A part of Parachute singer Will Anderson’s heart still belongs in Charlottesville.
He’s since moved to San Francisco, where he sketched songs for the band’s new self-titled album, but his hometown and alma mater were calling amid the University of Virginia’s championship run and before a tour that includes Tuesday’s stop at the Jefferson Theater.
But he has a problem: he was going to a wedding at the same time as the Cavaliers’ eventual Final Four victory over Auburn. He said, though, that his wife was all right with him leaving if the game was good. (It was.)
“She was like, ‘Literally, if it was anything else, I would never do it,’” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my god,’ that’s how big a fan I am. It’s like everything stops when a game’s on, every single game of the regular season. My parents bought season tickets since we were young. I told her, when UVa beat Purdue and Duke lost, I was like, ‘I gotta be honest, this is up there with my wedding day. This is genuinely one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life.’”
(One can only imagine where UVa’s national championship ranks, though a Facebook video of Anderson shouting at his TV gives a pretty good idea.)
Charlottesville is also where he met some of the most important people who shaped his future. Parachute, now made up of Anderson, drummer Johnny Stubblefield and keyboardist and saxophonist Christopher “Kit” French, formed at Charlottesville High School more than a decade ago as Sparky’s Flaw, performing in Battle of the Bands and then shows in Virginia and across the East Coast.
“It was so great to us that we never thought about stopping … it was like there was always a next step,” Anderson said.
Another Charlottesville icon, The Dave Matthews Band, provided a blueprint for the pop-rock band to break out, from taking the same path through local venues to staying cool while scoring radio hits.
“It was like, we sucked as musicians, those guys were prodigies, we were this scrappy group of high-schoolers … it was just so obvious we weren’t ever going to be Dave Matthews Band,” he said. “But to us, just the idea of them traveling around in a bus together, playing music every night — it’s like, that’s it. That’s all we want to do, that sounds amazing.”
“For a bunch of high-schoolers, what more could you want, to do what they’re doing?” he said. “Those guys went to our high school; we got the same manager as them coming out of college. Even through the years, it was like we were guided by the touchstones they had put down.”
That path included rehearsals at the Jefferson before its renovation.
“No AC and no heat, so we used to sit on that stage, bundled up, practicing,” Anderson recalled. “So when we actually play a show there … it’s always just such a pleasure.”
Now gearing up to promote Parachute’s fifth album, out May 10, Anderson says the band is at the point where the musicians have formed a “weirdly symbiotic mind-meld,” especially when they got in the studio with Grammy-winning producer Jacquire King.
“The four of us just for some reason didn’t really need to say too much or argue too much,” Anderson said. “It was really like everyone was excited about what everyone was doing and kind of understood what we were going for in a way that I don’t think we really had before, definitely not on the last album.”
Anderson’s move to California about a year and a half ago also isolated him from his Nashville music community that influenced past efforts, allowing him to write songs “like I used to back in my parents’ house. … This one was really me in my apartment in San Francisco, just kind of writing what I felt like writing, versus feeling like I needed to impress anybody.”
The move also made it a necessity to record with purpose: with Stubblefield in Richmond and French in Los Angeles, figuring things out and ruling out bad ideas would have just been too expensive once they arrived in Nashville to record.
“Once we got in the studio, it was great, really fast, really smooth,” Anderson recalled. “Jacquire was very much on board with what we were trying to do. It felt really good. It was fun, it was a fun process. … It just felt like we gotten all those weird things out our system while being 2,000 miles apart.”
The songs Anderson brought to the table cover familiar territory for Parachute, though writing about love can be complicated after marriage. This wasn’t a problem, he said, because the support from his wife, professional poet and fellow UVa graduate Courtney Kampa, allowed him to “try to figure out how to express a certain emotion that might be autobiographical or not.”
“She is so understanding of the writer’s mindset,” he said, “that I think she really pushed me — ‘Hey, you don’t have to just write about I’m married, I’m married, I’m married or I’m happy, happy, happy, happy.’ It was really freeing in that sense, even more so than when I dated people in the past because it was more secure. … She’s always been the kind of person that I was trying to impress, anyway.”
While it’s hard to gauge how new songs will be received before a tour and an album release, Anderson says the band tends to get excited about at least one song that sometimes “no one else cares about at all, like fans, management, label.”
“So I don’t know if that’s the case with this one, but there’s a song on our new album, ‘Dance Around It,’ that I felt like we were just over the moon about,” he explained. “… It’s like us in a nutshell, a sad song that feels like a happy song. It’s a devastating lyric in a way that was really personal to me, really, viscerally personal.
“It was originally this sort of really sad song, really morose-sounding recording, and then we pumped it up and literally just made it a dance song. We’re just excited by the juxtaposition. For me, I like the lyric a lot, and then I think the three of us as a whole like the possibility of playing it live and imagining a crowd singing along with it. So hopefully it’s not a dud, but we’ll see,” he said with a laugh.
At the end of the day, though, Anderson says Parachute has found success for so long thanks to a “really great, really loyal core fanbase.”
“In the big scheme of things,” he said, “I think when you can write a song that connects and especially having that extra added oomph of saying, ‘hey, these people are gonna listen to it and really like it and tell their friends’ — that has been our sort of trump card that I think is a really nice luxury to have in today’s day and age, because it’s such a rare thing that people stick with somebody for that long, you know, so we know how lucky we are in that regard. But I think that’s like the only way we know how to do it, just make sure that they’re excited about it.”