Since the age of 17, JP Houston has been building his impressive musical résumé.
Houston, a native of Toronto, has written songs for recording artists, theater and television. He’s composed for BBC, HBO, CBC, PBS and many others; he was even nominated for a Gemini Award, which is the Canadian equivalent of an Emmy Award.
Since relocating to the Los Angeles area about four years ago, he’s been involved with The Relationship, the side project of Brian Bell from Weezer. He’s also part of Pappy and Harriet’s The Sunday Band, up in Pioneertown.
On top of all of that, he’s been leading a unique variety show that has been compared to A Prairie Home Companion: Since February, he’s been producing American Parlor Songbook, a podcast that’s recorded live in the Ace Hotel’s Amigo Room every Wednesday evening, featuring a variety of guests. Previous performers have included Blasting Echo frontman Josh Heinz, former Beastie Boys keyboardist Money Mark and singer Keisha D.
While the show is recorded weekly, Houston is currently saving up an archive of unreleased shows for possible radio broadcast down the line. As of this writing, six recordings are available at americanparlorsongbook.com and iTunes. Houston said another is due to be released this week, followed by one in July, and one in August.
Houston said that American Parlor Songbook is partly inspired by his childhood.
“I grew up with my parents being theater people,” Houston said during a recent phone interview. “We would have these parties where all the people were actors, dancers and writers, and there would be a piano-player at the parties. We would sing show tunes, play games and tell jokes. The structure of the show is sort of based on those parties.”
The show has made him step outside of the norms of being a musician, Houston said.
“I think for me personally, the first performance—going from a singer and musician to a speaker—was a real turning point,” Houston said. “When I was scripting out the show and then went in front of an audience and had to execute it, the words came out, and they made sense—it worked. That was a really exciting moment for me.”
While his show has been compared to A Prairie Home Companion, Houston said there some definite differences.
“I would say it’s a silhouette of A Prairie Home Companion; you could put it in the same place and category shelf in a library,” said Houston. “(A Prairie Home Companion) is a variety show where they tell stories, sing songs, and the guests come out. American Parlor Songbook is a very different show in its structure and tone. I call it a parlor act, because it similar to a parlor with the piano-player and the bantering with the audience. It’s more interactive.”
For those who have never attended an American Parlor Songbook show, Houston said it’s different than what people are accustomed to—and that makes things fun for both himself and the audience.
“It’s not just an event. It’s a fun show to watch, and it’s a fun show to participate in. … We play musical charade-type games where the audience can shout out the answers. After the show is done recording, I stay and keep play sing-along songs, and we keep playing games through the night.”
American Parlor Songbook podcasts can be found on iTunes or at americanparlorsongbook.com. The show is recorded at 9 p.m. each Wednesday at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive (760-325-9900; acehotel.com/Houston). Admission is free.