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From The Nooks And Crannies Of The Underground Scene
Katy Pfaffl
We all have the tendency to just pick something up and want to be great at it. Sometimes that's the case, but there's always work involved and at times I've had to take a step back, and allow myself to suck, trusting that my process will eventually lead me to greatness. - Katy Pfaffl
by Josh Davidson
 [Chorus and Verse] Katy Pfaffl
Katy Pfaffl
Katy Pfaffl (Credit: Joshua Silk)

As some in the music industry have drifted away from honesty and integrity, Katy Pfaffl has not been shy about expressing both in her music, while exemplifying both in the creative process. In striving to reach her audiences with the truthfulness of some of her own musical heroes, Pfaffl has created a style, which stands on its own.

Her message, both lyrically and musically, is presented with patience and subtleness. Appearing mostly in New York and Northern New Jersey, Pfaffl journeyed to Asbury Park a few months back to play at the Saint's Asbury Cafè. The format of the night asks performers to play their music in a smoke- and conversation-free environment, putting the focus solely on music. Pfaffl's poetic lyrics and folk-based acoustic strums, accompanied by versatile keyboard runs, were a perfect fit for the show's arrangement.

However, new challenges have arisen in New York City, Pfaffl's home base. Laws there, which have forced clubs to remain smoke-free, have created challenges for club owners looking to maintain their business, Pfaffl said. In turn, times are even tougher for musicians to looking to play out consistently. Despite those changes, it looks like Pfaffl plans to stay true to her own style and play the music she dreamed of playing since she began doing so.

Chorus and Verse recently asked Pfaffl about changes in NYC's music scene, what it felt like to visit Asbury Park and her creative process.

What were some of the differences and similarities between the Saint and some of the New York clubs you have played? Have you played in New Jersey before? Do you have any plans to come here and play again?

The Saint was a surprisingly awesome club. I usually play in NYC and there the main focus to any club is, "How many people will you bring?" It's so rarely about the music. I could tell the minute I walked into the Saint that it is a club that really focuses on the performer and takes great pride in bringing quality acts through its doors. The environment was great, it reminded me of the clubs from long ago. I do play clubs in Northern Jersey, although they don't have the same flair as I found at the Saint or the clubs I play in NYC.

I am trying to branch out and play more towns across the US, but my heart is still in NYC because I always learn from my NY gigs and I always meet great people. There is a wonderful community in the underground scene of NYC. However, it was nice to feel a bit of that at the Saint and I hope to come back sometime this summer.

Katy Pfaffl
Katy Pfaffl (Credit: Joshua Silk)

How receptive is New York to your style of music? Do you find there is any one style that gets the most attention in NY?

The club scene in NYC is hurting right now. Since the "no-smoking law," a lot of clubs have lost a ton of business, so they can't really focus on the quality of music. Their main focus has to be survival. Booking bands with a good draw is their first priority.

Sometimes, a good band has a good draw and sometimes a terrible band does. It's a crap toss. Luckily, I have developed a wonderful and loyal fan base in NYC, so I keep club owners happy and I like to think we give a quality show. However, it is tough to find good places to play with the sound I have. Much like Norah Jones or Ani DiFranco, my music is really for listening. I'm not the feel-good band that you can get drunk too. That really limits me when it comes to choosing the right venue.

The style of music I find the most in NYC is EMO, the Indie rock sound you hear on the radio. Also, Hip-Hop is huge in NYC right now. If you look in the nooks and crannies, though, you'll find some tremendous singer/songwriters hiding out.

How did you get started in music and what instruments did you play first?

I started playing music when I was five years old. At my elementary school, we were required to play an instrument, either the violin or the recorder. I chose the violin. Although I was too little to even fit a real violin for a year, I learned to play on a tiny cardboard box with rubber bands on it and a stick for a bow. I was strictly a violinist until I was 11, when I started playing the piano by ear and eventually started taking lessons. I didn't learn the guitar until about 5-1/2 years ago. Now I play them all: violin, piano, guitar and I've added singing. My voice is my favorite instrument to play.

What message do you try to express most with your lyrics?

I guess I don't really try to express anything when I write lyrics; they just come out as a representation of the emotional state I'm in or as an answer to the problem I've been working through. A lot of times I don't even know what a song is about until after it's finished and I sing the lyrics and learn from them. My process is very organic. I don't pre-write lyrics, they just come out as I start to write the music.

To answer your question directly, I hope that honesty comes through in my lyrics and if I had to pick a message, it would be that of hope. In most every song, I end up finding hope and holding onto that, which is universal. We all need hope in order to keep getting up in the morning; it keeps us strong in our hearts.

The Katy Pfaffl Band Performs at The Bitter End in New York City (December 2001)
The Katy Pfaffl Band Performs at The Bitter End in New York City (December 2001) (Credit: Joshua Silk)

Which artists have inspired you the most? Are there any songs you wished you had written or artists you most want to be like?

I have been inspired greatly by Jeff Buckley, Bobby McFerrin, Ani DiFranco, Martin Sexton, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, just to name a few. I hope to be as inspirational and visionary as any of the artists I mentioned. They are all individuals who stayed true to themselves and the music they were born to make. They all made a huge difference in the music industry because of that individuality and brought on change. I aspire to be that kind of artist, fearless and true.

What are some of your goals musically and how many have you accomplished so far?

One of my biggest goals in life is to be able to share my music with as many people as possible. I have been a performer since I was a child and there's nothing I love more then being on stage and sharing my truth and my heart with others. There's a very human connection to people that you get as a performer. It's more amazing than words can express.

As for how much I've accomplished, I've come far in the few years I've been doing this with my life. I moved to NYC on my own and eventually put together a band and produced and put out two records on my own.

However, my ultimate goal is to get a record deal and tour as much as possible and that's going to take a lot more work and effort. I would say I've done a lot, but I still have a lot more to do!

What have you learned most over the years as a musician?

Patience. I have learned how playing an instrument is a process that develops over time and needs to come out of love. We all have the tendency to just pick something up and want to be great at it. Sometimes that's the case, but there's always work involved and at times I've had to take a step back, and allow myself to suck, trusting that my process will eventually lead me to greatness. Usually, if I stick it out, that is the case and it feels amazing to know that I put in the effort and patience to make myself a better musician.

As a songwriter/band leader, it's hard to live the process patiently. We all want to be seen! We all want to be heard! But, I've learned that it's the small shows where I really touch people and connect that make the biggest difference and always lead me to bigger ones. It's so important to never take anything for granted. From the words of a wonderful wise old man: "It's not about the destination, it's about the Journey." Simply meaning: every step we take towards our dreams and goals is a great success.

[ Website: www.katypfaffl.com ]

Her next NYC show is with the Katy Pfaffl band, beginning at 8 pm, March 31 at the Living Room (154 Ludlow St., New York). Admission is free. Following that, fans can see her with the Katy Pfaffl duo at 8 pm, April 15 at Cafi Arabica (78 Speedwell Ave., Morristown, New Jersey.)

Josh Davidson
Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and njcoast.com. He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.
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