Interview | How Paul Thomas Saunders abandoned acoustic guitars and found his voice

paulthomassaunders_lo-resWith a new single out in January and a debut album on the horizon, we thought it was about time we caught up with Paul Thomas Saunders. Once very much a fixture of the Leeds scene, Saunders has moved to Hove and shifted his musical bearings too as he prepares the release of his first full-length record, Beautiful Desolation. Here he tells us about his dizzying range of creative inspirations, his growing hatred of acoustic guitars and his dream of owning a beachside apartment on the south coast. He also manages to sneak in an artist you never thought you’d see on For Folk’s Sake…

We can’t wait to hear Beautiful Desolation. Tell us a bit about the album, and the track ‘Good Women’. Last time we spoke to you were talking about a 2013 release. How did we get from there to where we are now?

Well we went on a long tour towards the end of 2012 and I lost my voice. It didn’t come back for about six months. It served us well though as at that point I wasn’t really happy with the album. It was a bit of mess. We used the time to re-record a lot of things and try out some ideas while my voice was recovering. I don’t believe in karma or fate and all that crap, but I would have definitely been screwed had it not been for those extra six months to re-assess everything.

‘Good Women’ is the last track I wrote for the album. It’s a bitter song about all the awful people I’ve met and sometimes been, rolled into a four-minute pop song. It sits next to a track called ‘Kawai Celeste’ on the album, the two songs were initially written lyrically as one song. I think if I wanted to introduce a friend to the music of ‘Paul Thomas Saunders’, I would start with those two tunes.

The album as a whole I hope is a more uplifting experience than anything I’ve put out before. I want it to be like Carl Sagan’s Spaceship of the Imagination, it’s an album written for the people who are going to live and breathe it. It’s not a giant ‘For Sale’ sign. It’s also not as cryptic as the last few sentences have been.

You’ve released quite a few EPs now. What made you feel now was the right time to make an album?

I think I reached a tipping point of being really focused in my songwriting and production yet thinking about what to do next. It felt like a good time to catalogue who I am, so I could move on to something more challenging.

Did you approach making an album differently to how you approach making an EP?

I became really aware of how much I abhor acoustic guitars. They’re awful things. So I tried to ditch them wherever I could.

Max, who I produced the album with, was a lot more unforgiving than we have been while recording the EPs, I think that was really important. It sounds like a real recording. I’ve heard a lot of people saying the new single is more polished and I think they’re right. Max really laid it down. When you hear it, you’ve got to remember that it’s for most part just two people with a microphone and keyboard in a bedroom.

From listening to ‘Good Women’, it seems your sound has moved on quite a lot. Can you tell us a bit about how it has evolved?

I think it just depends on your surroundings. I mean when we were recording Beautiful Desolation I was reading The Naked Ape and wanted to make an EP that just stood for human emotions at a really primitive level, things like lust, love and hate. By the time we were recording the album I was reading Oryx and Crake and just wanted the whole thing to sound apocalyptic, but in a beautiful way. With the kind of apocalyptic wonder that we observe galaxies colliding. Explosions within infinite blackness.

And that’s how it works for me, I think to be consistently creative you have to indulge in those weird episodes of melancholy and stupid drug-like epiphanies and run with them.

Paul Thomas Saunders Good WomenYou used to be quite a prominent part of the Leeds music scene. What have been the positives and negatives of moving somewhere new?

I loved my time in Leeds, I loved the people, the promoters and the bands. But it’s good to just up and leave at some point in your life. And when you’re handed a two-month eviction notice, what better time? I just thought, ‘Fuck it. I’m moving to the seaside.’

You seem to have quite a strong anti-establishment streak. Would you welcome mainstream success?

I don’t really know what that term “anti-establishment” means anymore. I mean, people really think for themselves these days. I like to think there’s just, The Establishment, and then everyone else. But that’s another movie.

I would welcome mainstream success. I’d like to buy a seafront mezzanine flat in Brighton one day. But I’m not going to bend over backwards for it. I don’t think you can fake it to the top, you either have to be mind-blowingly good, or just a spineless/mindless reprobate. They know which one they are.

You’ve played shows with some real For Folk’s Sake favourites like the Staves, Blue Roses and Julia Stone. What do you take from experiences like that?

Just pure humility. Those three in particular are just incredible. They are all in the former category of my previous answer.

It’s just a mental shellacking to watch acts like that bringing it home night after night.

Last time we spoke to you, you were quite uncomfortable with your status as a musician and said you sometimes lied about it. Do you still feel this way?

I don’t remember that. But it definitely sounds like something I’d say. I wasn’t really thinking about that anymore, but now I’m starting to feel unsure again. Thanks FFS.

FFS.

Christmas is coming up. We love Christmas music here at FFS – are there any gems out there we might not know about?

Actually, yes.

Finally, do you have any shows coming up where FFS readers can check you out live?

There’s nothing I can announce yet, but I’ll be playing all over in 2014 so keep an eye out on my website www.PaulThomasSaunders.com and all the usual twit book sites.

‘Good Women’ is out on January 26. Beautiful Desolation is due for release in late spring.

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