Ear Might: P.J. Pacifico Talks a New Record and an Old Habit

Arts and CultureArtJames TaylorRidgefieldSouth Norwalk

P.J. Pacifico
w/ Sarah Blacker, Kristen Graves. Friday, May 6, 7 p.m., Southport Coffee House Series, Southport Congregational Church, 524 Pequot Ave., Southport, $5-10,
Every Sunday: Burger Bar, South Norwalk (5 to 7 p.m.); Every Monday: The Little Pub, Ridgefield (8 to 10 p.m.); Every Thursday: The Goose, Darien (9:30 p.m.)

P.J. Pacifico is a battle-hardened road warrior who talks like a surfer and sings like a modern James Taylor. He's on the verge of releasing his newest record, Outlet, a punchy collection of folk rock centered on his recent marriage. Part of his excitement stems from the fact that his friends and family each seem to latch onto something personal in the disc. “Everyone has different sets of favorite tunes from the new album,” says Pacifico in a phone interview. “I'm not getting the repeated tunes. That's a great sign! I just can't wait till [the record release on] June 7. I just want it to be out there.”

The Norwalk guitar-slinger has several discs under his belt, and by his own estimation has written between 250 and 300 songs. (“'Course, I only use about 20 percent, 30 percent of them.”) But the most notable aspect of his career is probably his insane touring schedule, which regularly takes him across the country. “There's a lot of people who look at my schedule and say ‘Damn, how do you do it?' Not drinking helps. I don't know how some people do it and drink. I wouldn't be able to function.”

In his song descriptions for Outlet, Pacifico mentioned that a lifestyle change was what allowed his relationship with his longtime girlfriend to transform into a marriage. I ask if the change he referred to was putting down the bottle.

“I don't really like to talk about that too much, because I stopped drinking three years ago with the last release. The last one was the ‘sober' record and the new one is the ‘married' record,” he answers. But a moment later, he opens right up — characteristic of a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve in his music. “I definitely wouldn't be talking to you if I was drinking. When you're clear, man, it's a lot different. It has an effect on songwriting for sure. I used to write songs just to have new songs. Now I go back and I refine a little bit, and try them out live for a while, and change some lyrics here and there.”

“So you feel like you're more in touch with a creative process that works?” I ask.

“I'm certainly using 100 percent of my tools. I was too fogged-in before.”

While Pacifico's tour schedule incorporates dry venues like coffeeshops and performing arts centers, a fair amount of his gigs are at bars. “You can't turn a gig down, you can't be picky. Sometimes you gotta play the bars.” The cool thing is, for Pacifico, booze isn't a demon constantly threatening to derail his career. “It's not like I look around and go ‘Oh my god, look at those beers! Look at that shot of Jack!' The drooling phase is way gone. But it's more like, ‘I've done this scene. I've sooo done this scene.' … So I try to book early shows, not primarily at bars. Or [I book] the coffeehouses. I wanna go where people listen.”

And Pacifico is right to emphasize venues that let his craft shine. His skill as a songwriter is beginning to earn him some opportunities above and beyond the typical gig. He recently did an artist-in-residency workshop at a high school. “I was talking to a bunch of high-school girls in the library about songwriting. Doing stuff like that is an honor. Those two hours flew by. I'm doing the same thing at the Gathering of the Vibes this year. At the Teen Vibes stage, I'm gonna be doing a class, kinda like a forum. Do a little speaking and examples, and then take questions, and then do a set afterwards.”

This Friday's gig will fulfill a long-standing dream for Pacifico. He's wanted to record a live set for some time now, and the Southport Congregational Church will provide an intimate setting for his music. You can expect a mix of old songs, material from Outlet, carefully chosen covers, and even a few never-been-played-before songs.

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