Pascal Dennis is a man of many passions. A professional engineer and management consultant by day, he is also an author who has published five business novels and a book of poems. When Pascal steps away from his desk, he straps on a guitar. In addition to his many accomplishments in business, Dennis is a prolific singer/songwriter.
In recent years the Toronto-based musician has written over 100 songs. He has produced two albums of original material as well as a string of singles since 2021. With roots in Jazz, Blues and classic Pop, Pascal Dennis writes songs about his city, family and his own life experience. Pascal’s latest album, Nicaragua Moon, and a string of singles will be released in the summer of 2022.
We (digitally) sat down with Pascal Dennis to talk about his background and music. Check out his interesting story below.
Where do you come from? Tell us a bit more about your background.
I was born in Toronto. My parents were migrants who escaped the brutal Greek Civil war of 1948 to 1952. Our family settled in Kensington Market area. My dad worked as a dishwasher at Grossman’s Tavern and my mom worked in a garment factory on Adelaide Avenue. Eventually, my parents saved enough money to open a small diner which sustained us and where I worked from the age of eight.
I’ve been writing songs all my life as a way of recording and making sense of my experience. David Logan and I made a record when we were both young and foolish. The record went nowhere and we went our separate ways. David went to Hollywood and became a big-time music producer in film and TV. I started a company and worked around the world helping organizations improve. But we never forgot our friendship or our work together. During the 2020 pandemic, I began to write new songs and to polish his older songs.
What began as a trickle turned into a torrent of music. Encouraged by the quality of the songs, I decided to look up my old friend, who was now living in Rome and teaching composition at the renowned Santa Cecilia Music Academy.
After twenty-five years, David and I began to work together again. Our goal was to create the best possible music, the way we feel it, and to record my experience for my children and their children. As the album evolved, we realized it might have broader appeal. ‘Crazy Angels’ is the result of our collaboration, and the first of four planned albums.
Tell us about your track Crazy Angels. What’s the process behind it and how did it come together?
Crazy Angels tells the story of Pascal’s childhood in Toronto on Spadina Avenue, and in Greektown, and his coming of age. Pascal’s parents were migrants who barely escaped WWII and the terrible Greek Civil War. His father was a dishwasher at Grossman’s Tavern, and his mother a garment factory worker. Eventually, they saved enough to open a small diner, the Imperial Grill, which sustained the family, and where Pascal worked from the age of eight.
How could you describe your music?
I write in the genres I love – Classic country, Rock & Roll, Jazz and Pop. Our music has an eclectic, retro feel and we like to push each genre just beyond its limits. My heroes are an eclectic group: Cole Porter, Merle Haggard, Paul McCartney and Giacomo Puccini. I want to create songs that sound better & better each time you listen. I want to challenge the listener in a good way with unexpected chord structures & harmonies, and unusual lyrics & rhyming schemes.
I want to tell big operatic stories like Crazy Angels and Summerside, and more intimate character sketches like Tumbleweed Hotel and Jack Kerouac’s Blues. /and I want to make people laugh with droll songs like Not Sayin’ It Was Aliens, and our upcoming singles, Anchorman Blues and A Girl Name Floyd.
What color(s) would your music be like for people who suffer from synesthesia?
Synesthesia: the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body like seeing colors for sound or words.
I think of my songs and albums in terms of ‘moon’ and ‘sun’ colors. ‘Crazy Angels’, our first album, tells the story of my coming of age in Kensington Market area and on Danforth Avenue & Greektown. ‘Crazy Angels’ is all moon colors – blues, greys, greens and indigos.
Our new album, ‘Nicaragua Moon’ (release date: July 2022) has more sun colors – yellows, orange, red and pink. ‘Nicaragua Moon’ expresses the joy you feel after a period of deep suffering.
Do you create for yourself or for your fans?
I began writing songs for myself & my family. I wanted the make sense of my experience and to share it with my children & their children. I never thought my songs would be produced. Only in the last few years have I realized that there might be a broader audience. It’s an honor & privilege to have people listening to our songs around the world. Our band & I don’t want to let them down. We’re committed to creating insanely great songs, the way we feel them.
Are there any musicians who inspire you? What qualities do you admire about them?
Ron Sexsmith is a wonderful songwriter & performer who proved that you could make a living writing & performing high quality music. Ron exudes kindness, humor and a consideration for people. He remains gentle & humble and continues to write marvelous songs.
My wife Pamela and our three kids are the engines that sustain me & our music. I couldn’t do it without their help & support.
Who is your secret support for your band?
My wife Pamela and our three kids are the engines that sustain me & our music. I couldn’t do it without their help & support. Pam is a terrific photographer and videographer. Our youngest, Mattie, is David Logan’s production assistant and ensures that things go smoothly in the studio. Our daughter, Katie, is a terrific marketing professional who has been sharing our music with people around the world. And Eleanor, our oldest is our legal beagle.
What made you want to become a musician?
Music & poetry were my way of dealing with suffering. My childhood was difficult – our family was afflicted with poverty and mental illness. My songs were a way of making sense of it. I was trying to turn chaos into order, and suffering into something beautiful and meaningful.
What accomplishments do you see yourself achieving in the next 5 to 10 years?
We’re releasing the ‘Nicaragua Moon’ album in July. Two new albums are in production: ‘Shame on the Sun’ and ‘Love is a Drug from Hell’. Then we plan on recording two musical ‘suites’ called ‘Places Where I’ve Done Time’ and ‘Australia’.
David Logan & I are considering developing a musical about Toronto based on the songs in Crazy Angels.
Life is short & fragile. God willing, we’ll be able to do at least some of this.
What do you like most about playing music?
It’s the story-telling. I love creating a character & their world, walking in their shoes & feeling what they feel.
That’s why I write classic country songs like Tumbleweed Hotel, as well as, folk-rock story songs like Aristotle Way and Ballad of the Red Sea.
It’s all story-telling.
Which instrument is your favorite to play and why?
The piano is my favorite instrument both for playing & composition. (I wish I could play it better…) The piano is for me the richest, most challenging, and humbling instrument. I spend hours on the piano playing & writing and it seems like minutes. Chord progressions, modulations, embellishments and their combinations are a source of wonder & delight. Our band is very lucky to have the great Davide Sambrotta on the piano. Davide takes my raw sketches and creates magic. (Thanks, amico)