Country singer Parker McCollum epitomizes cowboy swagger. His usual white tee, gold chain, and heavily starched jeans are as much of a uniform as Orville Peck’s mask of fringe. Heck, he even has a whole album, Gold Chain Cowboy, dedicated to the classic look. It’s the cowboy version of effortless chic. 

McCollum says his fashion sense is a tribute to MTV Cribs and Pure Country, the shows he spent his youth watching in Conroe, north of Houston. “I grew up cowboying a lot from my granddad but also, I wanted to be a country singer and have a big ranch, have a bunch of cars, and maybe some jewelry and some fly stuff like that,” McCollum says. The “weird hybrid mix of the two” has worked for many of his country music peers before, from icons such as George Strait to newcomers like Randall King.

Many of the country chart-topping artists as of late, including McCollum, have followed a dive bar and honky-tonk to country music fame pipeline. I first heard his 2015 debut album, The Limestone Kid, in the dingiest but most quintessentially Texan music establishments across the state. The album showed off his singing chops, McCollum’s crooning voice keeping him afloat. Though he has ventured off and tried new styles, he teases that his upcoming music may return to the poetic lyrics of his early career. 

The 31-year-old has now racked up four studio albums, and has spent this year touring across the country for his Burn It Down tour. He’s also set to headline the ACM Lifting Lives concert, which raises money for programs such as music therapy, before the 59th annual Academy Country Music Awards in Frisco, where he is nominated for both Single of the Year and Visual Media of the Year for “Burn It Down.” Later this summer, McCollum will take on one of his biggest nights yet: opening for George Strait’s “The King of Kyle Field” show. The concert, held at Texas A&M’s stadium, will be Strait’s only performance in Texas this year. 

With all of these milestones in the queue—and a new baby on the way—McCollum seems focused on the future. Even via Zoom, his excitement was tangible. We caught up with him to get the 411 on his fashion favorites, impending fatherhood, and his songwriting process. 

Texas Monthly: How has touring been the past few weeks? 

Parker McCollum: We had this past weekend off which was nice. But it’s been crazy good. It’s our first year really primarily playing arenas all through the winter and spring so that was pretty fun. A lot of them are sold out. It keeps getting bigger and better every year. I’m blessed. I’m sure this summer is going to be just as good as any other.

TM: Let’s talk about fashion, and more specifically, your unofficially official uniform: white tee, jeans. Do you have a favorite pair? 

I kept my jeans a secret for a long time. A few years ago, these kids traveled to Chicago from Texas or Louisiana or somewhere down here, to see us play the Windy City Smokeout. Stood there all day, got front-row pit tickets, and took a video when I bent down on the stage to take somebody’s phone. They took a video of the tag on the back of my jeans and said, “We finally figured out what Parker McCollum’s jeans are,” which was kind of funny. They were Levi’s 501s. 

I’m built very long and very skinny so I wear 34/36, which is a strange jeans size. It’s kind of hard to find all the time. I’ve recently switched to Cinch jeans. I love ’em. They’re way easier to maneuver in than the Levi’s were for how I’m built. I get the dry cleaners to put as much starch in them as they possibly can. My crew kind of laughs at me. Sometimes they’ll hear me in a dressing room before the show, and they don’t even have to be sitting in the room. They know if I’m getting show ready because they can hear those jeans open up. 

 A go-to shirt?

 There’s not really a go-to. Sometimes I wear Cuts, sometimes they’re BYLT. I haven’t really been rocking the plain tees lately. A lot of the time, I’m running out of the door on Thursday morning and I’m about to fly out to my bus, and I just grab a stack of T-shirts and I’ll just make it work.

I feel like I’m a professional traveler, but somehow I’m still not a professional packer. I used to play 150-plus shows a year, and so I really was like, “Man, if I can find a way to rock a black and white T-shirt, that just eliminates so much time and thinking on what I need to bring on the road.” I try to mix it up. I’m sure it gets boring. People are like, “Please wear something else.” But, you know, George [Strait] has been wearing the same thing for 15 years. I don’t have near the style that he does, and I’m not near as put together as he is, but it’s kind of that same idea. Simple.

Tell me the story behind your gold chains. 

When I was a kid, I really wanted a gold chain and I couldn’t afford it. I went to Walmart one day. This is a true story—it’s kind of embarrassing. They were $7 or $8 or something. It’s fake gold chains, but they looked pretty legit. If you would go swimming in the pool, it would come off and it’d be kind of silver, so you’d have to be careful about that around the ladies back then. 

But I would wear a fake gold chain. It sounds dumb, but it really worked for me. It was kind of an incentive and a reminder to just always work hard and maybe you could be successful one day and make enough money to buy a real one. The second that I could, I went to the jewelry store and I bought a real one. 

You’ve got the ACM Awards coming up. Congrats on Single of the Year and Visual Media of the Year. What are you proud of most about “Burn It Down”? 

I get really bored with what I do. It’s part of the reason that people are always asking about The Limestone Kid. When will that sound come back? I don’t know if that sound will ever exactly come back. I’ve been trying to get back there as a songwriter, and just try to write songs from that place again as close as I think I’ll ever get. 

I write a whole record and sit there and truly, sincerely think that I’m just not talented, not good, nothing that I write is good. Not a good singer, not a good performer. All these negative thoughts, and it really pushes me to sit down and just try something different. “Burn It Down” was the best effort I thought I’d had at that. I think it’s a well-written song. I think it does work on country radio, which, it’s hard to be poetic and be on country radio nowadays. There’s keywords that a lot of songs on country radio have and I’ve always tried to avoid those. If I can step outside of the box and rock out a little bit and have something that’s a little more entertaining than [a song off 2017 album Probably Wrong] “Hell Of A Year,” then I kind of gravitate towards it naturally. It’s like I’m thirsty for it. I want to hear myself do something different. I want to prove to myself that I can get outside of my box. That’s really what I was most proud of when it came to “Burn It Down.”

You recently mentioned on social media that it’s been a long time since you’ve been in the songwriting groove. Is there something you do or seek out to get out of a rut? 

Not really. I feel like I’m in a rut 90 percent of the time and then 10 percent of the time, I’m not and that’s when I just crank out songs. It was probably April [or March] of last year when I wrote “Burn It Down” and I didn’t have another song ’til January. I just didn’t even try. The Limestone Kid, Probably Wrong, Gold Chain Cowboy, Never Enough, all the same thing. . .  I only write songs when the song finds me. A buddy of mine, Corby Schaub, told me a long, long time ago when I was a kid. . . we were talking about Walt Wilkins and he said, ‘Man, Walt’s just got this way of never forcing it.’ That really struck a chord with me years ago. I’ve never forced it. I feel like in doing so, I’ve maybe missed the mark on a couple songs on some of these records. For the most part, it’s worked really well for me for a long time now. I play guitar all the time, and I’ll noodle a little bit and make up some melody or something. I was doing that before I got on this interview, and I was like, it’s not there today.  Maybe this evening, maybe tomorrow morning. It’s a scary way to run your entire career when it’s completely dependent on whether you write more good songs or not. But I’ve always just kind of trusted it. 

Congratulations on the baby news! What excites you most about becoming a father? 

I have the greatest dad in the world. He’s one of my best friends. I really look forward to kind of passing that on. I take a lot of pride in my mom’s side of the family, in my dad’s side of the family, and coming from who I come from and where I come from, and just passing that down. The world today, more than ever, needs a generation of really, really well-raised, well-mannered, hardworking, respectful young men. The world could use that more than ever right now. Just a solid generation of young men, and young women, too.