CJ Parker hit the ground running in 2022. With the first-quarter recognition from MTV news, keep in mind with only four-track released) his momentum as a solo artist and with CJ Parker & XII has skyrocketed. The Davenport Central graduate is only a few years out of his alma mater and quite literally the proof in our Quad Cities talent pool pudding.
Echo: The MTV article came out like two months ago. What has it been like since then?
CJ Parker: I mean, it’s been nothing but blessings, really. Honestly, there is a higher level of accountability when it comes to your craft and learning the business side of things. With publicity comes business. You have to be prepared to make decisions that will better yourself, that will better the group, but it’s been great. Being recognized is really cool, but keeping it relevant is the biggest thing and not just relying on an article to define a career. I want to just keep the momentum going, really.
ECHO: So how does all of this publicity make you feel? Does it make you a little frustrated, like you should have been recognized on a local level sooner?
CJ: Honestly, it makes me a little bit more hungry. The recognition is great. I feel like it’s deserving, but I also feel like there’s more to prove. One of my favorite, favorite, favorite artists, Prince, he always said that “Even if I’m the best, I’m not.” And I wanted to make sure that even though I’m trending up, that I keep trending up and I keep pushing to do better. Not only do I want to affect my career and make that better, but I want to affect music in general, and get our name on a broader scale so people are affected by the music that I put out.
It’s definitely been eye-opening.
ECHO: Okay! I like that. You’re 21, right?
ECHO: So how long, professionally, have you been pursuing music?
CJ: I’d say about two years. It’s been two years since I dropped my first single. After that we’ve been performing professionally. It marks a year next week that I did my first solo performance.
ECHO: Oh, wow. Oh my God….and you already have MTV reaching out to you. What is happening?
CJ: Yeah I know! It’s only been a year since my first live show, and now we’re on MTV. It’s almost laughable. But I’m a man of faith and I believe, you know, that God pours out blessings to those who seek him.
We joke about it all the time, like last year we were just cool if we were performing at a coffee place, and now we’re performing at a great place like the River Music Experience and hoping to do more on a broader scale.
ECHO: Do you have a team outside of the band? Like management team?
CJ: My management has really been my band. I haven’t let anyone in, yet. I’m looking to do so, but I just want to make sure that they are serious, but also ready for the ride. We’ve got a lot of opportunities that we want to take, but we need to see the business side of things. We’re actively looking for a management team, but as of right now, it’s really solely been us. It can’t be that anymore. We need to have a team of people that are, you know, that are, that are ready to take the, take the show on the road.
ECHO: Can we quickly talk about the fact that you only have four songs released and you’re already receiving so much clout. What do you have to say about that? It’s really wild.
CJ: It’s really nuts. When it comes to the songs, I really wanted for the songs to have depth. A lot of times in music in general, we have a lot of songs with no depth or no meaning and the same construct in a song. There are a lot of these mainstream artists who you hear the same construct, the same bridge, a similar chorus, a similar beat, a similar tempo. Whereas with the music that I am releasing, it’s really been more of an experience where you can relate to it any way possible.
I try to find a general word that can mean multiple things that anyone can relate to. I do not want to speak to just one person. So for instance, with the song “Repeat,” there are a lot of things that can be on repeat in your life. Whether that’s a loved one, whether that’s your job, whether that’s, you know, the sandwich that you ate last week and you just can’t stop thinking about it, but you’re too broke to go back and get it. I want to make sure that you can use a general word. I think that can captivate audiences in a way that it’s like, “oh, this is something we’ve never really heard before because I can put this in so many different veins.” And so I think that’s why it’s been receiving the recognition as much as it’s getting, because I think we’re starting to see the potential of what can come out of what we already have.
ECHO: You’re 21 years old. You have a ton of momentum behind you and everyone in the band is fairly young, too. What is the five-year plan?
CJ: Our plan is to be on tour with a major artist within the next year. There’s already been a conversation about that, but we plan to open for someone within the next year. That’s where the opportunities will come from.
We’re working on our first album right now as a band and really promoting that. We are trying to get the show on the road and it’s looking to happen next year.
ECHO: You’re already working with what I would consider to be big hitters in the Quad Cities. Is there anyone in the QC that’s still on your list to work with?
CJ: Torrian Bal. He’s been doing great things and where are you working on a track together? So I already got to fulfill that.
One big one would be Miguel Martin. He has a band called The Feels. We have already done a show together, but to work together would be awesome. We both share the same kind of style, same kind of vibe as far as funk and the music that we bring.
….and he’s a genius. He’s so cool. I love his band. Everybody in is super awesome. I’d love to play with them and like do a joint show or something together.
ECHO: The album you’re working on now is with XII, introduce us to the band.
CJ: On bass, we have Riley Carizey. You’ll hear him on Saturday. He’s nuts.
Jack Watson is one of the saxophone players.
Anthony Collins. He’s my best friend and saxophone player.
Caylan Laundrie, he’s about to graduate with a Master’s in trumpet performance.
Wes Julien is on the drums. He’s the guy. He’s filling in for our drummer, Timothy Nolan II.
Jacob Overstreet, he’s one of the keyboard players and he also produced every track I have, which is cool to mention.
Andre Builta. He’s another piano player, a synth guy.
ECHO: That’s quite a few people in the room. What does that writing process look like?
CJ: What I like about us is that we all went to college together around the same time. We all went to Blackhawk College to study jazz. So when we get in a rehearsal setting, it’s so collaborative, we all say something.
I’ll give a preface like here’s what I’m thinking, but they really put their input in what we do as a group. So when you see us, when you hear us perform or whatever, it’s not all coming from my head.
I want to make sure that that’s said, it’s not all coming from me. All these guys are high-level professional musicians. They put their all into it and they all have a say in what we do.
That’s why I made sure I got guys my age that have the same kind of drive as I do and guys that I can trust. We can really build on what we have because of our age, but also our connections.
ECHO: You mentioned Prince, who are your musical influences right now? Especially in the album recording and writing process.
CJ: So Prince is number one by far. No question. I grew up on Prince. My dad’s a huge Prince fan. From the mid-90s to 2015, the construct of his band is the same as ours. I wanted to make sure that what I learned is apparent. So whatever we have, besides the guitar player, which we’re trying to get, that it is all congruent to what Prince did.
I want to make sure I put Gospel in there too, because Kirk Franklin is huge for me as far as his piano playing and then his sampling, how he samples artists.
I would say Prince and Kirk Franklin are the biggest influences on the music that I do.
ECHO: You guys are playing the Underground Xperience Saturday at the River Music Experience, what should people expect from you guys?
CJ: We’re going to be hype.
Live music is a lost art. I want to make sure that it is said that we are doing live music. The only thing you’re going to hear from the backing track is just the click track. Everything else you’ll hear is live, right there. We’re going to be loud. We’re going to be pretty loud. We got three horns that can scream, we got two synths, a drummer that throws a lot, and a really loud bass player. So expect live music, but expect real music. We really want to show what we have as a band. So expect just having fun, like we’re going to have some fun.