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Gramsci - Interview with Paul McLaney

06 Jul 2020 // An interview by malexa

Paul McLaney is one of New Zealand's most prolific artists. As a case in point, last year he released a new The Impending Adorations album, a collaboration with Jakob guitarist Jeff Boyle and a single with his "live" band Her Own Medicine. He also composed music for dancer and choreographer Taane Mete’s Manawa, was the musical director for the World of Wearable Arts and finished putting Shakespeare’s soliloquies to music. Somewhere he also found the time and inspiration to record Inheritance, an album for these times, by another alias, Gramsci, who have been dormant since the release of Like Stray Voltage in 2005. Mike Alexander from Muzic.net.nz had the chance to catch up with Paul, here's what was said:

It's been a while since you last recorded a Gramsci album. Why now?

When I look back on it, Gramsci was always my Trojan Horse; even the name presents that idea. A vehicle to deliver wider ambitions into the heart of the town square. Since the last Gramsci album I’ve really gone off and more deeply investigated aspects of my musicality, be it acoustic music, electronica, classical, music for theatre etc.

This album feels like the end of my apprenticeship and my most complete musical statement. I feel like I’ve come full circle but have learned so much on the journey to return.

It's called Inheritance.  Does that suggest an overall theme?

Definitely. I’m fascinated by the concepts of inheritance and legacy. There are aspects of our personalities, both strengths and weaknesses that we inherit. They can be genetic or they can be circumstantial, philosophic, societal and the earlier you become aware that those are major factors in your existence the sooner you can address them.

The basic premise of all the songs is the idea of personal mythologies. We grow up surrounded by them; the stories we pester our parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents to tell us of our shared pasts, our family mythos. It’s through the telling and framing of those tales that we develop in accord our personal philosophies of life.

There's a certain point of evolution within your existence in which you realise you have enough history of your own to have created your own myths and legends. I’d say that the fundamental difference between myth and reality is generally the absence of truth.

We frame our stories to help us navigate the idea of ourselves and to model the avatar which we want to present to the world. I suppose all of that is the paint really and the canvas was my decision to stop drinking. The framework of inheritance, legacy and myth are a result of the self-examination that comes with a decision like that.

Was it completed before the lockdown?

Yes, all of the music, lyrics and recording was completed pre lockdown. The mixing started with Clint Murphy in the UK just as we went into lockdown so that was kind of cool to be holed up and receiving these mixes through that time sort of like early Christmas presents! And then the mastering with Ryan Smith. The AV content for the live show was pretty much developed through lockdown as well as the visual accompaniments for the ‘singles’.

Quite a few of the tracks take their titles from Greek mythology - Tantalus, Atlas, Achilles' Heel.  Do you have a specific interest in the Greek epics?

Only in the sense that they are, for best part, the basic archetypes of mythos; each character representing certain human traits. They sort of become coat pegs for aspects of our humanity but not everything is really that black and white and having an easy metaphor sometimes provides an excuse for a harder realisation.

There's allusions to archetypes throughout. It's a fascinating area of consciousness.  What's your personal perspective?

Well, yes following on from that point: there is a grandeur in myth that gives gravitas to existence. I think the enduring aspect of Greek Mythology is the relatability of their Gods; how utterly human and petty and badly behaved they all are :)

The cover artwork - an image of a painting by British artist Herbert James Draper called The Lament for Icarus -  is very powerful. Did you have that in mind at the beginning of recording or did it come during or after?

Icarus is the centrepiece of the album for me. The guitar allows the facility to move into a pure realm of emotion beyond semantics. Throughout my entire recording career, I believe I have subconsciously and in many instances consciously censured myself from that form of non-verbal emotional expression. As my teen-age self-evolved so did my musical tastes.

Just like many guitar players of my generation I traded in my inherited love of Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Peter Green etc. for music more in line lyrically with my emotions: The Smiths, The Cure, The The et al. And while those bands have undoubtedly brilliant guitar players there is a real focus on arrangements and texture for the vocal rather than pure moments of expression via the instrument.

Obviously, that's a blanket statement that doesn't carve out things like From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea or The Kiss etc. but I think you get my point in regards their general disdain for the 'guitar solo'. Lyricists like Robert Smith and Morrissey were my introduction to poets like Shelley and Auden, much like Jimmy Page was my intro to Bert Jansch and all the great British finger style guitar players. That painting so perfectly encapsulates the sheer power of mythos.

Gramsci features Jol Mulholland and Greg Haver, who also produces.  Will you be touring the album and will they be part of the Gramsci line-up?

Yes, we are announcing our first show very soon. It will be in Auckland. It will be immersive and yes, we are a 3 piece for the purposes of live performance.

You have never been one for trumpeting the work you do but, with Inheritance, it seems as if you are "going public" so to speak and doing a bit more promotion?

Music has always been a place of surrender and engagement for me and I have steered my life by it. This album is my artistic high water mark and the culmination of a life’s journey. It’s the album my youth demanded of my age. If ever there was a collection of my music I wanted to tell the world about, it’s this one.

You have been involved with World of Wearable Arts, Shakespeare's Pop Up Globe and a host of other "extra-curricular activities".  How do you maintain such a busy schedule?

I just love the process of creativity; I love the collaboration. Problem solving, mistakes, successes and above all the empathy it generates. That should be the human condition; to make the legacy worth the inheritance.

Main Photo Credit: Amanda Billing


About Gramsci

The name Gramsci is taken from an infamous Italian political philosopher.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Gramsci


The Hinterlands
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Like Stray Voltage
Year: 2005
Type: Album
Year: 2002
Type: Album
Year: 2001
Type: Album

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