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Chasing a musical dream that won't quit

Local musician Jeremy Parnell talks about navigating goals when life—and Whistler fun—gets in the way



Jeremy Parnell's ultimate career ambition might be to make a full-time living as a musician, but back when he was a child, music served a different purpose.

"I was isolated as a little kid, so I felt I identified more with the musicians on records than real people," the Whistlerite says.

By "isolated" he means physically—as in rural Ontario "in the middle of a whole bunch of fields and forests"—and, later, culturally, when his family moved to Germany and he didn't speak the same language as many of his peers. "We lived in a small German village where I didn't speak German. I became pretty obsessed with music. That was the most important thing for me. The social interactions I had were through my parents, their friends and their colleagues. I learned how to interact with people on a grown-up level and kids were kind of baffling to me. That's why music has became such a big part of me," he says.

While he enjoyed his parents' record collection—mostly made up of classical and jazz music, but also the classic Canadian singer-songwriters like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, among other contemporary artists—Parnell began making his own music at age 13.

"I got a guitar and I didn't know how to play it, and I didn't know anyone who played it," he says. "(My original songs) turned into songs that were actually listenable when I was 18 or so. By then (I had) more life experience to write about."

But then life got in the way; by the time he was 25 he was married with two kids.

"I got into carpentry and so you can't really stay out late and party and play music and then go to work and come home and deal with a family," he says. "I did it less and less until the family split up. Then I got into it to ease the pain of the breakup. It played a huge role. Then people started going, 'Wow, you're really good.'"

Eventually, spurred by the booming building industry, Parnell followed his sister and brother-in-law's lead and moved to Whistler. "I moved to Whistler eight years ago," he says. "For the first couple of years I hardly touched a guitar at all. I was working and skiing and riding my bike—just having Whistler fun. But I started feeling I was missing a major part of myself."

So, he began writing songs again—eventually accumulating 10 to 15 of them. He had recorded and put out several albums over the years, but some of those just sat in boxes around his home. "Some are still in boxes," he says, with a laugh. "But I've made seven records of my own stuff of varying quality."

Parnell put out his latest record, Rugs, last October, thanks to a push from his mom. "She said, 'Well what are you doing with (those songs)?' 'Are you waiting for them to be perfect?' I thought, 'I'm just going to record this stuff in my apartment with the instruments and recording equipment I have and play a bunch of different instruments."

The resulting record showcases Parnell's chops as an adept singer-songwriter, but boasts a fuller sound than that genre typically offers. You can hear the marks of his early influences—Bob Dylan, Neil Young—on many of the tracks.

It caught the ear of local musician Julian Price, who approached him about performing it in full as a duo. This summer, the pair will do just that—and record it—at The Point Artist-Run Centre. "That's an important place to me," Parnell says. "I was there the other night talking to Stephen (Vogler, artistic director at The Point) and asked him if we could do it there and he thought it was a cool idea. We're going to do it live and record it as well."

In the meantime, Parnell (who counts Vogler among his musical influences in Whistler, alongside Aude Ray, Kostaman, Adam Leggett and Monty Biggins) is inspired to book a tour after playing a pair of shows in Ontario, where many members of his family still live.

"I read somewhere that if you want to find out what you should be doing in life imagine you won the lottery," he says. "What would you do? If I won the lottery I would travel around, play my music and visit my loved ones around the world. That's starting to come together. I'm really excited about that."

For more, find him on Facebook at Jeremy Parnell Music or on his new website (set to go live this weekend) at jeremyparnellmusic.com.


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