Joe Rosati is no stranger to the local arts scene, having been the principal actor in two independent films shot in Tacoma – “Limbo” and “A Perfect Life” – and the owner of the Shoboat, a short-lived music venue that rocked Ruston a dozen years ago.
But now the Park City, Utah resident has returned to his hometown wearing a different creative hat, that of seasoned singer-songwriter. Rosati will headline the Spar Tavern on Nov. 27 with songs from his elegant and introspective new CD, “The Candelabra Light,” a disc that was, in many ways, two decades in the making.
“Some of the songs are older and done in a new way,” said Rosati, 42, tracing some of the new material back to Isaac Purrs, his band from 1991 to 1994. Purrs started to fall apart after Rosati went off to Western Washington University, a situation that came to a head when the band's lead singer quit the day before a scheduled recording session.
“I went ahead with the bass player and the drummer. I didn't really sing, and we just recorded the music,” Rosati recalled. “I kind of sat on that music for about a year, between '94 and '95, not really knowing what to do and started writing my own lyrics.”
Some songs resurfaced on a solo CD that Rosati put out in 1997. But, for the most part, his focus strayed from writing music until “A Perfect Life,” an independent movie that was written and directed by Tacoma filmmaker Chad Ruin and released in 2011.
“Chad had written 'A Perfect Life' primarily listening to the Cure's album, 'Bloodflowers,'” Rosati recalled. “And I thought, ‘We need music for this. I'm a big fan of the Cure and that's kind of my style.'”
Rosati stars as a homeless man musing about the idyllic life he's squandered. In one scene he starts singing an early version of “At Ten,” one of the cuts from the new “Candelabra” CD. The film's score went on to win a gold medal at the Park City Film Festival in 2012.
“Winning that makes you feel good,” Rosati said. “You start thinking what else could I do?”
Perhaps a bigger boost to the singer's confidence was working with Tacoma singer-songwriter Ben Fuller, the frontman for local rock outfit China Davis. Rosati moved to Utah in 2010, but whenever he was in town the two would jam in his mom's dining room; a chandelier hanging there inspired his new album's title.
The duo was recording some cover songs Rosati intended to shop around to get gigs when Fuller suggested his friend dust off some of his old originals. “That first little session we probably ended up with eight songs,” Fuller recalled. “I was like, 'Joe, you really have something here,' and I really started getting him excited about doing a good, serious project.”
Fuller produced “The Candelabra Light” with an emphasis on minimal, acoustic arrangements that allowed Rosati's poignant lyrics to shine through.
“My philosophy is when people write songs that are really personal you should try to strip them down as much as you can so that people can get that,” Fuller said.
“I'm really blown away by the subject matter that Joe writes about,” he said. “I'm really a fan of that kind of stuff, where people really dig deep into what life is. That's probably the main reason that I was drawn to working with him on something.”
Many of the lyrics are inspired by Rosati's creative struggles: going bankrupt with the Shoboat, struggling to be recognized in the competitive world of film.
“Most of the people we see who have success, we assume they had success in their 20s,'” Rosati said.
“You hit your 30s and early 40s and you just start going, 'Oh, my life didn't work out that way. But I'm not going to give up.' So that's kind of where the theme of the music came from, maybe to inspire hope for people who are a little older to still go for whatever it is that makes them tick.”
Joe Rosati in concert, with China Davis
8 p.m. Nov. 27
The Spar Tavern, 2121 N. 30th St., Tacoma
http://www.The-Spar.com or (253) 627-8215