There's no question about how formidable Oakland songwriter/composer/band member and teacher Monica Pasqual's musical chops are. As a solo artist, collaborator and member of the well-loved band Blame Sally, Monica has earned five Independent Music Awards and six Emmy Awards. What's just as impressive is her dedication as an artist to keeping her work fresh. Barely off the road with Blame Sally, Pasqual dove headfirst into teaching songwriting while rebooting her solo performance schedule and finding new ways to access her muse. Monica kindly answered some questions about her process.
Q You've been on the road much of the past few years with a band—how are you feeling as you turn to your solo work more fully again?
MP Yeah, I've been living the so-called dream with Blame Sally for the last few years and it's been really amazing playing for people all over the US and Europe — I wouldn't trade it for anything. But I have to say that right now I'm super excited about just being at home for a while and getting the opportunity to re-connect with myself as a writer and composer. Blame Sally has been playing together for 13 years and while I feel like we remain really creative together, I think all of us feel like there are sides of us that have been neglected, both personally and artistically. For myself, I can't just jump into writing when I get home after a long tour. It takes me weeks sometimes to just feel normal again, and for years now by the time that happened it was already time to hit the road again.
So believe me, I am relishing the relative peace and quiet that I've been getting for the last few months. And sure enough, the songs are starting to come, too.
Q Tell us about your writing process: Do you keep a writing schedule or wait for inspiration to strike? Do you write on tour or do you 'save it up' for when you're home?
MP I don't write on tour. I find it really difficult to switch quickly back and forth between the extroversion required for performing and the introversion required for writing. Those are two really different sides of me and they don't seem to coexist that easily. I used to be the kind of writer who waits for inspiration, and that has worked for me pretty well. But of late I've been exploring ways to provoke inspiration and it's been really exciting. I started teaching songwriting workshops and found that if I practice what I preach the songs will come. But even so, I wouldn't call myself incredibly methodical and disciplined about my writing. I am not a particularly routine-driven person.
What's going on for me right now, though, is that I'm trying to break out of some of my preconceptions and superstitions around writing. I've had a tendency to be a little precious about it, to say, "I can only write under these conditions." So I'm all about trying new things around writing. I'm even going to try some co-writing this week, which is something I've kind of avoided in the past.
Q How did your songwriter's workshops evolve?
MP Originally, to be honest, I was just trying to figure out something that I could do while I wasn't touring. A lot of people had suggested that I teach songwriting or piano. I had tried teaching songwriting in the past and I really didn't like it. But recently I've been invited to do short workshops at festivals or before certain concerts, and I ended up really enjoying myself. I think the success of what I am doing now is based on the fact that I'm "teaching" (if you can call it that) what I want to learn. So really, I'm not interested in teaching the craft of songwriting (though I am totally happy to touch on that with people and it does come up in our classes), I'm interested in originality, in finding the uniqueness and truth that we carry inside ourselves. I feel like because songs are so ubiquitous in our lives, people get certain rules driven home almost subconsciously, and when they start writing songs they often write with way less originality than they do if they are writing prose or even just talking. Of course, it's tricky to write in verse and meters and also try to be original, but it's possible. I'm also interested in how we access inspiration. We've all gone through periods where we just feel dry and it's scary and discouraging. So in my workshop we try to write around songwriting. Take the pressure off and just write anything — not songs, just pen on paper flowing. It's amazing how quickly you start longing to write. It's like exercise — at first it's just a horrid ordeal, but eventually, you want to get up and do it because you know it makes you feel good.
Q What do the next 6 months look like? (Will you be doing a new solo recording? Other projects, producing, teaching, etc)
MP Good question. I am just right now starting to look at that. What I know for sure is that 1. I'm writing songs, 2. I'm teaching workshops, 3. I have quite a few smallish concerts booked.
As far as recording, [I'm] pretty sure that I'll be doing that soon, too. Between Blame Sally and my solo stuff I think I've put out 14 albums in the last 17 years, I don't foresee that trend changing. Somehow I always find the time and the money to get back in the studio.
Monica Pascqual next performs at 27 Powers in Alameda, CA September 7, 2013 7pm. For tickets and information to A Magical Garden Concert in Alameda, go to http://www.27powers.org/; For more about Monica go to http://monicapasqual.com