Thirteen schools by the age of 12, growing up in the shadows of North-East England’s sprawling petrochemical factories then transplanted worlds away to the idle wiles of Aotearoa’s northern reaches; music was the only constant in the life of Paul McLaney, singer, guitar-player. Yet his music has only furthered his travels, and his stylistic leanings have been anything but constant. From folky pop and thunderous rock’n’roll spanning the exploits of his band Gramsci to complete immersion in electronica of dance music collaborations and new excursion The Blush Response, McLaney’s life has been one of movement.
Today, his travels bring him to a bustling Wellington café, a mere whistle-stop. It’s barely enough time to dispense with the pleasantries before McLaney fixes his gaze and embarks on the story of his journey; the brush-strokes of his life that have led him to now, on the eve of his solo album 'Edin'.
“I’ve never revealed myself for the camera before,” he says, matter-of-factly, of the night before, when he was awake until daybreak shooting the video for his first single 'Don’t Want to Know'. “I’ve either been obscured or part of the background or not the subject. This is new to me.
“And with Edin,” he continues, “in a way I feel like I really connected with myself as a musician for the first time.”
It’s not the first time that McLaney has had to explain himself. Explain the meaning of his work at the helm of folk-rockers Gramsci, or his haunting cameos with New Zealand electronic artists Concord Dawn, SJD and Module. Explain what music means to him. Explain his past and how it has shaped his present. And explain, by way of simply unfolding his sense of awareness at the intricacies of life, why he’s so hard to box, to categorise, to pigeonhole.
McLaney’s earlier efforts illustrate the many threads that he weaves into his musical tapestry. Beginning with 1998’s 'The Prayer Engine', a solo effort of 2000 copies sold at McLaney’s first public outings as a performer (which surely must be ascending the ranks of music collectibles), turning through the gentle electronically-tinged folk pop of Gramsci’s first two albums 'Permanence' (2000) and 'Object' (2001) with collaborator David Holmes, the soul-searching acoustic purity of 2003’s 'The Shadows of Birds Flying Fall Slowly Down the Tall Buildings' before 2005’s critically-acclaimed return of Gramsci, complete with hard-charged grandiose guitar rock, on 'Like Stray Voltage', McLaney has traversed musical horizons like the traveller he is.
“With all that transiency I’ve got no problem walking into a room full of people that I don’t know,” explains the son of a petrochemical man. “ I didn’t get a guitar until I got to New Zealand. Music was the stable place for me, the constant in my life.
“I’d wake up, play guitar. Have breakfast, play guitar. Go to school, play it some more and during lunch, then I’d come home. Play more guitar. My mum used to find me asleep with it; she’d come into my room to take it from me as I slept.”
With his passion firmly ensconced, the young McLaney travelled south to develop his craft in Dunedin, sandwiching his guitar around University law studies (lest he want to, one day, get a real job), the place to which he returned to record and pays homage to with 'Edin'. His return to Dunedin charmingly coincides with a rebirth of the Southern City, as Dunedin’s style, grace, fashion, music and culture once again emerges to sweep northward like a crisp breeze.
“I spent maybe four years there, from age 18, but this was the city in which I grew. I got my first band together, played my first gigs, had my first romance… You know,” he says, re-fixing his attention, “paradise is not some heavenly concept, paradise is where and with whom you choose to make it.”
With 'Edin', Paul believes he has come close to finding paradise, and to finding himself as a musician. The diversions with Gramsci came to a shuddering halt in 2003 when the second incarnation of the group disintegrated during a UK tour. A plaintive McLaney was pondering his next move when friends Hamish Clark and Zane Lowe from Breaks Co-Op encouraged him to hit the studio once more. The studio was Abbey Road.
“It was a room that was ripe with history,” remembers McLaney. “I stripped everything back to the essential: Like, the minimum amount of air that you can push through your throat to make a sound, trying to rid the music of every single inflection that wasn’t mine. On that record I achieved that intensity of purpose but that terrified me, it’s almost as if the songs became the ghosts of songs. It excited me and terrified me at the same time.”
And so we reach 2006, with Paul ready to face the challenge that he set down for himself in the hallowed confines of Abbey Road. He talks of the epiphany he had when Gramsci played Big Day Out 2006, when he walked among the heaving masses and realised he was there in name to play but in reality to sell t-shirts for the band. He talks of how 'Shadows of Birds' was the catalyst for the blissful surrender of recording 'Edin'.
He talks of the classic old New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) recording studio in Dunedin (the only remaining studio of its kind left in New Zealand), a glimmer in his eye betraying the enthusiasm he had for recording an album in little more than one day, in a space meant for sound and nothing else. And about how recording engineer Dale Cotton (HDU, Dimmer and more recently, Charlie ASH) invented a special two-microphone recording rig to capture the one-take recording sessions.
This is no over-produced album smoothed over with sequences and multiple session takes, 'Edin' is simply a real recording. Paul reveals how drummer Nick Gaffeney and bass player Richie Pickard came together for 'Edin'; the three simply rehearsing the songs then playing them together, a process remarkably alien in the modern age, and continues with admiration of working with Dr Graham Downes, the genius Dr Downes, who orchestrated the lush string arrangements that cushion the soulful, reflective entreat of McLaney’s vocal compositions.
Paul McLaney tells us how he eagerly anticipates the prospect of touring to support Edin, traversing the length of New Zealand to play in small town coffee houses. And of his enthusiasm for the album itself, the physical manifestation of this point in Paul’s journey, resplendent with illustration from one of Aotearoa’s finest young artists in Rebecca Ter Borg.
But what he doesn’t need to talk about is the splendid isolation that comes with being a traveller; the solitude and reflective desolation where every thought has a wilderness to roam within and without; the vistas that stretch out across the horizon for an eternity, the landscapes evoked in 'Edin'.
McLaney need not talk about this at all. Listen to 'Edin', and hear for yourself.
- Phil Reed
|REVIEW: Diamond Side
Submitted by Guest
|13 Mar 2008|
|INTERVIEW: Paul McLaney Newsletter Interview
Submitted by Shade
|6 Nov 2006|
|INTERVIEW: Paul McLaney Newsletter Interview
Submitted by Shade
|25 Sep 2006|
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Paul McLaney: Diamond Side
Posted: Wed Nov 21, 2007 10:32 pm
A Word From Paul...
The world connects when like-minded souls speak honestly to one another, without pretension or false modesty.
The fundamental aspect of music that I have always shared the greatest affinity with is the human voice and acoustic guitar. Be it Bert Jansch and Nick Drake, Robert Johnson or Bob Dylan, the essential purity of one person alone, creating a vivid musical canvas on which to detail their observations and emotional responses is the music I always come back to. While this has always stirred the deepest empathy for me personally, I've never been entirely sure why. I've considered it might be something akin to the fact that I can't deny the way Celtic melodies move me.
I've been fortunate enough to have collaborated in a wide variety of musical disciplines with some very talented friends: as part of Gramsci, SJD, Concord Dawn, Anika Moa, Jakob, Module, Rhian Sheehan, Graeme Downes, Victoria Kelly. The value of each experience has been to contextually reveal to me a greater understanding of my true musical self. As a musician I have always strived to improve. In the course of this application I have come to understand that to "improve" is to move closer to my own personal truths; to be a pioneer is not, in my opinion, to be confused with riding the vanguard of popular fashion and thought but to live at the edge of your unique place as an individual.
"EDIN" the album I recorded last year in Dunedin was the major catalyst for realising this understanding. To have it nominated for a Tui this year in the Best Male category is one of my proudest achievements as a creative artist working in New Zealand. During the course of promoting and touring the "EDIN" songs, a new collection of material arrived steadily as if invited by the sensibilities my solo performances were establishing. I relished the challenge of painstakingly working on the songs as complete entities unto themselves. The guitar was my studio, my band, my entire framework outside of the lyric.
Lyrics collide with music, they float in music, they pull meaning out of melodies and recognise in them their divine essence. All of the 12 songs on "Diamond Side" are love songs of one form or another.
To me the love song is the most perfect form of the songwriting discipline. Love exists in the space between people's words and love songs yearn for the want of another heart to hear them. The space between lyric and melody makes each of them richer and that space between is a metaphor for how love is realised amongst us all. Love songs seek to shorten the distance between love and longing.
Recording the album in Los Angeles took me out of my comfort zone and made me knuckle down to the task at hand. Added to that the experience and wisdom that producer/engineer Michael Frondelli (Crowded House, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones) provided, I felt completely energised to capture performances of these songs that would merit my own investment into them. Everything was captured as live performances over 2 sessions on August 15th and 17th, 2007.
I hope you enjoy the album.
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