Monday, August 29, 2011


I get asked about "Jerk" a lot, which makes sense -- it raises a lot of questions about my self-esteem, and it rings alarms for some. When my cousin Eugenie heard it for the first time, she had kind of a tear in her eye as she raised the point that maybe I was pushing the self-deprecation a bit far, and maybe hating on myself wasn't a healthy thing to do. I feel like I should blog about it. So, here goes!

When I moved to New York, I lost touch with a lot of people, and some of them took it extremely personally. I've always been a fairly solitary person -- while I love my friends dearly, they'll all tell you that I'm not around all that much -- so it's always strange to me when they're surprised that I've been to Pittsburgh and they haven't seen me. Usually, when I visit, I try to arrange a few playdates and plan at least two public outings -- one for a gig, one for hanging with a large cluster of friends (bar, movie, whatever). It doesn't always happen that way, and when it does, it isn't always all-inclusive, but that was how I always was.

One particular person got steamed about things, and told me over Facebook chat that I had become a jerk after moving to NYC, that I wasn't making time for my 'real friends' anymore. My contention was that I had always been this way, but something about this proclomation was sticking in my craw, and every day for weeks I was apologizing for any screw-up with, "I am a jerk:"

(to person on the subway)
"Sorry! Didn't mean to bump into you. I am a jerk! I'll back up."

(to boss, at office)
"Nope! Forgot to do that. I am a jerk! On it now."

(to Autumn Ayers, after she was taken aback by a tiny rip I made on her:)
"What? OK, sorry. I am a jerk! I say things that jerks say!"

AUTUMN: There's a song there, I think.

ME: Huh?

AUTUMN: "I do things that jerks do, I play games that jerks play?"

ME: "It's just the jerk's way...."

We laughed about it, then went to a ballgame. Later that night, we were at Mark Willson's house, on his back porch, and I had a guitar and started messing around with the lyric. It became Family Feud: Paul's Flaws Week:

MARK: You're stubborn.

ME (singing): Yeah, I want things my own way -- it's been like that since my first birthday, my first cake was a twinkie, my first word was 'lame,' I'm a jerk....

KRISTY STRICKLER: You neglect your true friends!

ME (singing): I'm ungrateful and selfiiiiish,

ME: Loving me must


KRISTY: That's awesome.

At that point, the chorus said "You can't touch me now" -- that didn't change until the first performance, where I changed it on the second go-by to "You can't change me now" (You can actually see that performance on YouTube, and watch my mind change in mid-song) -- and it felt dark but funny. Mark and Kristy went to bed, with Mark's final advice being that I keep it funny and end with the joke I was developing about how, despite being a jerk, I could make a lot of money with my first hit single (this later evolved into, "All this, and ladies, the boy's still single," which he agreed was a better joke.)

Autumn and I stayed up until about 4, and at some point, she said, "Listen, you know you're not a jerk. You come off that way, but you're not. You don't need to spend a whole song beating yourself up over this -- maybe turn it around in the bridge and talk about how people see you one way but you're actually a decent guy."

I don't think we finished the song that night, but as I was writing the bridge, I had Autumn in my ear the whole time, and I'm very grateful to her for willing this number into my life.

It is my niece Cassie's favorite song.

Friday, August 19, 2011


So, last night we played "Hotel California." Andy and I had no previous discussion about Hotel California, like, ever. I used to sing it with Mark Pipas, but had never put it in my own show.

I walk this line with covers -- I try not to play the commonly done ones, because I feel like you could get them from anyone, and I want my shows to stand out. The best cover artists have an identity that stands out even while they're playing covers -- If you're picking between John Malone and Martin Rivas, you're picking between a pop/powerpop-medley bent and one that swerves towards Motown and Stax/Volt, for instance. If you're choosing to come to my covers-heavy show, I'm going to show you as much of my iPod as I know how.

I own a 160-gig iPod, that's about half-full once I put all my files on there (I recently had to wipe it, and have been gradually adding things back onto it instead of just letting a day happen where it gets loaded up, but that will change soon.) It's got a buttload of stuff, from the '80s to present day, with verrry occasional dips into the '70s. My father stopped listening to pop music very early in my life, because he felt nothing new was happening that he wanted in on, so my influence kind of stopped when the Beatles broke up and picked up again when Survivor hit #1 with "The Search Is Over." The '70s meant so many things to so many different people, that I never really wrapped my head around the fact that disco, "Classic Rock" (Who, Floyd, Zep), and the singer/songwriter boom with James Taylor, Carly Simon, Bill Withers, Carole King, and the Eagles, that all this was happening at once. In any case, most of that stuff just kind of sailed past me, and by the time I picked up on it, it seemed like old hat.

The tableau of the troubadour in a bar is so familiar that if you see a drawing of a dude singing in the corner, you probably imagine "Brown-Eyed Girl" coming out of him. Solo dudes are expected to sing "Brown-Eyed Girl" the way chicks in bands are expected to sing "Me and Bobby McGee," and damned if both songs don't result in Paul-shaped holes in the wall of whatever club I just had to get the hell out of so as not to sit through them again. Tell me I'm not an entertainer, but I'm willing to sacrifice the easy win for something more universal -- "Crazy Love," for instance, fills your Van Morrison craving (or helps you to understand that Van Morrison is more awesome than you knew he was, because you only play track 3 on your Greatest Hits album), without alienating all the blue, green, hazel, and purple-eyed people in the room.

Somehow, that bled onto "Hotel California," and I don't know why. I almost never hear people do it -- it's crazy long, it's in a weird register, and it ends with a guitar solo. Also, when I discovered that the song existed at age 15, I found a 45 of it and played it over and over again until it was a chip through which all of the other circuits in my brain had to go to get work done. Why have I not been playing this song? A few weeks ago, when I was doing the show on my own, a new fan, Elaine, asked me to play it, and scoffed when I said I didn't know it, and I took her side -- it's inexcusable that I didn't have that song on hand.

So, last night, I started noodling with the progression, then turned to Andy, and he, without asking what I was doing, said, "Yeah. But do you have the chorus down?"

"No. Does it..." (strum strum)

"No, it resolves to the Bm the first time, then it does the F#."

"Oh, like" (strum strum)


Two hours later, I started noodling again, then just kept going.

"You're gonna do this?"

"Yup! Let's do it."

"It's crazy high, dude."

"I think I've got it... Aaaah, aaah,.... Yeah, I've got it."

"OK, if you say so..." *BOMP BOMP*

"'On a dark desert highway...."

At the end, I sang the guitar solo, and hopefully next week Andy and I will have worked out a way to do the harmonies at the end -- we wrapped up on the "Hell Freezes Over" ending, and I think we'll keep it that way, because any medleying I do out of this song will get me stabbed with a shiv fashioned from a broken drum stick.

By the way, if you haven't been to the show in a while, here's some covers you might not have heard us do yet:

"Right On" occasionally medleys into "Roxanne" by the Police, then "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo.

Fall Out Boy's "Sugar We're Going Down," to which we've seen some fist-pump reactions lately that have won me some arguments about cover choices that fall outside of Andy's familiarity.

Wilco's "Jesus, Etc.," which is just bad strategy on my part, because like Crow said, you should never put bits of a good movie in the middle of your shitty movie.

Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag" mashed into Radiohead's "Creep" -- no choruses from Dirtbag, just verses, but the rhythm stays throughout the medley. I don't think Andy's in love with it, but he tends to humor me until it gets out of hand, like when I tried a doubletime version of the "I Think We're Alone" medley, or when the "Everybody Knows" section of the "Crazy/Crazy" medley needed some whittling down (I used to do three verses and a chorus, now I just do one verse, because while he wanted it out completely, it actually does make a thematic impact, and the people who recognize and love the medley for it are satisfied that it's quoted at all).

We tried Matthew Sweet's "Sick of Myself" for the first time last night, too, and I think it went pretty well. If I can find a way to make "Girlfriend" compelling, I'll add that, too.

Anyhow, hope everyone's having a great week, and I'll talk to you soon!



Saturday, July 16, 2011


I just realized I haven't posted anything since putting the album out! Here, listen to this. I've got some stuff in the works, I'll be blogging more in the next few weeks to be sure.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We're Gonna Make It After All: Re-Mastering Today!

For those of you wondering why you haven't gotten your mail-order copies yet, the time table has shifted slightly.

It doesn't happen often, but once in a while, you can catch yourself in the middle of a mistake, as I did this time around. I was coming very close to putting out a version I didn't love of an album I love with all my heart -- and when the feedback from impartial sources started to match my nagging doubts, I stopped the manufacturers from pulling the trigger, and got the thing remixed.

Allen Farmelo took the job under his wing and took a take-no-prisoners approach to mixing, completing the 10 tracks of Here Goes Nothing in two days. We had two meetings about it: in one, his assistant, Nicole Pettigrew, and I pored over the tracks and made sure all of the elements were there, and that all of the start-stop points were correct. The second one was the absolute bomb, though.

Allen had asked me to give him some albums for reference of how I liked things to sound, and what we ended up really lighting on was the Cardigans' Long Gone Before Daylight, a bittersweet, dark delight of an album put out by the Swedish megastars after a long hiatus. Far from the sound that made them popular, this album had an almost total lack of synthy bleep-bloops, abandoning the computers for acoustic instruments and clean tones. It's one of my favorite albums by anyone, ever.

We talked about how the album reminds me of a candlelit dinner of comfort food and red wine, and he made it very clear that he understood how I wanted Here Goes Nothing to sound -- warm but full, an escape from even one's harshest surroundings (anyone who can't ride the subway without an iPod knows exactly what I mean here) that isn't jarringly loud, but has the sonic power to block out the outside. It was an amazing conversation.

We accomplished this 48-hour mixing in a very age-of-communication way -- he'd send me emails with mixes attached, I'd pop my headphones into my Droid and listen to them, then make fine adjustments through email, texts, and phone calls. We hit on some snags, but talked through them easily and without real conflict. I'd work with him any day of the week, although my Rockethub campaign would have to be for a LOT more money.

He's mastering it today, and I think in the end we'll have an album well worth every penny spent on it, and everybody will, well, win.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Rebecca Black.

It's out there, we've seen it, and now that she's appeared on the Tonight Show, it may be over. That's as high as it goes, right? You get on Jay Leno, the world gives you a round of applause, we all move on. Maybe.

Or maybe, the Arc Music Factory pumps all of their resources into making sure their first authentic success doesn't stop barreling forward. Maybe the album drops in June, to correspond with the top 5 episode of American Idol. Maybe we're all in this together, and we should all learn, like we always have, to buckle down and weather this, as a nation.

I wasn't at that show, but Martin sure seemed to actually have fun with it, and so did the roomful of Rockwood regulars, who were no doubt asking themselves the whole time whether they were enjoying it juuust a bit more than they ought to have.

For performers trying to make it, to hear Ms. Black's story as told to Leno is to experience the gnashing of one's own teeth to powder: she had, like, "always been interested in music for a long time," and had her mom call Arc, and nextthingyaknow. Her reason for choosing "Friday," however, was because it was the only song presented to her that didn't try to sell her as a sex object, which I can totally respect -- remember Mandy Moore at 15? No?

My best guess is that after being told that this song and that song were too this or too that, the writers at Arc threw her this banal tidbit as a joke: who on earth would sing a song about eating cereal and taking the bus to school? ....And Rebecca Black answered their question, and ran at it full boar. The fact is, it went viral, which any independent performer will tell you is the gold we pan for every time we click "upload."

If anything, we can learn from this. If you want this attention, you have to be willing to go where Ms. Black went, you have to be willing to work with the people she worked with, and you have to be willing to take, and maybe be in on the joke that you'll become. Otherwise, keep working the trains to get those 50 asses in those 50 seats, because those seem to be the options here.

Alternately, Simon Cowell may be fishing around for song submissions for the full-length, so if there were a song you wanted to write about taking a sun-dappled walk in the park, you might want to put down the haterade and pick up a guitar.

....I'm just saying.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Studio update

It's been forever since I posted here, and I'm gonna work on that, but for now, let's get to the business at hand.

At this point, we have a big picture in frame where the album is concerned -- this is, by far, the most well-planned project I've ever done, with Mark and I constantly checking to make sure we're on the same page before a string is plucked or a skin struck. Through that, the album has gained a sense of identity, strong enough that it spoke to Mark in the last session.

I swear I'm not a hippy.

We had just finished laying down my piano part for Astoria (look, ma, two hands!), and re-recording the part for Calling You Out to give it the benefit of my hard-won confidence at wrangling the monster with 88 teeth. The mics hadn't been struck yet, but we were moving on to the next task: adding atmospheric electric guitar to Enough.

Mark had sold me on the idea over beers and bourbon one night, insisting that tastefully done, this wouldn't interfere with the acoustic vibe of the album. As we were listening through the track, he had a change of heart, using words like "personality" to describe the album. He assigned actual sentience to it! As the one in the room who is usually getting branded with the Crazy for talking like that, I was all-too on board for this discussion.

We made an executive decision: there will be no electric guitar on this album.

You guys. You guys.

You guys.

....also, it was amazing amounts of fun to develop a piano part and commit it to disk all at once.

We have a few more vocal sessions, then a string session, then we're going to try to record one more in one day, then comes mixing.

The end of the tunnel never looked so sweet.
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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pittsburgh: Papa J's Centro

This past Saturday, I tried out a new venue in Pittsburgh! Papa J's Centro, right across from PPG Plaza, is an Italian restaurant converted from an old-school brothel, which they advertise fairly prominently. Why they do that, I'm not sure -- rarely do you see marketing that lowers your expectations for sexual conduct -- but they're happy, and I'm happy.

My expectations weren't lofty (especially after I found out that the Dave Matthews Band was playing at PNC Park, less than a mile from my little venue), but you guys came through! It was so great to play to a nicely crowded (if not vacuum-packed) house, full of receptive fans ready to receive new tunage while reliving some of our favorite moments from the "days of auld lang cafe-au-lait" -- and it was so much fun that we're going to do it again!

Right after everyone left, Jeffrey and I scheduled our next date, for August 28. Mark yinz calendars!