Power Chords: Fans come to aid of NU alum, helping her finance new album

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By MATT MEDVED

Fans of singer/songwriter Kat Parsons wanted her to record a new album so badly they financed it themselves.

More than 400 fans of the Northwestern alum (Communication ’99) donated more than $18,000 toward the recording and production of her second full-length album, “No Will Power,” which was released in March. Parsons, who embarked on a 13-date tour to support the album’s release, arrives April 30 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., for her final show of the tour.

“It’s incredible — it’s a win-win situation,” Parsons says. “Fans feel like they are part of the album. It’s a great synergy and partnership.”

It appears to have been a good investment.

On the album, Parsons’ lilting vocals and melodic guitar and piano work to document a story, self-described as the “unraveling of a romantic relationship at its every stage, but not necessarily in chronological order.”

The album opens with the seductive title track, punctuated by its energetic chorus, which Parsons describes as “mischievous” in its frustration while attempting to stay away from an ex-lover.

And on “Standing Still,” an infectious song she wrote as a college senior, her excitement and uncertainty at embarking on life after college meld in a polished rock package that exhibits her wide vocal range.

“It’s like going along a river which opens up into an ocean with no bank in sight,” Parsons says. “The possibilities are limitless, but you have no idea which would get you anywhere.”

Parsons says recording her sophomore album was a “much more involved process” than her first album, “Framing Caroline,” which she recorded in just one day during her senior year in 1999.

“They were the first songs I’d ever written,” Parsons says. “After playing so many shows, I wanted to get one written and recorded.”

Parsons is often pegged as a folk-rock singer, but she says she feels the label is inaccurate for her new music, which is more along the pop-rock vein.

“I think that it’s just grown as I’ve grown,” Parsons says of her music. “I have more of a message now. I’m not just sitting there singing, I’m sensibly telling a story.”

Just like her life now, the story of Parsons’ upbringing is full of music. Parsons was born in Vienna, Austria, where her father was an acclaimed opera singer and her mother was a singer/songwriter. Both her parents and her brother have accompanied her onstage, and she credits them as her greatest influences, beating out other favorites such as Patty Griffin and Bruce Springsteen.

“Growing up, there was always music playing, always someone singing,” Parsons says. “I’m lucky to have parents that can relate to how good it feels to have a good show and how bad it feels to have a crappy one.”

Before getting to the point where she could headline her own shows, Parsons was a theatre major at NU and a member of a cappella group Melodious Thunk. But she began to feel more comfortable expressing herself in a personal way.

“(Kat) had the heart of an artist, a performer, but not necessarily an actor,” says David Downs, Parsons’ former instructor and an associate professor in the Theatre Department. “I was thrilled when I found out about her love of writing and performing music.”

Parsons began exploring her own musical expression during her sophomore year with an impromptu show at Allison Hall’s “munchies,” where plans of a cover song set fell through when her co-musician cancelled. Unfazed, Parsons managed to distract students from their food long enough to make an impression.

“I barely knew how to play, only three chords, but I played my own songs,” Parsons says. “I’ve never been one to worry about being prepared. I’m not a shy person when it comes to giving it a shot.”

After her unexpected solo debut, Parsons began playing shows on campus, performing at events including Dance Marathon, Suitcase Party and Greek coffeehouses. She then branched out to venues like Unicorn Café and, as an upperclassman, even landed a few professional gigs in Chicago.

Parsons credits NU for providing a positive environment for her musical development.

“It was a very nurturing environment and was a small sphere for me to embark upon my career, as opposed to going straight to the city where I didn’t know people, and they didn’t know me,” Parsons says. “I knew it was instrumental in my growth.”

After graduating from NU, Parsons toured constantly and began receiving hundreds of requests from fans for a second album, a prospect that appealed to her creativity, but not her wallet.

Ever the innovator, Parsons set up a preordering system whereby fans could pledge money in exchange for bonus rewards. A $20 pledge got fans an autographed copy of the new album, $55 netted fans three autographed copies, $500 earned fans signed posters, tickets and a song dedication, and $1000 earned fans a lunch date with Parsons and an inclusion in the album’s liner notes. The strong response defied her expectations.

“The work she has done in the last several years suggests that music is what does this for her,” Downs says. “I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

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~ by Matt Medved on April 28, 2005.

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