Parker McCollum is suddenly worried that his mom read his bio – the one the record label circulates to writers ahead of interviews to help them prepare.
McCollum is unfailingly polite, softspoken, and doesn’t remember talking about the heavy drug use detailed in the promotional write-up. He doesn’t deny it, but he’d rather she not know the specifics.
“Did I say that?” he asks, sounding concerned. “Oh goodness. She reads everything on the internet about me. I’m 29 years old. She’d probably still whip my butt.”
He swears the unhealthy days are behind him and explains the drug use happened because he was young and obsessed with how his country music heroes wrote songs.
“For a long time, I thought I had to do those things, too, to get those songs out,” he says. “Which, I got a lot of good songs out of it.”
In July, McCollum released his debut album “Gold Chain Cowboy” and earned the highest first-week debut album of 2021. The collection is home to his first single and No. 1 hit “Pretty Heart” and its follow-up “To Be Loved By You,” in the Top 10 at country radio and climbing. He wrote or co-wrote every song on the album and nods to his hard living in the album’s opening track, “Wait Outside.”
McCollum sings: I will love you forever, until the day that I die| I will love you in Heaven, I’ll just have to wait outside.
“I really, really care about songwriting,” McCollum says. “I always want people to know when they listen to my music; whether they like it or not, they can’t say it’s fake. It’s all incredibly honest and really real and comes from a super real place. They come from the right place where all the best songs come from.”
The Texas native searched for his place for a long time. His dad’s family-owned car dealerships and his mother’s family operated a large concrete company, but they’re also ranchers who work with cattle. His brother gave McCollum “The Traveling Wilburys, Volume 1″ for his 11th birthday, which sparked his love of music. He was working alongside his brother and cousins on his grandfather’s ranch one summer a few years later when he told his grandfather he wanted to grow up and be a ranch hand. His grandfather shot back: “No, you do not. You want to own the ranch. Go do something in this world and make something of yourself.”
“I got the best of both worlds,” McCollum says. “I was really lucky to have those influences in my life. I knew what hard work was, and I think genetically I just have a great ethic.”
His grandfather’s words stuck with him. Sports were king in Conroe, Texas, when McCollum was growing up, and he wasn’t great at any of them. He looked up to his brother, Tyler, who wrote songs and played guitar and wanted to be just like him. McCollum was a freshman in high school when he wrote “Permanent Headphones.” He played it for Tyler when he came home from college, and his brother told him he was “really good” and would be “big time one day.”
“That was enough for me to go, ‘Maybe I am good at this,'” McCollum says.
The fledgling writer and musician moved to Austin, Texas, 10 days after he graduated high school, promising that he’d go community college. He enrolled but never made it to class. McCollum spent his time figuring out how to play gigs and admits he didn’t do much for a couple of years.
Corby Schaub, who plays with one of McCollum’s favorite bands Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses, saw him perform and offered to produce an album for him.
“The rest is history,” McCollum says.
Famed Texas singer Randy Rogers jumped on as McCollum’s manager and was the first person to tell the singer he could be a superstar. For that to happen, Rogers said, McCollum had to go to Nashville and get in rooms with the right people. Rogers set up appointments for McCollum, and a year later, McCollum said he had offers from every major label in town.
“Randy went to every single one of those meetings and told every label that they were passing on the next George Strait if they passed on me,” McCollum says. “He’s totally full of it, but he knew what he was doing. I don’t think I ever would’ve come here and had it not been for him.”
McCollum is mildly offended over the Strait comparison because, he says, “There is no next George Strait. There’s only one. I think it’s disrespectful to George to say that.”
McCollum has other goals. He wants to be a member of The Grand Ole Opry and eventually be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. But in his head, the timing of his signing and what that meant for recording his major-label debut album couldn’t have been worse. During the pandemic, McCollum had to work on “Gold Chain Cowboy” in 2020. He admits to having a “pity party because COVID threw a wrench in my goals.”
He knew his first album for Universal Music Group Nashville had to be authentic to his artistry, which meant it would be void of songs about trucks and dirt roads. He wanted it to have a little bit of something that kind of made people go, ‘What in the world is he doing?’
As McCollum had done before, he turned to drugs for help writing. But this time, cocaine didn’t work. Nothing did. One morning, he woke up after one of his benders “sober as a bird” and wrote what he believes is the best song on “Gold Chain Cowboy” in seven minutes. “Rest of My Life” was inspired by his realization that he didn’t need dangerous or illicit substances to create music, of which he’s proud.
“That was kind of my wake-up call,” McCollum says. “It’s probably the second time ever that I’ve written something and gone, ‘Man, that is really good.’ Most of the time, I think everything sucks. I don’t know that I would call it a lifesaving moment, but it was really good for me to write something like that not under the influence of anything.”
From there, more things started falling into place. Parker still gets frustrated with the types of songs some country singers release. He thinks they’re writing stereotypical ditties about things country people do and then pandering to audiences. He doesn’t want to be that.
“I just try to kind of take it upon myself to be one of the people who is writing and putting out songs that mean something and make you feel something,” he says. “You know, college kids still listen to ‘Amarillo by Morning.’ Those are the kinds of songs I want to write.”
McCollum got engaged to Hallie Ray Light over the summer, and he says she’s the best motivation to maintain a clean and healthy lifestyle.
“It’s much easier to make good decisions and live the right way when I have her in mind,” he says. “Ever since we got together, my career has taken off tenfold. It’s because I’m focused, healthy and working my butt off. All those things are paying off.”