Conversation with Nathaniel Paul took us by surprise. It is amazing when one can have no idea how the interviews will turn out to be. We discovered his music in 2020 via Musosoup and after the release of the third single ‘songbird. a few weeks ago we wanted to get to know him better.
This is one of those moments when you just need to hear his story without a long and winded intro from my end. I am super thrilled to introduce you to Nathaniel Paul.
You started your solo career during the year that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Tell us about your journey until the moment you released ‘Virtues’.
I love that… I’ve lived my whole life following the prescribed rules and guidelines for success. Then, that was completely blown up in 2 weeks. From opening for OneRepublic to facing immediate homelessness. Those are two different ways of thinking. Two totally different sets of problems to face. So what the hell, you know?
So I had to get a bit crafty…
The year has been difficult, with no relent insight. But if you only read the headlines to form your opinion of the world, then I would only remember 2020 by what I have lost.
Writing my forthcoming solo album ‘Virtues’ was an opportunity for me to remember a year on my terms.NATHANIEL PAUL
I will have a fond amidst a flurry of disturbing ones. 2020 was not the year of the orchids, it was the year of the weeds. ‘Virtues’ was my way to comment on the year at hand, and also say fuck you to 2020 – you don’t own or define me.
It is important to mention that you are also a half of a duo The Bergamot. How do you know which songs are going to be for a solo project and which ones for a duo?
Well, the whole solo thing was developed out of an abundance of material. When I am writing it is a feeling. Some songs just feel like The Bergamot – some feel more Nathaniel Paul. The NP thing is completely unhinged and experimental. If a recording goes off the rails, it still has a home somewhere. That is a really great feeling. The Bergamot is experimental too, but there is more of a plan at work when it comes to timing, strategy, and focus. We’ve built The Bergamot with over 10 years of work, so it has its own set of items that have to be tended to with each release. An NP release can literally be overnight.
If a recording goes off the rails, it still has a home somewhere.NATHANIEL PAUL
Reading the story about the inspiration behind ‘songbird’ after the random conversation you had with a stranger, I’d love to hear what are the stories behind each of your singles:
‘Virtues’ – Virtues are dead. I love the quote from one of my favourite authors, John Steinbeck; “We value virtue, but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat. This is the core of what is driving our culture right now in the U.S. Virtues is a way to explore this through a very difficult self-examination. I am as guilty as the man standing next to me.
‘It’s All A Rage’ – Well, the weeds are growing strange. Amidst a year that completely imploded my career in March, I looked to the weeds to find inspiration. They are one of the most resilient lifeforms on our planet. They can grow in the middle of a vast spare landscape. I think of a weed popping through a freshly paved parking lot. 2020 did not honour the orchids. I actually bought a small rose plant and a succulent early last year. I gave them both lots of attention. The succulent is thriving – the rose bush died, no matter how hard we tried. It seemed almost prophetic. [Note: A succulent isn’t a weed per se, but you get where I am going with it :)]
‘Songbird’ – The dream is to go back, the nightmare is that we never can. I met an elderly man at the grocery store during the quarantine. He started with, “Life is hard when you outlive all the ones you love.” That began my soul searching. ‘songbird’ is what came of that session. I just imagined this guy on a train watching the world fade away. I think we can all relate to that feeling right now… at least I can.
Did you stay in touch with the person you’ve met? Has he heard the song?
I have not. Really wished I would have thought to exchange information. But I was just so enthralled by the moment at hand. It didn’t even hit me until that night how profound that moment was. At the time when it happened, it seemed like a moment that was supposed to happen – and completely disappear. Life is full of moments like that – so it seemed fitting. We are all that man in some way. We share his concern, so that song goes out to the world at large.
2020 has been an extremely challenging year. What kept you sane?
The most challenging of my life. Writing music and spending time in the studio kept me sane. I hate video games and am not a big fan of movies – the experience is too passive for me. So I prefer making coffee, playing golf or chess, exercise, or music. Music – being my life passion and mission – always seems to win out (ha ha).
How did the lockdown impact your creativity?
Forced me to “Boldly go where no man has gone before.” Shout out to all the Trekkies out there – my pops loves that shit. But honestly, just go into spaces I did not feel 100% comfortable. And work at a rate that I wasn’t really comfortable with either. Just go go go. It feels much more natural now – and why I needed a pandemic to spur this in me? – that is my current musing. There is some personal baggage there I am working through. More on that in the next interview.
What made you decide that it is time to go solo?
I’ve been producing music since I was 13. I bought an M-Box and broke into Pro Tools before I knew what a transmission was. I’ve literally recorded thousands of songs. At some point, all that work just becomes stagnant.
I was writing so much in quarantine that I had to have an avenue for release. I mean we don’t live in the early-2000s anymore. You can make great-sounding shit from your bedroom. No shade at Billie Eilish, but producing at that level independently just wasn’t possible when I grew up. My bedroom recordings sound like they could shatter your eardrums. Fuck, it took 30 minutes to load up PTools back then.
My German teacher said it was the worst sounding thing she had ever heard. I knew I had something special ha ha. But that shit wasn’t going anywhere.
I had to burn it to CDs and give them away – and beg people to listen. That was real work AND real rejection.Nathaniel PAUL
No school teacher is listening in on students’ Spotify accounts. The Nathaniel Paul project has currently 1,100 monthly listeners! Who are these people?! I’ve not even met one of them! Nowadays, production and distribution is streamlined. So why not?
Do you remember the moment when you and your wife Jillian decided to create and perform together?
Yes. It is a big part of our film “The State Of The Unity”. You have to understand where people come from to see where they are going. It was all brought together by an art teacher. Thank God for music – she wasn’t into me at first. Just the tunes. The tunes made it possible. We wrote a lot together in high school and then I won her heart with a song I wrote and produced for her that Christmas. I owe my life to music. Truth.
I owe my life to musicNATHANIEL PAUL
How did you come up with the idea to travel and to collect messages of hope on your car?
Like a song does. In a manic state. I had just lost my grandfather and could feel the world slipping into a sort of political coma. 2015 felt like the year to do something drastic – I mean that is the core of where we are now. It all began in 2015 – historians are just starting to see this. But at the time it felt like the idea possessed me. We had to go. And we did. It almost killed us – a few times – and almost ended our marriage. But it made for one fucking killer movie. It’s like a weird look at the U.S. during one of the most groundbreaking and disturbing times in our history – from almost a Blair Witch Project type of way. Super stoked for the film – but f**k it’s a shit ton of work. It’s good I didn’t know what I was doing back then… ignorance is bliss sometimes.
I was also reading “Moby Dick” at the time… so fate maybe too..
At the moment you are co-producing a full-length documentary ‘State of the Unity,’ about the road trip you had. Tell us more about what can we expect?
Ah, this could fill a whole interview. But basically two broke musicians – from the Heartland – move to NYC to pursue music. They learn that music is happening everywhere from everything. So they journey out to unite people and learn along the way. What they learn changes their lives forever. From that comes music. That music is what can help others along the way. So a 50 State journey – during the most divisive year in my life – maybe in our country’s history, excluding the years leading to the Civil War.
So it’s part road trip, part Moby Dick – take out the whale and put in unity and struggling musicians in the post record label world. It’s a real journey. Do we actually find unity and what it looks like? You’ll have to watch and decide for yourself.
It looks like you are trying to do everything that is in your power to really make the world a better place. How do you manage to stay positive and inspire others?
I’m just kinda wired like that. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana, I wanted to be a pro golfer. I trained all the time – there wasn’t much else to do. Ultimately, I fell short of my goal – but I did become a Division 1 scholarship athlete. So, I learned at a very young age that belief is not enough. You have to do the hard work.
When I am working hard I am alert and positive. When I am just slacking – I become more negative. It’s a way of life.NATHANIEL PAUL
My goal is to push others to be the best they can be – even if that means falling short of your “dreams”. Who cares about that shit. The blessing is the journey – not the destination.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Existential. I like it…
Being a great songwriter. I still have a lot of work to do and a bunch to grow. Excellence is never achieved, just fought for every day. I strive the best I can to be the best ‘Nathaniel Paul’ I can be. I’m getting just a shade better every day.
I still hold a few records at my college in golf – but no one remembers me as a golfer (ha ha). Probably a good thing.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received or would like to share with others.
No excuses, and who cares what others think and say.
Criticism doesn’t keep me up at night. Regret does. Live with that in mind.NATHANIEL PAUL
Do everything to the best of your ability and move on. The world never stops spinning – we just stop trying.
We all need this right now, when you feel down and you want to feel better – what is the first song that comes to your mind that is guaranteed to make you smile?
‘How to Fight Loneliness’ by Wilco. Damn lyrics are so good.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience?
Keep listening. Music means nothing if it doesn’t bring us together. Show love to artists and musicians these days – they do a lot of work for little to no compensation. It’s a labor of love – and should be. In a world where it seems like no one gives a shit anymore, it’s good to know that there are still a few ears out there listening.
Make sure to connect with Nathaniel Paul
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