Originally from Iowa, local independent musician Kelly Pardekooper’s career has taken him from playing festivals in Amsterdam to the music scene in LA. Today, he and his wife, Karen, reside at Indianapolis’ Old North side where he continues to sing, play guitar, and write original music. Pardekooper plays at local music venues, and his most recent album, “City At Night,” is comprised entirely of Hoosier musicians. His extensive recording catalog can be heard on television shows and will be featured in an upcoming major movie release.
Pardekooper’s music career path was not a traditional one as he describes himself as a late-bloomer, releasing his first album at the age of 30. While always having a love of music, he attended the University of Iowa on a pole vaulting scholarship and majored in communications. He credits his parents with first introducing him to legends such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Never thinking about writing songs after college, it was while living in Boulder, Colorado that he purchased his first guitar and began to teach himself how to play.
The next few years were spent studying songwriters and learning to find his voice in music. “It takes people living in the real world for a while before they have anything worth saying,” he says. “There were times when I wish I could have done it quicker, but for the genre I’m in, I’m glad that I had more life experience.”
What helped early on in Pardekooper’s career was having a Dutch last name. This led to finding an audience in Europe and eventually securing an Amsterdam-based booking agency. The label took him overseas and from 2002-2009 he played 4 different European tours, gaining more popularity with each one. “That was one of those affirmations early on that kept me at it,” he says, “Not to mention, it paid my bills. To this day, I still have daily communication with friends and fans that I met over in Europe.”
After touring regionally, playing in Europe and releasing songs on small independent labels, his wife Karen was offered a medical fellowship at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Heading out to the West Coast, he already had a catalog of 100 songs. A local music representative invited him to a workshop with a group of fellow ASCAP songwriters and it was at this workshop where he met his now publisher, Bob Mair, from Black Toast Music. Mair quickly introduced Pardekooper’s work to the television industry, and his songs soon found their way on to shows such as “True Blood,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Justified,” and “Cold Case.”
Today, about 150 NPR affiliates play Pardekooper’s music and this summer he is segueing into film. His songs will be featured in the movie “Vengeance” starring Nicolas Cage and Don Johnson. This is in addition to his latest album release, marking the eighth in his recording collection.
Pardekooper describes his style as a lot slower than the industry norm, choosing to make an album every two years rather than rushing the process. After the release of this latest album, he will be back in the attic space of his Old North side home working on his next collection.
He now plays the early shows at the Melody Inn on Friday nights and couldn’t be happier with the support he has found in The Circle City. Luna Music sells his music, and his new album is comprised entirely of local musicians. Out in Los Angeles, he made the important connection to his publisher, but now is happy in Indianapolis. “Being obscure has been my forte throughout my career. Living in LA has made me appreciate that obscurity even more.”
Terri Procopio: What musicians did you study when you were trying to find your own style?
Kelly Pardekooper: A lot of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, The Stones, and The Beatles. That really got me into the roots and blues. As I got older, I enjoyed a lot more brevity in music. For example, The Beatles and Hank Williams, Sr. created songs that are little two and a half minute gems.
TP: What advice do you have for young musicians who are starting out in the industry?
KP: Be patient. It’s okay to go slow. I really do think that gets harder and harder to do now, and it’s tougher to slow down. There’s a difference between learning your craft and trying to make a YouTube video go viral. You have to decide if you’re going to work on songs and then take constructive criticism. I also tell them I had a day job for years before doing this full-time. They have to know it’s a labor of love.
TP: How does it work with you being here in Indianapolis when a lot of your projects are in LA?
KP: It’s great because of technology. I went out to LA and made the connections with a catalog of six albums. On this last album, we recorded in Bloomington. With the Internet and moving files around, as soon as we were done with the mixes, my publisher Bob received them.
TP: Why did you decide to move to Indianapolis?
KP: We thought we were staying in LA and even bought a house out there. My wife is an orthopedic spine surgeon and Riley Children’s Hospital offered her a job. There are only so many cities of a certain population where she could work and Indy was one of them. There were a lot of benefits, such as the cost of living and being closer to my parents and Karen’s sister. It has been a really good move for us. We have since put down roots here.
TP: Can you talk about your newest album, “City At Night”?
KP: This is my first all-Indiana project. The entire band and the producer are locals. The musicians are all semi-professionals and have a lot of touring time. It is composed of guitarist Thom Woodard, bass player Steve Pruden, and drummer Mark Cutsinger. Paul Mahern is a producer out of Bloomington who also did the Lily and Madeleine album. It was important to me to have an all-Indiana project because of living here now and putting down roots. We recorded in an old church in Bloomington and the cover is me standing outside the Melody Inn. I wanted to keep it as Indiana as possible and couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
TP: How would you like to see Indy grow and develop in regards to the music scene?
KP: I think it is growing and there are some good things happening. Joyful Noise Records in Fountain Square is doing projects with well-known, national acts. It’s amazing that an Indianapolis company is doing that. It would be very cool to see a continuation of that kind of thing. For local musicians, it’s always the hope that there will be more stages and venues; especially in the new neighborhoods that are opening up. Fountain Square is the place where it’s clearly growing and will continue to grow. For places with little restaurants, I would like to see stages crop up. As long as things continue to grow, it will show there is a creative life in Indy. All the signs right now are really good.
TP: How do people find you and keep up with your work?
PK: I have a website where I will probably do an end-of-year wrap-up. I have a Facebook page to like, but I’m not as big on social media. I have an email list that I have built up of people who have been following me for 20 years, and that’s where I get the bulk of my sales. I do have Twitter and Instagram also.
TP: How can someone purchase your songs and your albums?
KP: Luna Records sells my albums and has my latest release on their listening rack. I am also on iTunes and Amazon. The best place to go is my website because I have links on the home page to all the options to purchase. I do like sending people to Luna first, because it helps support a local business.
Photos by Edrece Stansberry.