Thursday, November 3, 2011

Q & A: Paul DeCirce, frontman of Peace Jones

Music that transcends boundaries
of private and public life

THE INDIE: It’s almost been a decade since Peace Jones was formed here in the mountains. Was there a significant change from your inception years to current times? Did you somehow alter or modify your musical direction as per Asheville’s ever-changing or evolving persona?
DeCIRCE: Since our inception in 2004, the band has undergone an evolution towards a greater sound and vision for us. Energetically, we've gone through so many changes, it reflects. Our style is a mix of progressive and jazz rock , with the flute still at the front of the vibe.
Asheville is an integral part of the sound as PJ is seeped and created here, it is its home. But we represent the older style of Asheville, the wilder side when the scene wasn't as tourist motivated. We have and still represent the wild native spirit of this city, the original true voice that is in the wind and clouds and upon the tips of leaves. We are completely motivated for two things: jonesing for peace, and representing the true nature of our fair city.

THE INDIE: Asheville has grown so fast in the past few years, has this change somehow helped Peace Jones create a new or expanded audience or fan base? Are the clubs more open to local bands than before?
DeCIRCE: The scene is changing and evolving as well but the WNC greater region has always been excellent. We've developed fans all over the region and have been gigging downtown once a month or so. There is a lot of awesome talent in town and I keep myself up to date with all of the new acts. We like to gig with groups less known as we also represent an independent act, not part of any kind of clique -- we're open to jamming with whomever, wherever, whenever!

THE INDIE: As an individual or mainperson for Peace Jones, how do you keep up with your personal, family or married life while keeping tab with your professional musical career?
DeCIRCE: Music is first in my life and the new recording we're working on. I've been single again for about a year and half. I've been doing more work on the self and have having revelations in connection with art. Such as—the instrument, whether it be keyboard or paintbrush or woodwind instrument -- operates the same. It only 'works well' if you allow the instrument to create a resonance in your Self, your true nature. Then it works. For example, I am trying to get a good "E" note on my flute. E is not easy the flute as it's low down the scale. I blow, I get a note, but it's not a true note. I have to open. Open my throat, open my belly, open my mind. Open to the resonance of the note and then I become it…
We are the instruments. Our living blood, our living heritage. These things stroke our hands as we stroke our craft. Getting in touch with these things has allowed me to project myself, who I am, into stronger art. A deeper groove, a more insightful lyric, a move to love. This is all part of music for me, and transcends boundaries of private and public life.

THE INDIE: So what’s up ahead for Peace Jones?
DeCIRCE: We're working on a recording project which will reflect this growth. Also some special live appearances and a CD release next year.

[PEACE JONES is an innovative funk, Americana and ska-reggae band, based in Asheville. Members: Paul "P Jonesy" DeCirce: flute, leader; David Dhoop: guitar, backup vocals; Greg Terhune: bass, backup vocals; Eric "The Sizzla" Ciesla: drums and percussion. Peace Jones is the main act in the Traveling Bonfires’ “Occupy is The Word” benefit concert at the Flood Gallery on Nov 19. Band info: or find them on Facebook]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

OPEN mics are like a box of chocolates. You don’t know what you’re going to get. Many times, I get spoilage and bitter stuff. However, last night’s open mic at Kava Bar in downtown Asheville was a subtle revelation. Although, it wasn’t near as fascinatingly active (as yet) as the demised Beanstreets Café open mic of yesteryears, it is still the most promising poets-singers gathering in my neck of the woods in the past few years.
Nestled on the ground floor of a relatively new south of Lexington Av condominium that also houses a bookshop and laundromat—Kava Bar is ideal enough for the kind of classy, cerebral, quiet dive that poet recluses like me prefer. Hardwood floors, intimate bedroom dim lighting, two handicap accessible bathrooms, patio/courtyard at rear entrance… Indeed, I just found myself a Wednesday night perch. The bar is advertised as “refreshingly elegant, Tiki atmosphere”—though I’d say, it’s more subdued and reserved beyond what we know of islander luau vibe.
I took a few minutes touring the place myself. The cork board displays flyers and business cards about new age-y, yoga, spiritual events and entrepreneurial endeavors. The wall book shelf has all kinds of radical stuff from Marx to Trotsky to Chavez and Mao. Figure that one out now… The performance room is the size of a $400/month college rental room, neatly groomed with emptied coconut husks sticking out overhead, folding chairs in attentive rows, and uniformed throw pillows upfront on the floor. Talk about bedroom intimacy… Yes, it’s wi-fi—but, of course!
I haven’t really ventured the menu yet (“delicious island and vegetarian cuisine,” the internet pitch said). The moment you step in, a perky lady-bartender with a wide aloha smile greets an unsuspecting visitor with a warm invite to try the house’s kava drink. Kava isn’t your average smoothie or fruit juice though. First timers concede it tastes like dirt, but as the bar muse offers, it’s an acquired taste. She’ll hand you a tiny dish of pineapple chunks as chaser.
But does this brew really tastes like “sweet dirt”? I mean, even a cool dude who sang pretty accessibly that night, chanted about the Kava as “dirt” drink. But don’t take me seriously on that one—I came from the islands, and I can attest this strange drink is a lot better than any of your healthcentric flavored bottled waters. It’s just that our first-world tastebuds are accustomed to anything sweet and delicious. So deal with it!
Kava (or kava-kava) is a crop of the western Pacific. The word is Tongan and Marquesan. Consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia (including Hawaii), Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia, the roots of the plant are used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. Kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity. So there… Don’t get ideas.
And before I forget, if you are reading, you get a free Kava cup—the size of a cappuccino cup—so that’s already something that you may not respond with a “No, thanks!” After all, it costs $5. That is Pacific Islander hospitality right in the heart of beer-flooded downtown. Dig?
Back to the open mic.

QUIETLY amiable host Caleb Beissert, I reckon, unfurls the curtain each session with a few poems. Last night, he read a few of his own, plus the Allen Ginsberg cult classic, “Homework.”
I observed the young man as he set up the stage. It’s always mysteriously sublime to see people devote time and effort to these non-paying weekly gigs—assuming, of course, he’s not paid cash other than well, a Kava cup, for emceeing.
Still, he handled the show smoothly—cautiously and courteously cutting a performer or two who tended to slide past the allotted 8 to 10 minute time. There’s no radical mouthing, anti-this and that sociopolitical commentary, or boisterous cuss words that usually punctuate freewheeling open mics. Caleb does it business-like and professional—plugging other shows in town in between, as well as upcoming gigs by poets and musicians present at that time (of course, including my Tuesday, June 21, show at Firestorm).
The lineup was pretty decent. I particularly like the visiting singer-songwriter from Florida who sang about an iPhone that he just bought. There’s a guitarist (“Django”) who read a poem from his, well—iPhone (or cellphone), and another singer who did a 38th parallel, North Korea bit. Another guy accompanied another one on bongos—whose outfit reminded me of an overdressed Angus Young, minus the long hair and Stratocaster. George Glass, a veteran of Beanstreets, was even there—and, yes, this chameleonic soul never fails to confuse me with his ever-changing looks (he’s not like he alters his hair color or puts in/loses weight each month, it’s just that he looks so different each time we chance to cross paths).
That was already a cool lineup for an otherwise bored midweek. I was so thankful that I didn’t encounter drunken open mikers who can’t seem to find the last bars and last words to their songs and poems; the ones that gave me such headache at Courtyard.  You know what I’m saying… If you’re a bit wary of “what you’re gonna get” in an open mic—such as unkempt urchins who’d haggle Marlboro and PBR money or inebriated denizens who lash out at the microphone over late rent funk… nah. Kava Bar is cool as a dorm patio run by a Buddhist monk who probably listens to Pink Floyd and reads Thomas Pynchon and Federico Garcia Lorca and keeps a strict hummus and tempeh diet. You get the drift… I mean, there’s even a folkie who did an easy lazy-by-the-windowsill cover of George Harrison’s “Something.” And a beatboxer fella with a Carrot Top redhead. Oh yes, I got a few applause and handshakes for my three pieces. How cool is that?
I hope that Kava Bar’s Wednesday open mic lives till it achieves a respectable status as that of Beanstreets. Many tried to replicate or duplicate that initiative but no one came even close to it—including my previous attempts at The Dripolator-Biltmore and Courtyard Gallery-Carolina Lane. But, with more support and attendance, this tiny convergence of poets and singers and stuff and things will be the talk of the town, and destined to re-live poetry nirvana in Asheville.
And, mark my word, Kava will be the next cool brew in this side of Appalachian heaven. Dirt, whatever.

Vanuatu Kava Bar is located at 151 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801. Tel # (828) 505-8118. Open on Tuesdays – Saturdays, 4pm to 12am; Sundays – 5pm to 12am; Mondays – closed.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

THIS blog entry is long overdue. Each day, I was meaning to get this over and done with—but like a rabid procrastinator, I always delay it, without meaning to. But here it is now… Things do work out.

IT WAS a random invite—to go check out “Scapegoat,” a debut effort by local filmmaker David Saich—in downtown Asheville’s Fine Arts Theater. Yes, it was free. “Free” is kind of scary. It meant, I needed to be nice—otherwise, if I don’t conform to neighborly niceness, then I’d be labeled an inconsiderate asshole. Imagine, how many friends I lost (and future freebies and guest-list passes that got out of my hand), just because I was blatantly, dastardly honest?
But then, I am known to be “un-nice” critic more than I’m recognized as a sweet dude, so… Besides, an hour or so in a dark room with strangers is still strange to me at this juncture. In the past few years (since moving back to the mountains from Los Angeles), I’ve been some sort of anti-social. So you get the drift, right? I do enjoy my reclusiveness, so if you dare pull me out of my shell, you gotta pay the consequences. You see, Netflix is still the handiest handle for me these days. If I really desire to let go off a few dollars for a big theater movie—it’s got to be huge. The last Fine Arts film that I saw was the excellent historical drama, “The Last Station,” and that was some cool bother.
So did “Scapegoat” come near “The Last Station’s” five-star rating? Of course not!
Anyhow, the life of my cream cheese popcorn and Amstel on my jittery, fidgety hands is only good for 15 minutes, max. Yet, I kept glued. Which means—I must concede, you ought to watch this little cinematic swig from the dude in the `hood.

THE first few frames of the movie bothered me a bit. I wasn’t sure if it’s the theater’s system or it was the film’s aesthetics. Camera work and lightning were distractive, or the editing was a tad unimaginative… And although, the audience’s impulsive reflex to each frame was largely inspiring—as in: “Oh my, that is my boy right there! Look at that, he’s so cute!!!” these can be annoying when overdone. (Enough already! I yelled within me). But then, what the hell—it’s a local movie shown in a local moviehouse, anyhow. It’s okay. Grandma and grandpa were watching…
I must say, despite its fundamental flaws, "Scapegoat" is still a compelling movie. However, I couldn't help whine: Some creativity in scene/shots selection would have been cool. Why not a chase scene right on the middle of a Friday drum circle at Pritchard Park or a clandestine chat at The Basilica in downtown or at Pack Library, or maybe at Tressa’s bar? I mean, this is Asheville, after all—why not involved the local geography, huh? Then, I could’ve also chuckled or exclaimed: “Oh my, that’s exactly where I sit on a Saturday afternoon! That’s my spot right there!”
However, sans my smartass rambling, I must admit that “Scapegoat” is still the best and most promising little locally-made movie that I’ve seen in years. The script is tightly-knit, and the acting—especially Daniel Clancy, as Charles Duncan, a white-collar worker—who found himself in trouble and had to reluctantly accede to John Capra’s (Ben Puckett) services. At least, he deserves a guest spot in a “Law and Order” episode.
The movie’s storyline despite a few circuitous turns and melodramatic takes still merits a major studio attention: About a man, Capra, who specializes in manipulating evidence and will even take the fall for whatever crime you’ve committed—for a fee… well, you got it figured out. This same deliciously convoluted premise is what makes a Hollywood crime caper work. Throw in a stubbled, sleep-deprived and harassed but eerily confident Ethan Hawke or Sam Rockwell (sorry, Mr Puckett) on the title role—plus a few steamy sex scenes, 10-minute car chase down Patton Av to Smoke Park Hwy, and computer-generated shootaround—then you got an economically-viable movie in the works. For one, that climactic shootout scene could have been staged better… but then, I digress.
Yes, this is not Hollywood. This is local indie movie… so I should lay off my Hollywood/Netflix fixations? Yes, maybe I should. But it all depends on whether Saich’s goal is just to make his local friend-actors’ families elated that they see their brood on big screen other than URTV or WLOS-ABC 13. Or, if he plans to elevate his promising work beyond Blue Ridge Mountains’ confines—I must say, go for it. Take “Scapegoat” out of the mountains and show it in bigger cities. It is a fairly credible enough pass to filmmaking respectability. All Saich requires is a few millions more and Ethan Hawke, then he’s on his way.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I ALWAYS have something to say about something. So I don’t think I’d run out of words—or space, or subjects—to tackle or wrestle in these pages. But, as ever, I’d like to write about people in and around Asheville—sweet and fascinating humanity. And places. As well as those that sort of conjured up in my perpetually adventuring, super-active brain cells. The music scene and scenery, arts stuff and things, food and foodstuff, politics and politicians, funny downtown buskers, irksome Greyhound drivers, bored Wal-Mart stock clerks, overzealous Lexington Av sales staff, dreamy bookstore denizens, drunken Pritchard Park homeless, fascinating Westville Pub back porch owls and ravens, snotty The Cliffs nouveau riche. And vampires and vampyres, too. Zombies and selkies, wolverines and werewolves. Babedawgs and koolcats. And you and me.

FIRST, of course, you’d like to know who’s behind this “The Asheville Passkey” shenanigan, right? Well, my name is PASCKIE PASCUA, born—George Alfredo Pascua. My photo will pop in and out of this blog so don’t worry—you’ll have a visual reference who this dude is. (I am a miserable narcissist when it comes to my face. I already filed a 2,345 Pasckie pics in my Facebook, by the way.)
I sort of “crashlanded” here in Asheville in the winter of 1999 from New York City. The truth was, I meant to visit Nashville, but somehow—ended up in Asheville. Long, boring story. Thing is—I am here, so deal with it…
Well, I lived and loved, rocked and rolled in the mountains, from 1999, until I bankrupted myself sick and silly eight years later, so I left for the West Coast in the fall of 2007—to, sort of, recover financially. I used to edit and publish "little fancy rags" under my Loved by the Buffalo Publications. The main publication was a twice-a-month rag called, The Indie—conceived in New York City but found its true, inner calling in Asheville. (The two others: Wander and Blue Sky Asheville.) I also head a traveling arts/music/whatever organization called Traveling Bonfires. We organize/produce community rockfests, small club gigs and all those kind of free stuff that I put up to make people happy, at the same time, these sweet madnesses do fondle my astronomical ego.
Now, let’s talk serious…
Around the time of my departure in 2007, all 24 counties of Western North Carolina had a three-year average unemployment rate of 6 percent, compared with 6.2 percent statewide and 5.5 percent. Most WNC counties were designated "transitional," meaning they lagged behind the national average on one of the three key indicators. But then, that data was culled around 3 or 4 years ago. Asheville has come a long way, since then, yes? It's now the Beer Capital of the entire United States of America! I just don’t know how that fares with joblessness; all I know and certain about is, AA meetings have been crowded to the ceilings lately, uh-huh. (And, yes, 13 months from the time I returned here, I’m still broke…)

AFTER a 3-month sojourn in Las Vegas, I moved to Long Beach and worked as Southern California/Los Angeles bureau chief for the Philippine News, the largest Filipino-American newspaper in the US. A relatively good-paying job but, darn, I still left. Why? Uhh--I don’t intend to discuss that here… the thing is, I decided to return to Asheville in late summer of 2009. I realized, and I must say—Asheville is my home barrio, although friends and enemies identify me with Manila and Baguio City in the Philippines, and New York City. I identify myself with anywhere wherever whatever. But where I am right now—Asheville—is where it’s at.
I am here so deal with it, hokeydokey?