Pesky J. Nixon at Anna Liffey's on Dec. 2

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Pesky J. Nixon

7:30 p.m. Dec. 2, Anna Liffey's, 17 Whitney Ave. $12. (203) 773-1776, ctfolk.com.

 

Why does any given band play the kind of music they play?

While it's not feasible for every musician to competently respond to this question (that is, if they even want to respond), learning a musician's answer to it can go a mile in adding color to their work in a way the music alone can't. Learning those motivations certainly fleshes out Pesky J. Nixon, the Boston four-piece originally formed by Ethan Baird and Jake Bush in 2006-ish — a decade after the pair bonded as a capella performers at Brandeis University. Baird attributes PJN's allegiance to folk to two primary factors. Curiously, the first has nothing to do with the sound itself. "For me, the draw at least initially was due to the community," the vocalist and guitarist says. "It is one of those music environments where there is clearly people just trying to help each other out. In particular, [in] Boston, there's an immense community of musicians, and a lot of other music scenes — whether that be punk or whatever — are very competitive in a cut-throat kind of way. In folk, while there certainly is competition to some degree, it is very nurturing [in the manner] where as soon as you get elevated to a particular level, it is expected of you to do your best to help people that you used to play with to achieve the same thing."

This explains why Red Ducks, Pesky J. Nixon's upcoming third record, is a cover album that pays tribute to more than just notables. Red Ducks features work by Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Gillian Welch, as well as lesser-known names — Anthony da Costa, Jimmy Ryan and Tim Gearan — whom PJN have met and bonded with during their time in the folk scene.

The second part of Baird's explanation elucidates his emotional connection to the music. Baird spent a chunk of his youth growing up on a sailboat found in Marblehead, Mass., and along the coast of Maine. During that time, he was surrounded by five albums: two by The Beatles, and one apiece by Gordon Lightfoot, Harry Chapin and Cat Stevens. When he started playing guitar, he was smitten with members of "the urban singer-songwriter folk scene" such as Martin Sexton and Ellis Paul, making it evident that a long-gestating appreciation is crucial in bringing him here. Still, Baird can articulate the sense of freedom he finds in the genre. "The nice thing about it is is [that] unlike a lot of other styles, there are no real hard and fast rules [to folk]. The song structure doesn't have to be a pop song," Baird says. Sooner than later, though, he's re-emphasizing his earlier ideas, distilling PJN's goals to a catchy — if vague — trio of words: "community, creation, and sustainment."

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