interview: christopher paul stelling

american aquarium @ local 506

Brooklyn’s Christopher Paul Stelling’s debut album, Songs of Praise and Scorn, came out last month; it’s an intricate, intimate portrait of sadness, darkness, and hope, and one of my favorite releases of 2012 thus far. CPS was kind enough to answer some questions for me from the road, and behind the jump, he talks about inspiration, vices, and camping in Colorado.

He plays the Nightlight 3/7, 9:30PM. Be there, buy the new album. You won’t regret it.

Your record, Songs of Praise and Scorn, has two very loaded words in the title. Can you talk a little about the relationship you see between “praise” and “scorn”? How do they relate to each other and to your songwriting on the album? Are your songs one or the other, or do they run together in certain cases?

Praise and Scorn are just what you get, all of us, anyone who chooses to do anything. Those who remain idle can get by in the shadows, but once someone makes the choice to put it out there and try, try to do something creative, unapproved, untypical… Praise and Scorn is what you get… At least what you hope for… A reaction, make ’em feel. If you are getting one or the other. You’re doing something right, as long as you don’t hurt anybody. So the relationship is the extremes, I don’t sit down and write if I’m feeling indifferent, I sit down and write when I have to, when I’m over the brim, so I guess that’s how those relate to each other an to the songs, i never really thought about it before, so thanks for asking.

All of the writing on the album has what I called in a review “a secret darkness”. Do you work from life experiences? Do you feel like all of life has a dark undercurrent — are we all hiding secrets that come out in our art? In your songwriting, are you ever surprised by the subjects you find yourself writing about? Do you feel that songwriting reveals a writer’s own secrets, things he or she might not even be aware of?

Absolutely, at least if you go to that space when you write. If one can tap into that spot, that ungovernable channel in ones self, the truth comes out, and it can reveal things. In art we can talk about the things that otherwise might not be too pleasing in conversation. Life does have a dark undercurrent, I am certain of that, at least it better, or else how can one develop any sense of empathy or sincerity… But you gotta keep it two sided, that undercurrent can not exist and not devour you, unless you acknowledge all the beauty, all the friendly kind people, all the love and hope… We CAN have it both ways, and I think we are better off if we do.

You tour with other bands, right? I think I read that you just finished working with The Loom. How is playing with other people different than playing your own songs? Do you take a different tack in your playing or your touring mindset when you’re not working behind your own compositions?

Love the loom. Sure. I mean, it’s good to help other people realize what they want from their music. What I want from my music is the aspect of being self reliant and contained.

What are you most looking forward to on this tour supporting the new record?

I’m actually out on the road now, in Charleston WV, about to head over to Lexington. I’m reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, I’m seeing the country, and loving it. I’m working hard, touring nonstop can be rough. I’m playing nearly every night and driving every day. If you are gonna go out and sing for hardworking people, you gotta work hard, they appreciate it.

What is your favorite thing to do on a day off while you’re on tour? What do you look for in a tour stop city?

Not any non-driving days off for another month, but we (my lady and i) are gonna take some time out in Colorado, an do some camping and hiking. I used to live out there, so I am really glad to go back.

What are your three biggest vices? Three biggest indulgences? Are indulgences always vices?

I think of a vice as something we are pressured to do, or feel the pressure  when we aren’t doing that,  pressured by ourselves… That’s what vices do right? Tighten things…I’m not all that extreme in the restrictions I put on my self. I don’t mind indulging. I like a beer, I like to play my guitar, I like to watch the x files….

What’s inspiring you lately — books, music, film? Any and all?

Lately it’s been the people we’ve been playing with every night. It’s been the road. It’s been new places and faces.

If you had a time machine and could use it to see one concert that you missed, what show would you go see?

I’d love to go see John Fahey, Robbie Basho, an Alex de Grassi share a bill. I would love to see that first Newport folk fest when Skip James and Bukka White made their return to the stage. I’d love to see Charlie Paton down on Dockery farm.

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