Songs on the keys of life

Colorado pianist finds a niche, kickstarts third album

Pamela Machala

Pamela Machala

By Steve Graham

When Pamela Machala moved to Colorado in 2015, she wasn’t sure where she would fit into a guitar-heavy local music scene as a classically trained jazz pianist.

After all, it’s harder to carry a piano to the campground or even a brewpub. But Machala doesn’t mind lugging her keyboard to regular gigs at breweries, festivals, and cafes around the Front Range.

“It’s my one weight training,” she said.

The piano is also the core of her signature soulful and jazzy pop sound. And that sound has helped her find a niche, and plenty of partnerships.

“All this collaboration is happening, and it really feels like a family more than any other music scene I’ve been exposed to,” she said.

She has formed a full band since moving to Colorado and will play a full-band set at the Fort Collins Peach Festival next month. Before then, she has solo sets at Front Range Village on July 11 and Zwei Brewing on July 27.

Regular local gigs around the Front Range keep her busy enough that she eschews broader tours, citing the vast distances between Western cities as an impediment to financially viable touring.

Instead, she promotes her music online, with an active Facebook presence and quirky videos ready to go viral. For “Barista,” a song about her coffee shop career, she posted both a video and blooper reel. She also posted an NPR Tiny Desk contest submission and a System of a Down cover.

It has paid off with a loyal fan following, particularly among that local musical “family.” She said her fellow musicians covered more than half of a Kickstarter campaign that ended last month with $1,000 more than her goal, all to record and produces her third record.

The campaign included some creative incentives, including home-baked cookies and personalized crossword puzzles.

She has now completed most of the recording, and she said the extra Kickstarter money helped her make a better album with a more soulful mix of funky jams and singer-songwriter ballads.

“I’m really stoked with this third album,” Machala said. “I’m finally approaching the sound I have been striving for.”

Her last album was released in 2015, shortly after she moved to Colorado. It was her second release and the album that launched her professional music career. Her parents are both professional classical musicians, and Machala’s mother started teaching her piano at age 5.

“I just think it’s the ultimate instrument to create a really broad palette on,” she said. “You can use it in a percussive way, and in a melodic way. It can act in a lot of roles and be a lot of parts of your band when you’re playing solo.”

Beginning in high school, she was drawn to her own pop compositions rather than classic symphonies.

“I was just more interested in creating songs than working on the music of other composers,” Machala said. “I was always drawn to the storytelling aspect of songwriting.”

She has a master’s degree in piano.

“I was interested in learning more about jazz and jazz harmony for the purpose of my songwriting,” Machala said. “I’ve always been a music theory nerd and I’ve always been interested in what’s going on harmonically.”

Ironically, her parents discouraged her from following them into the struggle of professional musicianship, but they also pushed her to practice and improve every day. She earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, with the goal of possibly attending law school.

Instead, her degrees in philosophy and music mesh to inform her creative and unique approach to songwriting.

Her music owes equal debts to Norah Jones and Sara Bareilles, while some of her lyrics deliver deep insights through everyday observations — a form perfected by Courtney Barnett. But mostly, she wants her shows to be fun.

“I hope people have a good time and I hope that they are encouraged to move their bodies when they hear my tunes,” Machala said.

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