan South songwriting festival in 2013 helped him score opening slots for Old Crow Medicine Show, including a New Year's Eve concert at the Ryman Auditorium. Since then, Millsap has performed on Conan and Austin City Limits, earned big-name fans like Rosanne Cash and Elton John, and was named Artist of the Year at the 2017 International Folk Music Awards.
Anguished, vividly detailed ballads like "Heaven Sent," about a young gay man spurned by his preacher father, established Millsap as a talented songwriter. His earlier work hasn't always given listeners the right impression of him, though.
"I've written so many sad-ass songs that eventually, people kind of start to assume that I'm a sad person," he said. "I'm not, you know?"
He sees the up-tempo numbers on Other Arrangements as adding some welcome variety to his songbook and live sets. By mixing rousing, funny rock songs like "Fine Line" and "Some People" with his more somber material, he can create "an emotionally complex show, which I think is the ultimate goal of most artists: to provide life condensed, all of the entire spectrum of emotion."
Millsap is already brainstorming ideas for new songs, but for now, he's happy just to see what happens on tour.
"It's always a surprise," he said. "Even if we play the same venues, a lot of times the crowd is different every night. That's exciting for me: Every night, there's this collection of people that... will probably never be in the same room together again."