Paschall & Dahl
something retro, something new...
by Alyssa Robinson
July 31, 2009
Picture this: A dimly lit room surrounded by an elegant arrangement of candles slowly burning as the warm and sultry alto sounds of a female voice romantically dance with the boogie-woogie melody of a piano. Completely captivated by the sights and sounds surrounding the intimate setting of the room, you close your eyes. For an instant, you swear you can almost hear the faint and friendly crackle of an old tube radio in the background.
Although this description may sound like the black and white set of a movie scene captured in the 1930s, it is not. This is the present reality for music duo Paschall & Dahl, who perform a nostalgic repertoire of music from the '20s to '50s, as well as their own originals mirroring this distinct time period. Performing in this era is where they feel most at home.
Although Suzanne Paschall and Tommy Dahl have only been together for two years, their shared passion for nostalgic music and similar musical backgrounds have them singing together in perfect harmony, as it were.
Suzanne spent her childhood in Kansas, where she began her journey as a musician at the age of five. Apart from playing the violin, viola and cello in the school orchestra, she played the organ at her church throughout her childhood.
"My mom looked at the arts as, 'if you could make money at it, then it was worthwhile'," Suzanne describes. "So, my mom made a bargain with me. If I learned how to play the organ first, then I would be allowed to take piano lessons...playing piano was always my dream."
Suzanne, indeed, lived up to the deal. After dedicating herself to her craft as an organist for a number of years, Suzanne was allowed to receive classical training in piano throughout high school. During this time, she also became heavily involved in musical theatre. So began her journey as a passionate actress and musician.
Similarly, Tommy became absolutely enthralled in music from an extremely young age.
"I remember one sunny Sunday afternoon, in particular, when I was at my aunt's for a barbeque," Tommy begins. "I went into the backyard and found a spot to sit by myself so I could listen to my suitcase record player. I took out my 45 of "How Much is That Doggie in the Window" by Patti Page and listened to it twenty times in a row. Even though I was only four, I distinctly remember listening to it so intently. The whole time I was trying to figure out how a singer could split their voice into two. When I was older, I found out that it was through harmony."
Tommy began taking classical piano lessons at the age of five. By the time he was 14, he had finished his Grade 10 piano. At that time, his parents let him decide what his next move as a musician would be. So, Tommy began taking piano lessons from a private jazz teacher.
Throughout their adult lives, both Suzanne and Tommy spent a great deal of time practicing their craft (singing, songwriting and playing piano), all the while searching for that special person who would share their unique passion for the nostalgic music of the first part of the 20 th century.
A chance meeting at Bud's on Broadway proved to instantly connect Suzanne and Tommy. After their first performance together later that week at the Her-icane Festival, they began performing and songwriting together, with Suzanne at the microphone and Tommy on the keys.
Shortly afterward, Suzanne asked Tommy to join her in the studio for her first album, "Life Sentences", which was already in pre-production when she met Tommy.
"I guess I got reeled in before I knew what was happening," Tommy teases Suzanne. In reality, both couldn't be happier with the way things worked out.
"As soon as we started working together, we found out just how in-sync we were," says Tommy. "Suzanne will start singing and I will just come in on the piano. The seeds of her amazing songwriting abilities naturally spur my creativity. We just seem to click."
Suzanne voices her agreement.
"It's not often that you find the perfect musician to perform with."
She continues, "Quite often, when the band leaves and just Tommy and I are left on stage to perform, something special happens in the room. There's such a sweet balance. There's not a noise, not a breath to be heard in the room."
According to the duo, a lot of fans have commented on how much they enjoy it when just the two of them perform.
"When we play together, it's a better performance than just one of us could give on our own," Tommy earnestly expresses. "We really play off each other...and that is the real meaning of synergy."
It is this special aura that fans flock to and which audiences speechlessly applaud for.
Although they have only been together for two years, Paschall & Dahl have become quite well known within the Canadian music industry.
In fact, the demand of the duo has led them to a spot as composers of a full-length, seven-episode TV score for a documentary series soon to be broadcast across Canada.
Their niche as nostalgic artists has also gained them a prestigious spot with the Vaudeville Dance Project, which is set to tour Canada in 2006, sporting original tunes of Paschall & Dahl including "Sugar Daddy Romp," which won an Honour Award from the Great American Song Contest in the "Lyrics Only Category".
"There seems to be a resurgence of this type of music right now," Tommy says. "There's a real romance about it that draws people in."
"When I was a kid, I always wished that I lived in that era. When I would listen to jazz and swing through my old tube radio late at night, hearing its warm crackle. It was the warmest feeling I've ever had."
It is these warm feelings that Suzanne and Tommy wish to share with their audience at all of their performances.
In a means to create a romantic and sultry atmosphere, the duo wears vintage clothing and uses a replica vintage microphone to awe the crowds. Although they present three different kinds of shows, entitled "Everything Old is New Again," "Romance Me" and "Blues in the Night", Suzanne and Tommy ensure that all their shows are distinctively warm, intimate, and personal.
Paschall & Dahl's house concerts, in particular, offer the audience a unique experience altogether.
Although house concerts were quite popular in the days of chamber music - two or three centuries ago - they have only recently been revived in Canada by select artists.
"We're not a bar band," Tommy explains. "We're always looking for what's a good fit for our music. We want to focus on an audience that fits us. Recreating the nostalgia and romance of the era, through our house concerts, is what we do."
Suzanne agrees, saying, "Our house concerts have been very well received. They are low-volume and very formal, yet intimate."
As Suzanne explains, these private concerts enable the audience to become involved in the music because they are close enough to see the details of the artist's performance - such as the nuances of a facial expression or the emotion the artist puts into their instruments.
"House concerts are actually very effective marketing tools," Suzanne exclaims. "They enable the performers the opportunity to meet and mingle with the audience in-between sets and after the show."
According to Suzanne, a professional public relations advisor at her day job, marketing opportunities such as this are key to an artist's survival on the Prairies.
"It's important to take advantage of one-to-one marketing," Suzanne states. "If people don't know what you're about, how can they support you? You have to be confident, promote yourself and create events."
"But, you also have to really practice your craft so that you can honestly and truthfully talk proudly about what you have to offer," Tommy continues. "The quality on your part really has to be there."
"Ideally, I would like to spend 60 to 70 per cent rehearsing and developing my vocal style, and 30 to 40 per cent marketing," says Suzanne. "That would be in a perfect world though. It's really a balancing act."
Regardless, this strategy seems to be proving quite successful to Paschall & Dahl, who keep a busy schedule - regularly performing at numerous festivals, private and public functions, house concerts and various other shows.
In fact, the perseverance and popularity of the duo has earned them a Saskatchewan Arts Board grant to begin recording their second album, a blues focused project, to be released in February 2006.
"It's been a very successful project so far," describes Tommy. "This time around we are more in sync with each other. We already have 38 songs written to choose from."
The extent of their synergy on the second album is clarified through the unique songwriting process they have embarked upon. Since Suzanne lives in Saskatoon and Tommy lives in Winnipeg, they have to compensate for the 8-hour distance between them by composing songs via email, phone and web-cams.
"The lyrics are the first piece of the puzzle," Tommy details. "So, Suzanne starts out by singing a few lines of a new song she has been working on (into a speaker-phone), hoping that I'll play what she's thinking of. Then I'll run with a few lines on the piano. We discuss things and play back and forth to each other. It's a lengthy process, but it's what we have to do right now."
"It just means that we're incredibly productive when we do get together," Suzanne replies.
Regardless of the means of production, Paschall & Dahl remain dedicated to their dreams to reach people with their meaningful and nostalgic music.
"In the two years that we've been together, we've achieved almost everything we wanted to," Suzanne proudly explains. "It's because we share the same vision - we perform and entertain, we don't just stand there and sing."
She also attests that keeping a business plan posted in a prominent place for them to review and edit on a constant basis helps keep them on track.
Along this track to success as a duo, Suzanne and Tommy each have their own personal goals to grow as stronger musicians.
"Everything that I am as a musician is done completely by feel," Tommy expresses. "It's my goal to one day perform at a level that people can feel through my music, and that my music will also be received by people at that level."
"I'm coaching Suzanne to perform in this way as well. By putting the music stand away, you're allowed the creative freedom to deliver the music the way you feel it. When you're completely free to just let the song happen, you will be able to reach a new plateau as an artist."
It is also Suzanne's goal to further develop her range and talents as a vocalist.
"I've been working hard to test out a variety of vocal styles so I may internalize the experience from each of them and better define my style, one that's completely my own," Suzanne confers. "I think this process is a necessary part of becoming a more well-rounded musician."
Regardless of the goals they reach and the success that goes with them, Paschall & Dahl remain down-to-earth, striving to be humanitarians and touch people through their music.