Metro Detroit’s Josie Pace blends an industrial edge with electro-pop beats

The singer with a rock ’n’ roll heart performs at Small’s Bar on Friday

Oct 18, 2022 at 11:48 am
click to enlarge Josie Pace performs at Small’s Bar on Friday, which she considers her “home base.” - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Josie Pace performs at Small’s Bar on Friday, which she considers her “home base.”

Mohawked musician Josie Pace stays busy. So far this year she dropped a debut record IV0X10V5 (that’s “Noxious” rendered in internet-speak) in February, she strutted onstage to cover Iggy Pop’s “Search and Destroy” and “Nightclubbing” with the Don Was All-Star Revue at Detroit’s Concert of Colors in July, and earlier this month she embarked on her first proper tour, a jaunt opening for Los Angeles-based electronic act Aesthetic Perfection that makes a stop at Small’s Bar on Friday.

“We don’t have lives outside of this,” Pace tells Metro Times.

She’s referring to musical partner Ken Roberts, who serves as her producer, manager, and live keyboard player (and previously played keys in ’90s alternative rock band Charm Farm, among others). Both grew up in metro Detroit, and now live near the Plymouth Rock Recording Company studio, where they’re constantly at work.

Roberts says he met Pace a few years ago after he found her music online; at the time, she was performing on acoustic guitar as a singer-songwriter. “She plays acoustic guitar rather well, actually,” he says. But when they met up to create music together, Pace didn’t want to make acoustic music — she didn’t even want to use guitars. Instead, they came up with an industrial-pop sound inspired by heavy acts like Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, and Ministry, “but with a little bit of a twist to it — with a girl singing, and actually singing, not screaming,” Roberts says.

“It’s not that I don't love it, because I love it a lot,” Pace says of screaming. “I’m just not good at it.”

Pace says she still writes her songs on acoustic guitar, but they deconstruct them in the studio, rebuilding them as electronic tracks. “I don’t go into writing it thinking about what it’s going to sound like after the fact,” she says. The cybernetic experiments don’t always work out. “When it comes to turning her acoustic songs into electronic music, the process is definitely a process because she doesn’t write that way,” Roberts adds. “But I think that makes us stand apart from a lot of bands in our genre … Josie uses chord progressions and stuff that are more theory-based in the singer-songwriter style, and then I turn it into more of electronic music by taking it from there, which I think makes the song stronger.”

Pace says she grew up listening to classic rock, and her favorite band is the Eagles, while Roberts says he listens to the Beatles all day long; the duo cite old-school rock acts like Jim Croce, John Denver, and Gordon Lightfoot, and Genesis as inspirations as well. “A lot of bands that you wouldn’t think that would be associated with when you hear our music, that’s where we pull our inspiration from,” Roberts says.

“It’s what I think also sets us apart from most other bands in our genre,” he adds. “Of course, we’re not the first people to ever do that. Depeche Mode still writes that way. Martin Gore writes all the songs on acoustic guitar, and then he shows up at the studio with his acoustic demos, and they turn them into electronic music. And that’s why that band stands out, where you can sing their songs. There are so many hooks in their songs, and there’s so many people that try to do something that is like Depeche Mode, but they just can’t seem to grasp that sound. And that’s because they don’t write that way.”

Pace and Roberts started by releasing a flurry of singles onto the internet, and shooting their own videos. By 2020, they had developed a catalog that they shopped around in hopes of landing a record deal, eventually inking one with Negative Gain Productions. They say they ultimately picked the Chicago-based label because of its notoriety in the industrial music genre, but also because it gave them artistic freedom. “I think that Negative Gain is perfect for … having that security of having a record label behind us, without having them dictating what we’re supposed to be doing and what they want us to do,” Pace says.

The duo wound up recording a handful more songs for the project to make the final record sound cohesive. “It came together pretty quickly,” Pace says. “It feels like it was a long time, but it wasn’t very long at all, like six months, maybe, of actually putting it together.”

Highlights include tracks like “I’m Begging You,” which sees Pace pleading over an icy electronic track. “Underestimated” is a pump-up song with a dark mantra: “Thought you should know, I will tear you apart,” Pace vows.

On this tour, the band is just Pace on vocals and Roberts on keys, but the band sometimes plays with a live drummer, too. In the meantime, Pace and Roberts are also working on a new album set for release next year. “We’ve already got like five or six songs demoed down and ready to go,” Roberts says. “So when we get back to his tour, we can hit the studio again and put out some more stuff.”

Pace says she’s enjoying the journey — Small’s Bar is where they performed for the first time, so she considers it her home base.

“I’ve been wanting to tour forever,” she says. “I knew that music was what I was going to do since I was very young, and this is all I had been dreaming about — being signed to a record label, releasing an album, going on tour, playing in all these cities, and meeting so many people that actually enjoy what I’m creating. I’m so excited, but it’s definitely a big feat to tackle.”

Josie Pace performs with Aesthetic Perfection and genCab on Friday, Oct. 21 at Small’s Bar; 10339 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-873-1117; Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $23 advance, $28 day of show.

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