Meet Rosie Pacla, the rock frontwoman slash pharmacist
“We never had to be perfect / But I wanted you to be good” is the the first line of the bridge in the song “My Eyes,” by NYC band Winds & Walls. The words are delivered with an audible ache; when the guitars and drums ramp up and crest a few measures later, the listener’s already been set up for the effect thanks to the gravity and timbre of that voice, which belongs to pharmacist Rosie Pacla.
“Pharmacist”/”rock star” is a helluva dichotomy, but the 28-year-old Pacla makes this unlikely career combo work. After all, it takes quite a bit of conviction to get a doctoral degree in six years, so adding on writing and performing duties is a natural extension of that internal drive. Along with friends Lawrence Turco, Andrew Reyes, Quentin Carver, and her younger brother Joey, Pacla makes music with heft and stakes; everything is personal, but in the best way.
Winds & Walls comes out of the great tradition of tri-state punk and punk-adjacent bands whose instrumentals are relentless and whose vocal performances are lined with existential angst. As the band prepares to release its second EP early in 2016, HelloGiggles spoke with Pacla about songwriting, growing up emo, and working with family.
HelloGiggles: One of the reasons that I first reached out to you is because I heard that you work as a pharmacist, that you had graduated with your pharmacy degree. I have to ask, as someone who grew up in this area: Was it the Rutgers University program?
Rosie Pacla: It was actually St. John’s in Queens. I definitely had that on my application list in high school though, but my parents wanted me to stay in New York. St. John’s is like, 15 minutes away from my house.
HG: How do you balance doing your “job-job” of being a pharmacist with your music career?
RP: Luckily, the job allows me to leave it there rather than bring it home; I can compartmentalize.
HG: How did you first get into writing, creating music with your sibling, and balancing that with your course load and now work load?
RP: At the time of pharmacy school, I wasn’t doing music hardcore. Once the course load started lessening and I started realizing, “Oh my gosh, what am I doing?” I almost felt bored, in a sense, and my younger brother was in numerous bands in high school. He noticed that I could sing, and said, “Now that you have free time, you should pursue this.”
So that’s how the singing started: I was in my “rotation,” the experiential year of pharmacy school. There isn’t studying involved, you just show up to the place, do your thing, and then leave. I started taking singing classes, but I’ve always been writing, at least poems, short stories, lyrics; I’ve been doing that since I was in junior year of high school.
I graduated from pharmacy school when I was 23, and I was sitting at graduation like, “Well, I got a doctorate at 23; now what do I do with the rest of my life?” I accomplished this great thing, but I still feel so empty. Being so young, I spent so many years doing the thing I thought I should do, and then now I still feel unfulfilled.
That’s when I decided to go to music; it’s always been a passion of mine, and after some soul-searching, I was like, “I’ve got to [do this.] I have to do in some way or form, do music. Any form.” And my brother was like, “Let’s just do this band thing,” so I said “Sure,” and “Are you actually sure you want to start the band thing?” Because he’d actually started pharmacy school when I left it; I was like, “Will this work for you?” But he’s been managing this the whole time. I’m proud of him! I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it simultaneously; he might be doing a better job than I am.
HG: I recently graduated from my undergrad, and while I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be doing, I knew more what I didn’t want to do, or what I didn’t want to be doing forever.
RP: I couldn’t sit with the idea of it defining me! Like, “Oh, Rosie the pharmacist” — ew. That’s not even who I am, and I did have a hard time during pharmacy school with my classmates, because it’s just this one creative person with these scientist nerds. Not in a negative way, but the vibe, personality, of people left me feeling left out. They would either judge me or make fun of me, like, “Why are you wasting your time being the free spirit you are? You need to buckle down and study and focus.” And it was like, “I probably should try to get by.”
That also motivates me, because I didn’t feel like myself throughout college. I felt misplaced, and after graduation, I felt free to do whatever I wanted. “Oh, you’re stupid for pursuing music” — well, I’ve already got my backup plan, so you can’t really tell me no now. It’s a blessing in disguise.
HG: I did an econ major when I was in college, so I get it!
Moving onto the music, I grew up in the same area, the same time frame as you actually, and the punk rock scene in lower New York, New Jersey was amazing! It birthed Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, people thrived on Warped Tour. Was that the kind of stuff you were into when you were growing up?
RP: Definitely, I was a huge Warped Tour kid. I went every year, did the whole crowd-surfing and almost-dying thing, getting grimy and dirty. The punk post-hardcore roots are always there, and they’re where the heart is.
Pierce The Veil, Sleeping with Sirens, Taking Back Sunday, Incubus wasn’t really a Warped Tour band, but they were my brother and mine’s biggest influence for diving into rock music. But before the whole punk rock era, I used to dance, ballet and hip-hop. So I do have old school roots of classical music and Motown music, because I was in a jazz class. There’s always the hip-hop from being in New York. And then my brother’s in the EDM era, so we have a huge buffet of inspiration when it comes to writing music. My brother will sometimes listen to an EDM song and make a riff from some weird electronic sound, and I’m like, “How’d you just do that?”
HG: You and your brother seem to have this really easy rapport with each other. You’re lauding his abilities, and that’s cool to be like, “I’m working together with this person I love, respect, and listen to.”
So you would say that it was him who brought you into the band and into the opportunity of a band?
RP: In the beginning, I didn’t have the confidence to go solo or be solo, and I love the idea of a band, of being a family, with someone who actually is in your family! The idea of touring with these people, and being really close to them, and them being your family, is so much better for me.
As for getting me into the band, it was [my brother]. He basically had a band with no singer, and one day he heard me singing and he said, “Hey, join us.”
HG: Especially for something like rock, going solo is inherently a more “alone” experience. But with rock, it’s a really solid genre, in terms of sound, and you have to have your band around you.
The appeal for rock music, especially the vein of music that you’re making, is that it does have a lot of cathartic action behind it. When you’re writing these songs, what influences and ideas are you actively pulling in?
RP: A lot of what I’m writing about is things I’ve experienced. The EP we’re releasing soon, EP 2, is basically about this one guy who broke my heart into a million pieces.
As I was going through pharmacy school and feeling emo about my decision, music helped me cope. The decision to go into music was a chance to reciprocate that, to write something that’ll help somebody else who’s feeling lost or emo or whatever. ‘Cause that’s what music is to me: It helps me get through the day, like a mantra. And I know it’s that way for a lot of people, and if my experiences could help somebody else, or their interpretation of what they went through.
That’s the glorious end of all of this; lyrics are the reason I’m doing this, because a lot of mainstream music is a lot of booty poppin’ and let’s go to the club. There’s a place and a time for that, and I’ll wholeheartedly party it up with some people, but where’s anything meaningful anymore? I wanted to put my two cents into the music world.
HG: I love that you’re using “emo.” Growing up, people used it a lot as a derogative, and now people are like, “Yeah, I was super emo!” It’s this lowkey reclamation of the word, and I’m super into that.
RP: Oh yeah, I was wholeheartedly an emo kid!
HG: We cover and talk to a lot of pop artists on HelloGiggles, and the things that people discuss about “modern pop music” — rock has a different sensibility about peoples’ problems and how they deal with them. Pop tends to lift up; rock isn’t afraid to get really, really dark about it.
RP: Yeah, pop tries to get you out of it, but rock lets you sit in it and acknowledge it, and then hopefully you let it go.
HG: This reminds me; I recently went to an Evanescence show, and Amy Lee’s voice is still so strong. Lemme segue that into: It reminds me of your voice, which is underpinned by this female howl. It’s so cathartic to listen to, you have a lot of strength in your voice! How did you get into singing?
RP: It’s funny because I actually hated singing growing up. My dad’s a belter: He’s that Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, crooner kind of voice. And then my cousins — I’m Filipino, but I was born and raised here — they were in a Filipino boy band in the Philippines. There was way too much pressure as a child to be a singer. I’m such a rebellious person that growing up, I was like, No, I’m not a singer, that’s your thing, not my thing. Don’t make me do it. I didn’t even want to karaoke. I’d roll my eyes and walk out of the room whenever it was family time to sing off.
That’s why I went into dancing, because I wanted my own thing. I basically didn’t start singing until I was 22, 23, when my brother was like, “You’re an idiot. Stop being rebellious and embrace it.” Then he told me to take singing classes.
Luckily, it’s in my genes; I worked for it in the two, three years I was taking singing classes regularly; I hated then, but then I didn’t, and now I love it. Writing helps make singing be the vessel in which I get to throw my words out there.
HG: . . . I’m still in awe about your Filipino cousins’ boy band.
RP: Back in the ‘90s!
Granted now, all over Facebook, they’re super proud of my brother and me. They have a rivalry, my dad’s side of the family and my mom’s side. My dad’s side is creative, and my mom’s side is the nerds, the science nerds.
HG: What sorts of things are you looking to improve on and build on for the next EP, and what goals do you have for Winds & Walls in 2016?
RP: We just shot our third music video; it’s for the song “My Eyes,” and we’re doing editing this week. Then we’re going into the studio to finish out EP 3, which is gonna be called Hollow Sessions. It’ll still be rock, but you know how the EDM scene has spacy vibes? We’re adding in different sounds, but trying to maintain our sound. It’s an acoustic/stripped sound; more artistic, less hardcore grunge-y rock and more rock in 2015 and it how it can live or survive. This should come out at the end of the winter, ‘cause EP 2 [Still Lions] will be released in the beginning of the year, end of January maybe?
The music video will probably be around that time too. There’s a lot of creation happening! And we’re trying to do more shows too; we’re working on that with our PR, to do targeted shows rather than just doing shows for the sake of doing them. We toured Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, where we were doing two shows a month all of 2014. We went on a break of our kind-of tour, and just want to focusing on and growing our sound.
HG: It’s so interesting when people who do super disparate things bring, or don’t bring, their two sides together. Like, I’m not suggesting you write songs about pharmacy —
RP: [jokingly] Really?
HG: Haha, no but it’s cool to see this family bond come into being.
RP: The way it works is that, I definitely work the minimum amount of hours required for my pharmacy job. The rest of the time, I’m plotting, writing my music.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Image courtesy of Dale Algo/Winds & Walls.