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Chris Paterno: How The Senior Singer-Songwriter Works To Make It At BC

Chris Paterno, A&S 15, minds the stage of The Rusty Nail. The local patrons of the Villanova bar have come to know Paterno’s acoustic guitar and two backing musicians. It’s nearing the end of the summer, and some of Paterno’s old high school friends have bustled into The Rusty Nail.

He’s moved through the covers—The Band’s “The Weight,” some Third Eye Blind, and “Jenny (867-5309).” Paterno strikes the chords to “Morning Light” and there’s a bustle in the crowd. His high school friends know the song from his days as the drummer in Runaway Youth, a local band, and the buzzed patrons know it from earlier in the summer. Paterno rolls into the song and the bar joins with him.

For a moment, he’s made it.

“It was just a surreal experience to look out and see people singing along with you to the words you wrote and be in the moment you experienced and have them enjoy the song and relate to it,” Paterno said. “The place is a total dive bar.”

In October, just a few months after this memorable moment at The Rusty Nail, Paterno began writing the songs that will wind up on his upcoming EP Everyday Shadows. He wrote the first track, “Unfaithful” which would become the first track in the three song EP.

He has continued to perform, playing at the Music Guild open mics and at Sing it to the Heights. He’s set to perform in the singer songwriter competition later in the month. As much as any BC musician, he’s around. Paterno was also one of the judges for last weekend’s Battle of the Bands.

Paterno didn’t always play the guitar. Throughout high school and into his first year of college, Paterno was the drummer for Runaway Youth. The band accrued a moderate following in the marginal venues of Philadelphia. They also released an album that sold better in Japan than in the states. Paterno had picked up the guitar and become the band’s principal songwriter. But like many high school bands distance eventually grew too much for the band. Paterno found himself alone, musically.

He picked up the guitar more. It’s a lot easier to play in a dorm room than the drums.

“When I first started out, it was simple chords, simple structures,” Paterno said. “My first was just four chords over and over.”

Rediscovering his percussive background (a drummer since the fourth grade), Paterno developed his own acoustic style that involves as much plucking and slapping as simple strumming.

“If I start to pick up on a chord progression that I really like and keep coming back to that, then moving forward with that chord progression, I start humming a melody and trying to find some words,” Paterno said.

He continued to hone his songwriting craft and by the end of his freshman year had frequently participated in the Music Guild’s open mics—a chance for musicians to perform in front of other musicians. After performing in the singer songwriter competition in the spring of 2012, he realized he wanted to get directly involved in the Music Guild.

Now one of the vice presidents of the Music Guild, Paterno has found himself in epicenter of BC’s music scene. He’s found an easy collaborator in Sean Seaver (of Small Talk), fellow Music Guild-er and A&S ’16, who’s producing the album. Dan Lyle (The Island) has lent his ambient synths during production. Paterno has even brought in Sing it to the Heights winner Wynnm Murphy, A&S ’18, to lend her voice to “Lover When You Gonna Come,” the final track on the EP.

Production for Everyday Shadows started in January in the recording studio in Lyons and will continue until the EP’s release tentatively scheduled for Sunday night, when Paterno and Seaver put the finishing touches to the EP that’s taken nearly five months of conceptualization and collaboration.

“It’s about the things we as young adults carry around with us that we don’t really talk about,” Paterno said.

Paterno has one of those “singer songwriter” voices. It has a folksy quality—that biting quality that’s the common denominator between Ed Sheeran’s bubbly tones and Tom Petty’s southern edge. Like his prominent predecessors, Paterno uses this quality to invite the listener in.

His earlier written work with Runaway Youth that he still sometimes performs is rhythmically pleasing but isn’t as lyrically or structurally complex as the three tracks on the new EP. They’re songs for the bar—but lack the compositional and structural daring of “Unfaithful.” The track starts with some simple chords before rolling into the slapping and picking. The drums kick in, a driving bass line and some electric guitar that riffs off the work of the bass. The song is still catchy, but has more going on than the hook.

The occasional chaos of “Unfaithful” will be balanced out with the bareness of “Your Love,” an acoustic track with just Paterno and his guitar, and “Lover When You Gonna Come,” a folk-rock tune featuring a banjo and Murphy.

There’s a professional tone in Paterno work, but also in his life now. He spends hours a week managing and promoting himself on social media. The hope is that Everyday Shadows can get on the radio and catch the attention of a small record label.

But for now, Paterno is still immersed in the life of music at BC.

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Illustration

March 19, 2015

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