Interview with Johnny Stubblefield of Parachute

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This weekend, WQHS chatted with Johnny Stubblefield, longtime drummer of the pop band Parachute. We talked a cappella influences, songwriting, crazy fans, and all about the new album Wide Awake.

Parachute is in town on Monday, March 28, playing Union Transfer. Be sure to come out to their live show, and check out their latest album, Wide Awake, out now!

WQHS: If you had to give out the names of some of your tracks that are representative of your sound- old stuff and off the new album, what would they be?

Johnny Stubblefield: It’s hard to pick. The first song we had as a single – “She Is Love”… we’ve had quite a few arrangements but it’s always been with us as we evolve and we’re working on a new arrangement for this tour to keep it fresh. This newest album we worked with John Fields, and he produced the first of our couple albums so there are definitely songs that are reminiscent of our older stuff – we brought back the gospel choir and there’s a lot of familiar sounds. One of our favorite songs is a song called “Jennie” which could’ve easily come off of the The Way It Was album, it’s very consistent with our sound. But there’s a number of tunes that are different on it.

WQHS: As I understand it, two of you were in an a cappella group in high school. Do you see that experience as having affected your music or how you approach writing and how?

JS: Absolutely- not all of our a cappella careers were as long as Will’s – he even did it in college. In high school we had a group called the Testostatones – we were complete idiots – we did Lion King and stuff. But Will did a lot of arranging for his college a cappella group, The Virginia Gentlemen, and that’s where he met our former guitarist, Nate. So as far as vocal arrangements and song crafting yeah I’d say the a cappella stuff rubbed off a little bit.

WQHS: Please tell me more about the Testostatones.

JS: We named it ourselves and had two rehearsals before the administration frowned on us cause of the name, so sadly we scrapped it after those two rehearsals.

WQHS: You’ve toured with artists such as the Goo Goo Dolls, Kelly Clarkson, The Script, and many others. Do you have a favorite band to tour with?

JS: Yeah absolutely. One of our favorite people we’ve toured with this past year was Matt Kearney from here in Nashville, he’s the perfect match. We were opening for his Just Kids Tour and we’ll maybe go out with him this fall. NEEDTOBREATHE is also another band we love and look up to and we’ve toured with them in the past, and they’re having us back out on the Tour de Compadres tour. I’m giving you secret information here. We’ve toured with bizarre bands, well not bizarre but the billing has been bizarre. We opened for 3 Doors Down – that was awesome, we didn’t know what to expect with those fans but they loved it and we had a great tour. We’ve been lucky to have the joy of being able to do it for so long – we’ve been out for 10 years now.

WQHS: Nate McFarland left the band in May 2014 to pursue an MBA at UVA. Is it hard to make that choice between being artists and having more normal careers?

JS: With Nate and Alex leaving the band a couple years ago it was totally an amicable split. We all are still best friends and the road’s not an easy place to make a living. Those guys wanted to settle down and get a family started and we can’t fault them for that. It just depends on your personality, it’s a full commitment to juggle a rigorous touring schedule. It’s a tough call, but for the three of us we’re just more stoked than ever. We’re super proud of this album and couldn’t be more fired up for where we are in our career, and we’re excited to grow and make more music and reach more people.

WQHS: You’ve toured in huge arena venues and smaller spots too. What kind of performance environment is your favorite?

JS: We always prefer when we’re headlining – we wanna be the rock stars of the show, but we love playing small theaters now. We definitely dream of headlining a big arena – there’s nothing quite like the feeling of plugging-in in an arena, and that’s ideally where we wanna be but for now we really love playing theaters like the House of Blues or Union Transfer-type places. You get better sound, and I enjoy seeing shows myself better at the theaters. It’s hard to connect to everybody in an arena but if you’re in a theater you can see everybody in the back and you can see every person in there and have a chance to make that connection.

WQHS: Your latest album, Wide Awake, just came out earlier this month. What sets it apart from previous albums?

JS: I think just having the experience of making those albums before and when we went in the studio to make Losing Sleep we had no idea what we were doing and never made a real record before. Just honing our craft and Will’s songwriting just keeps improving. It’s at a level now where we feel like we can sustain a career, and our fans are built now. I’d say just honing in our musical abilities and crafts have made us better. And the three of us are pretty confident this is the best album we’ve made. People don’t have to fear a huge change, we still sound like Parachute – expect the organic pop trio you love.

WQHS: How did you come up with the title for your new album?

JS: “Wide Awake” is just something Will mentioned a couple times in the album, and we’ve had Losing Sleep and Overnight and now we’re waking up- we’re Wide Awake. There’s a lot of dark mysterious pop right now, and we love that, but that’s not this album. And I think we love that title just cause it’s explaining what we’re trying to say and paints an overall picture of the album.

WQHS: Can you describe the new album in one adjective?

JS: Sax-alicious.

WQHS: Can you talk about a song on the new album that was inspired by an actual event or person?

JS: I can’t specifically because Will does the songwriting but there is some – his girlfriend actually has a co-write on the album and there is a song entitled with her name but is it a true story or anything like that? I can’t say. Will likes to make up a lot of scenarios but I’m sure there are plenty of songs that he’s lived and that are true experiences.

WQHS: Do you have a favorite live moment?

JS: In our whole career, it was probably our first year out there playing Times Square on New Year’s Eve with Lionel Richie, Taylor Swift and The Jonas Brothers. We played 3 songs and it was sooo cold. The whole stage was a sheet of ice, but it was still such an amazing experience.

WQHS: Do you prefer live stuff and touring or being the studio, and why?

JS: It’s just two different beasts. I feel like as soon as we’re deep in the studio we’re dying to get on the road and play live, and sometimes when we’re out playing live we crave the creative aspects of it. So I think I can safely say for all three of us that we prefer both just the same.

WQHS: Any crazy fan encounters?

JS: Me personally, I got bombarded by some fans in Germany, and it was just like they thought I was Ringo or something. They just attached themselves to me – harmless hugs but they wouldn’t let go. I’m an awkward polite guy and I just couldn’t … I said “please get off” but it got to the point where the tour manager had to come peel them off. And it hasn’t happened to me since but yeah I felt like a Beatle or something.

WQHS: How has the band changed most over the years? Dynamic? Music? Both?

JS: The dynamic is very much the same as when we started – we’re a bunch of goofballs and we’re friends more so than bandmates. So it’s still a lot of goofing off, but we still have the same hard work ethic but I think we’re definitely smarter now. More experienced. But hopefully that would happen with anybody with ten years of experience doing anything.

WQHS: You’ve been through Philly before- any favorite spots?

JS: I mean… I just love seeing music there. Anywhere- the Troc, Electric Factory, man we played North Star back in the day… we’ll do the cheesesteak thing – we still haven’t found out the real best one. We’ve tried them all – Pat’s, Geno’s, and all of that. You can’t get a good cheesesteak outside of Philly

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