Paul Greene is back in 2012 with the release of Behind The Stars and has just completed the album tour with his band The Other Colours. From touring advice, to tripping in his own vomit, we hear more than a few good stories from the man himself...
Things happen slowly. If you are taking the independent road – do not expect everything to happen at once. If you go with the love of it, things will build though. The thing to remember when doing the hard yards is that you are trying to find people who dig what you do. Your fans will buy your next record and even a T-shirt as well. I have been really lucky that I have amazing fans who have supported me. My career is based on finding people who like what I already do.
Do you think fans notice your commitment to them as an independent band?
There are times when you go to a town and play to 15 people but perform it like you are singing to a crowd of thousands. I think that people can see that you mean it. For me anyway, I like to know what I am seeing is real and not phony. The pretence can't be held up when you are doing the hard yards like that. You really have no option to be anyone other than yourself. Being someone else takes too much effort. Especially when you have to tell stories and connect with the audience. That way people get to know you and they can tell you are legit. Commitment is something that I want to perpetuate.
And you are also the producer of the new record Behind The Stars. You shopped around for the option of other producers and studios. What made you commit to doing it yourself this time around?
Artist mode is very vulnerable and sensitive. In producer mode you are more discerning. Doing both was never going to be an easy task. Then I remembered my priorities are about challenging myself. At the same time I was questioning whether or not I had it in me to produce a record of my own.
It would have been nice to have a producer but having the band there for objectivity was just as good. The songs weren't finished before we went into recording. We very much tweaked them in there. We played the songs from start to finish, recorded it all (bass, drums, guitar and vocals), and then we would do it again until we got it right. We would go “oh maybe we could lose that part or add another part”. We all put the songs together all in one room, and a lot of the way we played the songs then is how we left them on the record. A band playing live in a room. When it works … something just takes off. The song becomes something new which is a beautiful thing about writing music.
Do you have a particular method of achieving the switch between head-spaces (artist/producer)?
The only successful method that I found (without having to do drugs) was just the act of having a cup of tea. Just walk away, and then come back and listen to the track. I had my own studio so I had the freedom of time. After being at the computer for twelve hours straight and starting to lose it, I could leave and come back to it another day.
Do you have your own recording studio?
Not yet, but I do have it on the plans to build a straw bale studio. I have a lot of recording gear at the moment on a mobile rig which lives in various places. I recorded in a milking shed once, and a sheering shed another time. I like the idea of moving the studio into spaces and recording where it feels best. I have produced a lot of albums for other people. A couple of time I have moved to where they want to record it. I need a bus to lug all of the gear I have. That is when the tour bus gets converted into a recording bus. I have a saying (which you probably won't be able to quote me on) .. 'piss with the cock you've got'. You can apply it to anything, but at the end of the day you can only work with the tools that you've got.
What about the feature of the electric guitars, there's a story behind them – can you retell this for me?
It's a true story. I was at this festival, the Reef Festival ... in Airlie Beach. I was catching up with some old friends of mine and we had had a few beers and vodkas. I wasn't playing that night. It all went a bit too Rock 'N' Roll and I ended up having to spew (as you do). I went running to the toilet, projectile vomited, tripped on my own spew and smashed my guitar. It has since been repaired, the guys a genius I don't know how he did it?! There were bits and pieces all over the place.
That incident actually shaped the new record because I had to borrow a new guitar. The next morning I woke up with a headache and was thinking oh god what am I going to do? A bloke lent me a guitar. I wasn't used to it because I had been playing my acoustic for the last ten years which was a Lowden Irish handmade acoustic.
I had to do the gig with the electric though. As I was wearing the guitar in, I started writing the song “Crossfire”. It just came out. Neil Young has actually said that he gets inspired to write new songs on new guitars. He has a million guitars and he likes to go out and buy them because he believes that every guitar has a song in it. If you take that principal, “Crossfire” came out of that electric guitar that I borrowed. The electrics shaped the whole record, with a higher energy and a different style of song writing.
Using that principal, did you pick up any other guitars when writing Behind The Stars?
If I could afford every nice guitar that I saw, then I probably would. Just recently I was been lent some really nice guitars by a bloke who is in jail actually. Having always been an acoustic guy, using the electric guitar has been quite a revelation for me. It has kept it interesting, I was getting a bit bored. I was maintaining this particular sound with the stomp box and a second harmonica. When I started out this sound was new and interesting but I see a lot of people doing it these days. Working with different electric guitars and amplifiers has given me a whole new pallet to work with. Every guitar has its own tone, and then every amp then makes that guitar sound different again. It is another kind of endless riddle to unravel which has really re-inspired me.
And how did you feel while touring this new show around? Did you feel that you had a different type of energy on stage?
Yeah it is different. Before I had to completely feed off the audience. This time I have the band and they really support me. I have noticed I am getting a lot of energy from them. The times that we played really well were the times when the three of us were just doing our own thing. In comparison to directing my energy to the audience … if that makes sense? Touring with the band is great, we all get along really well. I could not do another solo tour. Hanging out by yourself after gigs is the worst thing ever.
You burnt out in 2010 from endless touring, how did you mentally approach it this time around?
I had been touring by myself for so long and doing everything on my own. The goal last year was to collaborate with other people. At the time I didn’t care if I never did a Paul Greene gig ever again. I just wanted to work with other musicians. For me that is how I like to challenge myself and grow as a muso. Although I might do some solo gigs down the track if the band are not available... Being part of a team has definitely been the shining arm that I needed. I had days when it all just seemed pointless. The band have days like that too, so I help them out and they help me out. Just having someone else that believes in it, enough to leave their girlfriend or wife and be on the road playing music gives me faith that this is a worthwhile thing to be doing.
Being solo for ten years, what changed your thinking in order to work with other people?
I have had people come on the road with me for long stints but it never really turned into an album or creative project. I always felt that they had other things going and that I was just a side project. Or that they were waiting for something better to come along. Everyone has to look after themselves in the end , they've got their own careers to worry about. This for me feels like the first time it actually means something to them as well.
The Other Colours, what are their names and what do they do in the band?
Neil Beaver is on bass and backing vocals. He also mixed the record. We have Mick Laws on drums who played on the bonus track of the record. Ellie who played drum on the album started tafe to be an artist so she decided to do that instead of touring which I was a little disappointed about. Very happy for her though because she is a very talented artist. People are going to do what they gotta do.
While Paul Greene And The Other Colours were on the May Australian tour, was there any writing going on?
A couple of weeks ago, we had a day off so we asked if we could stay another night. The pub had a PA set up and we played a bunch of old and new songs which hadn't been recorded before. We realised we pretty much had another album worth of stuff. We have been writing little ideas that come up along the way. I think what id like to do is to have a few days where we just go and live in a studio for a few days and work. Get out of performance mode and get into creative mode. Id love to do that, I think it would be really interesting.
I had one last question about the track “Seek What You Will Find”, it was an existing Paul Greene song – how do you refresh old songs? and how do they make the cut to feature on a new album and a new tour?
The songs are a collective. “Cross Fire” “Bad Luck Lately” and “Getting Through” came out as I was writing for the new record. I had all of this back catalogue that I hadn't released though. There were some that I had to rewrite or change things last minute, like a chorus or something that I wasn't happy with. Readdressing songs is part of producing a record as a whole. That act of finding the songs that all sit together. It is one of the toughest parts actually. You have to get that bit right.
To listen to tracks from Behind The Stars head over to http://www.facebook.com/PaulGreeneMusic