John Passerelli Has Been Local Force In The Seattle Area For Decades
Mackncheeze: My first question-who are you?
John: I have some cute answers. I consider myself to be, how do I put this, a positively charged rhythmic and melodic confluence of heart and mind. That’s my musical self, which is most of it. It’s what I have been doing my whole life. There isn’t much else except motorcycles and dogs and women and alcohol.
I’m very simple, I don’t need a lot to get by.
The last couple of years I’ve been living a bachelors life. Myself and two other room mates, musicians; they’re both bass players.
Mackncheeze: Wow, two bass players in one house.
John: I know, as long as I get the girls.
Mackncheeze: I’m glad that’s working for you. What kind of dreams or aspirations are you focused on?
John: When I was young I had very big dreams. Especially with music. When you’re good at it, and you’re in a decent band, people take notice. You would like to think you could take it to the next level. I know a lot of people who aspired to that and never achieved it and a lot of them just don’t play any longer. I could never do that.
My aspiration is not necessarily success oriented but to keep enjoying music. It pacifies me when I’m angry or down. Music, you know, is more than something to just listen to. I stick with music and I just want to keep doing it as long as I can and to keep playing with people I like; having fun, not taking it too seriously.
I’m primarily a stage performer. I’ve got a couple of albums under my belt with other bands, but my home is on stage. I feel a little less comfortable with studio work. The problem with studios is the pressure of time constraints.
As long as I can connect with people at a venue, if somebody appreciates what I’m doing, when I play I can see it in their faces. After a show, when they come to talk to me, that is some of the best payment I can get. I’m done with trying to get money from it even though I earn more now than I ever have. It keeps me from working too hard at a day job.
Its a good plan; I have always wanted to be part time employed and part time music. Life isn’t worth working yourself to the bone unless it makes you happy.
Mackncheeze: You were at the top of the Seattle Grunge scene?
John: Yeah, we were called Paisley Sin. We weren’t Grunge enough. We were a little more pop oriented, we could play different styles in one show. There were a lot of bands that made it, per se, that were more one dimensional.
We had our moment. We went down to L.A. a couple of times and met some lawyers at Capitol Records. It didn’t work out; they signed Blind Melon instead. Look it where that got ’em. Their lead singer, Shannon Hoon, overdosed on a tour bus. Everyone from Paisley Sin is still alive.
Mackncheeze: There’s a lot to be said for that.
John: Paisley Sin’s lead singer Gerry Smith and I have worked together for thirty years. I’m working with him in Sweet Emotion.
Mackncheeze: Our friend, Eric Ritts, just did NAMM as an exhibitor for Marco Bass Guitars. You’ve been to NAMM?
John: Eric’s great, I went to high school with Eric.
Yeah, it was a work thing, it was still a lot of fun. I was with THD Electronics. Andy Marshall, he’s a friend of mine, I’ve known him 30 years; I was one of his first clients.
NAMM was a lot of work. We brought our own isolation booth; they won’t let you play very loud without one. If people wanted to test one of our amps, we had a room for them. It was pretty cool; it had its own air conditioner and everything.
We shared a booth with O’Donnell Custom Guitars from Australia. Craig is a great guy. He didn’t give me a guitar, though.
Mackncheeze: You digging that Marco Telecaster?
John: I love that thing, man. There’s something I want to say about Marco Guitars. The reason I like that Telecaster so much is because there is a connection between the player and the instrument; there has to be. If it’s natural right off the bat you are ahead of the game. You’re going to be inspired by not fighting it. When I picked up that guitar, it fit me, I knew I was going to enjoy it for a long time. That’s the greatest thing. Those axes are something special and they should make more.
Mackncheeze: Who are you currently working with?
John: Sweet Emotion. We’re an Aerosmith Tribute Band. We had all kinds of shows booked from March on out.
A side project I have going on is called ZZ/DC. Its pretty self explanatory. We’re not doing stylistic interpretations like Hayseed Dixie; a little bit of ZZ Top and a little bit of AC/DC.
There was Guilty Pleasure; we worked hard on that band. We had two female singers and a different collection of songs; a lot of stuff I had never heard. I learned all this stuff I had never played before and it was fun.
Mackncheeze: What have been some of your biggest struggles?
John: Wow, yeah, interpersonal band member things. A band is like a relationship with four other girl friends, or what ever. I have learned not to carry grudges. Its too easy and humans are really good at it. People leave the band to start their own thing and its like, “Wait a minute, we had a good thing.” I can’t hold it against them.
Mackncheeze: Not holding a grudge is super important.
John: It takes a while to learn. Some people never learn it.
Mackncheeze: What is it that you personally want people to know?
John: That’s a rough one, man, because I really do this for myself. I just want people to know that I will do it if they will appreciate it. That’s my reason for doing it, someone getting off on it.
You got to take the negative criticism as well.
Mackncheeze: Whats your musical education?
John: I started playing trumpet in third grade. I played trumpet for eight years ending up on the Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble. We took first place in Reno two years in a row. There was a transition, there at the end, where I started playing guitar, and I let go of trumpet.
Mackncheeze: By the time you reached high school you probably had put in your first ten thousand hours?
John: Yeah. When I was 8, 9, 10 ,11, 12 and 13, I was playing in concert bands and symphony. Jazz band made it clear it would be a lot more fun. The band director told me I was one of the best sight readers he had ever seen.
When I picked up guitar, all my reading skills were put aside. I became completely ear trained.
I was sucked in by Rock n Roll: Robin Trower, Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Rush; anything with good guitar work. I started out playing covers before moving to originals.
At first I absorbed a lot of really good styles and all that has coalesced in to a style of my own.
After High School, I briefly went to college. Pre Engineering, at Western and the University of Washington. I just wasn’t that into it. That didn’t work out, so I took some time off, and then I went to Shoreline and studied music for two years. It was fun, but I was already ahead of most people. I was a working professionally, having recorded in big time studios, had done some studio engineering. I was like the Golden boy. I knew my shit. But what I really came away with was two years of theory. I already knew what it was, I used it all the time, I could recognize all these things I was already doing.
I’m always looking to break the rules. These days I don’t take theory too seriously. I’m not very modal. I’m a Blues Guy. If it sounds good I’ll make it work.
Mackncheeze: You sing very well; did you have vocal training?
John: Nope. In fact, I played guitar for fifteen years before I started singing. It started coming easier, because I was working on original music. I didn’t have to be some one else. I’ve been working with Gerry and we are connected well. I know his nuances.
I think there is much more magic in original music, whether or not a person is a very good song writer, its something to believe in and to be more attached. The magic is when you can get four people to make a song happen on the fly. It’s inspirational. That one idea makes me do something , then the bass player joins in, then drums, pretty soon you have written a pretty cool song with out even trying. That is the magic.
Sometimes the process is not collaborative. Sometimes someone brings in a great idea and wants to try it and we do it.
The other part of magic is the spontaneous combustion. Everybody should want to do both; bring in an idea to bounce it off one another or to go off in the moment. That’s the fun; that’s when you’ve found the right people. It’s whether or not they are your friends.
I’ve gone back to just playing with my friends.
We are going to release our music, we’re just going to give it away, it doesn’t matter, we’ll put it out there and hopefully somebody likes it, ’cause that’s what its about. You’re playing music to connect; there are far too many people that play great music and nobody hears it.
Mackncheeze: Do you consider yourself a prolific song writer?
John: I haven’t written a lot of lyrics in my life, but yes, as for music, I have unused ideas from years back. There is stuff floating around that I want to do something with. Then there’s the fact that I can just noodle something into existence.
Used to be I would get my best ideas from just watching TV. You’re just so disconnected.
Mackncheeze: You’re subconscious just zeros in….
John: You’re not contrived, hardly paying attention to what you’re doing. But then you have to go, oh, wait a minute, that was cool. Then you repeat it and hold on to it and keep it. I have lost so many of those things in my life by not remembering them, not recording them.
There are some that are still there, that are awesome, and all I can say is, one of these days.
Mackncheeze: What’s another part of the song writing process?
John: I trust my ear and the theory I learned in college. Things I listen to, things that influence me. Sometimes things that are new enter me. I would never change my style but new ideas infiltrate my writing process. It’s an intuitiveness that I have.
I really just go with the flow. Some days I write, some days not; some days I feel inspired, some days not. Though I never quit. Some of my best recorded work has been in inspirational, improvised solos.
Mackncheeze: What are some of the most influential shows you have ever seen?
John: Getting back to that Blues thing, in my youth, I was really in to Southern Rock. Back in the old days I saw ZZ Top, The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, The Allman Brothers; I cut my teeth on that. It was fun; there was a lot of guitar work . Sometimes there were three guitars, a lot of bands with two drummers.
Mackncheeze: What would you like to say?
I want to write a book someday. It’s going to be called, Why Am I Still Here?
Mackncheeze: John, this has been a great interview, man. This was really a lot of fun. Thank you.
Is there anyway we can help you?