He’s a Rock(port) Impresario
With his startup brand, Pulp & Fizz, Jake Pardee hopes to reshape the local music scene.
When you think of music culture in Rockport, Massachusetts, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t a local soda pop company from 1907.
If you grew up in Rockport, getting Hoodsies and Twin Lights soda at the end of the Memorial Day parade probably didn’t inspire you to start a media merchandise company.
And chances are, a really good mimosa has only ever been a really good mimosa.
But for Jake Pardee, these things have all led to his concept for developing and contributing to the musical identity of Cape Ann.
With long hair and a fresh cut watermelon in hand, Pardee is laid back and at home in his Gloucester studio. He has coffee for visitors in a small kitchenette in the center of the rooms he rents on the second floor. He has turned these rooms into musical outlets — there’s a studio, a mixing space, an office, and an open area with a couch and the small kitchen space. There’s an enormous soundboard covered in hundreds of knobs and dials taking up most of one room, plenty of recording equipment spread across the rooms, and guitars in stands or hanging on the walls.
Pardee sits down in a desk chair right next to the soundboard, spinning from side to side as he starts reminiscing about his childhood growing up in Rockport, and describing his discovery of music, which he attributes to his parents and his two older brothers.
“We had a lot of different instruments around when I was little,” he says. “And there were CDs everywhere. My dad was at Woodstock in the ’60s, and my mom had a huge record collection. They encouraged us to make music part of our lives.”
Pardee’s interest in playing music really took hold while watching his older brother learn trumpet from Gloucester resident, and internationally-acclaimed composer, Robert Bradshaw. Soon after receiving his first guitar for Christmas at four, he too started taking lessons from Bradshaw.
At the age of thirteen, Pardee formed a punk rock band with several of his buddies, which they called the Backyard Swingset, where he got his first taste of the “Do-it-Yourself” (DIY) music business while booking shows at local venues with friends in other bands.
These early experiences began to plant the idea for cultivating the DIY music scene on Cape Ann.
After attending Ipswich High School for music and participating in their competitive jazz program, Pardee atteneded the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He felt Berklee would best enable him to learn the DIY style of music business in a more organized way. Pursuing his degree at Berklee, Pardee was able to take classes that both developed the skills he needed to succeed in business and continued to hone his guitar playing. This is something unique to Berklee, he says.
While some other schools don’t require their music business majors to actively play a musical instrument, all Berklee students must be musicians and undergo the same rigorous audition process. “My life at Berklee consisted of being involved in as many ensembles as I could — studying with the craziest guys you could study with and taking labs, like atonal jazz composition and freaky things like the guitar stylings of Kurt Rosenwinkel,” Pardee laughingly remarks.
“Nowhere else could I have done all that and still … [had] my vision [for DIY music] … critiqued. I was able to go to my professors, who were managers of really successful bands and lawyers, who were working on the biggest deals for the biggest artists in the world and say, ‘What if … ?’”
Pardee always knew that he was coming back to Cape Ann.
“The whole intention [of going to Berklee] was to embrace where I was from. Instead of moving somewhere like LA or New York, I wanted to tell the story of where I’m from. Growing up with all different kinds of music, I was aware that Rockport doesn’t have its own type of music. We haven’t been here long enough to establish that. But we do have our own culture, and respect for music we get from other cultures.”
After finishing at Berklee, Pardee moved back to Cape Ann to start his DIY record label, Pulp & Fizz. The new label came with a twist — instead of relying on album sales to turn a profit, his business model is centered around selling merchandise promoted by the music and videos that the label produces. In order to keep his production costs low, Pardee began to collect recording equipment that he could use to build his own studio.
With its music and shows centered on the local scene and the eastern reggae movement, Pulp & Fizz is, in Pardee’s words, “a DIY replacement of everything that exists in the industry to support artists: an agent, a recording label, publicity, etc.” Combining his early DIY experience with the professional skills he gained at Berklee, Pardee has been able to find ways to “find [professional] solutions for conscious independent artists.”
The name Pulp & Fizz, he says, comes from an experience he had on a plane. “I was drinking a mimosa, and I had this moment of clarity: pulp and fizz is like the balance of life. There has to be what’s good for you and what’s from the earth, and then something that’s exciting — that brings up a bubbly passion.”
Though in that moment the perfect balance was one of orange juice and champagne, Pardee took the thought and turned it into his philosophy.
But that’s not all there is to Pulp & Fizz, and the way Pardee hopes to develop the company. He narrates the story of Twin Lights, and how fascinated he is with the small soda pop brand, which draws its name from the twin lighthouses on Thacher Island. Since its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s, the company still maintains a small bottling operation in Rockport, producing old-fashioned flavors of soda and continuing to be an important part of the local culture, especially for Pardee. When he was thinking about the beginnings of Pulp & Fizz, he also thought about Twin Lights and Rockport, coupled with the old-fashioned brand and the old business model for the music industry.
And then he thought about cupcakes.
The clothing company Johnny Cupcakes happened. It was a company launched by a man named Johnny who worked at Newbury Comics, who one day wore a shirt with a cupcake on it and earned the nickname “Johnny Cupcakes.”
According to Pardee, Johnny drew crossbones under a cupcake on the shirt the next day, and the rest was history.
Now, there’s a flagship store on Boston’s Newbury Street that exclusively sells graphic tees similar to the first one Johnny designed, and it’s set up similar to a bakery, so people think they sell cupcakes. That ingenious “mis-marketing” of a product is what stuck with Pardee.
“Drawing on the Johnny Cupcakes idea,” he says, bringing all his inspirations full circle, “we could market [Pulp & Fizz] as something totally different, to be able to create the story behind it. I figured, run a record label and a merchandise company, but have it look like it’s a soda pop company from Rockport from 1910.”
Ultimately, Pardee wants to be seen as a brand. “The endgame for me is to have a store in downtown Rockport that sells shirts and tank tops — all organic and made in America. A lot of it has the bands’ logos on it, and the rest of it just has a Pulp & Fizz logo on it. A line of clothes that perpetuates itself so there’s money coming in to help record someone’s album.”
Purpose and motivation keep coming back to the concept of authenticity and really digging into embodying Jake Pardee’s hometown, and embracing the local identity of Cape Ann.
The way Pardee wants to do that is by shooting music videos on local sites, playing local venues, and having the people that have been working with him for years still being the people he works with every day.
It comes back to culture, too. “I don’t want that story to be anything other than exactly who we are,” Pardee muses. “I looked at what our culture was, in terms of how my friends and I enjoy life on Cape Ann, and thought, ‘how can we continue to write songs that represent that and share it with the world so people can get that we are from [Rockport] and we’re happy to be from there, and not pretending to be from somewhere else.’ Because, we are a reggae band that grew up on the beach, [but] that beach isn’t in Jamaica or Southern California. What’s a better story? To pretend that we’re from somewhere else, or making where we’re from the inspiration?”
Pardee says the hardest thing is to keep persevering, as a musician and as a company. For him, being a musician isn’t something you can just get perfect one day or define one day and be done.
“You have to continue to define your own place in the world. You’re never going to play a guitar solo perfectly on stage — and then it’s over. You never have to do it again. But, there’s always the need to perform. There’s never one big pay off that’s like, ‘Okay, we made it.’ You can play the biggest, most awesome places ever and sell them out, but what’s on your calendar next month? That makes it more about the process. At the end of the day, we have to be able to play shows, print our own CDs, make our own music videos and merchandise, and get to the gig, and promote the gig, all while we’re individually making a living.”
Toward that end, Pardee teaches guitar lessons during the day. He enjoys being able to inspire other people to play, and likes seeing people find a place to belong through music.
He loves seeing young kids learn to socialize and find friends through playing music together in the same way he did, as well as still being able to play guitar all day.
Pardee is currently in the band Pier Ave, which has recently released two music videos, and can be seen playing local venues. Pulp & Fizz has recently worked with artists like Toussaint the Liberator, producing several videos from live performances in Boston.
Pardee’s goal in his relationship with the community is to “have a positive effect on the community in the arts, and encourage people to be self-sufficient. I see my role as being a part of it and supporting it, facilitating collaboration and to embrace an authentic voice that comes from Rockport.”
He believes that the Rockport community is his inspiration for his music, and he in turn would like to inspire, support, and empower them.
Steve Marsel is a Boston-based commercial photographer.