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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: Connor Parente

Our Pittsburgh Artist of the Week is Connor Parente. The up-and-coming singer and guitarist is one of countless musicians inspired by the music of Bob Dylan. His new song “Going Electric” started as a breakup song but ended as an inspirational song for anybody trying to get free of something.

Connor Parente recently spoke with WYEP's Joey Spehar.

What’s your musical history up to this point?    

My musical journey started later, I feel, than most. I've been singing in local plays and musicals since I was a little kid, but I didn't pick up a guitar until I was 13. I could barely play it but then I wrote my first song which was a hokey little tune for my girlfriend at the time. It wasn't very good at all, but I kept writing. It also didn't help that I didn't really listen to any music in my childhood other than the pop channel my parents had in the car.

As I began writing I also started to get into all of the classic rock and rollers and really start to gain my own musical ground. Now you can't take my headphones or my records away from me. I'm constantly looking for new inspiration and constantly writing. Now I'm getting a whole album of my music produced by Rick Witkowski and a bunch of other incredible musicians that I never would've dreamed of working with when I started.

How do you describe your sound?

It's a lot of different things. But at the end of the day it's all rock 'n' roll. It's all pretty folk and classic rock inspired. Sometimes some soul and blues. I don't really hold myself to a strict genre. Whatever is going to serve the song is how it's gonna sound. That mentality has made my upcoming record "Hieroglyphics" a pretty eclectic group of songs, but I wouldn't want them to sound another way.

Tell us more about the song "Going Electric." What inspired you to write it and what does it mean to you?

Well it originally started as a breakup song. But now it's really just about getting free. Whatever "free" means to you. Its title and premise are also inspired by Bob Dylan's famous moment of getting free when he "went electric" and changed his sound from folk to rock. So it's kind of me renouncing a love that's "acoustic" and "going electric" by finding my new love: music.

What was the first album that really changed your life?

As I said, I didn't really listen to much music as a kid. I heard all the 2010 pop hits in the car but that's about it. All music was to me was something to drown out the silence of the car. One day when I was 14 a friend told me "if you're gonna start listening to rock 'n' roll, you need to listen to Bob Dylan." So I go home and I sit on my bedroom floor and put on "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" and my life was forever changed. With an album that starts with the line "how many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man" how could it not be.

Dylan taught me what a song was and what it could be. It wasn't just background noise, it could change people minds and souls. That album got me through a million hard times and it will a million more. It practically taught me how to write songs. I'm still incredibly inspired by it to this day.

Who are some other Pittsburgh artists you think more people should listen to?

Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers are historic and are definitely a must listen. Joe's music made me love this city. Bill Toms and Hard Rain put on one of my favorite live shows (and I work with many of them so I can't not put them on here.) Both bands are still putting out music and performing all around and I hope everyone gets a chance to see them live.

Any other super interesting things about you we should know?   

You can stream my latest single: "Martyrdom" now!

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.