Locals might have seen him playing around the Central Oregon scene for years in Precious Byrd and alongside other local bands, but now we're getting a deeper look at Casey Parnell as a solo artist. On July 10, Parnell released his debut solo album, "Badlands." The project is a 10-track mix of rock, pop, country and Americana. The beauty of "Badlands" is that it really highlights Parnell's ability as a songwriter, with catchy hooks and tunes that could easily be the soundtrack to a High Desert summer.
As Parnell tells the Source, the album is designed to guide the listener through a wilderness adventure: perhaps some needed alone time on a hike, or even on a summer's day cruise. He worked on the record in both Central Oregon and Nashville, Tennessee, which was an experience Parnell said he will never forget. Parnell talks about how "Badlands" came together.
Source Weekly: You've been playing around Central Oregon for years. Even though people are familiar with you already, does this album still feel like a new introduction of yourself as a musician?
Casey Parnell: Yes, it sure does. Central Oregon has been so good to me, it's a wonderful home and been an amazing place to play music. Since I've played in a few bands locally for so long, releasing a solo record feels like a rebirth in many ways. I'll still play in those bands, but it was fun to explore my own project in my own way. I spent a lot of time writing and reflecting on what I wanted my own sound to be. You can't help but sort of feel the beautiful landscape of Central Oregon in the music. I landed in a roots rock vein nuanced by country and folk. It really felt like me. I'm so proud of the work and it's been fun to get it out there.
SW: You worked on "Badlands" for over a year. What was the experience like writing and recording this record? And did the pandemic shift your plans of how you released it?
CP: Songwriting has always been a passion of mine, so I wrote most of the record here in Oregon, but I also spent a few months in Nashville at the start of 2020 to pursue writing and to learn. I love a good story, a good concept, and songs that make you feel something. Nashville was a crash course in songwriting and it was amazing, but two months in on my trip a tornado ripped through the city while I was there. I was OK, but many people in East Nashville were not. Homes were destroyed, life taken. Then in my third month there, the pandemic happened. It was just a wild time to be there. When hardship happens like that, art and music are an amazing place to process. Despite those crazy events, I had a great experience and will go back. I can see a life where I go back and forth from Nashville to Bend, writing with and for other artists as well.
WATCH: Casey Parnell talks about how "Badlands" came together.
SW: There are a ton of different genres that shine through on the album. Was there anything new you tried for the record sound-wise that you're proud of or excited about?
CP: Funny, I actually started making a pop record and recorded a full EP before this. The songs were fine, but something shifted in me last year. Blame it on Nashville or the pandemic, but I felt like that batch of songs weren't authentically me. So I switched to a more organic approach. This album has the type of grit and topical richness that I have loved listening to on other albums. It's very much more a good representation of myself.
I love many genres and draw from them. I learned guitar riffs back in the day from bands like Nirvana, but would also sing along to Elvis with my grandparents in the car. On the album you'll hear the roots-rock-leaning "Kerosene Creek," and then a few songs later drop into a much more R&B feeling, like "Bad Advice." It's meant to be a journey.
SW: Love and self-reflection seem to be two of the main themes on the project. What did you enjoy most about tackling those topics and turning them into song?
CP: I've always wanted to make music that makes people roll their windows down, drive through the desert and surrender. I'm inspired by artists like Bruce Springsteen and Brandon Flowers of The Killers. They have a way of painting landscapes with their music. I always remember a song because of how it makes me feel. So I guess I was writing from the heart, being as honest as I could about topics like shame and loneliness, love and loss. Hopefully someone will find themselves somewhere in one of these songs.
Badlands is available on streaming platforms, or fans can pre-order it on vinyl at badlandsgeneralstore.com along with other merch. And yes—Parnell will still be playing in the bands most fans know him for.