When it comes to characterizing local band Pacifico, it’s hard to get the description just right. Even founder and front man Matthew Schwartz relies more on what Pacifico isn’t to convey what it is. “People expect me to be a band, but I’m not. People expect me to be a singer-songwriter, but I’m not,” he says.
Like other “rule-breakers” Schwartz admires, such as Beck and Elvis Costello, Pacifico seems to work outside the lines rather than within them. It is both a project based around Schwartz’s songs and a band that fleshes them out in the studio and on stage. The key difference is that the band’s players change over time so that, as Schwartz says, “Every time we play, it’s a different sound.”
The way Schwartz explains it, what you hear on his last album, 2013’s Without Heroes, isn’t necessarily what you’ll hear from the band’s live show. “I give them freedom to play how they want to,” he says. “I feel like if they put some of their own self into it, it becomes its own animal.”
Yet, long before Pacifico started taking the stage in its current form around Baton Rouge, it followed a more structured path. The Atlanta native began writing music for a band he and a few friends put together, but when it came time to play his songs, only the drummer really heard the potential. Schwartz and the drummer split from that band and formed Pacifico.
When searching for a name, Schwartz explains that he had been listening to The Lassie Foundation’s 2000 album Pacifico, and he liked what it brought to mind. “There’s a song on the album called Kisses and Bounties,’ where they sing, I’m heading to Pacifico,'” he says. The idea stuck, and on doing some research, Schwartz learned that “pacifico” translates from Spanish to “peaceful.” He was sold.
The band quickly expanded to a five-piece group, and Schwartz began concentrating on writing and singing rather than playing an instrument. All signs pointed to a huge break when the band toured nationally to popular reception. Based on their momentum, Pacifico’s members moved to California. But in a story that might have made a dramatic episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, Schwartz and his band arrived to find their dreams dashed. “We pulled up to the hotel where our manager was, and he told us that the money we’d sent him to get a house was gone,” he says. They discovered that the manager had mishandled their funds, and so they fired him on the spot.
Schwartz put Pacifico on pause, focusing on other music projects. But after returning to Atlanta some years later, he revisited the concept again and changed the way he saw the project. “This was the first time I said, I’m going to do an album the way I want it,'” he says.
Suddenly it didn’t have to be a band with set members. He held tight to Pacifico’s fluid concept. “At that point I started finding people I liked and asked them to be in a low-commitment band,” he says.
Schwartz decided to record an LP, 2009’s Thin Skin and an Open Heart, with Jason Martin of the alt-rock band Starflyer 59. He describes Martin, with whom he recorded the album professionally in California, as one of his heroes.
Unlike so many of the singer-songwriters who play around Baton Rouge, Schwartz isn’t native to Louisiana. Born in Tennessee, his family relocated to Atlanta, where he lived before music sent him wandering. Schwartz moved to Louisiana about five years ago, following his girlfriend at the time, as well as the burgeoning film industry. He now works for the Louisiana International Film Festival and Fusion Media by day.
Baton Rouge may have provided Schwartz with the perfect creative backdrop he thrives upon. “Since I’ve been in Baton Rouge, I’ve been lucky to find great musicians,” he says.
Schwartz pushed to get Without Heroes on vinyl, a curious choice for a musician not signed to a major label. “I like the idea of something tangible, and if you’re going to buy something like that, you might as well buy vinyl, because it sounds the best,” he says. “I’m super-proud of it, and it’s a good package.”
Schwartz is already busy at work on the next set of projects for Pacifico. He’s finishing the songs that would have formed his first solo recording of Pacifico, an EP he began in 2005, and plans to release it this winter.
As for new music, Schwartz says he’s putting together material for Pacifico’s next full-length album, which he hopes to release late next year. “I want to challenge myself,” he says. If his past output is any indication, that’s sure to happen. pacificorock.com