He's a different kind of instrumental artist - mature, polished and humble. With his new radio single ‘Smooth Move Samba' running up the charts, Steve Parisien is in a unique position to continue to advance the genre.
Generally speaking, instrumental musicians are highly dependent on classical training and melodic instincts to succeed in the market, and Steve Parisien is well-positioned to excel in this regard. Perhaps that's why critics had this to say about the instrumental artist's award-winning guitar work: ‘Steve Parisien’s open and veracious Latin Jazz instrumental transports us to the center of a lively village dancing around his deft guitar performance.’ Now that his new radio single ‘Smooth Move Samba’ is gaining ground on radio, it's clear that we'll be hearing a lot more of him. Reporter Lily Clark recently caught up with Steve Parisien to learn more about this intriguing instrumental artist and what inspires him to create exceptional music.
LILY: Let's just get this out in the open- What is the craziest thing that has happened to you in your music career?
STEVE PARISIEN: I think probably the craziest or weirdest thing that just happened to pop into my head, happened quite a few years ago when I was young and in my playing days. I was performing a few pieces in a talent show on a local T.V. station. When I finished performing, I was exiting the stage when I was intercepted by parents with a young child. They told me that their little boy was, in their mind, the next child star and had an absolutely lovely voice. They asked if I would mind backing their protégé with my guitar to which I replied ‘no problem, I’d love to.’ I can’t remember what song he wanted to sing but it was a popular tune, and after finding out what key he was comfortable with, we had a basic arrangement down. Now I have to mention here that he didn’t know what I meant when I asked what key he preferred, which had me somewhat concerned. Anyway, it came time to go in front of the camera with a live audience, and of course I was wondering how nervous he was. Because he was young, I don’t think it had all really sunk in, and he appeared to be quite fine. What wasn’t fine was the very thing I was somewhat concerned with, and that was the key he was supposed to be comfortable with. During the performance he demonstrated the fact that he was totally tone deaf and changed key at least three times throughout the song. Good friends of mine were in the audience and saw my facial expressions on the screen off stage while I was playing, and said that I had a look of complete bewilderment, as well as a few other entertaining looks, and probably stole the show. Needless to say, after the performance the parents did not have positive things to say about my participation in this adventure, and that I had quite possibly ruined any possibility of a career in performing for their son. My friends were standing behind them while I was being chewed out, and they were almost in stitches from laughing so hard, and I still had that look of bewilderment. Bizarre!
LILY: Your song ’Smooth Move Samba' is receiving a positive listener response on radio. What was your initial reaction when you first heard your song playing on radio?
STEVE PARISIEN: I’ve had my music in the past aired on the radio worldwide and had a good feeling about ‘Smooth Move Samba’ doing well. When I wrote it, it just felt good. Here’s the weird thing, I’ve never heard any of my tunes on the radio, regardless of the fact that one of my pieces, ‘Another Gray Day’ (which was co-written with Laurel Moore from our ‘Shadows of Light’ album), had twice become the #1 hit song in 2015 and that ‘After All Those Years’ (which won an Akademia Award), also earned a #1 hit song award. You may find this odd, but I really am not inclined to hear myself on the airwaves because I’ll probably tear it apart thinking I could have done better in some section of the song. However, I’ve had friends as far away as Australia, phone or Skype me saying they’ve heard my stuff, and I think that is really cool. I always enjoy when other people listen and like what they hear. What I also think would be cool is if some other artist decided to perform one of my tunes with their own arrangement. Then I would listen because in my opinion, that’s what music is all about.
LILY: What was the inspiration behind your debut radio single?
STEVE PARISIEN: What inspired me to write this tune is probably the same thing that inspired me to write other tunes I’ve done with that Latin edge to it. Every year my wife and I head down to Puerto Vallarta for a month or so. It turns out that I have a cousin who lives in that area, and my wife and I have made good friends with some of the locals. One of them is a wonderful guitarist by the name of Willow Brizzio and his wife, Beverly, has one heck of a wonderful singing voice. She has a voice that reminds me of Billie Holiday, really cool. Anyway, while down there and performing or hanging out with the abundance of great musicians, the rhythms and sounds rub off on me. I end up with an assortment of ideas that I’ll record on my tablet so that when I return, I can start writing. Those Latin sounds stick with me for several months, and are reflected in my music. Then my style changes as we get into the Fall season. When we go back down to P.V. in the winter, it’s like the cycle starts over again. It really shows you how the environment around you very much influences an artist’s thoughts.
LILY: It is often said that great art arises from difficult experience. Is there something in your life experience thus far that you would describe as the ‘catalyst’ or ‘fuel’ for your desire to create music?
STEVE PARISIEN: I’m going to tell you a story of an experience that probably changed my whole musical outlook. My father owned a music store, so I had the good fortune of learning all sorts of different instruments. I started learning the piano at the age of five and from there, as my father’s business expanded to include organs, I started learning that instrument to give myself a bit of relief from the piano (which I probably hated because of the strictness of the teaching methods back then with classical music). Anyway, I seemed to have picked up on the organ quite quickly and my dad could see my progress. He decided that I would be a great marketing tool to sell organs and had me playing at jamborees, fairs, etc. It was one of those ‘if this child could play, so can you’ things. One particular day, my dad had me come along with him to a convent to play an organ that he had sold to them. When we got there, he had me sit down at the machine, which was absolutely huge. This unit had more buttons and tabs, with a full pedal keyboard and lots of lights, than I had ever seen. I was never one to be overwhelmed and wasn’t about to start, so I looked it over and figured it out while my dad was looking for the Mother Superior. When he returned with her and several nuns, he told me to start playing. They all looked at me and said, ‘What a cute little boy’ (I was eight or nine at the time), and were eagerly waiting for me to perform. Shortly before that particular time, the movie ‘Sound of Music’ was released and I decided to play one of the songs from that. I started to play and don’t think I was more than four or five measures in when the next thing I knew, all these nuns started to sing with me in perfect harmony. They knew the words and you’d think they were the soundtrack to the movie. They were just downright good. As I was playing, I was taken off guard but kept my composure and thought to myself ‘so this is what music is all about’ and never ever wanted to lose that feeling as long as I lived. So that above all, and the fact that I was quite young, is the one thing that motivated me to do what I do. It’s not about me writing and performing, it’s about everyone else being a part of it.
LILY: How would you characterize yourself as an artist/musician? (Ex. Down-to-earth, serious, fun-loving, complicated…)
STEVE PARISIEN: I characterize myself as an easy going writer who takes it one stride at a time. I think one has to be in that right state of mind, which is something you can't force if you want to have that sense of self-satisfaction. When it comes to performing, I think I take it more seriously because I want the audience to capture as much of what I put into the performance as I can. At the same time, the spontaneity has to be there so that the soul of your performance reaches the listener.
LILY: What has your experience been like working with the other people on your team?
STEVE PARISIEN: I’ve had the good fortune of having great experiences working with other artists. One who certainly stands out and who I'm still continuing to work with on other projects, is Laurel Moore, a wonderful singer and musician. A couple of years ago she contacted me through one of my music sites and expressed much fondness for my work. To make a long story short, she wrote lyrics to some of my tunes and eventually we produced an album, ‘Shadows of Light,’ which was released in the summer of 2014. A few months later, it won an Akademia Award for Best Jazz Album. Here’s the cool thing: although she’s originally from England, she lives with her husband in Qatar because of his work with a university there. We recorded, produced, and won an award for this album but never met. This became a story with Marquix Magazine a month or so later, and was syndicated worldwide based on the fact that this had never been accomplished before. Typically to get a single or album released and nominated, let alone win an award, there is a personal one on one rapport so that the artists can get a ‘feel’ of each other’s artist ‘passage,’ so to speak. This didn’t even enter our minds when we had released this, and certainly took us by surprise realizing that we probably set a new benchmark in the music industry. In June of this year we received an Outstanding Achievement Award for over a million views of this story. That was cool.
LILY: Did you come from a musical background? Are there other musicians in your family?
STEVE PARISIEN: As mentioned earlier, I come from a musical family. Although I learned piano through the Royal Conservatory, I really learned how to apply those musical tools to other songs and create my own arrangements from my dad. He’s the one that recognized my ability and nurtured it, and I came to realize this later as I was performing.
LILY: What do you find most rewarding about being an artist? What do you find most challenging?
STEVE PARISIEN: The most rewarding thing for me is hearing another artist take one of my tunes, or a lot of my tunes for that fact, and perform them. Even if it’s in a style I would never have thought of, the fact that there was something in my work that got their attention, is a great ride for me. The challenge, of course, is getting artists or publishers and producers to listen. At this point I have several artists writing lyrics to a particular piece I’ve released as an instrumental, ‘A Strangle Hold on Me,’ which I think will be quite exciting. You never know what they’ll come up with.
LILY: Who are your role models in music?
STEVE PARISIEN: Because I started with piano and a lot of my writing is influenced with that piano approach in my head, some of the musicians that I listen to a lot are artists such as Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and the list goes on. However, because the guitar is the instrument that I’m most connected with, my playing was very much influenced by Chet Atkins, Lenny Breau, Joe Pass, Jerry Reed, etc. Quite a mix there, wouldn’t you say? However, the combination of all these I think is reflected in how I play. People seem to like it, which is great.
LILY: Describe your best or most memorable performance.
STEVE PARISIEN: My most memorable performance, and although I’ve had standing ovations on two different occasions, is still the story I’ve mentioned earlier. Performing with the nuns is my benchmark for an unforgettable experience and somehow I don’t think that’ll be topped. Although you never know what happens down the road.
LILY: What advice would you give to young, aspiring artists out there who are unsure and need guidance?
STEVE PARISIEN: My advice for young aspiring artists out there might be the usual advice you hear which is to follow your dream and don’t give up. Although that is very important to remember, my advice would also be to write and/or perform music that best connects with you. Your inner soul of creativity will best be reflected in your final product of music. If you write stuff that sells because the market dictates that’s where the money is, go for it if that’s what’s important to you. But sometimes you have to draw the line and ask yourself the question, where do you want to go with your music, and more so, what will give you the most self-satisfaction? Typically, and often enough, it’s the route that results in less financial income; which is hard to accomplish in this business no matter which end you approach it from. Stick with it and have fun, life’s too short.
LILY: What's next for you as an artist? Is there a new single in the works? If so, what can you tell us about it?
STEVE PARISIEN: At this moment I don’t have anything as far as new material goes, but that could change in a heartbeat. However, there are a few irons in the fire which include, and as mentioned earlier, working with Laurel on some tunes and making future plans for us to perform as a duo out there on the globe. That’s probably a year down the road. Also as mentioned earlier, there are a few artists that are working on lyrics to one of my tunes and I am hoping this might expand into other songs. The one other thing that has come about is a wonderful singer from Brazil, Geiza Fernandez, who has an absolutely wonderful voice, has expressed interest in my Latin influenced songs. Looking forward to seeing what comes of that.
LILY: I can't wait to see what comes of it all. Thank you so much for sharing such wonderful stories and insights into yourself as an artist. I wish you continued success in your career.
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