Paper City Exile rocks South Hadley

by Town Reminder

By Lauren Quirici
SOUTH HADLEY – The name of Paper City Exile, a band native to South Hadley, was a group effort.  “Most of our parents are from Holyoke,” explains band member Michael Holmes.  The group, comprised of Danny Conway, Michael Holmes and Brian Kennedy, three fourteen-year-old town residents, has been playing together for nearly a year. 
On Friday, June 27, the trio played their first public show at the gazebo on the town common. 
In lieu of admission, the group asked that attendees bring a non-perishable food item for the town’s food pantry.
“We thought, you know, people are going to be there, so why not?” say Conway and Holmes in unison.  When asked who came up with the idea, all eyes slowly turned toward Danny’s mother Tara Conway, standing quietly in the back of the room. 
“It was a suggestion,” she says, trying to hide a smile.
“We wanted to do [the show] before school was over so that we could have the attention of more people in our class, but it got rained out,” explains Conway.  “But it turned out great!” Holmes chimes in.  The turnout was excellent, they reported; even their bus driver came.
 Brian Conway, father of Paper City Exile’s lead singer Danny and mentor of the group, has been a musician for years and currently plays in a duo called Ireland Parish. “It’s been a privilege to see them work together, practice, support and respect what each band member brings to the table,” says Brian Conway of his group of mentees.
 “My dad kind of introduced me to this,” Conway says. “I went on kind of a different trail, and now we’re here.”
All three of the members have a background in music. Brooks Holmes, Holmes’ father, is the band director at Michael E Smith Middle School in South Hadley, and is able to help supply the trio with much of what they need.  Kennedy’s father is a drummer. “We’ve always had a drum set downstairs,” says Kennedy. 
The group credits drum teacher Bill Latang, math teacher William Donah and chorus teacher Patricia Murawski as also being influential. “We have so many good resources,” says Holmes, as the others nod in agreement.
The group has carved out a space to practice at Conway’s home.  Conway, lead guitarist and lead singer in the band, also plays keyboards and the African Thumb Piano.  Holmes plays bass for the band and also has experience with the trumpet.  Ryan Kennedy, the percussionist, also plays the bass clarinet and saxophone.
“It’s just something fun to do.  It’s more fun to play with other people than by yourself all the time,” says Conway about the decision to start the band.  The three live in the same neighborhood and have known each other for some time.  Holmes and Conway have been fast friends since kindergarten.
The band members have diverse musical tastes in common.  “I’m big with Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones.  I love rock ‘n roll,” says Holmes.  “I like a lot of the old stuff but I’m more into at the moment new stuff like the Black Keys,” says Conway.  “My two favorite bands are probably the Black Keys and Green Day,” Kennedy chimes in. 
“I’m proud of each of them,” says Tara Conway, Danny’s mother. “They’re great kids on their own, and putting them together as a band, just seeing that kind of maturity level at this age is not something you run across all the time.  Just listening to them communicate, [saying] ‘what do you think, how does this sound, what would you do, what do you recommend?’ It’s really great.”
Holmes plays basketball and soccer in addition to juggling band practice and school.
“He’s the one who we really try to work our schedule around,” laughs Conway, who moonlights as a beekeeper in his spare time.  “This is the first year that we started to produce honey,” he reports.  The Conway family also has chickens that they hope will be laying eggs soon.
Kennedy spends his time playing the drums and playing with his dog, a Golden Retriever/Lab mix.
While the three are clearly focused on their musical careers, a wide array of interests can be found among the three young bandmates.  Conway expresses interest in potentially becoming a luthier (crafting and repairing instruments).  Holmes is drawn to acting and the culinary arts, and Kennedy gravitates toward architecture and psychology. 
Do they think the band will last?  “Yeah.  We’re friends,” they answer confidently together.  “Of course we have our occasional respectful disagreements, but those are always helpful,” says Conway. 
The group works together to keep in practice and ensure that their equipment updated. “It’s worth it,” says Holmes. “When you get that sound, it’s pretty great.”
The three were able to offer some sage advice for any young talent trying to start out.  “Work harder on working together than making yourself stand out,” says Conway after a moment’s thought.  “You don’t want to focus on the future, you want to focus on the present,” adds Holmes.  “And make sure you have set meeting times where you can practice.  If it’s not set, you’re never gonna practice,” says Kennedy. 
Check out the band’s YouTube channel Paper City Exile! to see some of their work.