Rocking out for what you love
Portland songwriter Pilar French celebrates the little things in life - guitar in hand - with a new record and a stripped-down performance coming to McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove this Sunday
In an age of political unrest and economic depression, people often turn to musical expression to voice their anger, or simply for a distraction from the turmoil that floods the airwaves, piling worse news on top of bad news.
Portland singer and multi-instrumentalist Pilar French feels the same weight, and on her just-finished record, 'Deliver,' the musician faces turmoil with a different kind of weapon: optimism.
'There's so much going on in our society right now - people are losing their jobs and their homes. Times are tough,' says French. 'We've got people fighting in a war that's been going on for 10 years. It's a time that makes us want to reflect on what we have and appreciate it.'
French, who moved to the Pacific Northwest from her native Indianapolis 13 years ago, has established herself as a strong voice in the local music scene, playing in several blues and funk-based bands throughout the years.
This weekend, she returns to the Grand Lodge for a more intimate night of performance, foregoing the full bands she frequently plays with in favor of a duo with guitarist Jeff Koch.
French, who most often plays rhythm guitar while singing, says performing in a more stripped-down manner allows her to highlight her talents. With fewer layers combining to make an overall sound, she says audiences will be able to tune in more to the musicianship on display, including French's intricate finger picking and Koch's mastery of the guitar.
The songsmith says she finds joy in switching between smaller and larger ensembles, or even playing solo, which allows her to explore her music more intimately, with each song taking on a different tone and feel depending on the instrumentation.
'It's really fun for me to change it up with different instruments and to get different sounds out of the same song,' says French. 'The really cool thing about doing these duo shows is it gives you a chance, if you've seen us play before, to see what's going on. Usually people don't realize how much I'm doing as a rhythm player because you tend to turn that down when it's a full band.'
Also front and center are French's intricate compositions, which speak to her wide array of musical influences, from blues to funk, rock, balladry and beyond.
The singer - an attorney who jokes that she is thankful that lawyers are no longer unequivocally vilified ('Investment bankers are the worst people … people don't even make lawyer jokes anymore,' she jokes) - crafts her songs with a playful touch that matches her personality. French's bounding, catchy songs are home to swelling emotional cores, which serve to highlight her powerful voice.
New record takes
On 'Deliver,' which will be officially released early next year, French says her songs are considerably lighter than on her previous two recordings. She has crafted an album intended to provide a little sweetness to a bitter world.
It's a message she's proud to deliver.
'The second record I did was a little bit heavier. It touched on heavier topics like human perseverance and the will to survive and overcome life challenges,' says French. 'This CD is more about cherishing family, relationships and what you have as opposed to what you don't have. The music is a little more light-hearted. It's meant to make you feel happy and appreciate what you have.
'I wanted to write songs to remind me to appreciate what I have. You walk away from it with really positive vibes.'