When Terry Peng, A&S ’14, emerged victorious from last weekend’s singer-songwriter competition, it was the culmination of four years journeying through Boston College’s art scene. It might have ended with Arts Fest 2014, but Peng’s work in the arts has run the course of the last four years, as he worked with BC bOp! throughout his undergraduate career, and has been recording as a solo artist since his junior year. As Peng admits, however, full-fledged support for on-campus acts has yet to arrive.
Peng arrived on campus with a jazz background, and while he was at first hesitant to jump right back into jazz, he eventually joined BC bOp! Jazz ensemble, playing the trombone. He had fiddled with songwriting before college, and although it was an experience he expected he might return to, it wasn’t an immediate goal.
“I wrote a bunch of sh–ty songs in high school,” Peng said. “None of them are things I would play anymore. At that point, I was still doing a straight up acoustic singer-songwriter, trying-to-be-John-Mayer thing. Kudos to anyone who can make that work, but I don’t think it was working for me.”
During the first semester of his junior year, Peng discovered a way to blend his jazz background with his songwriting eclectics, straying from his old-time Mayer antics. Peng reworked his sound to a jazzy Ben Folds-mixing guitar, keyboard, and ensemble with introspective lyrics. He tells the story of this transformation as a pivotal moment in his evolution as a musician.
“I remember I was sitting in my friend Chris Daley’s (BC ’13) car and he put on this track called “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” by D’Angelo,” Peng said. “I was like, wait a minute-R&B is cool. Let’s take a shot at that.”
After a trip on Kairos, Peng began writing music for his Juicebox EP, which was released the summer before his senior year, on August 11, 2013.
“Last spring I finally started to find a sound I liked,” Peng said. “I really wanted to get some studio time, because I had never recorded in a studio before, and I wanted to give that a shot. So I talked to some people back home. I was really fortunate to be working with them.”
Peng gathered a group of slightly older musicians he knew back in New Jersey, and the crew churned up a five-track EP.
During his senior year, Peng appeared at many of the campus’s open mic events while continuing his work as a BC bOp! musician-this stint as a singer-songwriter drew to a close last Thursday after competing in the singer-songwriter competition. He’s already started his next project, a 13- to 14-track album tentatively titled Water on Mars. He recorded the first half back in January and is set to record the second in late May. Peng has relied more heavily on self-recording with Water on Mars, after a somewhat disappointing first studio experience working on the Juicebox EP.
“The Arts Fest is one of the few times throughout the year where I feel like-because it’s right there, you can’t miss it-that people are really supportive of the arts,” Peng said.
When it comes up in conversation that he’s working on an album, instead of interning at an accounting firm, Peng again sees some support.
“So it’s kind of a weird dichotomy, because people are really into that and receptive to and supportive of it when you talk to them, but then, I think it’s a little bit of a scramble to try to get them to come out to an open mic,” Peng said.
Peng points out that singular events like Arts Fest and the large-scale dance shows draw bigger audiences than the more local, live music events.
“Dancing with bOp!, at Arts Fest-that always fills out if only because there’s so many people involved in terms of all the dance groups,” Peng said. “There’s everyone in the jazz groups. And as many of their friends try to come, and by sheer numbers and volume, it ends up filling out. But with the open mics, if you have 15 performers and each of them can only get two friends to come for their set only, then [the venue] doesn’t really fill out.”
As the winner of Arts Fest’s singer-songwriter competition, Peng has been granted the opportunity to make a professionally mixed EP, which he hopes to pass off to his friend and fellow musician Lucas Allen, A&S ’16, to continue working on Water on Mars. Opportunities for student musicians such as this, however, are rare to come by, especially with the support of the BC administration. In addition, for smaller campus music organizations like Chorduroy and the Music Guild, there’s an irony of the administration financing huge concerts like Modstock, but then barring student musicians from staging smaller, self-financed concerts at smaller venues.
“This year they tried to get that going with the Mod concerts, but as soon as it got attention from the RD’s, they got shut down.” Peng said. “I thought that was fun.”
Peng, as well as BC rapper William Bolton, CSOM ’16, performed smaller concerts in the Mods earlier this semester. When music organization Chorduroy tried to host a similar concert with BC bands Seaver’s Express and Bobnoxious this month, however, the proposal was turned down by the BC administration.
“I feel like there should be more support for live music.” Peng said. “I don’t mean that from a philosophical perspective like ‘you guys should really support the arts.’ But it seems like when people come to those things, they really enjoy it.”
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