His career is young. His past is impressive. His future seemingly has plenty more in store. That’s why Texas singer/songwriter Kyle Park, one of the spark plugs on the Southwestern tour circuit, has titled his new album Beggin’ For More.
It’s the fourth album in a self-made career in which Park served as both the artist and the record label. More is the key word in the title. He earned his first No. 1 single in the middle of recording the album, when “The Night Is Young” topped the Texas radio charts, and he naturally heard fans begging for more music.
But it also finds him covering more creative turf. Beggin’ displays an expansive lyrical bent, ranging from the playful Internet-age commentary of “Tagged” to the introspective spirituality of “You Make Me Believe.” Stylistically, Beggin’ contains more traditional country than he’s inserted on an album before, but it also shows him pushing the envelope on several tracks. U2-style guitar sounds and unexpected chord changes populate “The Night Is Young,” and a muscular foundation on “True Love” is part danceable soul music, part Wallflowers’ “One Headlight.”
“I hate to go to a show and the first song sounds like the other songs, and the show just keeps going and seems to flatline,” Park explains. “It’s cool to have different styles of songs. Going back to my first record, I’ve got a Cajun song and a ‘60s song, and all kinds of different grooves. I think that’s key.”
It’s one of many reasons that Park is an artist on the upswing. Through word of mouth built on solid touring, Park has expanded his audience from Texas into the surrounding states and the Midwest. He’s frequently shared stages with the likes of Gary Allan, Jack Ingram and the Eli Young Band. And Park has used every one of those dates to gain more knowledge about his business: what the audience responds to, how to build a compatible tour crew and how to make the economics of the road work.
His seven-year journey has been a slow process by some standards but an appropriate one from Park’s perspective.
“Nothing comes easy,” he asserts. “If it did, I’d be scared of it. There’s something to be said for experience. I know that music isn’t quite like an industrial business, but there’s one way they’re similar. A lot of times the person with the most experience comes out ahead and does a better job.”
With the experience of three previous albums under his belt, Park’s Beggin’ For More demonstrates clear progress in the recording studio. “Bad Timing” and “Like Nobody Will” evince a reedy vulnerability. The title track employs a dogged playfulness. His remake of Ronnie Milsap’s 1982 hit “He’s Got You” shows a reverence for his predecessors. And “The Night Is Young” and “True Love” effectively announced that Park is a commercial force to be reckoned with.
“It’s the kind of song you can learn the chorus and the lyrics by the end of the song,” he says of “The Night Is Young.” “Before it was out, when I watched the fans and crowd, you could see them singing along before it ended. That’s a winner.”
“Winner” is likewise an apt description of Park, who’s been willing to man up in the face of adversity and to gamble on his own abilities in his journey from Austin-area teen to successful musician. He lost his father at age 12, a tough event for any kid, but in the aftermath, Park began toying with the guitar and found something that gave him real purpose. In the beginning, he bashed out chords to hard rock songs by AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Metallica, among others, but Park soon discovered a greater affinity for the kind of music his dad had always played on the radio: George Strait, Waylon Jennings, Mark Chesnutt, Keith Whitley.
One of the other major lessons of Park’s youth was to focus on the positive.
“I was told when I was young that everyone who tells you you can’t make it are probably people who failed,” he notes. “You should talk to people that succeeded and see what you can learn, and that’s what I did. I started getting to know as many people who were good at what they did as I could.”
And Park set out to become one of them, betting on himself at a key juncture in life. After two years of study at Texas State University in San Marcos, he took the money that was supposed to pay for the last half of his education and recorded an album, releasing it on his own record label.
It wasn’t a one-time shot – it was seed money for the future. On the heels of that investment, Park launched his concert career as an opening act for Asleep At The Wheel in Austin during December 2006. He aggressively turned that lone show into a series of bookings, initially in college towns around Texas, then slowly expanding his base to include the Southwest. In the process, he learned his craft as a musician, became a grade-A bandleader and developed an audience big enough that his name is now on the back wall at Billy Bob’s Texas, right alongside Pat Green, Blake Shelton, Alabama, Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw.
The audience has grown hand in hand with Park’s creative abilities. From the outset, his 2005 debut, Big Time, demonstrated his knack for melody and emotional vocal tone. But with each successive project – 2008’s Anywhere In Texas and 2011’s Make Or Break Me – Park has refined his songwriting, applied the knowledge he’s amassed from looking into the eyes of the audience on the live circuit and found a uniquely defined edge to his voice, balancing a Clint Black swagger with an Owl City vulnerability.
It’s a mentality that fits his Texas heritage. Acts such as Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett have built entire careers around an eclectic set of influences that both embraces and expands upon the foundations of country. Not that Texas is the only place to play – Park has widened his geographic range to Chicago and Denver. It’s a familiar growth pattern that often leads a crack Texas act to develop interest in Tennessee, the genre’s acknowledged business center.
Park built his own enterprise brick by brick, playing 100-150 dates annually for seven straight years. He started with a four-piece band, travelling in a pickup truck with their gear crudely piled in the bed.
“All we had was a big cab, two guitar amps and the drums,” he remembers. “We didn’t have any merchandise or microphones or cables or anything. If it rained, we had to pull over and wait. We had no coverage for our stuff, no insurance, no nothing.”
Park did have ambition. After a couple years, he was able to step up to a better truck, then to a 12-passenger van. One by one, he added a merchandise manager, a sound man, a piano player, a road manager and a driver.
“My salaries doubled, our staff has doubled, and the number of miles traveled pretty much doubled as well,” Park says.
With Beggin’ For More, he’s poised to build his influence, too. The title track, “The Night Is Young” and “True Love” all possess a distinct commercialism. “Turn That Crown Upside Down” uses two of country’s classic songwriting tools – wordplay and alcohol – to build three minutes of fun.
But there’s also a deeper thread running through the album. “Tagged” hints at the importance of maintaining character in an era when social media makes it possible to inflate the slightest miscue into a huge debacle. “You Make Me Believe” confirms a classic sense of chivalry and forethought.
That’s appropriate for an artist who’s dedicated to improving with every project, who’s willing to build his touring base one show at a time, who’s insistent on getting the music right. Park had, in fact, planned to get Beggin’ For More into the marketplace around the same time that “The Night Is Young” took off at Texas radio. He couldn’t wait to share the new music with his fans, but there were nuances that gnawed at him. Park waited until he could iron out the issues. His experience has taught him that bright futures are attained by not taking short cuts in the present.
“Once you put out the record, it’s forever,” he says. “I’ll take as much time as I need.”
It’s a display of patience that’s rare in young artists. But artists are rarely as driven, as multi-talented and as self-reliant, as Kyle Park.