by John Turner
When it comes right down to it, the honesty’s the key.
When you own and run a business, and have a wife and five kids to watch over, there just isn’t time for any bullshit.
From music, to family, to work, that’s the essence of Dusty Pas’cal. The Skaneateles, N.Y., resident and his wife, Michelle, have five children ranging in age from 2 to 8, and Dusty runs his family roofing company, D.B. Pas’cal Chimney and Roofing.
And even though it would seem like there just aren’t enough hours left in the day, Dusty’s career as a singer/songwriter is zooming upwards.
His two studio albums, “Home” (2006) and “More” (2008) have garnered fantastic attention in Central New York and across the nation. Dusty’s live record, “Brother John” (2009), recorded at an intimate theater performance in Syracuse, is an extraordinary representation of his charismatic live presence.
Dusty said that since he first picked up a guitar at age 13, he’s been a firm believer in the purity of his music.
“Early on, I was influenced by guys like Kris Kristofferson and Jim Croce, because that’s who my dad listened to,” he said. “But actually, I was most influenced by my dad, who’s a songwriter himself.”
And since he first started writing songs as a teenager, Dusty’s trusted his musical instincts and has refused to let the commercial side of the music business affect his creative process.
“Writing music has never been about the money,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to have a job with the family business, so I’ve never let that financial side of it influence me in any way.”
In 2004, Dusty was feeling overwhelmed as the head of the family business, so he started cranking out songs as a creative outlet.
“I’m the kind of guy who goes all or nothing in everything, and I was definitely doing that with work. … So I started going for that with the songwriting too, making sure I got close to the truth of each song.”
So, armed with a handful of tunes, Dusty went into the studio – where an interesting thing happened.
“I went in there with a bunch of songs, but the majority of them didn’t make the album. Most of the ones (on ‘Home’) I wrote in the studio.”
Dusty said he spent about two years in the basement of Skaneateles’ SubCat Music Studio, re-recording each tune at least 100 times.
“From all that, I learned that the delivery of a song is just as important as the writing of it. Those two years really taught me a lot about that,” he said.
Upon its release in 2006, “Home” was met with critical and commercial praise, and has had tracks featured on local radio stations and internationally on XM Satellite Radio.
The songs on the record, from the title track, to the yearning ballad of “Need You Now,” to the introspective “High Up,” show just how honest and pure Dusty’s music is.
And with the success of both the album and with his recording process, Dusty knew he was onto something.
“The creative chemistry that happens in the studio really works,” he said. “You’re all really focused on the same thing.”
Dusty wanted to “feed off the energy” of “Home,” he said, so in 2007 he went back into the studio to begin work on “More” – this time with only two songs written.
“The songs we wrote in the studio for that one turned out to be some of the best ones I’ve done,” he said.
On “More,” Dusty and his backing musicians flexed their creative muscles a bit. The album includes more rock-rooted songs like “Boston” and “Engine and a Wheel,” a playful acoustic groove in “History” and gritty solo recordings like “Hunters and Thieves” and “Bury Me Here.”
Pascal said his biggest influence on both albums has been guitarist Loren Barrigar, whom he called “my musical mentor.”
“Loren’s taught me so much about how to ‘feel’ these songs,” he said. “At one point I was sort of stuck trying to find a direction to go in, and Loren just told me to go sit in a room with my guitar and figure out where the songs live.
“On both records, he’s been able to help me take the tunes to a new level,” he added.
A bonus of the album is that several tunes are live recordings from a show Dusty played at the Redhouse Arts Center in Syracuse.
“These songs are about communicating,” he said. “And I think those tunes, the live versions, communicate better to listeners than the studio recordings do.”
In fact, the songs from the Redhouse show – most of which have videos posted on YouTube – were so successful that Dusty released them as a live album, “Brother John,” in 2009.
Currently Dusty is performing gigs all over the region, armed with several new songs he said he plans to record in the studio starting in March.
In fact, one new tune is proof that his songwriting ability has come full circle.
“Lonesome” is a heartbreaking ballad that includes lyrics unknowingly written by Dusty’s father.
“My dad came to one of my shows, and I could see him just sitting there writing something,” he recalled.
Dusty’s dad was in fact writing a poem about a friend of his who was on death’s door, so Dusty set the poem – “without changing a single word,” he said – to music.
“I know my dad so well, it just flowed out naturally,” Dusty said. “He also taught me to be the man I am, and that’s allowed me to do what I do.”
John Turner is a freelance writer living in Auburn, NY. He is probably Dusty Pas’cal’s biggest fan. Learn more about John at his website, gimposity.com.