Student Spotlight: Liam Purcell

The seventh-semester mandolinist traces his path to Berklee back to his Appalachian bluegrass roots, discusses his ongoing touring work, and picks his five favorite songs of the moment.

January 23, 2023

What’s it like to study at Berklee? Our Student Spotlight series asks current students all about their Berklee experience—what they’re learning in class, what kinds of projects they’re involved in onstage or behind the scenes, how they recharge, and of course, what they’re listening to. This week, get to know Liam Purcell, a seventh-semester mandolinist from Deep Gap, North Carolina, currently double-majoring in performance and professional music.

seated man in a button-down shirt holding a mandolin

Liam Purcell

Image courtesy of Liam Purcell

Tell us about your path to Berklee. What made you decide to come here?

I grew up about as far away from a formal music education as you could imagine. My path to being a musician began with the oral tradition of roots and bluegrass music in rural Appalachia. As I got older and became interested in a wide variety of genres, I found a lack of resources in my area and began to crave a learning environment that would be both stylistically diverse and challenging. That brought me to audition at Berklee, and my dreams were fulfilled very quickly after that. 

What's been your favorite class so far, and what has it taught you?

My favorite class so far has been Advanced Reharmonization Techniques taught by Steve Rochinski. Berklee’s harmony curriculum differs from many schools and is well designed for tackling modern music. After Harmony 1–4 I found myself wanting to dig even deeper, so I was delighted to find many more upper-level harmony courses.

What's a project you've worked on since coming to Berklee that you've been especially excited about?

I have continued to tour with a band while in school, so I’ve been very excited with the way my musical education has informed our writing and performances. Studying at Berklee has informed my writing and arranging when it comes to the group and our performances. Not only in terms of instrumental skill and new ideas, but also when it comes to the art of performing and entertaining a crowd.

Watch Liam Purcell & Cane Mill Road perform their rendition of “Black Clouds” by the String Cheese Incident:


How do you typically recharge or find new ideas outside of class?

I love to get in the gym or go walk and explore Boston when I need to recharge. Campus also provides many great spaces to lounge, work, and create. 

What careers are you interested in pursuing in the future?

I plan to continue my performance career and feel as though I’m well equipped to do that in a variety of settings. I also enjoy live sound and production, which Berklee has given me the resources to pursue. 

When you think towards your own future, who inspires you most?

Not sure on this one, but I would say much of my inspiration to keep pushing forward comes from my early teachers and friends as well as my family, who were the first to support me and give me the confidence to come to music school, especially at times when I lacked that confidence for myself.

What's one piece of advice you'd give to your high school self?

If I could give one piece of advice to my high-school self, it would be to enjoy time with your friends and family while it’s easy to do so. Also, you probably won’t have that much free time again for 20 years, so enjoy it and be creative.

Liam's Current Favorite Songs

We asked Liam to tell us about his top five favorite songs right now. Here's what he said:

1. "Last of My Kind," Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

I love this Jason Isbell song because I felt like an outsider when I came to Boston. I was used to life in a much smaller place and was sometimes embarrassed of my rural side. Over time, I learned to embrace it and found that the people at Berklee are welcoming to those from all backgrounds, however it’s still an amazing song.


2. "Little While," The Wooks

This song is a great memento mori of sorts while reflecting back on childhood as an adult.


3. "Follow the Light," Cory Wong and Dirty Loops

I love this whole album with Cory Wong and Dirty Loops. Everything goes super hard, groove-wise, and the arranging, for me, keeps this one on repeat.


4. "The Hitchhiker," The Infamous Stringdusters

This Stringdusters tune comes back through the years and is one of my favorites to play live.


5. "The Entertainer," Billy Joel

My dad gave me Billy Joel’s greatest hits on CD when I was a little kid. Sometimes I wonder if this song is what made me want to be a touring musician or if wanting to be a touring musician is what made me like this song. Either way!