The first thing to strike you about Jesse Parent is the voice. Warm and resonant, it immediately draws you in with its emotional authenticity. It is a voice you can trust. Then there are his well-crafted songs, sporting strong melodies and perceptive lyrics that help illuminate the human condition. Together, these skills mark the Kitchener/Waterloo-based singer/songwriter as a major talent, one to be watched closely.
Jesse's compelling artistry has been showcased on two full-length albums to date, 2015's About Time and 2016's Live At The Schoolhouse Theatre. Recorded with an ace grouping of local musicians, the live album reprised some of the material from About Time plus new material and other songs from a now extensive catalogue.
Parent has drawn upon a wide array of musical elements in forging his own sound. He explains that "the music I release is a combination of folk, rock, country and blues, because I enjoy all sorts of genres and my influences have always been varied. After spending time in Nashville, people down there have termed me an Americana artist, and I'm comfortable with that label."
Jesse notes that "there are musicians I love the most, but I don't necessarily sound like them. Those who have inspired me most over the years include Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul Simon and Led Zeppelin, through to more contemporary artists like Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, Ray Lamontagne and Sturgill Simpson, but I also listen to Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, and Sam Cooke.”
Parent's deep love of music goes back a very long way. "I can't remember a time in my life where I wasn't at least singing," he recalls. "I was in Kindermusik, a program where you learn about rhythm and singing, and I was in choirs all through elementary school. I went to a special arts high school, with a separate arts program where I did music and drama. By then I had also got my grade 6 in piano through private lessons.”
"During that time, I played jazz saxophone and was a singer, but at 14 I noticed all the cool guys had guitars! It was my friends playing guitars in hallway at recess who got all the attention." Sax and piano were put on the back burner, and Jesse soon developed the formidable guitar skills that proved an invaluable asset as his musical career developed.
He notes that in high school "I was rather a lone wolf as my other guitar-playing buddies had already formed bands, and that set me on the path as more of a solo singer/songwriter type. I was in my first real group at 18, a cover band where I sang and played guitar."
The songwriting came a little later, Jesse explains. "It was towards the end of my college years, at 22, that I started writing my own songs. I then realized 'that's it, this is what I want to do.' Since then, it has been a decade of polishing my craft, and improving as a songwriter and performer."
Parent currently performs both solo and with his Trio. He has years of extensive gigging under his belt, regularly playing a circuit of venues in the Kitchener/Waterloo, Guelph and Stratford area. He has played such notable Toronto venues as the Horseshoe Tavern and Cameron House, toured the East Coast, and played shows in Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Sharing a bill with noted songsmith Donovan Woods at the Bayfield Town Hall has been a career highlight.
Multiple trips to the songwriting hub of Nashville helped Jesse sharpen his compositional chops. "I joined the Nashville Songwriters Association a couple of years ago," he says. "It was in my head to just write songs for other people, but I soon realized that down there they want a certain formulaic song. I need music with conflict and pain, not just happy party songs."
" I went down there six times within 18 months and I did learn a lot. I made some friends and a couple of publishing connections there. That experience reignited my passion for writing and recording my own music for my own love of it."
Parent is currently excited about recently-written new material expected to find a home on a new album slated for the new year. "I have 10 tracks ready to record that will be the next step in finalizing my sound. I will likely record with the Trio I play with now, plus some side musicians. I see the next album as being more on the electric guitar side of Americana, involving horns, more lead guitar, and more backing vocals."
Jesse laughingly notes that, stylistically, "part of me wants to be Harvest-era Neil Young and another part of me wants to be Neil Young and Crazy Horse! I love the soft and soulful singer/songwriter side, but I like to rock out too. My single earlier this year, 'Today,' is the first electric guitar solo I've played on a record, so that's definitely a change in direction there."
The beautifully moving "Today" is a song Parent wrote for his own wedding. "I'm so proud of that, and it's as close to the vest as anything I've written," he says of a tune that has the potential to become a classic wedding song, given lines like "I make this promise to you, today all our struggles fade away."
Jesse explains that much of his material features " my unique perspective on personal experiences. That is what every songwriter has, their individual experience. Everyone falls in love, has their heart broken, has money troubles etc. What is interesting is my unique take on it, and hopefully people connect with it."
Parent excels at writing narrative songs too, like the colourful storytelling of "Wanted In Chicago," a highlight track on both "About Time" and the live album. "Lonely Gunman," another evocative story song that premiered on Live at The Schoolhouse Theatre, was used in the soundtrack for a 2015 feature film, Man Vs.
Jesse is also skilled in using geographic locations to help set a song's mood, as on "Rainy Day in Moncton" and "Bon Echo," both featured on the live record. Based on his own experience camping at the park over the years, "Bon Echo" has had a real impact. Ontario Parks had the music video linked to their website for the entire summer of 2015, and Jesse performed the song at their 50th anniversary celebration that same summer.
To Parent, songwriting "is often a matter of putting two pieces together. On one end are lyric ideas that come into my head. Sometimes that's in traffic, and I'll write them down or leave myself a voice-mail. Then on guitar I'll come up with some melody and chord change ideas, and then it's a matter of connecting those things."
The life of a fully independent artist isn't an easy one, but Jesse Parent's passion for music still burns bright. "I can't just put it down, it's literally as much a part of me as my right leg," he stresses.
"As a human, I go for growth. I want to be improving, learning, growing in as many aspects of my life as possible, including music."
Following his artistic evolution promises to be a richly rewarding experience.
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