We know the stories of The White House and the Hollywood sign, but what about the landmarks that aren’t on an everyday radar? This is something that O.A.R. keyboardist, MikelParis, is exploring in his innovative documentary series, TuneTrek. Paris has been traveling the country and exploring the historical gems that aren’t as widely recognized. In his 14 years touring with O.A.R., he has spent the last 7 using this unique opportunity of travel to check out city sites that are off the beaten path.
“I’ve always been an adventurer,” says Paris, who, as a kid, would get through homework as a means to get outside and explore. Flash forward to adulthood and that sense of adventure has only grown stronger. Citing inspiration from documentarians such as Anthony Bourdain and Les Stroud, Paris has learned from their work to release his own vision. “I’ve always been looking through the lens,” says Paris, who got his first film camera at the age of 9. With 57 episodes of TuneTrek under his belt, the musician/filmmaker has seen the sides of cities that not many get to venture through. “I needed to get myself off the tour bus and out of the hotel room to explore and have adventures.”
Each episode focuses in on a historical landmark that Paris explores with an on-site expert. Additionally, every episode features an original song by Paris that is created for the landmark at hand, which allows him to have a stronger connection to the establishment. “It’s a unique and interesting way to write music – being inspired by a historic place.” While he typically writes the songs ahead of time – with a few tweaks that may come during his visit – Paris says he’d like to challenge himself to go in to a new place “completely blank” and create a song on the spot. “My brain does nothing but go on these creative adventures,” explains Paris. “[It’s] typical of any obsessed-creative-musician person, or any artistic person.”
The landmarks are based on the location of where the band will be touring, and Paris does extensive research of the area to find a spot that would make the perfect fit for an episode. At first, he was squeezing this into a 4-hour shoot day, but has since expanded his travel arrangements in order to have more time to film. “It’s me wanting to find unique and different places and not always wanting to go to the same type of place – even though every place has its own story – just for me to keep it different and interesting,” expresses Paris.
At the end of the month, Paris will be embarking on his first official TuneTrek tour which will start on the east coast. He plans on documenting a gold mine in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Monroe House in Oberlin, Ohio, and the East Hartford Historical Society in Hartford, Connecticut which features three unique structures in one space – an old schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and an 18th century house; his goal with the latter episode is to capture “a moment in time”. The tour will also feature Paris’s HouseTrek, where hosts in the cities he’s visiting open their homes for Paris to come in and perform a one-of-a-kind concert.
While he does his research and writes his songs in advance, Paris doesn’t always plan out many of the shots beforehand. “It’s spontaneous and in the moment,” he explains. “This journey of being a musician and a filmmaker…I need every day to be different.” With that in mind, he likes the capture the essence of his experiencing a landmark for the first time in a way that translates on screen. “It’s exciting for me to write these songs about places I’ve never been to and then I get to go there,” he says. “And it’s exciting to drive up to the place for the first time and see it.”
Paris shows no signs of slowing down and has plenty of ideas up his sleeve to keep the series fresh. “I never wanted to just figure it out and do the same thing for years and years,” he says. “It’s an evolution.”
Catch up on all 57 episodes of TuneTrek here and follow MikelParis and TuneTrek on all social media with @MikelParis and @TuneTrek. Keep an eye out for Paris when he’s in Chicago with O.A.R. on December 4 and 5 at The Vic.