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Manlius Pebble Hill’s Parker McQueeney chases musical dreams

Editorial assistant Nariman Jiries interviewed Parker McQueeney, who won the third annual Big Break contest with his five-member band team, a four-round, four-month battle of the bands held at the Westcott Theater.

Name: Parker McQueeney, 17, lived in Marcellus and is a senior at Manlius Pebble Hill.

Tell me about your family: I live with my parents, my brother and an exchange student from China. I am really grateful that my mom and dad have supported me so much in my musical endeavors. Just to accept my dream to play music is a lot to ask for, many people see it as something that won’t pay off in the future. My family puts up with practices at home throughout the week, which I can imagine to be distracting if you’re trying to get something done or relax.

What made you decide on getting a band together? Luckily, everything aligned perfectly for the band to get together. I had met our guitarist, Dylan Lundgren, through a mutual friend, and we started casually playing through tunes and writing originals. Our styles complimented each other well, and those few weeks were really formative in what both of us brought to the band. Dylan told me about a battle of the bands that was happening in Skaneateles, so we got together with Dylan’s friend, Elliot Jarvis, and his brother, Jack (on bass and drums, respectively). After jamming together once, I remembered a guitar player, Chris Chiesa, I had met and played with a few years earlier. I invited him to play with us. We ended up taking second place at that battle of the bands just a few weeks after we formed, and we all knew we had something special going on. There really wasn’t much discussion on whether or not to become a serious group or not, we all knew it was going to happen without words.

What is the name of your band, and how did you decide on that name? Steep is a word that has different meanings, and part of the beauty is its ambiguity. It has the ability to be interpreted by the listener — just like the music. To me, Steep is music I can let myself be absorbed in while I’m playing. It’s also representational of the music, a lot of our stuff has a lot of rising action and quickly changes.

Tell me about the Big Break contest: Westcott’s Big Break contest was a great opportunity to play the venue all of us frequent so often. Originally 45 or so bands signed up, and got to play in the first round which had several dates. Over the next few months we went through three rounds, and were happily rewarded with first place. It was a perfect opportunity for us to hear other great local bands as well as get to know the people at the Westcott, which led us to sharing the stage with some bigger acts such as Perpetual Groove, The Ryan Montbleau Band, Jimkata, and, soon, The Marco Benevento Trio.

What did you win? We won recording time at More Sound Studio and some money which will go towards an album in June.

Did someone help you get started with your music? I started playing piano when I was seven, and both my grandmother and parents were keen on getting me started. I’d like to give a lot of credit to my teachers — Joe Colombo, Annmarie Gregory and Rick Montalbano, who have all shaped my understanding of music dramatically as well as given me numerous opportunities.

What type of music do you play? I study jazz, but what comes out of my playing tends to be a bit more of a fusion of lots of genres including rock and Americana.

What instruments do you play? Other than piano I am a Hammond organ player, as well as french horn and drums.

What other places has your band played? We’ve played the Auburn Public Theater quite a few times, as well as the Bull & Bear Pub, The Red Rooster, Ski Caz Jam, Kegs Canal Side, OCC and other places.

How do you come up with the lyrics to your songs? Writing lyrics is a totally different art than writing music, and it must be approached poetically. Normally what I try to do is capture some line that I get running through my head and expand on it. I try to keep the lyrics somewhat related to the feeling I get from the song. I then have to shape them to fit the song, and figure out parts that are more of a chorus or a verse. It’s a process that I’m still learning how to do.

What type of music do you listen to? I really listen to everything. My favorite at the moment is anything that can really make people get up and dance. I love anything with a groove to it — jazz, Latin, rock. I’ve also recently started enjoying classical music, which I would have never imagined a few years ago.

What kind of things do you read? I’ve always loved science fiction. My favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut; I’ve read most of his books. Some of my other favorite writers include Herman Hesse, Aldous Huxley, Terrence McKenna and others. Right now I’m reading “Animal’s People” by Indra Sinha about a cynical disabled orphan living in India after the 1984 Bhopal disaster, and I’m really enjoying it.

What is your favorite subject in school, and why? This year, my favorite class is music history. I’ve really learned a lot about how western society has interpreted music over the last 500 years. It’s given me a lot of perspective. Since I have become more musically active this year it’s really acted in symbiosis with that. It also has introduced me to classical, romantic and 20th century music I wouldn’t have ever listened to before, but now love.

What are your college plans? I’m still waiting to hear back from most of my schools, but I am planning to study music.

What type of career would you like to have when you get older? If not a full-time performer/writer, I am completely open to the idea of being a teacher. I’ve already got a job teaching at the Red House Rock Camp and I’ve found it to be a very rewarding experience.

Is there a person you admire the most? Musically and philosophically, I’m really inspired by the jazz pianist Brad Mehldau. His music speaks to me in a way that nothing else does. He’s really carrying the future of jazz music on his shoulders and he’s done more to further the sound of jazz in this era than anyone else I can think of.

What advice do you have for young aspiring musicians? Don’t put music aside as an unrealistic dream. So many people do that, yet it’s entirely possible to become every bit as good as anyone you’ve ever heard. Obviously it doesn’t start that way, and it takes a lot of hard work, but don’t let that discourage you.