By Blake Maddux
Most people who aspire to become professional musicians either learned an instrument at a young age or were exposed to copious amounts of music as a child. Such individuals also probably pay their dues in bands as a teenagers or young adults.
Brian E. King, lead singer of the Somerville-based band Parks, took a less traditional route in his pursuit of a career in music. He joined his first band, Oranjuly, in 2009, several years after he had graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
“I started playing bass in 2000, in high school,” he says. “I didn’t play music growing up at all. I learned guitar in 2003 or so, and started playing piano in 2005. I learned everything really, really quickly.”
“I have a really good ear,” King explains. “That’s where it all lies for me. I can’t read music at all.”
As to how much music he took in as a youngster, King says, “I didn’t hear The Beatles until the year 2000, when I started playing bass. I’d heard of them but I’d never heard any of their songs. We had to play Oh! Darling for jazz band, and I learned the bass line. My mom said, ‘Oh, I’ll buy you some of their records.’ She bought me some, and it changed everything.”
Brian E. King is originally from West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, where he lived most of his life before attending Umass Dartmouth. At Umass, he majored in English and film and took graduate classes in journalism while working on his undergraduate degree. He moved to Boston in 2007 and to Somerville in 2009.
His interest in journalism led to an internship at The Boston Phoenix, some paid writing assignments for Performer and SPIN magazines, and ongoing freelance work for DigBoston.
“Journalism was really, really important to me until I started playing music and people started paying some attention,” King told me.
As a musician, he continues, “I feel like you have more of a direct response. You hear people clapping for you. It’s really immediate. I love that.”
Oranjuly, which King describes as “more of a solo project for me,” never really took off as a group.
“The first line-up of the band was so bad live,” he readily admits. “It was embarrassing.” This, coupled with the fact that the members did not get along very well personally, resulted in the band’s ultimate demise.”
This unfortunate combination did not prevent King from having some memorable experiences during Oranjuly’s brief existence.
“We played with Fountains of Wayne,” King says. “We did a few shows with them, one in Boston and one in New Jersey. We played a huge show with them at Northeastern University. We played to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. It felt like we were at a big festival. It was my most favorite show that I’ve ever played.”
In 2010, Oranjuly shared a bill with a then little-known band that currently has the #7 album on the Billboard top 200 albums chart.
“We played with The Lumineers in Worcester,” King recounts. “That was in 2010. Never in a million years would I have thought that they’d even keep playing together as a band because their [first] record was so bad. But now they’re nominated for Grammys. They were really great live, however.”
King formed Parks last year when he realized that his songs were changing and he really wanted to play with different people. However, he retained bassist Matt Girard, who played in Oranjuly for about a month before the band’s break-up. Girard is also King’s current roommate in the Ten Hills neighborhood, which King proclaims is “the absolute perfect place” to live.
The other members of Parks are guitarist Stu Dietz, drummer Brian Fitch, and Liz McBride, a vocalist and keyboard player who is also King’s girlfriend. Last November, the band released its first single, Sweater Weather, for which they plan to release a video that they shot on beaches in Maine.
“The biggest change with Parks is that this is a band,” King said. “I still write the songs, but I’ll actually seek their advice, because they’re all really good musicians in this band. They’re all creative, and we’re all on the same page.”
King adds that, in contrast to Oranjuly, “We’re all friends. We hang out outside of the band.”
Having received some highly favorable notices in the Herald, the Globe, and the Phoenix, King is nothing but optimistic about the future of Parks.
“We’re trying to get the record done,” King says confidently of the record that he will also be producing. “We really want to see if someone will put it out, because it’s going to be a really, really good record. Every song’s going to be great on it.”
Moreover, King wants to lasso up some fans from outside of Boston: “We just want to not play to [only] our friends anymore. We want a bigger band to take us out on the road, because when we play in front of totally different audiences we do really, really well.”
Parks is playing with The Explorers Club and Kurt Baker at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge on Saturday, February 9. Doors open at 8:30 p.m., and the show starts at 9:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or in advance at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/326125.