Dropping in: Parachute aims for the top of the pop chart

Local band turned pop sensation, Parachute (Johnny Stubblefield, Will Anderson and Kit French) kicks off a tour for its fourth album, Wide Awake, at the Jefferson on Saturday. Photo: Publicity photo Local band turned pop sensation, Parachute (Johnny Stubblefield, Will Anderson and Kit French) kicks off a tour for its fourth album, Wide Awake, at the Jefferson on Saturday. Photo: Publicity photo

Will Anderson says his Parachute bandmates like cool music. Him? Not so much.

“I’m so fascinated with pop music,” Anderson says. “It’s always been my obsession. I’m sure people get tired of it—my poor friends always have to hear about it. And I’m talking about like ’NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys.”

And so it goes that Anderson, a blue-eyed local boy and UVA alum, has on more than one occasion piloted his unapologetic pop band into the Billboard Hot 100. Now jumping in with Wide Awake, its fourth full-length studio album, Parachute will open its 2016 headlining tour with a March 26 show at The Jefferson Theater.

Anderson assures hometown fans they’ll hear a mix of old and new at the Jeff show, but the onstage lineup will skew new. Parachute has had its share of comings and goings over the years, and the band’s down to just three core members—Kit French on keyboards, vocals and horns and Johnny Stubblefield behind the drum kit, along with Anderson on lead vocals, guitar and piano.

But Anderson says the change has been good—the band is more itself now than ever.

“It’s the most accurate representation of the sound we always hear in our heads,” he says. “The three of us were on the same page with the sound we were going for—a shameless, organic pop record. For the first time ever, nobody in the room had a second thought about whether it was cool.”

For this tour, Jonathan Soderholm will take up guitar duties, and Alex Edwards will play bass. The band has gone back to the producer it used on the first two albums, John Fields, to dial in the new sound, Anderson says.

But the photogenic frontman admits fans won’t necessarily hear a pronounced change in Parachute’s sound on the new record or in concert.

“It’s really not like a huge departure,” he says. “This is just what we have been trying to do. With the other records, we always thought, ‘If only we had done this or that.’”

According to Anderson, starting the tour in Charlottesville is important not only because he calls it home, but because it’s the type of town that allows a band like Parachute to thrive. He recalls when the group was coming up, he and his mates never felt as though the “cooler” acts looked down on them.

What resulted was a band with top-40 polish and a blue-collar work ethic.

“I don’t say this lightly—Charlottesville really is an amazing scene. We were a weird fish out of water, earnest and sort of overeager,” Anderson says. “If we had been an annoying overeager pop band in any other city, I think we would have been completely blackballed. In Charlottesville, it was the opposite.”

For locals who’ve somehow missed the rise of arguably C’ville’s second most successful band, here’s the story of Parachute in a nutshell: Anderson and Stubblefield meet at Charlottesville High School and start a band. French and Alex Hargrave join. The group blossoms at UVA, also adding Nate McFarland to the mix. The band signs to a label and releases Losing Sleep in 2009. The song “She is Love” blows up. It charts as high as 66, is featured on iTunes and finds its way into a Nivea commercial.

The rest would more or less be history, if not for the fact it all happened just more than a half decade ago. Parachute’s next two LPs, The Way It Was and Overnight, both charted higher than Losing Sleep. Wide Awake, released earlier this month, could very well be the most popular effort yet—the group won’t release a single from it until after the support tour.

There have been bumps along the way. Bassist Hargrave, guitarist McFarland and several other contributors have left the band for other pursuits.

“Creatively, it’s actually gotten easier,” Anderson says. “But personality-wise you don’t realize there is an equilibrium. The hardest part was rebalancing the equilibrium, rather than between the five of us, to the three of us. There have been people in the band we didn’t see eye-to-eye with creatively. Even Nate would admit that.”

There’s tension in the creative process on any record, Anderson says. But at the end of the day, he’s a “pop guy that loves pop music and wants to feel good,” so the breakups and dissolutions have been pretty tame.

Which brings Parachute to where it is today: A pop-rock outfit fronted by a good- looking guy who has a knack for crafting a few radio-ready ditties once every couple of years. The only question is, how long can that formula work?

“There are always younger dudes. Even from the time we got out of college there were dudes that were 16,” Anderson says. “Luckily I think our fan base has latched onto the songs and then us as a unit. It sounds so dumb, but it’s about the music. The difference between a band like ours and one that’s personality driven is people don’t really know who we are. And that’s much more sustainable.”

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