Born out of the Westside scene, Roses and Cigarettes celebrate their debut album at South Bay Customs
By Bliss Bowen
When Roses and Cigarettes performed at South Bay Customs in October, they were accompanied by a percussionist and an artist who created a bird portrait at the rear of the stage while they played. This Saturday, when New England-raised vocalist Jenny Pagliaro and native Angeleno guitarist Angela Petrilli return to the offbeat El Segundo venue to celebrate the release of their self-titled debut album, they will be joined by a full band. It’s a measure of how quickly things have moved along for the enterprising duo.
Pagliaro and Petrilli say they had been working together in a cover band for about three months when they decided to do a couple of acoustic shows as a duo, playing a mix of cover songs and original material that Pagliaro had been writing with bassist pal Mike Lyons. According to Petrilli, they swiftly realized that what they were doing “had a vibe.”
“We played certain songs we like by artists we like, and once we started to practice together we realized it wasn’t going to be a one-off thing,” she says. “We decided to start a band and play original material.”
For Pagliaro, it was sweet validation. Growing up in a musical household, she says, “I always wrote, but I never really thought I could write a whole song; I was just a singer. I just learned basic guitar chords a few years ago.” She credits Lyons with pushing her to leap out of her comfort zone. “Once I started, I thought, ‘I’ll do a three-song demo,’ but it didn’t stop. I was fortunate once I met Angela to find another person I could feel comfortable writing with and putting that out there.
“We started writing together and started booking more shows, and more shows, and then the Mint,” she recalls. “We thought we’d be doing open mics or something, but by last summer we were tracking drums with Dave Raven in the studio.”
Rehearsing at Pagliaro’s Santa Monica home and naming themselves after her favorite Ray LaMontagne song (“I’m a sucker for a sad song,” she admits with a laugh), they initially drew on their broad repertoire of melodic cover tunes — not top pop radio hits, necessarily, but music by artists who inspire them as singers and players: LaMontagne, Marc Broussard, Fleetwood Mac, Patty Griffin, Norah Jones, Miranda Lambert, Alannah Myles, Tom Petty, Grace Potter. Their songs are regularly tucked into Roses and Cigarettes sets.
Their mashup of Hall & Oates’ “Can’t Go for That” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” illuminates their taste in classic pop and country, and the way they build engaging arrangements around Pagliaro’s commanding vocals and Petrilli’s soulful, percussive guitar riffs. Those cover arrangements sit comfortably alongside Roses and Cigarettes originals like the driving anthem “Another Way,” the plaintive “Broken Down in Barstow” and the Pistol Annies-style rocker “Whiskey Down,” and provide introductory context for listeners.
“Musicians don’t just come up with the style they play,” says Petrilli, who lives in Hawthorne. “It comes from what they’ve been listening to. In my house the blues is always on. My dad was really into Stevie Ray Vaughan. My earliest memories as a kid were hearing that, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, a lot of that ’70s rock, and a lot of James Taylor, Jackson Browne. I enjoy playing covers. It really enables me as a musician to put my own spin on a song, especially musically. It’s always a blast. I see them as a way to express creativity in a song people already know. In our show, it works in our favor that we play these songs the way we hear them.”
Positive word of mouth about Roses and Cigarettes has started to circulate as they’ve worked a circuit of Westside and South Bay watering holes like Sonny McLean’s, the Cinema Bar and the Lighthouse Cafe, as well as more eclectic roots and songwriter nights at clubs across LA. Pagliaro says they feel like they’re plugging into a genuine artistic community.
“We’ve met, collaborated and played shows with a good amount of different bands,” she says, “really creative people that we’ve been able to be good friends with: the Roustabouts, the Deltaz, the Golden West, a ton of songwriters. It’s felt nice to be surrounded by a lot of artists like that. We have no problem being known as a cover band as well, but we’re definitely connected with songwriters.”
Roses and Cigarettes celebrate the release of their self-titled album with a Saturday show at South Bay Customs, 115 Penn St., El Segundo. Sanguine & Shiny open at 8:45 p.m., followed by Roses and Cigarettes. Tickets: $15 (includes food) or $25 (includes album). Call (310) 982-1300 or visit rosesandcigarettes.com.