O.A.R. keyboardist MikelParis mixes travel, music, photos, hard drives in solo effort

oar keyboardist mikel paris mixes travel music photos hard drives solo effort 3
MikelParis in the Wonder Bread factory in Columbus, Ohio for his TuneTrek travel-music video series. Paris produces his videos by himself.
Type MikelParis into Google, and many of the results attached to his name are linked to O.A.R., the band with which he has served as a keyboardist, percussionist, and backup vocalist ever since joining them on tour in 2005 (and no, that’s not a typo, as that’s how he prefers to write his name). And he is no doubt proud of his ongoing involvement with the band, with OAR’s latest, The Rockville LP, having dropped in June, spurring yet another extensive summer tour.

But he is involved in so much more than his work with O.A.R. He is an alum of the famed percussion ensemble Stomp, an actor, a visual artist just as likely to delve into photography and video as sound, and a certified Creative Master artist ambassador for Western Digital. He is also something of a historical documentarian, continually filming inside new and exciting locations as he travels around the world for his TuneTrek series, and demonstrating his guitar-drumming technique. As a solo musician, he recently released the extended play album, HIHOWAREYA Vol. 1.

The multimedia Renaissance man recently chatted with us about his TuneTrek series, new album, and what’s involved in representing a company that makes storage devices.

Where did you get the idea for the TuneTrek videos?

I’ve always been interested in photography, and I’ve always been a traveler. I’ve always felt the pull and the tug of just going out and exploring the planet and seeing something for the first time. Laying eyes upon a new place, a new structure, a new view for the first time has always been exciting for me. Touring (with O.A.R.), obviously we go all over the place. Initially, you go to these new places, and you try to see the place and see what the places have to offer. You’ll often have an afternoon free or a day off there. After a couple years of touring, you start going back to these places, and it’s easy to get complacent. It’s easy to just sit in your hotel room and lounge around, or just sit on the tour bus and not really take advantage of the fact that you’re in all these awesome places that have so many interesting things to offer.

Paris setting up to shoot a scene for a TuneTrek video.
MikelParis setting up to shoot a scene for a TuneTrek video.

It just dawned on me – what a great way to get my butt off the bus, to really see interesting places when I’m out on tour with the band. How can I combine my love for these things – my love of photography, my love of music, my love of travel and seeing new things … It just germinated in my brain, and I started doing some test episodes … It just kept developing and developing, and then, about two summers, ago, I was like, “OK, I’m ready to try to do this,” and started making a list and finding the Internet databases that list all the historical landmarks in cities around the world, and I started making phone calls and started coming up with my pitch about how I was going to start to talk to somebody at the Pierce-Hichborn House in Boston, which is right across from the Paul Revere House.

I was also really interested in finding the left-of-center places – not the No. 1 destinations of a historical house in Boston, but the place next to it that a lot of people don’t know about. I want to try to tell those stories about the lesser-known places, and tell it through pictures and video and music, and finding a cool spot in these locations that visually and [aurally] were really intriguing, and the acoustics were good. I could take my guitar and sing a bunch of stuff and play a bunch of stuff, and then learn how to edit video … I’m really proud of the project, and I’m going to be doing season-two this summer, which I’m really excited about.

At the locations you wanted, was everyone cool about working with you?

I would say that pretty much 99 percent of the people I spoke to were really intrigued and interested in what I was doing. … The thing I really found is that, once I got into these places and started doing my thing and singing, people were just so thankful that I brought in this completely different energy and experience to what they’re used to. These people are usually on the phone begging for funding and trying to convince people to not close them down and how important history is in America. And the fact that I came in and did something totally different, people would say, “You just brightened our day. We’re usually just sitting up in the office upstairs. And you were playing beautiful music, and you’re actually going to tell our story, share the history of our spot with people that haven’t seen it.” I was just overwhelmed with how positive and thankful people were about what I was doing.

Album cover of Mikel Paris' new EP, HIHOWAREYA.
Album cover of MikelParis’ new EP, HIHOWAREYA.

What kind of equipment do you use to create TuneTreks?

The most important thing is what I’m storing everything on. I’ve got some great cameras and some good audio devices, and I’m working on some great software now. But it’s so much about reliable storage for me. I had an experience where I didn’t have reliable storage and I wasn’t backing up. It’s not that you get complacent; you’re just working, working, working, and you’re forgetting that you need to get all of this backed up. All that time and energy and focus and working in audio programs, when we were mastering audio from the TuneTrek sessions – all that work, and I lost a lot of stuff a bunch of years back. I’ve been so thankful to partner up with Western Digital … They’ve been supportive of what I’m doing.

Tell us about what a WD Creative Master does

WD had this program where they were working with artists – a couple photographers – and they were really looking to expand it … I was getting ready to work on these TuneTreks and talking about my solo stuff. I got to do all sorts of great events. I got to travel to San Francisco with gadgets and to CES and got to do the My Cloud product release, which has also really opened my eyes about sharing files … So I got into public speaking, which was really cool.

It reminded me of my theater days when I first moved to New York City. I moved as an actor, not as a musician. I got to finally get back up on a stage and orate a bit. It was not the easiest audience – for the most part, it was press people, not folks coming to see a play or production. It was interesting for me to figure out how to arrange that sort of arena. I’d talk, and I had a slideshow, and I was sequencing through my pictures – showing pictures of my Stomp days, and then TuneTreks, me with (OAR), my solo stuff, and how to segue into a live performance. It was really cool. I was really happy with how I did that, and I’m excited to do some more stuff in the near future, hopefully.

Do these tech and multimedia experiences you’ve had, make their way into your solo work?

In my solo stuff, it has manifested itself into this multimedia show, which I finally figured out. It’s combining all these elements I love – it’s audio, it’s visual. I’m mapping out visuals, and I’m using a lot of footage from my TuneTreks in my live show, now that I’m projecting. That’s really a next-level thing for my solo stuff.

Your new solo album is called HIHOWAREYA Vol. 1. What’s the deal with the name?

With this HIHOWAREYA Vol. 1, I released my brand, this slogan – let me just see if I can get this “HIHOWAREYA” (pronounced as “hi how are ya”) thing out there. When I started this, I got these stickers, and I made these T-shirts. I was like, let me see if I can start inspiring people to take this idea and just be like, “HIHOWAREYA from …” Have the sticker, take photos, social media posts in cool places, wear your shirt when you’re in front of the Coliseum in Rome, “HIHOWAREYA from Rome.” I try to lead by example and just started doing it myself when I was on tour last year. “HIHOWAREYA from the PNC [Bank] Arts Center” with the cool, UFO-shaped amphitheater behind me. It was really cool. People started to get on board and posting pictures of the sticker, or people who had gotten the T-Shirts in cool places. I was like, “OK, this is pretty interesting.” So certainly I think that’s a cool thing to put out there. It’s not a competition or a contest; it’s just a fun thing to see how people can integrate that phrase or idea – just saying “HIHOWAREYA from HERE” because it’s a cool spot. That also ties into traveling and this TuneTreks thing, discovering places. Why not tie it into this brand I’m trying to put out there?

You can follow MikelParis on his website, Twitter (@MikelParis), and Instagram (@MikelParis).

(Images via MikelParis)

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