Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Doug Paisley on his "Constant Companion"

I have been listening to Doug Paisley's new album, Constant Companion, so much that I felt embarrassed that I did not reach out sooner to his label, No Quarter, for an interview. After the first couple of spins of the album, I was quickly compelled to grab his debut self-titled album, and then his remarkable Daytrotter session. Once my discography was up to date, I thought I would be able to just sit back and enjoy the work of an artist who is new to me. Or so I thought...

When I read that Doug was scheduled to perform with Abigail Washburn at The Bell House in Brookyn this month, I new it was time to  reach out to the good folks at No Quarter to see if I could land an interview before checking out Mr. Paisley's performance when he rolls into town. As my luck would have it, it all came together.
What drew you to playing music and what inspired you early on?

Doug Paisely: I've been playing guitar for about 25 years. From when I was young, playing guitar and listening to records brought me peace of mind.

At about age 10, I can remember mail ordering All Things Must Pass on double cassette, it came in a miniature cassette sized version of the LP packaging, very cool and a big ticket item for me at the time. I could not comprehend "I Remember Jeep" but I knew what "Apple Scruffs" was about because I'd read about 10 Beatles biographies at that point.

I saw Steve Earle opening for Bob Dylan when I was 10 or 11. Unlike many people I still always enjoy seeing Bob Dylan live.

When did you begin writing music?

DP: I was down in the basement after everyone had gone to sleep pretending and making up songs and performing them on the guitar.

Can you discuss your experiences performing with Chuck Elichman as Russian Literature?

DP: Russian Literature completed one song which was an incantation from Anna Karenin: Varenka goes mushroom picking and has an experience which may be erotic. Some of the background sound comes from an episode of Columbo. The next song which was the incantation of Bazarov's dying soliloquy from Fathers and Sons was never finished.

You were also in a tribute act called Stanley Brothers?

DP: I've been playing with Chuck Erlichman for 15 years. We were always very into the Stanley Brothers and we made our tribute on guitar and Wurlitzer. All the songs are on our fan page "Stanley Bros: A Loving Tribute"

I read that you toured with Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham) as Dark Hand and Lamplight with Shary Boyle. Can you describe that project and touring with Will Oldham?

DP: Will Oldham is a rare and distinguished gentleman. Dark Hand and Lamplight was a collaboration with Shary Boyle, a terrific visual artist in Canada. I was onstage alone with a guitar and Shary was projecting and animating her artwork using an overhead projector usually from the audience.
I wrote a series songs and Shary chose from them to either illustrate or create complementary artwork. The songs were recorded on an EP which should come out eventually and footage of many of our performances is easily found.

I discovered you when I first heard Constant Companion, then I picked up your first self-titled album. Can you describe your experiences making/ writing/ recording your first record?

DP: Like many first albums the material was more or less everything I'd written up to that point. It is a low-fi, low-tech album, although we did use a click track to keep time, and it was myself and bassist Darcy Yates sitting face to face recording all the songs with live vocals. Afterwards, we added some of my rudimentary piano playing and accompanying vocals by Simon Schmidt, who plays in a great band called $100.

What would you say was most rewarding and/ or most challenging for you making that record?

DP: Learning to communicate with a sound engineer was tough, and learning to leave things behind once they're down took a while. It was a very quick, simple, and straightforward process. It gave me the attitude with which I continue to approach all recording.

How did making that album and touring for it prepare you for writing the material that would become Constant Companion?

DP: The first album got more of a reception than I expected. If nothing else, it assured that I would make a second album. I'm always writing a song or not writing a song. It's a separate thing whether there's an album on the horizon or not.

I really enjoy your guitar playing and arrangements on Constant Companion. Can you discuss your musical and lyrical influences in general, as well as any other significant sources of inspiration during the making of the new record?

DP: It's hard to parse it out because you listen to things for so many different reasons. I listen to Don Williams and Garth Fundis for pure enjoyment, but I love to focus in on the arranging and the production. I can recite every lyric from Street Legal or John Wesley Harding, but I could almost do the same with Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats.

Can you talk about how where you live and the influence of your local music community on your work?

DP: I'm still in Toronto, and we have a particularly colourful mayor at the moment. With a smaller population in Canada there are fewer opportunities for musicians, so you get a lot of humility seeping into things. On the other hand when you get picked up, people will really help you along.

When you began work on Constant Companion, did you know what kind of record you wanted to make next?

DP: I've had interesting overviews and perspectives on the album now that it's been finished for over a year, but at the time I had no idea. It definitely wasn't a concept album, just a collection of songs that I chose based on how I was feeling at the time.

Did any particular song influence the direction of the  new record?

DP: I knew I wanted to record "End of the Day".

You have an impressive group of guest players on the record. Can you discuss how you connected with Garth Hudson of The Band, Basil Donavon of Blue Rodeo, and Leslie Feist?

DP: These people are some of my heroes, and in some cases, people I've been listening to all along. They've paid me such a profound compliment by working on my songs. The three you mentioned are all famously Canadian and characteristically so in their approachability and genuine participation.

I absolutely love the album cover for Constant Companion. How did the artwork for the record come together?

DP: The whole cover was art directed and created by another fantastic Canadian artist named Heather Goodchild, who has a show in New York City at the same time I'm playing there in November.

I really hope you'll check out her work, particularly with your relationship to music. Her themes and her concepts are unlike anything else in the art world, and her work is amazing. That said, she asked me not to divulge the mechanics of the cover shot, which was photographed by Lee Towndrow.

Looking back on your two albums, what would you say connects them most and/ or sets them apart from each other most?

DP: I think in both cases, I'd say it's someone who's still trying to find their place musically, but I do pick up on the second album being a little farther along in that.

Has touring your albums and performing your material live changed any impressions, interpretations, or significance of any of your tunes?

DP: Touring with new songs, you end up getting a lot of feedback on material before you've released it, which can make it complicated when you're choosing songs to record. I no longer feel it's a good place to work up new material.

What has been most rewarding for you from performing live and touring?

DP: Touring is the most tangible and enjoyable workload for me, easier to define than the vagaries of my non-traveling life.

I'm excited to see you perform with Abigail Washburn in Brooklyn next month. Will you be touring with her, or is the Bell House show an isolated thing?

DP: I'm opening for Abigail Washington in Boston and Brooklyn, and I'm excited to see her. I've heard great things. Pretty much all my US dates come through my US label, No Quarter. We could never find a booking agent in the US, but I've learned that isn't such a bad thing.

Well thanks for taking the time to particpate in the interview Doug. I appreciate your time and I'm looking forward to meeting you in Brooklyn at the Bell House show. Cheers!

DP: Thanks for the interview. Hope to see you in Brooklyn.

Doug Paisley will be playing Sunday November 6th at Paramount Center Black Box in Boston, MA, and on Monday the 7th at The Bell House in Brooklyn, NY. Both dates are with Abigail Washburn. He will continue performing live for the rest of 2011 and into 2012 with the Jim Cuddy Band.

You can learn more about Doug's work by visiting his website, and by checking out the No Quarter Records website.

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