February 7, 2003

The Lowdown: Pas/Cal, a six-piece, power-pop band from Detroit and Dearborn, seems out of place in a music scene dominated by loud, raucous garage-type rock 'n' roll. But the band has received favorable reviews and buzz even though it's yet to play a dozen shows; it came together in 2001 and shortly thereafter had a spot opening for indie-rock darlings the Shins. Pas/Cal's debut EP, "The Handbag Memoirs," has been lauded by the local press and the group has plans for a followup long-player this spring or early summer.

Lineup: Originally the brainchild of vocalist and guitarist Pascal and drummer LTD (Little Tommy Daniels), the Pas/Cal cast has grown to six. Guitarist Gene Corduroy enlisted first and was followed by vocalist-keyboardist-percussionist Amy (Bem) Bem, bassist Nathan Burgundy and keyboardist Richard Panic.

The name game: Like many bands these days in Detroit, Pas/Cal throws some mystery into the mix. The band members don't hide the fact that they don't use their real names, but Pascal insists the band's name came from his -- not the outdated computer programming language.

"The names are real enough," Pascal says. "We're trying to put some of the mystery back into rock 'n' roll." Corduroy, however, was quick to dispel a bit of that mystery. "Our stage names aren't that far off from our real ones," he says. "We had to make them because we were trying to do this other band with a different style, and we decided this band had to have a completely different identity. Everybody picked their middle name or their dad's name, so it doesn't really have anything to do with a gimmick."

Recordings: The band officially released "The Handbag Memoirs," in January. Its label, Bloomfield Hills-based Le Grand Magistery, is slated to release the disc nationwide Tuesday.

The sextet also scored a spot on the forthcoming movie soundtrack for "As Daylight Breaks," which features fellow Detroiter Brendan Benson and other indie favorites such as the Walkmen and Interpol.

Sound: Pascal, the principal songwriter, creates cheerful songs about boys and girls and high school-type romance. Some, such as "I'd Bet My Life That You Bet Your Life," sound like Belle & Sebastian, but the clean, perfectly constructed harmonies fall somewhere along the lines of the Stone Roses and the Beach Boys.

The songwriting is tight, innocent and carefree, reminiscent of the early Brit-rock pioneers the La's. "To me, I don't think we're stuck on a specific genre," Pascal says. "I love music of all kinds, and I think we draw on the best influences we can. I'm always amazed how many people really love the music, from the music intelligentsia, to my parents, to small children."

Dare to be different: With bands such as the White Stripes and the Von Bondies getting national and international attention, why doesn't Pas/Cal sound more, well, more Detroit? "To me, garage stuff is sometimes shallow," Pascal says. "It is what it is and you just can't go beyond the surface. I just have always thought good, classic pop is where it's at."

WDET-FM (101.9) DJ Willy Wilson said the band's unique take is part of what makes it so much fun. "Because of their sound you can book them in different places with different bands," Wilson says. "They are a band that doesn't offend anybody musically and still rocks."

Upcoming shows: Look for a gig at the annual Hamtramck Blowout in March. Tour dates randomly pop up, Corduroy says, because band members want to focus on the album. Corduroy says the band already is worried about "overdoing it in the city since the scene is so small. We want to make every performance special."

By Dan Austin,
Free Press special writer