But in Glass Period, Caitlin Pasko's first release under her own name, she uses the captivating simplicity of hands and breath to communicate that a weight such as this is best dealt with by sharing it. On piano, Pasko is at home, and she invites us to come in, sit down and join her.
The depth that Pasko reaches in Glass Period is very personal: a rare emotional journey documented in six songs that are specific enough in origin, but vague enough for the listener to connect with on their own level. Described as a “small chapel to personal grief,” I imagine listening to this collection in mid-morning, as soft light filters through stained glass to reach the luminous wood floors of her private construct. She sits at a grand piano at the front of this spacious yet intimate room, on the same level as the pews. Sound echoes vibrantly off the stone walls, wooden furniture and vaulted ceiling. A minimalistic piece of architecture, sparse and simple. Brown, white, yellow. A solace from the outside world, but not separate from it. A place that only exists because this album does.
Pasko lost her father recently, and endured a break-up soon after. Her mother, alone in romantic love after 38 years, and Pasko, an only child, now have just each other. But Pasko has found through the creation of this album, that she and her musical vision are not alone. Because others have joined hands with her in a time of trial, she now lends one to us.
It’s a wonderful bit of fate when the right music comes along at just the right time, entering my life sometimes when I least knew I needed it. Pasko’s work resonates with me on many levels in the present, in ways that hurt to acknowledge and remind me of the indefinable things that keep me going.
She starts with the haunting and slow, “Barking Dog,” reminding us that we are born and die alone. A dark start to something so beautiful, as she asks, “What about the time in between?” The piano is constant, leading step by step, as Pasko leads into greater statements about what it is to be alive, and to feel.
It’s the moments full of space in “Favorite Dessert,” however, that leave me baffled every time. A tour of grief, Pasko alludes to letting someone go as she visits locations throughout her day. The shower. The grocery store. The bathroom. So short, yet so powerful, I forgot to exhale until “Open Windows” came in. The two pair like a diptych, dark to light. Indoor to outside. Harmonies on the keys create a gorgeous backdrop to a landscape with bare feet and bright fires. The additional sounds that pulse and beat behind her drive the heart to beat faster, to feel more, to fill oneself with sound and not in thought. “I picture you in tall grass,” Pasko breathes, “I picture you with no shoes on.”
“The Still” cut me right in half, with a soft knife. “I was afraid to fall in,” Pasko sighs, “I was afraid to fall out.” For any large emotion, whether grief or heartbreak or anxiety, the purgatory of immersion or avoidance is a familiar cliff. As she jumps up to higher notes, a release kicks me inside; as the music gets louder, I let go. Using the piano like a gong, she signals it is time.
Right at the start of the final track, “Get Right,” Pasko laughs and says, “I’m gonna keep going.” You can hear the smile on her lips, the tingle in her fingers. The thought that this might be the first take of this song on record. There’s anticipation in the static before she sings.
“How lucky am I?” Pasko asks, plucking notes on the piano strings. A strange kind of question to end a somber record, as she confronts the reality of loss in all its forms with an almost upbeat style. “And I know why,” she persists, pushing the tempo, tangling the notes. She keeps going.
Like she must, like we all must do; in the face of grief, in the startling light of morning.
“You’re gonna lose me,” Pasko knows. Yet at the end, she sings with a sense of relief, a lifting weight. Like after getting the notes out, they can final float away. There is such a complex presence of permanence and also a temporary touch to the entirety of the album, like a dream that you confuse with reality upon waking. Letting go but knowing they will always be with you.
There’s a sense of safety in living somewhere other than the present, of muddling the intensity of facing one’s feelings. But when a stranger turns to you and announces, you are here. And I am here, too. What is here and ahead is difficult - but there is a way through. Are you willing to follow? When that stranger is Pasko, you press play.
Your music is based heavily in piano, which is likened in your bio to Satie or Debussy (two top favorites of mine). When did you start playing, and who have some of your biggest musical influences been over time?
My mom politely suggested that I take piano lessons after enduring several months of me plunking out made-up songs on the family piano, haha. I believe I was six years old, and I took lessons for six years, too -- up until music theory exams stopped being a fun thing to do. It wasn't until middle school that I developed a keen interest in song craft, which brought me running back to the piano, and I worship the instrument now.
I wasn't introduced to Satie until high school, actually. But I grew up watching and listening to Fantasia on an endless loop, so I was exposed to Debussy pretty early on, as well as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Schubert. The Wizard of Oz was another film that I would watch and listen to over and over, which is most likely where I developed my pop sensibilities.
What moniker did you release your previous work under? What is different about the music you made then and now, under your own name?
I released my first EP under Lacrymosa when I was 15 or 16. I'd recently quit the school soccer team so that I could pursue music and theater instead, and it was through District Chorus that I finally found "my people." We sang Mozart's Lacrymosa as part of our final recital, and the moment felt so tremendous and pivotal for me that I named myself after it.
I struggled with whether or not to release Glass Period under Lacrymosa, and ultimately decided that the songs were too personal to release under any other name than my own. Lacrymosa isn't me; she is a caricature of me... a fairy elf princess.
Where does the name for the album, Glass Period, stem from?
Well, first, the stress from losing my dad and my boyfriend really fucked up my menstrual cycle. I was getting my period every two weeks, and it was heavy and painful. I remember candidly complaining to a friend that it felt like shards of glass were coming out of me, and so the phrase "glass period" hung around in my mind for a while. I likened it to Picasso's Blue Period, and I started thinking about glass a lot in general -- its transparency; how it lets light pass through it, but nothing else. I thought about how it can be fragile and delicate, but also strong, sturdy, and even dangerous, and I likened it to myself during my recovery.
What were your compositional goals with engineer Josh Hahn and in mixing with Patrick Dillett? Did you have a certain sound in mind you wanted to achieve at the end, or was it more experimental along the way?
Josh was a piece of the puzzle that Henry [Terepka] (producer/composer, Zula, LEPT) and I didn't even know was missing. We chose Relic Room after visiting several studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn, ultimately because I literally fell in love with the piano. I think I played two or three after playing that one, and I felt guilty like I was cheating! It was a spinet piano -- a small baby grand -- from the 1940s, so its keys were ever so slightly loose and they made a beautiful sound as they popped back up. Josh spent a few hours micing it up perfectly, and I think you can hear the room in the recording, which I desired. We recorded for 13 straight hours and Josh was present and thoughtful the entire way through. His good energy is embedded in these recordings.
Patrick, on the other hand... I knew I wanted to work with him long before I finished the EP, but I never thought it would actually happen. I couldn't believe it when he emailed me back. I discovered Patrick through his work with Sufjan Stevens and David Byrne. There's just so much space for each sound in his mixes. He makes ordinary sounds sound so wonderfully dynamic, and he can accentuate emotion... He is a wizard.
My favorite part about writing has to be that feeling you get when you know you're on to something. The song then becomes all consuming, and once you finish you can't help but listen to it over and over.
And I love the morning of recording day. There's a certain excitement in the air as you make your way to the studio and wonder about the outcome. And, specifically, I love working on piano and vocals because I like to record them simultaneously. It's a bit stressful for engineers because I sing very quietly and it's difficult to eliminate the piano bleed, but it can also be very exciting for everyone when I'm able to nail a song on the first take.
My least favorite part is writing lyrics, but I think that's because in the past I've always started my songs at the piano, and trying to fit lyrics into a fully-formed song is challenging. I think "Favorite Dessert" is the first song I've ever written in which the lyrics came first, and I've been writing that way a lot more, recently.
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
I have been thinking about this question for days and I still don't have an honest answer. Someone I could harmonize with... Someone who likes to build soundscapes around the piano... Someone who hears things I would never hear... Someone who essentially wants to score my songs... Can I just say Henry? I'd like to make more records with Henry.
You've gone through a pretty tough time while making and recording this album. How has the process of making music helped you in this period? What has changed since in your life because of this album?
It's because of my friends that this album exists, and that in itself is something that gives me life every day. I hadn't performed for a very long time, and a couple of my Virginia Beach friends thought it would be good for me after my dad died, so they came up to NYC and we all performed at a place called Lot 45 in Bushwick. Henry was in attendance (we knew each other through my boyfriend at the time), and he went for a walk with me after my set (we got tacos) and convinced me to think about recording my new songs. We met up at his home studio one day shortly after... and then soon after that we were touring studios and choosing pianos. The process just kind of happened naturally and at a satisfying pace.
I'm eternally grateful for the gifts Henry has given me. Besides his friendship, he opened me up to collaboration and has helped me rediscover the joy of making music and how intrinsic it is to my quality of life. Our work pushed me to finish songs that would have never been finished otherwise, and it allowed me a chance to work through negative leftover feelings. It also gave me a way to pay tribute to my dad, as well as my relationship. The EP has allowed me to let go and grow.
Special thanks to Caitlin Pasko