Monica Pasqual Shines a Light on the Darkness

The singer, songwriter, and keyboard player has a new solo album prompted by the darkness of Donald Trump.


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Photo by Andrea Scher

Monica Pasqual may be best known locally for her work with Blame Sally, the all-woman quartet she founded with guitarist Jeri Jones, bass player Renee Harcort and percussionist Pam Delgado 29 years ago, but she also maintains a prolific solo career.

You Can’t Kill the Light, released this fall, is her sixth solo album. It’s another collection that goes deep into the emotional states of longing and loss, while maintaining a hopeful outlook.

“My albums tend to look at the haunted side of life,” said the singer, songwriter, and keyboard player. “My songs are always about who I am, and where I am, at the moment I write them. They’re all extremely personal and reflect the times we’re in, the connection I feel between the society as a whole and myself. I don’t ignore the darkness, but the idea behind most of these songs is that we persevere and, in the end, light and goodness win out.”

The album’s title track is a quiet protest song, written in the wake of the 2016 election. Subtle keyboard textures and overlapping vocal harmonies fill the music with a reserved passion, displaying Pasqual’s poetic lyrics and her gift for balancing hope and apprehension. “I wrote ‘Can’t Kill the Light’ in two hours. I was incredulous that he was elected and that there wasn’t any way to undo it. It got me thinking about the Underground Railroad; Trump Tower and the fact that the White House was built by immigrants and slaves; the idea of Native Americans welcoming Europeans who betrayed them over and over again. Trump says he wants to take us back to good old days, but those days were only good for people like him. I wrote the song, recorded it and made a video for it in one week. The idea that you can’t kill the light is at the heart of the songs on the record.” 

Pasqual wrote the songs that make up the album over the past two years, working with co-producer and multi-instrumentalist BZ Lewis. “I wasn’t sure I was making an album at first. I was just recording songs as they came to me, without regard for genre. I decided to do whatever I felt and go wherever the music would point me, be it stripped down Americana, a country tune, or a track with electronic and pop elements. I wanted to do what I wanted to do and not feel contained by a single idea of what an album should be. I wondered how it was going to hang together, because it went in so many different directions, but I have a strong style of chord changes and melody, so they all sound like me, no matter how hard I try to write a different kind of song.”

You Can’t Kill the Light contains mellow folk ballads, low-key rockers, moody pop tunes, and country waltzes, heavy on slide guitar. Pasqual’s wordless, improvised asides float through the mix, adding a classical element to the arrangements. “I studied classical piano when I was young, and I’m obsessed with Bach, so I love counterpoint, those filigrees you get with vocals weaving in and out of each other.”

Although originally from Utah, Pasqual lives in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood and finds the community inspiring. “I moved to Oakland just as Obama got elected. When it was announced that he was going to win, there was partying in the streets and a lot of hope, as we were coming out of the Bush years. I think it’s important to remember we’ve got a long history of pushing back against the bad and moving toward progress. I think we can do it again.”

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