Nada Mucho

Paul Burch: Not Really a Country Singer After All

Posted by March 23rd, 2004 No Comments »

Paul Burch:  Not concerned with the opinions of Internet hacks.NadaMucho.com Interview – Paul Burch
By Eric "Skip" Tognetti, Internet Hack

In my recent review of Paul Burch’s fifth solo album, Fool for Love, I proclaimed: "This is classic country at its finest. The kind of album Nashville has forgotten how to put out." While I stand behind that statement, I discovered in a recent phone conversation that Burch – a sometimes collaborator with the likes of Lambchop and Bobby Bare, Jr. and co-founder of the WPA Ballclub – doesn’t necessarily agree with the classification of his music as "country." Fair enough.

Country or not, I can tell you that I’ve recommended his album to everybody from young Seattle hipsters to an Episcopalian minister in Gainesville, Georgia, and every one of them has become a fan.

I was able to catch up with Paul during a break between playing and listening to music at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. I found him to be as intelligent in conversation as he is on record.


Paul Burch:  Not concerned with the opinions of Internet hacks.NadaMucho.com Interview – Paul Burch
By Eric "Skip" Tognetti, Internet Hack

In my recent review of Paul Burch’s fifth solo album, Fool for Love, I proclaimed: "This is classic country at its finest. The kind of album Nashville has forgotten how to put out." While I stand behind that statement, I discovered in a recent phone conversation that Burch – a sometimes collaborator with the likes of Lambchop and Bobby Bare, Jr. and co-founder of the WPA Ballclub – doesn’t necessarily agree with the classification of his music as "country." Fair enough.

Country or not, I can tell you that I’ve recommended his album to everybody from young Seattle hipsters to an Episcopalian minister in Gainesville, Georgia, and every one of them has become a fan.

I was able to catch up with Paul during a break between playing and listening to music at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. I found him to be as intelligent in conversation as he is on record.

NadaMucho.com: About the new album – which I love by the way – I’ve been listening to it non-stop since I first discovered it. It’s been well received in reviews, as well. To what do you attribute the success?
Paul Burch: Thanks. Well, I don’t know. Lucky, I guess. All the albums have been pretty well received. If this one’s any different, it’s because maybe I’m getting closer to getting it all the way I want. I play most of the instruments on the album, and I try to give it a live sound. I just try not to worry anything. And it gets more fun as I get more comfortable with the process. I’m more at ease.

NM: Speaking of process, a musician friend of mine pointed out that on "Like Railroad Steel," just before you sing the line "keeping perfect time," you slow the beat down by about two beats per second. He said he almost drove off the road the first time he noticed it. Are there other things like that sprinkled through the album?
PB: If that’s there, it’s completely by accident. Again, I played most of the instruments, so it was probably just an accident on my part. Whenever you hear something like that, it’s almost always a happy accident. But that’s the stuff that makes music so great: when you hear something and it almost makes you drive off the road.

NM: Also, the first couple times I listened to Fool For Love, it seemed like straight classic country. But the more I listened, the more I noticed modern, non-traditional elements woven in. What non-country influences do you see in your work?
PB: Well, there’s tons. I really don’t think of myself as a country musician. I listen to a lot of R&B and country, mostly. Really, I’m just trying to make the best rock and roll songs I can. I guess I like people who sing the American songbook. If you’ve lived in a lot of places in the country – or traveled through them – you find that the music fits the land wherever you are. Like here in Texas, there’s so much open space, and the music reflects that.

I’m not trying to make a Frankenstein monster, or anything. Mostly I like the beat. Country and R&B have very similar beats. I’ve always been attracted to them. Growing up, nobody told me country music was for a certain kind of person. That’s the perception: that country music is stupidity and R&B is greasy barbecue. But I never learned about that. I just always liked the beat, the way it sounds.

NM: Speaking of – you were just talking about how the music comes from the land – I read you’re doing a PBS special on the Appalachians and I was hoping you could tell me a little about that and what you learned from it.
PB: Yeah, that’s still in process. It’s about the history of Appalachia. I was introduced to the filmmakers by Jason Ringenberg of the Scorchers, and they just asked me a lot of questions about music. They asked me if I was interested in scoring, and I’m not even sure I know what that means. I know what I’d like them to include, but it might end up being more of what people expect than that. But I’m always going to strive for them to use the music of the late ’20s and early ’30s. That’s where most of the great music out there is from.

NM: So, do you ever read your own reviews, or do you tend to ignore them and just do what you’re doing?
PB: Not really. I mean, once in a while, if only to see that everything’s right. I’m far too gone to be influenced by anything I read by some hack writing on the Internet.

NM: I ask because what I’m interested in is, when you do read them, which comparisons people make that most surprise you. .
PB: I hear a lot of comparisons to Jimmy Dale Gilmore. That surprises me because I never listen to him and I’m not a real big fan of his music. But I do see a lot of that.

But what surprises me most is that my music’s considered country. I don’t think of it as country. Country music – for the past 50 years, anyway – has always been a commercial enterprise. Since Hank Williams, there’s always been a ready audience. And I don’t see myself fitting into that.

On the other hand, country has been uncool for so long to the rock and roll set that people have a negative visceral reaction as soon as they hear a fiddle or a slide guitar. I mean, all those rock and rollers a few years back who love Led Zeppelin, they hate country music. What they don’t realize is that a lot of Led Zeppelin’s tricks came from country music and rockabilly: the echo effects and all of that. That was all Gene Vincent, and he learned it all from Les Paul. But the new musicians, they seem a lot more open to a wider variety of sounds. Country, rock, whatever.

NM: Tell me about the process you go through with your lyrics. Your subject matter on this new album wasn’t all that much of a stretch from the traditional, but in your lyrics you were willing to forfeit a rhyme at the end of a line or, as in "Moments of Weakness," where you change the meter"¦ Do you spend a lot of time in that process?
PB: Well, a lot of the good stuff comes without much effort. A lot of what makes the recording tends to be what was easy to write. But editing is as much of the craft as writing. Sometimes I’ll look back at a first draft, and the final product will be completely different.

I’m not really too aware of things like the changed meter until I listen back to it, or until other musicians try to follow it. The only real bad thing about modern music is that everything has become so clean – and in a way that’s good, it’s all about melody. But the melodies are clean, and modern musicians have a hard time following on anything with an off melody or a dropped beat or anything.

NM: So, the tour: How’d you get hooked up with the Mekons? It’s an interesting bill.
PB: I’m good friends with John Langford. We’re actually planning to make an album soon with the Waco Brothers. We’re planning on it being one of the top 20 rock albums of all time. I don’t know, John and I are both dads and we’re both rockers. And he’s been really good to me, really talking me up to people. John is a habitual record maker. I think I make a lot of albums, but it seems he puts one out twice a year. I could just be another project of his.

Anyway, I guess I just weaseled my way onto the bill. And let me tell you, those Mekons know how to party. I’m gonna have to have my beer galoshes on for this one.

NM: Have you ever played Seattle or spent any time here?
PB: No, I never really have. I played out there with Ryan Adams once, but I think that was in Portland. Never really been to Seattle – haven’t spent much time on the west coast.

NM: And what kind of reception do you expect in a place like Seattle?
PB: If people don’t throw fruit and vegetables, I’ll be happy. Fool for Love:  The best free promotional CD Skip Tognetti has received through NadaMucho.com.


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