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In what could easily translate to the music story of the year indie-folk musician
Paleo is on a mission that would seem damn-near impossible for any mere mortal to
achieve. Since April 16th of 2006 the Elgin, IL native has not only been on the road
zig-zagging across the nation - performing at rock clubs, coffee houses and art
spaces (all which he books himself), but, even more impressive, the 25 year-old is
300 songs deep into an amazing project known as the Song Diary, where he writes,
arranges and records a song for each new day of the year - 365 songs in 365 days.
Each day from Easter of 2006 to Tax Day of 2007 the prolific artist uploads his daily "diaries" on a very utilitarian, yet well-stocked website. What once used to take months, even years, to write and record music, shop a record deal and secure proper distribution, Paleo has cut out all the middlemen and devised his own method of getting his new music heard - all within a mere twenty-four hour period.
Livewire's Tony Bonyata caught up with this unique artist in between songs to find out what drives him and his Herculean project.
Studio photo: Kristen Densmore
Paleo: I don't think there's any simple explanation for what the Song Diary is. It was created on a whim. It was started on an impulse. I came up with the idea on April 16th last year - the day I started it. It seemed at the time like an interesting and cool idea. I didn't really think about the philosophy or ideology behind it, or what it comes to mean, or represent, or function for me therapeutically or artistically. It just seemed like a compelling idea. And I found that once I started it I couldn't stop. Ever since then it's become a number of things. It's become a reinterpretation of how art is distributed in contemporary consumer culture. It's become a quest of self-discovery, therapy and a search for the soul. It's become an incredible creative drill that I do every day.
Livewire: It's interesting that you're distributing all of the Song Diary yourself on a daily basis as free downloads.
Paleo: It's just a rethinking of the way that art is delivered to the public. It's certainly nothing new. I think it's been going on all around us. I think that aspect of the Song Diary is largely reactionary to what's been going on and evolving over the course of the last five to ten years.
Livewire: The way that music is being distributed digitally online?
Paleo: Yeah, but also in the concept of the Diary itself. People are posting blogs everyday and all that. Obviously a diary is much, much, much older than the Internet. But I think a public journal, or a public diary, is a new thing and most of it is pretty pulpy. I guess I wanted to create something of more substance - to really get underneath what's important. I think a lot of journals and diaries and things of pulp consumption are the least important things about people and the very least important things about their day and what they give. I wanted to get underneath all the superficial aspects of my life and get underneath the autobiography and the meat of discovery and the meat of what makes me tick, and what makes a day special and important and worth remembering.
Livewire: Do consider yourself more of an artist or musician?
Paleo: I don't consider myself a musician. There's a difference between artist and craftsperson. John Lennon once said when asked why he lived in New York instead of London, "If I would have lived in Roman times, I would have lived in Rome." I think the same is very true in choosing a discipline. If I would have lived in a time when painting or poetry was relevant culturally, and viable economically, I'd be a painter or poet. But unfortunately people don't buy books anymore, really. And people don't read poetry. People buy paintings to fill a white space on the wall. They don't buy paintings to think about what it means to be human or to question values or to come to any new understandings about life or culture or anything like that. That's sort of what film and music has become. And that's fine but it's unfortunate. Those transitions have always happened. Before painting and poetry it was religion and I think culture is always evolving. Right now, in our place and time, music and film are the forefronts of what helps people understand things about themselves. And for that reason I've chosen music as my medium.
Livewire: I understand you're also a painter.
Paleo: I don't paint right now. Before I picked up music as a child art was always my first gift - from birth pretty much. I was first more interested in conceptual art than 2D art because you come to learn quickly that 2D art - that paintings and things like - are irrelevant. It's all been proven in the art world. All the 'songs' of painting, so to speak, have been written. So I quickly transitioned into more conceptual, non-linear approaches to visual arts. I ended my tenure at college on that. I quickly learned after college, however, that you couldn't make a living or make an impact hanging yarn from the ceilings of academic buildings as a statement about existence. So I then chose music, which was always more my passion, I guess. But I don't consider myself naturally gifted or prodigious in music in the same way that art always seemed very natural to me.
Livewire: I've read some reviews that compare your music to Dylan and Elliott Smith.
Paleo: I think those types of comparisons have a lot to do with the nature of the Song Diary because all I have at my disposal is a guitar and a text edit program. The only instruments I can really use are words and guitar, so as a result I probably get compared to people who use words and guitars as their main expression. As far as the Song Diary is concerned, those comparisons are going to follow it. At the end of the year I won't keep writing these same types of songs. I'll be using other instruments to communicate in the way that I'm using words to communicate now.
Livewire: Every Sunday you revisit and reinterpret the first song you wrote for this project, "Sunday Prayer," which you state to be a healing song. Is there a religious connotation to this song and possibly even the entire project?
Paleo: I think there's a spiritual undercurrent, but I'd be really reluctant to say that there's any sort of religious thing going on. There's a very intimate bond between music and art at large but even more so music, and religion. I think there always has been. I think any musician would do well to recognize and to explore that, because it's been going on for thousands of years. I think music at the very beginning was used in religious services and religion has always been a conduit to what man has tried to understand as God. I think I try to incorporate that and recognize that in my own work. I don't run or shy from the concept of God as being taboo or uncool or anything like that, but I don't consider myself a religious person and I don't consider my works to be any sort of worship service or anything like that. It's a means for me to explore all the different facets of what it means to be human or to be alive... and what it means to be myself. In a Christian culture and society, as a person whose given name comes from that religious tradition, I think it would be an incomplete picture to not recognize or address religious symbols and things like that in my music.
I think the answer can be as simple as you want it to be in terms of why I call it a healing song. It's generally a more peaceful process. It's an opportunity to focus very acutely on lyrics and on message, and I try really, really hard on those songs because I feel on that song I'm at liberty and freedom to explore words and verse more than on the other songs. The way that the melody came together lends itself very well to just words, which has just been a great joy. Rewriting that song is one of the most enjoyable things for me on this project. I look forward to every Sunday and not because it's easier. I want it to be perfect every time. I don't want to just throw it out there. So in that sense it's more healing because there's less panic involved; less despair.
But it's also a healing song because of the repetition of it for the project as a whole. It adds continuity and creates a pattern. It sews it together and heals - like two split sides of a scar - the two spilt sides of a wound as a week, I guess. It sort of sews up or heals a week.
I took a lot of religion courses in college and one particular professor would always talk about 'sacred time,' such as religious services or holidays consisting on a different plane or different type of time; a time that connects to every other time. As if that time was a spiral that sort of flowered. Easter, for instance, or Sunday services exist in the exact same moment or are parallel as every other Sunday or every other Easter that ever happened all the way back to the very first Easter. So in that same way it sort of connects and draws everything here to itself.
Livewire: You not only write and record a new song every day, but you do so while you're on the road and while booking all of your own shows. Do you ever get the feeling of being overwhelmed?
Paleo: It's starting to become more a part of me. Towards the beginning, in June, I was nearing a complete psychological breakdown - like a nervous breakdown. But now at this point it's become very much a part of who I am. So at this point it's really transformed me, I think. It's an interesting experience. After awhile of not noticing all the details that surround you, everything in your life becomes intentionally a verse or a stanza or an idea. Everything becomes poetry. Everything you see and everything that people say. It's a very strange sensation. As opposed to feeling in the state of a nervous breakdown I'm now starting to feel like I'm in a state of euphoria, like half in the spirit world and half in the... There's something about poetry, I think, that tows the line of the living and the dead, and the real and the unreal. I think it's what people were getting at when they were trying to get at God - when they were enjoying their rain dances and when they were singing in churches and being, sort of, covered in a cloud of reverb and echo of organ at any given Sunday service.
Livewire: What are the physical logistics of recording a song everyday while touring?
Paleo: It's at every single spare moment. Before you called I was staring at my computer screen and text and trying to iron out the details of today's song. When I was in San Francisco in June I bought a toy guitar - a children's guitar, half-size - that I could play while driving on the highway so I didn't have to waste any time. It's a very convenient instrument to just pull out when I want to start working on stuff. I, of course, have dozens of notebooks and I'm always jotting things down and recording memos to myself... calling my phone to record things that I come up with. It's before shows - five seconds before I'm on stage and five seconds after I'm off stage. I usually don't stick around to sell CDs or talk to people. At least half the time after shows I don't bother. I usually just get onstage and play and then run out the backdoor and try to isolate myself to write a song.
Livewire: How much are the songs affected by the cities you visit and the events that occur?
Paleo: Quite a bit, but in pretty subtle, almost imperceptible ways. Things that people say to me throughout the course of a day and things that happen. I'm not going to write a song about Benjamin Franklin when I'm in Philadelphia or write a song about congress when I'm in DC, but rather just mention cherry blossoms in a song in the springtime when I'm in Washington DC. I try to do subtler things like that.
Livewire: There seems to be a reoccurring theme of love and, even more so, lost love in a number of your songs.
Paleo: I think that love and music - popular music especially - have always been intertwined. There's always been a love affair between the two. Nine out of every ten songs are about relationships, good or bad. It's probably true that I steer more towards the despairing side of that equation. Why that is I don't know. On a purely physiological level, I think that music is related to sexuality, which is why love becomes this reoccurring theme in music. It's like colors that we wear or the nests that we build. Music is part of this human mating process. It just paints a more complete and honest picture of what music is, and what music was meant to be; to talk about love, or to use love as a symbol to explain other things. I don't think that I write love songs. I try to write a complete song as much as possible. So I try to have everything in every song. I try to have death and life and love and loss and elation and despair and hope and God in everything... when things are really going well. Sometimes I can't fit it all in there.
Livewire: Do you have any plans on re-releasing or re-recording any or all of the 365 songs after you've completed the project?
Paleo: I don't know. That's not what it's about for me. I think if I were chasing a record deal, I'd make a record. I'm definitely not going to rerecord any of the songs. I think that would be antithetical to the process to do that. But I may, at some point, re-release some of them - whether in their entirety or in a one or two or three or four CD compilation. I don't know. I can't really say. I had a second record halfway finished when I started the Song Diary, so once this is over I'll probably go back to working on that. I'll have to try and finish that up. It doesn't sound anything like the Song Diary. I don't generally write songs with just acoustic guitar and singing. It's only just become my thing because of the nature of this project. It's something totally different.
Livewire: So it's Tax Day 2007. Now what?
Paleo: I don't know. I might just continue touring. I guess I'll burn that bridge when I get to it.
To listen to all of Paleo's Song Diary go to: http://www.paleo.ws
For tour dates go to: http://www.myspace.com/paleo