The oft-covered “That’s Life” has been given new life this month thanks to a classic take appearing in a new movie and a new rendition arriving as a standalone single.
Frank Sinatra’s hit version from 1966 can be heard in Joker, which arrived in theaters Oct. 4, and a week later, Whigs frontman Parker Gispert’s fresh take was released on Normaltown Records, a subsidiary of New West Records.
Gispert’s “That’s Life” does not appear on his solo debut, 2018’s Sunlight Tonight, but it was while driving to a recording session for that album that the Sinatra version struck a chord with him. After performing “That’s Life” for a while on his solo dates, he hit the studio with Sunlight Tonight producer Emery Dobyns to track the new single.
Gispert recently checked in to discuss his arrangement of “That’s Life” and where things stand regarding a follow-up to Sunlight Tonight and possible Whigs activity in the year ahead.
Medleyville.us: Was there something going on in your life at the time you decided to cover “That’s Life” that triggered the realization that you could relate to the lyrics? Or did the words remind you of something from your past that reconnected with you?
Parker Gispert: “I don’t think it was something as specific as it was just a general perspective I’ve acquired as I’ve gotten a little older and lived more life. I’m still young, but I’m 37, and I’ve lived long enough to see some ups and downs. If you’re up, people praise you, and as weird as it sounds, when you’re down, there are people who get their kicks seeing you down there.
“I liked how the lyric doesn’t let those people keep you down and that it’s not even something worth being mad about. It’s just an indifferent acknowledgement about how people are. Most importantly, I related to ‘each time I find myself flat on my face / I pick myself up and get back in the race.’ After [my band] wasn’t playing as much, I knew that if I was going to start making solo albums that I was going to more or less be starting all over again. I seriously thought about doing something else besides music but ultimately realized that writing music and performing was still was the thing I loved to do the most and that I wanted to keep doing my thing. ‘I thought of quitting but my heart wouldn’t buy it’ was a line I related to.”
Take me through how your arrangement of “That’s Life” came together.
Gispert: “Emery Dobyns produced, recorded and mixed my Sunlight Tonight album, and he also plays keys, bass, organ, guitar or can program drums, etc. I had been performing the song live at my shows for a few months, so when we took it to the studio, I just played the guitar and sang the vocal as I normally would on tour. Emery had the great idea to keep it minimal and not get too carried away instrumentation-wise, so I added another guitar melody in the intro, and he filled out the arrangement with bass and organ. He added drums for the final verse, and I love how he held off on them until I hit my distortion pedal on the guitar track. It really accentuated the trajectory I was trying to express once the song modulates in the final verse.”
Following your performance of “That’s Life” at this year’s South by Southwest, I thought to myself, “That worked out well.” Do you recall the crowd reaction from the first time you performed the song?
Gispert: “I could be wrong, but I want to say the first time I performed it was at a show at the Foundry in Athens, Georgia. The show was celebrating the release of my debut single as a solo artist for ‘Through the Canvas,’ and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t memorized the lyrics and progression completely, so I relied on a music stand onstage so I could read along as I performed. I can’t recall any other show where I’ve had to do that, but it was important for me to play the song that night. I just remember the way I felt singing the final verse as it got more rocking. It felt like the lyrics became my own and not someone else’s. People have always dug it at the shows, and I’m pretty sure they did at that one, too, but it was more about my own feeling while performing it live that made me want to make it a staple of my set.”
How much original material, if any, do you have written for a follow-up to Sunlight Tonight?
Gispert: “It’s hard to say. I write all the time and have written a lot of material since I recorded Sunlight Tonight, although I’m not sure how much of that, if any, I’ll use for a follow-up album. I’m still writing and honing in on what I want to do next artistically. Sunlight Tonight, for instance, takes songs from a specific three-month window of my songwriting. I had written songs before it and I had new songs after it, but I allowed the record to present itself to me, and when it showed its face, it was that three-month period that spoke the loudest.”
The most recent news post on the official Whigs website is from August 2018. Are there plans for any band activity in 2020?
Gispert: “Ha! I know. The whole website is a mess, and we need a new one. I’d like to build a new one on an updated platform like Squarespace. The Whigs don’t have any plans at the moment, and I know that Tim [Deaux] and Julian [Dorio] have different projects they’re involved in, so I’ve just been concentrating on my solo stuff. We did a couple of shows in 2017, a handful in 2018 and three this year. I think it would be fun to make another album and do more shows in the future, but who knows when or if that will happen!”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Parker Gispert on tour (schedule subject to change):
Oct. 17: Isis Music Hall — Asheville, North Carolina
Oct. 19: Nance Life Lounge — Atlanta
Oct. 24: Recover Brands — Charlotte, North Carolina
Oct. 26: Yellow River Jam — Porterdale, Georgia
Nov. 8: Flicker Theatre & Bar — Athens, Georgia
Nov. 22: El-Rocko Lounge — Savannah, Georgia
Nov. 24: Intuition Ale Works — Jacksonville, Florida
Dec. 6: Black Sheep Burrito & Brews — Huntington, West Virginia
Dec. 18: The Basement — Nashville, Tennessee
Dec. 27: Bank St. Bar — New Orleans
Photo by Alexa King