Paul is an engineer, producer, composer and musician who these days spends a large portion of his working life mixing FOH sound either on tour or in-house at London venues – including the legendary 100 Club.
His studio credits include Lucky Soul, The Hope Rebellion and Nick Evans and he tours with Various Cruelties, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed & ZZ Ward mixing FOH. He’s also performed on stages around the world and on many recording sessions over the last 20 something years.
I was fortunate enough to work with New York based artist Eli Paperboy Reed again recently on a UK & European tour taking in 10 festivals and 1 club date. It was my third time on the road with him and his band and he was gracious enough to let me ask him a few questions that I thought of along the way.
His last album ‘Come and Get It!’ was released in 2010 and he’s recently signed a deal with Warner Brothers. Work is well under way on his next album and some of the new songs were featured in the set on the recent tour.
Eli’s style of music is a unique blend of 60’s and 70’s soul combined with loving spoonfuls of gospel and blues served up in catchy 3 minute pop songs. Live performances are increasingly dynamic and will often see him climbing high on stage rigging and persuade 10,000 people to crouch down then jump up and ‘explode’ on command.
You put a lot of energy into your live performance, physically and vocally. How do your performances today compare to your live shows when you started out?
I think the more shows I’ve played and the more I’ve toured the more comfortable I get on stage. Early on I was very tied to the guitar and didn’t get out from behind the monitors much and that’s really changed. I think playing big festivals pushed me to really move around on the stage and keep things interesting. I think also once I got to the point where I didn’t feel like I had to keep my hands on the guitar to make sure things were going to be right musically allowed me to be more expressive and use my hands more. Vocally, the more I toured the more I got used to singing 90 minutes every night and my endurance got better and better.
Have any artists been heavily influential on your live performance?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of the Soul singers that I idolized growing up and watch them perform. Guys like Roscoe Robinson in particular, the way he would draw songs out and react to the crowd and use his hands to tell the story was a big influence on me. I saw Solomon Burke several times as a kid and he was just so larger-than-life in the way that he told stories with his performance and that really affected me. The time I spent playing in church with former Soul singer and now Reverend Mitty Collier really shaped my live performance as well. The way I play some songs now is really just me going back to the sounds I heard from the church singers interacting with the congregation. Early on I realized that just singing the song was not going to be enough and that you really had to act it out and extend things in order to draw out the meaning for the live audience.
On tour your voice is consistently powerful night after night. How do you keep it in shape when you’re not on the road?
I do a good bit of singing just at home, whether it’s just sitting at the piano or along with records, I’m always singing around the house. I think it’s more the technique that I’ve been able to develop, though that I use while on the road has really given me the stamina I need. There were definitely tours when I would be singing improperly and lose my voice or not have some notes in some songs but thankfully I think those days are pretty much past. I can sing 7, 8, 9 nights in a row now and do a full 90 minute set without a problem. My secret isn’t really a secret, just tons and tons of water. I’ll probably drink 4 bottles of water in a row after I get off the stage and throughout the day before the show I might drink 10.
You’ve started work on your next full length album. Some artists take a radical new direction while others don’t stray much from their previous release. Where will your new album be on that spectrum?
I’d say somewhere in between. This won’t be the live, band-in-the-room feeling record of the last two but I still want to retain a lot of that energy. I’m excited to branch out and use more of the tools available to me as an artist making a record in 2012 but I also don’t want to abandon the sound that made me who I am. It will definitely be a soulful record but you might not be able to call it a “Soul” record. The most important thing, though is that it will be an Eli “Paperboy” Reed record.Your music is influenced heavily from an era when playing instruments was the only way bands could perform live. What’s your thoughts on bands using backing tracks to bolster their live sound?
I understand why some people do it, but I still feel that it’s kind of a cop-out. When I go to a show, I’m not expecting to hear a band that sounds exactly like the recordings I’m used to, the difference is what makes for a good live show. I’m a firm believer in offering the audience something different from the records so that they keep coming back to see me live to find out what I might do next. Backing tracks are always the same, they don’t change so when you rely on that, you lose the spontaneity that makes live music so wonderful.
Would you ever consider it?
Probably not, but I would definitely consider using drum pads or other electronics but I think it’s always got to have the human element.
Have you ever lent your vocal talents to an electronic/dance track? If not, is that something you’d consider?
I actually have. I did a track with the group Basement Jaxx on their last album called “She’s No Good.” I really enjoyed doing it and would love to try something like that again.
Thanks to Eli for taking time out from his very demanding schedule to answer my questions. Look out for his new album spring/summer 2013 with a possible single out later this year. He’ll no doubt be back in the UK and Europe supporting his next release with high energy performances and new catchy songs…I wonder what antics he’ll have up his sleeve?
‘Come And Get It’ – single