Paul Thomas Saunders has been a busy chap of late, embarking on a UK tour to celebrate the release of his new album, Beautiful Desolation; still he found time to have a chat with us about music, human nature and NASA.
We last caught up with the singer a few years ago in Leeds, between now and then he’s relocated down south to the coastal town of Hove, asking why the move Paul tells us that ‘in Leeds, when I stepped out my front door I was greeted by the ring road’. He continues ‘in Hove, I can step outside and see the ocean. In Leeds I felt like I was outside of reality, we lived a way out of the city so it was a hermits existence to a certain extent. I’m not the most socially proactive person, so it’s good to be back in the thick of it. Just living within a city again feels good, like I’ve been reacquainted with the human race’.
So leaving Leeds, certainly wasn’t a bad thing, musically though how have the least few years treated you? Paul explains that ‘I think I’ve come to know my own musical flaws within the last few years. I have a realistic grasp on the music I can make now, I used to think I could turn my hand to anything, but let’s face it, I’m not going to convince anyone that I’m a Jazz fusion revolutionary. I’m not saying anyone should give themselves boundaries due to what they’re familiar with. I think up until now I’ve just never been sure what music makes the most sense to me. Turns out it’s just a weird mix of lots of stuff, then soaked in reverb, which I can happily work with’. When asked how he described his music, Paul states that it’d be ‘as driving music for Lunar Rovers at Moon Rise’.
With his debut album, Beautiful Desolation, released on 7th April, I ask Paul about the album and the influences behind it. He explains that ‘it’s about being a flawed human, trying desperately not to, but inevitable fucking up. It’s about starting off as wonderful vessels of life but slowly making a series of mistakes that transform us into the bat shit insane people we all are…in a nut shell’.
The album itself is a rather stunning ensemble with choral like vocals and melodies that drift in and out, when I ask Paul about the influences behind Beautiful Desolation, I’m told that he ‘used a lot of the imagery and aesthetics from the NASA and the Soviet Space Program photo archives to inspire the production. Max, who co-produced the album, and I found it really inspiring to work of these images rather than reference sounds from other records. I think the general sound on the record stemmed from that’ he continues that ‘musically, Vangelis and The Flaming Lips have been a huge influence on me’
I mention that the album has gotten some great reviews, to which Paul asks me ‘have you heard that Jeffery Lewis song Don’t Let the Record Label take you out for Lunch?’ He continues, ‘there are a few lines that go “first you get a good review, and then you get a bad review but don’t get suckered either way ’cause none of them know you”. I try to keep that as my mantra. It feels so great when you see a review from someone who ‘gets it’, but at the end of the day it’s someone’s opinion, there’s always a going to be a bad review around the corner. Every great album had a few of those too.
With this being Paul’s first long player how did he find the process, he admits ‘it was a learning experience, but it always is’. He goes on ‘the EP’s were too, recording for me is a very trial and error process. I don’t like to go in expecting a certain thing, or wanting a very specific sound. It’s good to make mistakes while recording, if you don’t, you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough. In a time where there’s so much music, you can’t stick just to what you know. Someone else will have almost certainly thought of that too, so you have to find things surprise yourself. So for me, it’s all about learning, the only problem is once you’ve learnt it, it’s useless’.
Having just completed his first headline tour, I asked how he felt about it, he replies ‘I feel good about it! I think it’s exciting because we’re not an extravagant live band, I can count the number of headline shows I’ve played on 2 hands, but this tour will shape us for as long as we’re play together. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to be that band people remember seeing live years later. Those moments stand out boldly in my mind; I’ll never forget The Flaming Lips in Sheffield when I was 19 or Billy Bragg at Glastonbury when I was 17. My drive is to become ‘that band’ for someone’.
Having seen Paul play live a number of times, he comes across rather timid and nervous, I question him about this and he admits that he ‘personally, I’d describe them terrifying from start to finish. I appreciate people coming out to see me play live so much but from the moment I step out, for the first 10 minutes, there’s a little voice in the back of my head telling me I’m a circus act and I need to entertain these people staring at me’. He continues ‘I try to concentrate on what I’m playing and eventually I start to enjoy it. I play with a live band, Max, Ali & Kate, who are incredible musicians and creative forces in their own right, so even when I’m a bag of nerves, they make the songs sound even better than on the record sometimes’. Paul then admits that ‘it’s a battle, that’s how I’d describe it. But I hope that makes for an interesting show’. When ask what people can expect from the show, I’m told to ‘expect tribal drums, spectacular fringes and guitar noises that sound like a supernova’.
Over the summer Paul tells me he’s keeping busy mainly in the fact that there ‘will be more touring, then possibly some touring. We’ve lots to announce for the festival season and over in Europe too’.
As a final note I ask Paul what advice he could give to those musicians wanting to get into the business, he simply replies ‘assume you’re terrible, blame your failures on no one but yourself, and force yourself to write, record and produce until people listen. Also don’t drink in rehearsals, you may feel iconic, but everyone else thinks you’re a jerk’.