As old as the Odyssey, the story of a man trying to fight his way back home is at the core of Dusty Pas’cal’s body of songs.
The 32-year-old singer songwriter from upstate New York released his second album, More, this past February, and performs tonight at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.
The father of five children, all under the age of seven, and the owner of a chimney and roofing company in Skaneateles, N.Y., Mr. Pas’cal says he struggles to find the balance between family, work and his music career. It is this ongoing quest that he is ultimately referring to when he talks about the idea of home. Not a place, exactly, but rather a precious equilibrium, the search for which can take a lifetime.
“We’re all looking for home. We all want peace,” Mr. Pas’cal said in a telephone interview conducted from New York while clothes shopping with his children.
The title track of his first album, Home, is clean, pared-back trio with guitar, voice and piano. The lyrics convey a craving for freedom from all human attachment, for the loneliness of the highwayman or the wanderer. “It’s not easy but it’s pleasing if you’re leaving with no reason,” he sings, to a classic folk chord progression.
He names Kris Kristofferson and Jim Croce as two of his main influences, along with his father, who was also a songwriter.
At Thanksgiving, his family would pass around a guitar and everyone would sing a song that they had written.
“I think that’s the way my family got to know each other,” he said. “It would give you a deeper idea of who your father is, who your sister is,” he said.
At the same time, the family circle provided a pool of honest criticism. With family, he said, “You can spot the bull from a mile away, and you say it.”
Now, Mr. Pas’cal continues to keep music and family tightly connected, writing most of his songs at the kitchen table with his children all around, and singing with his eldest daughter.
His second album took a year and a half to complete, and led him to make difficult choices about the direction his music was taking.
Coming off of the success of Home, (produced by Loren Barrigar and released by SubCat Studios) which sold over 10,000 copies, Mr. Pas’cal started to wonder whether the produced, polished sound that had proved so popular was really the most honest way of presenting his art.
“I was kind of people pleasing in a way. Thinking about what somebody would like, what somebody would buy,” he said. “I was trying to make it appealing to a lot of people.”
As More took on a similar, studio polish, he was pleased at first, and then began to feel troubled. “I was starting to chase that big sound, but then it started to crumble.”
Instead of pressing forward, he decided to make an about-face. “It was the most difficult thing I ever did,” he said. “I stopped halfway through and started doing it my own way. I wanted to keep it honest, and not overproduce it. I wanted to keep the idea of less is more.”
The result is an album with a bifurcated sound, with some raw live recordings and some songs, like Boston, pulling out all the stops in studio recordings with organ, back-up singers, and steel guitar.
It is in his live performance, however, where Dusty Pas’cal feels the most meaningful presentation of his music happens.
“It is a struggle to open up completely, to play those songs like you meant them when you wrote them,” he said. “[When it happens,] there’s nothing more beautiful than that give and take. You’re able to receive something from the people who are listening and it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.”
Joined by Danny Welch on harmonica and Bobby Perry on bass, Dusty Pas’cal performs tonight at 9 p.m. at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. Tickets are $15.