Before she was a singer-songwriter and leader of her own band, Poor Eliza frontwoman Jane Park spent years standing in the shadow of other crooners, playing her first instrument — violin — in a handful of other Boston-area bands.
“I was in bands with some good songwriters, and I got inspired by what they were doing,” says Park, who struck out on her own some 10 years ago. “Once I tried it, it felt like a natural step. And it felt good, so I kept doing it.”
Soon thereafter, a friend coaxed her into playing a local open mic. From there, Park tells that she slowly began playing more often under her own name. And in 2009, she came full circle, starting her own project — the outfit that would become Poor Eliza — with a diverse group of musicians hailing from various other Beantown bands.
“As a violinist, I have a lot of classical training, but it had never occurred to me up until that point to write like a songwriter,” Park says of her musical transformation. “I had already been playing guitar for a while when I started writing songs, but I wasn’t very good at it. But I enjoyed it. It was low-pressure for me; I didn’t feel the need to be so technically perfect, which meant I had more fun.
“When I started writing songs, what came out was kind of folk-pop-ish — really simple, four-chord songs. I’ve always appreciated the folk sensibility, a songwriter with an acoustic guitar. And I had to keep it pretty simple, because I wasn’t a good enough guitar player to do anything else.”
Park has come a long way as a guitar player in the years since — she now earns the bulk of her income as a teacher of guitar as well as violin. She’s come a long way as a bandleader as well. Poor Eliza recently authored “Ghost Town,” their second release, an accomplished five-song EP of refined modern folk cross-bred with clear-eyed indie rock.
Park says she likes writing songs about life’s less-heralded moments, moments that may seem unexceptional in the here and now, yet take on a winsome significance in the wisdom of hindsight. Her voice is the perfect vehicle for the subject matter– a sonorous alto that, its crystalline tonal purity notwithstanding, deftly navigates the more complicated impulses that reside at the midpoint of the emotional spectrum, yet is still capable of hitting passionate peaks should the moment arise.
“I think there’s something beautiful and special about the quieter moments in our lives, and the truth is that the majority of most of our lives are uneventful,” she says. “My favorite times in my life have been when nothing was really happening. Maybe it’s because I’m not expecting anything, and any time you’re not expecting anything, you can either come across something unexpectedly great, or you can just appreciate the beauty of the moment, the calm of it. In those moments, I feel like you’re very receptive to whatever life has to offer.”
Park says she’s only now looking to expand Poor Eliza’s sphere of influence, by taking to the road and exploring the territory outside the greater Boston area. Like much of her musical career, it’s been a gradual step, slow in the offing. In the meantime, Park says her songwriting has begun to mature, and that her confidence in the band’s material has begun to keep pace with the assuredness she feels with respect to her stage presence and her guitar chops. “I think the music I wrote when I first started was much simpler,” she says. “It was folk music, whereas now I incorporate more styles — rock, punk, indie.
“Although I still like to do some folky things, I would describe my music as more eclectic now. At the same time, I feel like I’m still searching for something. I’m still searching for a sound I can call my own, my own style.”
Poor Eliza will play Preservation Pub Thursday, June 28 at 10 p.m.