Piano-centric alternative rocker talks about the "F-Word" and more.
Only a minute ago, John Paciga dropped his new album No Alibi, a heady concoction of piano-driven pop and alt-rock.
Paciga, a self-described "theater geek and crazy Yale student," began piano lessons at age four, followed by musical theater in middle school. He recorded his first song in the eighth grade and, plague-ridden by the malady called music, hasn't slowed down since, dropping an EP and two albums in quick succession.
On his latest album, No Alibi, Paciga ramps his sound up to the next level, incorporating hard-hitting guitars to complement his flamboyant piano brilliance and catchy lyrics. Popdust got the chance to catch up with the 18-year-old prolific prodigy.
"The F-Word" - John Paciga - Official Lyric Video youtu.be
How would you describe yourself?
I am an alternative piano rocker, a tea and coffee lover, a musical theater geek, and a crazy Yale student who always manages (or rather, tries) to fit more than 24 hours' worth of creativity, schoolwork, sleeping, and procrastination (not necessarily in that order) into a day.
What is the most trouble you've ever gotten into?
That's a tough one, but I found myself in an unfortunate bind when a fellow actor simply missed an entrance for a pivotal scene in my second musical ever. I stumbled through a sad improvisation of the scene, trying to recreate the dialogue between our two characters as a monologue. Yes, my early acting days had their cringy moments in all their glory, but you have to start somewhere, right?
What's your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?
Anything from the Hamilton soundtrack, but "My Shot" is definitely my hype song right now.
Who is your favorite music artist?
It's between Billy Joel and Ben Folds. It really depends on the mood I'm in. If I'm feeling sentimental, melodic, or need some time to breathe and unwind, it's Billy. If I'm feeling angsty, edgy, or just want to bop to some vibrant piano romps peppered with witty humor, it's Ben. Both have had a huge impact on my music.
How did you get started in music?What's the backstory there?
It all started when my grandma made me start taking piano lessons at the age of four, and I truly despised it. But, it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. After sticking with it for seven years, I started with a new teacher who helped me take my piano skills to a new level. That same year, she also convinced me to join the choir and audition for the musical, both of which she directed, at my middle school. That's when I truly started to love music and theater. At the end of eighth grade I wrote my first song, recorded it with my piano teacher's son, Kyle, and that's when I got the bug for songwriting and recording. Since then, I've recorded an EP and two albums with Kyle, and here I am today!
What musicians influenced you the most?
Billy Joel, Ben Folds, Ed Sheeran, Marianas Trench.
How, if at all, do your musical influences shape and impact your music?
People have often called me "the next Billy Joel," so I can't deny the fact he has had a major influence on my music. Billy and Ben have inspired my favorite approach to writing music: telling a story. They both capture the struggles and experiences of everyday people in their lyrics, which is something I aspire to do in each of my songs. Billy's music has shaped my vocal development and technique, as well as my piano-rock style. Ben has inspired the pianistic stylings on my jauntier tunes. With No Alibi, however, I have truly tried to diversify my style. Ed Sheeran and Twenty-One Pilots inspired me to try rapping. Marianas Trench emboldened me to enhance my songs with a tastefully insane amount of harmonies. So, there is no one artist who is my sole inspiration. I try to create my music with many influences in mind to combat being pegged for just one genre.
I really like your new song "The F-Word." What inspired the song? Did you, like many of us, have a crush on someone who only thought of you as a friend?
"The F-Word" was inspired by a particularly heart-wrenching, hopeless crush that lasted for almost a year. We were longtime friends, and for a while it looked like we would become something more … but in the end, it didn't happen. The whole situation was so ridiculous that I decided to capture it with an ironically upbeat, comedic approach. Toeing the line between romantic involvement and the woes of the friend zone is a truly universal plight, so I hope that many people connect to the sentiment of the song.
John PacigaPhoto Credit: Kurt Csolak
"The F-Word" reminds me a bit of Billy Joel. Is that a fair comparison or not?
Definitely a fair comparison! Although I drew more inspiration from Ben Folds for this particular song. In fact, while I was showing the song to some friends, someone walking by overheard it and asked, "Is that Ben Folds?" - which I consider a tremendous, though unintentional, compliment.
I would describe your sound as pop-rock, or piano rock. How would you describe it?
I would agree! When people ask me what my style is, I typically say, "piano-centric alternative rock." Whereas I consider my song craft and instrumentation more "alternative" (or at least unique) in comparison to the typical modern pop song, I try to make each song memorable with a pop-like melody or hook.
What is your song-writing process? Lyrics first, or the melody?
The million-dollar question! I always like to start with a general concept or idea. Knowing exactly what the song is going to be about helps me to write meaningful lyrics that tell the full story. If I know what the song is about, then I also know the mood of the song, which helps me to craft the music and instrumentation. At that point, I begin to write the music and lyrics simultaneously, letting the lyrics determine how the music swells, subsides, and shifts. The melody usually comes very naturally, and I shape it around the lyrics to maximize the impact of the story they are telling.
Most artists like to believe their music is evolving. Is yours? If so, is it becoming more pop-flavored or leaning toward more rock influences?
I think my music is absolutely evolving. I reached for an overall vibe for No Alibi that was completely different from Other Side of Town. No Alibi is definitely bolder and more intense in terms of both instrumentation and lyrical content, but all else aside, my goal is always to ensure that none of my songs sound too much alike. I like to surprise my listeners; it keeps them eager to hear more. And the most exciting thing for me is that I have no idea where my music will go next. For me, the music goes where the story goes, so I'll do whatever I have to do to tell the most memorable and beautiful story.
What's the story behind the title of your new album, No Alibi?
By October of 2017, I had written nearly all of the music for No Alibi. I was missing just one thing: a title for the album. I played through all of the songs multiple times, fishing for a memorable lyric or phrase that could tie it all together. That's when I had the idea to write the "Prologue," which introduces the hook, "I have no alibi." The album tells the story of two friends who became deeply romantically interested in each other, but both of them made mistakes that caused their friendship to fall into ruin. In that sense, they are both guilty of breaking each other's hearts and have "no alibi" for their crimes. Fun fact: The reappearances of the "no alibi" hook in "Ifs, Ands, and Buts" and "Clock Strikes Twelve" were actually additions I made much later on in the recording process when I discovered by happy accident that the melody worked with the chord progressions in those songs.
Will you be doing any touring?
I don't have any concrete plans yet, but my fellow musicians and I have chatted about the possibility of touring New York or Nashville next summer, so we'll see!
Randy Radic is a Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.
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