Interview by Deborah Draisin
Photos by Rachel Roessler
Paul Roessler is one of the most fascinating dudes that I have ever had the opportunity to speak to as a journalist. A product of the dawn of L.A.ís punk scene in the Seventies, Paul cut his musical teeth alongside other legends like Darby Crash, Pat Smear, Dez Cadena, TSOL, Nina Hagen and The Dead Kennedys. In 1998, Paul moved into production; he started his own record label, Kitten Robot, in 2011. However, he has been putting out solo material throughout his career. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, Paul put out four LPs, so how lazy do you feel? Paulís sound is floaty, industrially influenced, and his lyrics are absolutely gut-wrenching. Few artists display such vulnerability in their writing.
Paulís latest album, The Turning Of The Bright World, was recently released. For such a musical heavyweight, Paul is very down-to-earth, engaging, and lighthearted. It was an absolute pleasure to Zoom with this industry titan.
Q: Paul, nice to meet you!
P: Nice to meet you, too, are you on the East Coast?
Q: I am, Iím in Long Beach, New York Ė not sure if you know where that is?
P: Not really, I think I was just asking that politely (both laugh).
Q: I love that wall behind you! (black wall with gold decorations - mirrors, photo frames, and trinkets) Really cool, very goth.
P: (laughing) Itís pretty goth around here, yeah.
Q: Yeah, here too.
P: The front of the place is the recording studio, and thatís all completely psychedelic Ė bright colors, like a brothel, or an oasis in the desert. And then, back here, itís all black and gold, and creepy.
Q: So you go from The House of the Rising Sun to The Sisters of Mercy.
P: Yeah (shaking head), I live in a crazy place. Everybody that comes here never wants to leave.
Q: I donít blame them! It would take me an hour just to go through everything on that wall. Like, those photos there, I would be like ďWho is this, is she haunting the house?Ē
P: I canít take credit for the design, this is actually my wife, Rachel, sheís done an amazing job with it.
Q: Kudos to Rachael! Is Rachael related to any of those people behind you?
P: Well, her grandmother is over there (Paul points to his right, and pans the camera that way), but other than thatÖ
Q: Theyíre just random photos that she found that she thought would look cool?
Q: Iím a big fan of Rachel, can I interview her?
P: You would love her, everyone does, sheís the best. And this (addressing the snarling creature at his feet) is Bijou. Come here, Bijou! Oh, sheís being a bad girl.
Q: Bijou doesnít want to meet me? Iím so insulted.
P: Corgis are just likeÖ
Q: Ahh, thatís my favorite dog! Bijou, donít you know? Iím the Corgi Whisperer!
P: I donít know if sheís a normal corgi. Iíve heard theyíre trouble, and she is.
Q: My grandmother had a chihuahua that didnít act like a normal, bitchy, bratty chihuahua. She was really docile, and she used to purr like a cat, it was the most bizarre thing.
P: Wow! Well, you score big points for liking corgis, but are we just, like, boring your readers right now?
Q: Listen, if my readers donít like corgis, they know where they can go. Alright, Iíll start though. Okay, readers, I think my first question is going to interest you very much. Everyone is going to want to what it was like hanging out with Darby Crash and Pat Smear, pre-Germs? Is that how you met Nina Hagen and The Dead Kennedys?
P: I met Nina when I was in The Screamers, who were a big band, and she had come to town looking to put together an American band Ė she had fired her German band.
Q: They werenít cooperating?
P: Well, sheís hard to cooperate with.
Q: Oh, sheís difficult?
P: I guess it depends on how you look at it.
Q: Ah, you donít want to put that out there.
P? No, itís just that sheís so from the heart, so spontaneous. If youíre more career-focused, and not following her artistic vision, just trying to make business decisions, you clash - but she really is punk rock, you know?
Q: She is.
P: I had to learn that about her. We did a big tour in 1980. On the one hand, I was so uncomfortable being in this rock star setting, because I was punk rock, and she was really big in Europe.
Q: Huge, yes.
P: We were playing five thousand seat gigs, night after night. We had bodyguards and a tour manager, and it all felt very not punk rock to me. But, at the same time, she was subverting the game, you know? She was not even concerned about her audience, really, like ďIím gonna play whatever Iím gonna play, youíve gotta follow me.Ē And there are different ways to look at that. Because people pay you their money, youíve got to play your hits. People love you, and thatís your relationship with your audience, but some of the most creative people that Iíve played with are always moving forward, you know?
Q: And who would you put on that list?
P: Well, The Screamers never did a show that was the same. I played with this guy named Mark Curry, who got a seven album deal on Virgin Records, and he was going to play whatever song he wrote last night, and we were going to learn it at soundcheck. Nina, too, she would do that. Iíve been in a band with Gitane Demone, The Gitane Demone Quartet over the last five years. Rikk Agnew was in the band, but theyíre not going to whip out Christian death songs or Adolescents songs. It was really about designing a whole new kind of music, which was really exciting.
Q: But Iím sure that disappointed some people.
P: Yeah. There are two ways to look at it, for sure.
Q: I have opinions on this, because I paid an arm and a leg to see Bob Dylan. I had really good seats, and I was excited, and he decided that he was going to play every single song as a slow jazz number. It took me halfway through the song to even realize he was playing ďLike A Rolling StoneĒ. I was very unhappy.
P: Iíve had the same experience. Iíve seen Bob Dylan three times, and none of them were great shows. I just was talking with Chris Morris, who saw him on his last tour, and he said it was incredible Ė one of the best shows heís been to. And I was like ďWhere were you?Ē
Q: Where was my show like that, right?
P: I didnít feel like I was being challenged, necessarily, butÖyou get high expectations from someone like Bob Dylan. I was disappointed in the David Bowie shows I went to. I mean, they were great, but after those shows, I swore that I would never go to see anyone big like that again.
Q: Wait, what was so disappointing about his shows? I never got to see him.
P: Only that I was in a huge stadium Ė I didnít feel a personal connection. The same with Queen: they played the hits, everybody cheered, it was okay. The best concerts Iíve been to are with some bands Iíd never even heard of. You walk in, and itís a 300 seat club. A little band called Bad Brains walks onstage that youíve never seen before.
P: You know, I was never a big Captain Beefheart fan, but I got tickets to see him at The Whiskey, and I was like ďOkay, I get it now. This is as good as it gets.Ē
Q: Iím with you. The intimate shows definitely have a completely different vibe, thereís no doubt about that. But, if youíre going to do a stadium show, then play to the stadium, you know? Use what youíve got. Youíre going to want to drop some coin and have trapeze artists, blimps flying around, fireworks. To stand there watching four guys just play rock ní roll in a giant stadium seems a bit like overkill.
P: Itís an art form Ė I donít know that Iíve ever seen it done well.
Q: Well, Pink Floyd, when they were touring ďThe WallĒ.
P: (smiling) That was exactly who I was going to say!
Q: Nice! High fives.
P: I saw The Cure at The Rose Bowl.
Q: How was that?
P: I mean, like I said: for me, The Cure make really intimate music that I connect to emotionally. Itís great to hear all the hits, and to ďseeĒ Robert (pinches fingers together).
Q: The little speck that is Robert.
P: I went to Coachella.
Q: I will never be caught dead there, no thank you. But VIP is the way to do it.
P: Yeah, I had the VIP passes. I sat onstage for Bright Eyes, and watched them from the back. And this was fairly early on in their career.
Q: Oh wow! That sounds amazing. I had fucking Bright Eyes tickets, I got sick as a dog for that show, I got covid.
P: I like throwing out Bright Eyes, because a lot of people from my generation look at me like Iím an asshole for listening to nothing but Bright Eyes for five years.
Q: Noooo, Bright Eyes are great, are you kidding me?
P: I like Phoebe Bridgers too.
Q: I like what sheís had to say recently.
P: Itís very rare for me to become a fan Ė it happens about once a year.
Q: Whoís the last person you became a fan of?
P: From your neighborhood, Ceschi (pronounced Chess-key). Do you know who that is?
Q: No, but do I need to?
P: Well, he put out a song, I think itís called ď2020 (BC)Ē Ė itís like this nine-minute song. If you love Bob Dylan, youíll like him. Heís actually a rapper who picked up the acoustic guitar, and now does folk punk. That one song was so great, that if it was the only song he ever put outÖ
P: Yeah, Iíll shoot it to you.
(Editorís note: here is that song
P: I like to tell people that there are probably a hundred thousand artists right now that you could drop into the sixties, and theyíd be hailed as geniuses.
Q: Thatís true.
P: There are people who say that there is no new music thatís great.
Q: Nah, if youíre saying that, youíre just old.
P: Well, I think there is another problem: thereís too much.
Q: The market has changed, thatís why.
P: True, I think weíve evolved. People who used to consume music now make music.
Q: Yeah, because we have the internet, so now you can self-release. Thatís the reason why the number of visible artists has increased exponentially.
P: Maybe that. I also wonder if seventy years of prosperity since the second World War have given people more leisure time, and their children are growing up in environments more conducive to artists, perhaps. I have theories. Also, the technologies have freed people up as well.
Q: Absolutely, but this still depends upon the type of music youíre making. Are you recording some snotty art house stuff, or are you making gangsta rap, or punk, which have some systemic value to them?
P: If youíre scrambling to just feed yourself, thatís one thing. But if things have been stable, and you start having the time, certain people will choose to create.
Q: Do you really think itís a choice thatís based upon status, or is it just a need that a person has within their body? Like, if I donít write, I donít exist.
P: I totally think itís a need, but on Maslowís Hierarchy, rather low. I just think it nurtures artists more when thereís stability Ė and I mean globally, millions and millions of people have the opportunity. If youíre working a factory job sixty or seventy hours a week, you are a little less likely to write a new song when you get home than somebody whoís working forty hours a week in an office. I think it all adds up.
Q: I think that dudes like Bruce Springsteen would disagree with you Ė he wrote his first three albums about factory work.
P: Yeah, but did he work in a factory? I read his book.
Q: I donít know! Iím going to have to Google that (Editorís note: nope). Ozzy definitely worked in a factory.
P: Well, I just think that, collectively, people have just a little more breathing room, a little more opportunity to be artists, when theyíre not starving. You know, Thomas Jefferson said that we will be farmers, and manufacturers, so that our children can be artists. And I think that, finally, a lot of people are able to embrace an artistic sensibility Ė more now, perhaps. Itís a theory.
Q: Itís an interesting theory (looking up from Google). Apparently, Springsteenís dad was a bus driver.
P: Bruce Springsteen was committed to being an artist from the time that he was a kid.
Q: Yeah, he began when he was eighteen years old, I think. (spotting Bijouís ears) Hey, little buddy! (Paul picks her up, and pans the camera down so that I can see her face) Hi, cutie!
P: Biji, who is that? Thatís Deb.
Q: (to Bijou, obviously) I love you, youíre adorable. Okay, so letís return to the original question: the experience of being at the beginning of the punk scene in L.A.. What did that feel like?
P: Remember high school?
P: So, when you think about high school, itís got a certain sheen to it Ė everything is different. Maybe youíre a popular kid, but I was a music nerd. I was always in the back room practicing.
Q: You were classically trained, right?
P: Yeah, I had piano lessons. When youíre classically trained, youíre basically practicing all day long.
P: I was also writing a prog rock opera, and I was in a band with these guys from a special school. It was an innovative program school (within University High School), where they teach everything with completely different methodology. The teachers who (founded the program) didnít like the Victorian teaching methods that they have in regular schools, so they got very experimental.
Q: Amen to that.
P: They were using Erhard Seminar Training, at one point they dipped into Scientology, Daoism, Body Mind Exodus - all sorts of strange teaching methods. Instead of English, we had Rhetoric. Another teacher there did a class about Relationships, which I think was really significant. So, I went to that school, and Darby and Pat were also going to that school.
Some of the people in that school were just fuck-ups and drop-outs that they were just trying to keep in high school. But a lot of the people in that school were attracted to different modes of learning, and I was more in that category. Darby really stood out from everybody. This was before punk rock had really happened. The Ramones had just gotten together, and we had not even gotten the news yet about The Sex Pistols, and the English punk scene. This was like 1975.
(Darby) had blue hair Ė he was a Bowie fanatic. He would dress up at school, and that was so rare. Now, I donít think thereís a high school in America that doesnít have a couple of oddballs dressing funny. This was a school of three thousand kids, and he was the only one, so I noticed him. People warned me not to talk to him, that he would brainwash me, and that was it, I had to know a sixteen-year-old who people were afraid of as if he was Charles Manson. He had this little group that would sort of follow him around. I thought that was something I could integrate into art. I had read about advertising, and how they use subliminal messaging, and I thought ďHey, maybe this guy knows something.Ē
We just became really good friends. Pat was away at Jesus school. They were like best friends always. In fact, Pat was probably his only friend. He kept everybody at armsí distance Ė me included. But I really loved him, and I was fascinated by him. I donít play the role of follower very well. I was fully formed enough as an artist to have my own identity, and I couldnít be totally swallowed up into his thing, but I really wanted to be around it, and observe it.
I recently did an interview Ė theyíre doing a documentary about the school that I went to, and the teacher who founded it. I met with the teacher, and I said ďI hate to bring this up, but do you remember Paul Beahm?Ē And he goes ďOh, of course!Ē So, we had this whole converstion about (Darby), me and the founder of this school, whoís now eighty-eight years old. I asked ďWhat did you think of him?Ē He said ďWell, he was very, very sick.Ē And, you know, looking at it from my age now, he clearly was. I mean, he killed himself within five years of that time. But back then, he seemed, actually, the opposite of sick. He looked as if he was the one person out of all of us who maybe had the answer to everything.
Part of his sickness was that not allowing you to connect to him, keeping you at a distance. Always sort of giving hints that he had esoteric knowledge. He had some; I would go to his house, and he would stay up all night studying the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and L. Ron Hubbard Ė anything that would give him the ability to control peopleís minds.
Q: What, that was the modus operandi? Wow.
P: Yeah, and if you look at that from a psychological point of view: his brother had died, his stepfather had died Ė he had had this really traumatic life. So, he had a serious need to control. I see now the symptoms of the mental illness that he was suffering under, the delusions of grandeur, but at the time, he was a myth-maker, a fantasy-weaver Ė he would take us on adventures. He was like a cult leader, you know? Thatís what he wanted to be. I appeared to be in the cult, looked like I had joined, but really, I was observing. I just could never surrender. I loved him, though, you know? Everybody did. There was a sense of his vulnerability, and the underlying pain that he'd always felt, which was endearing. When you see videos of him, and heís just the most wasted person in the room, that was not the person that we all loved.
Q: That was a persona.
P: Very much so, and, in fact, it was a persona that drove me away. In high school, he was the sharpest person in the room. If he was on drugs, it was acid or speed. He could look right through you. Teachers are hard to talk to in class, because theyíre in a position of authority, but he could just go toe-to-toe with them intellectually. So, yeah, when he really adopted that Darby Crash persona, I couldnít be around it. I didnít know he was going to die, of course - but I had to distance myself.
Q: Did you go to the funeral?
P: Yes, I went, and then we had our own little memorial service. The punk scene was still pretty tightly knit at that point, it was 1980. I had already joined Nina Hagen, and I had been in Europe touring Ė Iíd been away for a few months. I came back, and he was doing the final Germs show, so I went to that. He did that, I think, just so he that could raise the money to buy his drugs.
Q: Aw, geez.
P: Yeah, it was a huge tragedy for all of us. I remember thinking, when he died, that it would definitely never be the same. It had always been like this: wherever he decided to go, that was the cool place to be that day - at least for our generation. There were older punks, like The Weirdos, The Screamers, and X, they were twenty-five. They had been hippies, and they had embraced punk rock, had seen the vision of the new aesthetic, this whole new philosophy, and had changed with it. But we were kind of born into it, you know? We were like 18/19. When he was gone, it felt like it would always be a bit rudderless after that.
Q: What do you think of the scene today?
P: You know, I have a recording studio, and I record a lot of people. Before covid, I was with The Gitane Demone Quartet, so I was playing a lot of shows, feeling very connected to the local scene. It was really cool. The young people had a certain reverence for the older ones. You would have audiences where there were sixty-year-olds and twenty-year-olds together, which I donít know if thatíd ever happened before. Older people who are able to stay current and interested, who are still playing around, thatís an interesting phenomenon. The scene in L.A. is so fragmented now. There are a lot of identity-based bands: LGBTQIA, tons of women, thatís a big part of the scene today.
When the punk scene began in L.A., it was a hundred people, then a thousand, then two thousand, but still very centered around a couple of clubs. Now, there are so many scenes, all kinds of interesting stuff happening. I did a show with my sister last Sunday, which was really cool, that was a good audience. There is an artist that I produce, CrowJane Ė we went to her show on Thursday, great crowd. But I think, when you say ďsceneĒ, thatís like an eighteen-year-oldís perspective, you know? Your family sucks, so you find this new family, and you create the scene. Maybe, as a journalist, you see something different?
But when someone mentions the punk scene in L.A., I just think of this bunch of orphans who got together and made music. As far as the music scene now, I see people from fifteen to seventy years old making music everywhere I look. People send me music constantly, and, as a fan, I really appreciate it, but itís also very overwhelming. Every once in a while - and I canít understand why - I cross over into loving this particular person. I donít know if that means that theyíre better than the twenty or fifty other people I was sent that week though.
Q: But something about them resonated with you personally.
P: Made my heart flutter, yeah, and I think thatís a really special thing, when that happens. I mean, I remember hating The Cure all through the eighties. I hated his whiny voice, and they were on modern rock radio, it was just silliness, and I didnít get it at all. Then, one day, I listened to nothing but The Cure Ė for the next five years.
Q: I had that experience with The Gaslight Anthem. They used to open for one of my favorite bands, The Bouncing Souls, all the time, and their fans were garbage people Ė like the rudest, shittiest bro dudes, fucking drunk, kicking people in the head, I couldnít stand them. So, whenever Gaslight would open another show, Iíd be like ďUgh, fucking Gaslight!Ē Anyway, I like to stream music while I work, and this song kept coming on, I think on Pandora, and they had put it into pretty heavy rotation. Iím weird, I donít pay attention to song titles right away, I donít know why. After, like the twenty-fifth time they put this song on, I was like ďThis song is cool, I Iím going to go see who this is.Ē And it was fucking Gaslight Anthem! So, I was like, ďAlright, I guess Iíve got to go listen to ďThe í59 SoundĒ nowĒ. So, I downloaded the album, and I was like ďI do kind of like this, it is like a punk Springsteen, just as my son saidĒ (both smile).
P: Hearing a song twenty times does help.
Q: It can, but not always. There are still songs, no matter how many times they come on, youíre like ďAbsolutely fucking not.Ē But, this time, it did the job. So, all of those original anti-corporate ideals that the grassroots punk movement had, how do you think they come into play now, in modern capitalist America?
P: Well, in a way, theyíve come to fruition. I feel like a much larger percentage of the population is interested in localized music, and they make music for each other, and for themselves. One of the messages of punk rock is that anyone can music, DIY. But now, you can actually make good music, whereas, before, yeah, you could do it, but you sucked. A band like the Minutemen, or The Sex Pistols, or The Germs, theyíd start out terrible, and then, in like a year, theyíd be great - itís not like you had to go to school for six years or anything. So, thatís just sunken into the zeitgeist, that if you have something to say, and a vision, thatís all you need. Rappers used to take records and spin them, create loops, and make some incredible art by just rapping over the top of that.
Q: One hundred percent.
P: Rock ní roll did start with people like Elvis, The Stones, The Beatles, but we never would hear about it until it had been corporatized. The industry tried to bottle it up and sell it, but now thatís just impossible to do. DIY has succeeded, itís everywhere. You know, it seemed like, in the sixties, a certain amount of that music got through, but I donít feel like itís always been the same. I think itís always been that there are maybe five great bands - on the radio even - that get through. I struggle not to be pessimistic; I think itís glorious that everybody is making their own music. I mean, you could listen to nothing but the music that I make, because I have all of these pads, I record all the time. If you just listened to the bands Iíve produced, youíd listen to nothing else. They all want to be heard, but...
See, I used to listen to records over and over Ė I wonder if people still do that. I feel like people now will listen to one song, and go ďOoh, I love this song!Ē and then the next song will come on, and theyíll be like ďOh, I love THIS song!Ē Like, we used to settle in: that song, that album, would become our lifestyle for a while - we would play it over and over again. I remember people saying ďI played that record until I wore out the grooves.Ē But, itís a different experience, to create music, versus receiving it. When we make music, itís the most important thing in our lives. (As a producer), itís like Iím helping them give birth to their children.
Q: Thatís a good way to put it, it is very much like that.
P: Itís very intense. When people have children, itís the peak experience of their lives.
Q: Even if you think about the way that people get really protective over the art that they like, thatís kind of parental.
P: Exactly, and also passionate.
Q: Yes, very.
P: In my culture, itís the spiritual versus the material. When Iím making music, Iím like ďYouíre making this for your soul, to share with someone you love. Youíre making this music for this experience that weíre having right now.Ē And then, when youíre done, the next experience is ďWell now I want people to hear it, I want to sell this.Ē
Q: Itís interesting that you say that, because, of course, at the end of the day, you have to sell it, you have to eat, but a lot of artists insist that, when they make music, they refuse to think about the recipient, and if itís going to appeal to them or not - they donít want to engage in that thought process. Do you think thatís untrue?
P: Well, I think it depends upon where youíre at. Like, if you sold six million downloads last year, youíll want to sell another six million this year, and that does creep into your head. Iím just not good at that. If I start thinking ďOh, theyíre going to love this,Ē that will be the worst shit that I make (laughs). Now, what you can do is make fifty works straight from your heart, then pick the ten that you think will connect with an audience, and thatís all legit.
Q: When youíre putting an album together, is that your thought process? Or are you just more about ďI like these the bestĒ?
P: No, there is the writing of the song, then the creation of the album, which is kind of an outdated art form. People donít really have that sort of grand attention span anymore, but we still think that way, so we still make them. Thereís the process of ďthis is the perfect opening song, this is the perfect closing one, and what is the journey that they take us on?Ē This is my diary of the last three years, a reflection of my inner life, and the things that have happened to me, where I was at that time. Super complicated, you know? When someone creates a painting, that doesnít take two yearsÖI donít know, maybe it does. But I feel like an album is a really wide range of time.
Q: Well, with a painting, I feel like thereís a really long process before you sell it, if you ever do, with an album, thatís a much shorter leap.
P: Yeah, Iím thinking much more about the creation. Like, with my record, I was doing a lot of stuff. I was producing a lot of bands, I wrote this twenty-one minute song in the middle of it, I wrote probably forty songs for this record. But I had been writing songs for it for over eight years.
Q: Just for (ďThe Turning Of The Bright WorldĒ), or in general?
P: I mean, some people just knock out twelve or fifteen songs, and Iíve done that, but I guess it just varies. I also just put out four double albums from the nineties Ė all demo stuff that never really came out, so thatís like a thirty-year project. You know, I wrote like seventy songs in an eight-year timespan, and then I polished them. When covid happened, I was like ďI am going to die, and this is never going to get done. There is this amazing thing called Bandcamp now, and I really need to put this on there.Ē This is a five-hour piece of art that I need to let go of, give up, put the cherry on top of, and release. Iíve done albums where I recorded the whole thing in a month, and put it out right away. But Iím kind of grandiose, I do see things in big ways. I guess thatís what happens when you live as long as I have, you know? (both laugh)
Q: Well, you must be doing something right, because Bandcamp claims that all of the physical copies (of ď6/12Ē, released last year) are sold out.
P: Yeah. I donít make physical copies of everything, but maybe I will. When I was in The Screamers, that was the most important thing in the world, and when I was sixteen, I wrote like a forty-seven-minute song, which was prog rock, you know?
Q: Of course it was prog rock, what else is going to be that long?
P: But how cool that that kid did that, you know? Then, in the nineties, I got on drugs, and did this weird music, so I see it all as kind of having equal weight.
Q: I know my audience, and I promise you that some of them are going to listen to an album like ď6/12Ē, and think that you are still doing drugs (both laugh). Bandcamp also likens your sound to a weird, eclectic group of artists, such as Blood Command and The Zells. Do you really agree that fans of those bands will also relate to your work?
P: I think that Iím just a singer/songwriter. I think a lot of people are going to listen (to these records) and be like ďHow did he get from The Screamers, from 45 Grave to this?Ē And I will tell you, what happened was that I started playing with Mark (Curry), I got into The Cure and Eliot Smith and Conor Oberst, and I was always into Bob Dylan. I had always had love for singer/songwriters, and then I just melded in that Trent Reznor type technology. There was a band called Prick, whom Trent Reznor produced, and I played with for a while. Their album, ďThe PuppetĒ, is just incredible. And that is where I was able to see how you could bring an edgy, Nine Inch Nails production to a singer/songwriterís work. And thatís how I see myself.
Q: That was my thinking as well, that people who are into industrial would like (your work).
P: Cool! And yet, there are songs that are really sad piano ballads.
Q: Yep, youíve got a couple. I do think that everyone can relate to ďWhen Youíve Tried Everything Itís Time to Stop TryingĒ. Does that sad little ditty have a backstory that you care to share?
P: Yeah, that whole record is about breaking up with a girl who Iíd been with for seven years. She was leaving me, it was over, and I said ďIím going to write a song every dayĒ.
Q: Ohh, you DO like Bright Eyes, I see it now. That is the most emo thing I have heard in ages (both laugh).
P: Yeah, it is a full-on breakup album. I thought that was pretty obvious, but I guess it isnít.
Q: No, it is.
P: I was in really miserable relationships for thirty-five years, and, Man, nothing would get me out into the studio quicker than a fight with a girlfriend, or getting fucked over Ė and I must have been fucked over a lot, because there is a lot of music. Itís really weirQ: over the past eight years, I have been in a really lovely, calm, wonderful, supportive relationship.
Q: And that hasnít been hurting your writing? Because I have heard artists say that happiness can squash your artistic drive.
P: It did happen to me in the eighties, when my kids were born - I went into a real lull of not writing. But with this, Iíve stumbled onto a new voice. With this new record, I donít know what Iím going to write a new song about, like I did with ď6/12Ē, which I knew was all about ďFuck you, Iím dyingĒ (both laugh). But with this one, itís been more like ďOh, Iím dying, and itís awesome.Ē Thereís a lot of, you know, facing old age. Rock ní roll is music for kids, and rightfully so, but kids get old, and then itís like: well, what are you supposed to do, not make music anymore?
Q: I donít know how much youíre following the current-ish music scene, but if Iím being really honest, a lot of the people who are active, and who have been active for a couple of decades already, are getting a bit long in the tooth. The band My Chemical Romance got back together, and Iíve been following that closely because you canít help it, if youíre following music news, itís all over it. A lot of their fans are these kids who I guess got into them through some older person who mentored them, and theyíre really confused, like ďThese guys are really old, they sound okay though.Ē When early forties is ďoldĒ, thatís how you know itís a really young audience. Thatís funny (both smile).
P: Well, Iíve got to deal with an even older thing. When I think of someone like Nick Cave, you know, he lost two kids, which is just brutal, but he is unflinchingly who he is now. I think one of the most important concepts of punk rock is honesty. There was a lot of artifice and phoniness that I feel like we had rebelled against. These artists whom we might have loved, whether they were prog artists or whatever, they had all gotten on cocaine and gotten lame as fuck, and their art became bullshit.
Q: Dudes have got to be honest with themselves though. Like, my best friend just went to see Paul McCartney. Letís not pretend that anyone whoís going to see him at eighty is looking for what heís put out in the last thirty years, right? Youíre there for the stuff from the seventies.
P: Yeah, but heís probably still writing.
Q: Iím sure he is, and Iím sure some of itís decent, butÖ
P: When people ask what is the killer of creativity, why did these artists make their best music early? Personally, I think that there are a couple of factors: one of them is affluence. When you start worrying more about your fourteen properties, and your portfolio, hiring a hundred people, then youíre a corporation. Thatís a different job, you know? And itís very fucking distracting. Meanwhile, your fans are waiting, and you donít want to let them down, youíve got to stay true to what they expect, and all that shit.
Iím really lucky, Iím able to make a living as a producer and by running a recording studio. Itís what Iíve wanted my whole life, but what it also means is that, when I go in and make my own music, I get to be totally true. I get to go ďWhat do I have to say now?Ē And sometimes itís very difficult. I can sit down and write a piece of music every time I go into the studio, but writing words is a grueling, punishing, difficult thing, because I really have to get into what matters, whatís important to me today. Sometimes, I want to make nothing matter, so that I can have some peace (laughs).
A friend of mine wrote this piece of music for me, because he was like ďWeíve got to get Paul out of these piano ballads, weíve got to get him doing some rock ní roll.Ē Writing rock ní rolls songs (shaking head), I just canít do it. I sat on that piece for a month. I wrote lyrics for that thing five times, and they were just garbage. Finally, The Supreme Court helped me. I was so fucking pissed yesterday, so emotional, and I donít want to live with distraught emotions. I can go through the news, and say ďYep, itís always been this wayĒ. Ukraine, same shit that people have been doing to each other for thousands of years. Depression? Thatís fine, thereíll be a Recession. Trumpís in office? Thatís a shitshow. Mostly, I just try to keep it on an even keel, but yesterday, I was triggered. I felt that emotion coming out, and I went back in there, fucking nailed it! I didnít say anything about Roe, but Iím talking to some people.
So, on this album, Iím not talking about breakups Ė although there a couple that are still left over from that time.
Q: Okay, with this album, where are we emotionally? What are we being most influenced by?
P: Honesty was the first thing. I am in my sixties, and what I want to speak about is: have we fucking learned anything in the last sixty years? Now look, I hate being opinionated, throwing my opinion down someoneís throat - I feel like thatís preachy bullshit. But, is there anything I have to offer? And, can I make art out of it, not just some diatribe? Iím not Jello Biafra, I canít do that kind of stuff. But, when youíve lived your life right, youíre not afraid of death. So, I feel comfortable with dying. Dying is okay. That thread keeps coming back, you know, make room for the next people. Thatís in there, but then there are specific things. I have a grandchild who announced themselves to be non-binary. When you have something like that, itís immense, like I am forced to be in 2022, not back in 1968. Now this is where we are. And I love that person. That person is fifteen years old. We were actually working on a song together.
P: And suddenly, I saw the politics of a person who was born a woman, and saying ďYou know what, weíve been screaming as women for fifty years, and itís still the same fucking bullshit Ė and I will not have you judge me by my gender.Ē Now, Iím not sure thatís what their politics are, but thatís what I saw. I saw it as this courageous political statement of ďI will not be judged by what does, or does not, hang between my legs.Ē That was inspiring to me. Itís easy to be inspired by having your heart broken Ė blues artists got a lot of mileage out of it (laughs). People can write about partying all night long, drugs and getting wasted. I donít want to write about that stuff anymore. But when something monumental like (my grandchildís transition) happens in my life Ė itís not always easy to translate it into an elegant work of art Ė but thatís inspiration, you know?
Q: Thatís the best inspiration there is, and this is the timeliest you could be. I think a lot of people really donít understand what that experience is like, sadly, until it happens to them.
P: (nodding) Yeah. The song is called ďTheyĒ, by the way, because that is what they want to be called (smiles). A lot of people would say that it is not for me to speak for that group, but itís just my observation Ė from a cis gender, white male in his sixties, like who gives a fuck? But as such, is there anything of validity that I have to say, if Iím careful? Thereís another song called ďSeemed Like a Good Idea at the TimeĒ, written during a time when Greta Thunberg was making a lot of noise, and watching people attacking her viciously, this fucking autistic child. She met that with such courage, and so I wrote a letter to the people of the future, like ďI am so sorry about what we have done.Ē There too, I was inspired. But for me to write a song about environmental issues? Like, shut the fuck up! That song was written from such a place of despair. I have committed to being an optimist, because I think things are so fulfilling, and I think if you go through life being a big bummer and a drag, youíre probably not going to help things. But I allowed myself to be pessimistic a few times on this record (chuckles).
Q: For me, personally, this last six years has really put a chink in the armor. Remaining optimistic has been a daily challenge.
P: Exactly. I do it because I think youíre stronger if you do.
Q: You have to believe you can change things for the better, otherwise why are you still here?
P: What people adopt, as far as that, is that the world is coming to an end, so Iím gonna get mine. Iím gonna get everything that I can get, and fuck everyone else, and fuck future generations.
Q: Thatís a horrible attitude.
P: Hey, you know what? That is common as fuck, and it always shocks me.
Q: Did we have this many garbage people before, and we just didnít notice - did the internet just make us more aware of them?
P: I think that we werenít in the same situation (environmentally). There were less people, with unlimited resources for many, many years. The world wasnít threatened ecologically. Species and environments were not being completely eradicated to put up condos and fields of food to feed their pigs. So the world actually changed. While there were unlimited resources, a capitalist, consumerist society arose which canít shut itself off. Capitalist consumerism kinda got us here, yay, but now itís a problem. It wasnít necessarily a problem in 1910.
Q: We also had a different aesthetic, I mean, if you wanted to run a farm in 1910, you had purchased people to run it for you.
P: Well no, the purchasing of people ended in 1865.
Q: Yeah, but free people werenít really that free, right? If you send somebody out into the world with no possible resources to better themselves with Ė no access to quality education, a good home in a quality neighborhood, healthy food options. If you make sure that there is literally no upward mobility available to a person at all, at the end of the day, they wind up back on your farm as little more than an indentured servant anyhow, working for pennies. Theyíre technically free, but not really.
P: You know whatís even the most horrible part of that scenario you just described? Then you gaslight those people, ask them what the problem is, itís a free country, go make something of yourself. Thatís the worst, because then the person goes ďWhat is wrong with me? There must be somethingĒ, and they hand that down to generation after generation.
Q: The cards are stacked against you, and thatís something that people, even today, refuse to admit to. If you meet people who are hostile against Affirmative Action, they complain ďWhy do I have to give opportunities up to other people just because of who they are?Ē Well, because we systematically denied them access for four hundred years, so now, we have to make reparations, and we have to force you to give them the opportunities that they should have had all along.
P: Yes, we have a culture deeply rooted in rebellion against aristocratic Europe, and itís basically about ďget mineĒ. It is not a culture of sacrifice, of helping your neighbor. People will tell you that it was that way.
Q: They claim that, but ďthe good old daysĒ was not a real thing.
P: No, and I ask myself: do I sacrifice? Well, I donít eat meat, I drive very little, I very rarely leave my house. But I imagine that, although Iím aware of it, Iím still living in this culture, and am a part of it. Thereís just so much hypocrisy. Folks have a point when they say ďThese people are screaming at us not to use gasoline, and then theyíre flying in on their corporate jets. We canít change things on an individual level, it has to be collectiveĒ. I find that hard to believe, though. I think that, if ninety percent of the people just said ďYou know, Iím not eating fucking meat, itís killing everythingĒ, the meat companies would have to fucking adapt. People donít want to make sacrifices, Man, they donít, I get it.
Q: Yeah, but thatís putting the onus on people to stop doing what their society is structured for them to do, you know? Capitalism is all about more for me, not thee. So, really, it has to start at the top.
P: Well, I have a whole theory about that, too. I agree, but do you think thatís going to happen?
Q: I think it has to be forced upon them.
P: Sure, there are people like Bill Gates, doing incredible things. However, there are such things as Grassroots Movements, and things can swell up from the bottom. You can vote with your pocketbook, and you can refuse to patronize industries that are destructive.
Q: Yeah, but letís be honest, when fucking Wal-Mart is putting three hundred million dollars into the pockets of some politician, does he care what you or I think? Thatís the problem.
P: I mean, agreed. What I will remind everybody of is that those people are human beings, and theyíre in their own trap. You know, you talked about us telling people that they were free, when they really werenít. But no one is fucking free. Everyone is living in a context that they cannot see outside of, or see an alternative world.
Q: Fair enough. Letís wind toward the finale with this: what do you ultimately hope to convey to listeners with your music? What do you want people to take away with them after hearing your songs?
P: Well, each one is different. Iím from this generation that thought music and art could change people, and make a difference. I feel like these are hard-won ideas. I donít lightly give my opinions on things, so thereís not one certain message, but I feel like there is medicine in there. At least, there was for me. If someone were to receive the things which gave me some peace and enabled me to look at the world without just spinning for ideas of what was happening - and thatís a very presumptuous position, I understand that. But you asked me what I hoped. What I hope is that Iíve learned something, and was able to give it back, you know? Thatís what I hope. Itís funny, because sometimes people will listen to a song, and say ďI like that song, but I have no idea what heís talking about.Ē Thatís fine, thatís okay. I think if thereís a subtext of emotion, people will create their own meanings. A lot of the time, the work functions at a subliminal, visceral level, and takes the listener to a place that they like. This happens to a lot of artists that I know: when we finish a song, when we nail it, we like to just sit there with it on repeat, going ďOh my God, I canít believe I made this, itís so great!Ē That moment is blissful for artists.
Q: Yeah, sometimes a writer will read back over a line, and think ďThat was a stroke of genius right there, the angels touched me for just a second.Ē
P: Sure, and I get that from other artists, too, Iíll listen to something and go ďThis is it, this is killing me right now.Ē Some people make that happen to millions of people, but if I get one person who felt what I felt, thatís amazing. When I get that feeling from another artists, Iím so grateful.
Q: I think thatís the best gift that there is, to have given somebody something which speaks to them on a personal level.
P: Yeah, like I was just agitated all day yesterday with this Roe ruling, and then I wrote that song, and felt like ďOkay, we will soldier on.Ē Something beautiful came of it. My hope is that a whole bunch of people see whatís happening now, see where itís going, and say ďYou know what, I voted for it, but this isnít what I wanted.Ē You only need ten percent of those people to go ďWhat the fuck? These people are serious!Ē
So if someone is going through their bad day - and Iím not trying to distract people from issues which are important, but sometimes you just need to check out and go to a blissful place, or a place where you feel resolve, or strength. And art can do that, if itís intended that way, it can give you that.
Q: I like that, thatís a good place to end. Thank you so much, Paul, itís been an absolute pleasure meeting you.
P: (with hands together) You are a very knowledgeable, I felt like I wasnít just screaming into a vacuum, thank you so much.
Q: I like my artists to feel comfortable! And you were a great subject.
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