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Charlie Parr talks music, mental health in new video

The Duluth singer-songwriter stars in the first episode of the "Dissonance Sessions" series of videos featuring conversations and performances.

Interior of a cabin-like recording studio, with a white man and white woman sitting on chairs against the wall while two white men position cameras and lights to capture the conversation.
Charlie Parr, center, in conversation with Sarah Souder Johnson, right, during the filming of the inaugural "Dissonance Sessions" video at the Chubby Mammal studio in St. Paul on Jan. 24.
Contributed / Dissonance
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DULUTH — Local singer-songwriter Charlie Parr is the guest on the first episode of "Dissonance Sessions," a video series described as "part therapy session, part recording session."

The series is produced by Dissonance, a nonprofit organization that grew out of a program launched at St. Paul's since-shuttered McNally Smith College of Music in 2012. With "a mission of contributing to a healthier environment in the arts community," according to its website, Dissonance facilitates conversations about mental health and wellness.

In the new video, published Monday, Parr plays some of his recent original songs and speaks at length with host Sarah Souder Johnson, who is a mental health therapist. Parr has been open about his longtime struggle with depression, which he discusses further in the Dissonance video.

"I don't know what it looks like from outside," he says about experiencing episodes of depression. "From inside, you can't talk to anybody. You just can't. ... That energy's not there. There's this weird kind of curtain of fog or haze all around you, all the time."

While Parr describes music as a constant in his life, he doesn't offer any facile assurances about art's power to heal wounds or resolve personal challenges. Reflecting on the "darkness" of the songs on his 2021 album, "Last of the Better Days Ahead," Parr observes: "Most of my favorite music is darker, kind of somber music."

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Parr also describes the ongoing process of mourning his father, who died in 1995, and the challenges of being a parent himself. "Being a parent is hard," he says. "You don't get another chance to fix it. You go through it, struggle with it, and maybe fail at it more than not."

That observation, Parr says, led to his pained, ambivalent song, "Bed of Wasps," which he performs in a session captured last January at St. Paul's Chubby Mammal recording studio. The Dissonance video additionally includes footage from Parr's January residency at the Turf Club, also in St. Paul.

"Through these conversations," said Souder in a news release announcing the video series, "we want to show that it’s OK to talk about struggling with mental health or addiction, and that it’s also OK — and very possible — to pursue wellness and recovery."

"Dissonance Sessions" were conceived by Jason Chaffee, a Minneapolis musician and filmmaker, who directs each episode. Forthcoming episodes will feature artists including Parr's fellow Minnesotans Chastity Brown and Katy Vernon, according to the news release.

For more information on Dissonance and the new video series, which is free to watch via YouTube, see dissonance.org. Parr is on a European concert tour that will continue through May 29. For more information on the artist, see charlieparr.com.

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Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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