BY TODD COYLE
This month FLUENT talked with Paul Pfau, an area guitar hero. Intelligent, talented and with a good sense of where he’s been, where he is and where he’s going, Paul will be around for a long time. If you enjoy great guitar playing, check out this rising star. He will entertain you.
FLUENT What’s new in Paul Pfau’s musical life?
PAUL PFAU The newest thing would have to be the “Happy To Be” record that I just released in mid-March. I had the unique pleasure to work with Jeff Juliano on it, which is probably the most surreal thing I have done in my career so far. He recorded the debut records of John Mayer and Jason Mraz and has worked extensively with Dave Matthews, Train and a slew of other recording artists that have inspired me to write songs or play the guitar. However, none of that would have been possible without my support system of friends, family and fans who helped me raise over $16,000 on Kickstarter to complete the project. I will never be able to thank them enough!
FLUENT You’re a local guitar hero. Who are your guitar heroes?
PAUL That is very nice of you to say! I draw influences from all over the place. There are the obvious Clapton, BB King, Albert Collins and Stevie Ray Vaughan influences, but I am also really into the jazzier side of the blues. Artists like Matt Schofield, Robben Ford, Oz Noy and Wayne Krantz have really inspired me to take the my blues playing to another level. Recently, I have really been getting into country guitar players to try and diversify my “vocabulary.” Guys like Chet Atkins, Albert Lee and Brad Paisley have been inspiring me to look at the guitar in a different way. I’m just trying to stay curious as a guitar player.
FLUENT If you were stranded on a desert island, what five albums would you want to take with you?
PAUL In no particular order… Lyle Lovett & His Large Band, The Beatles—Revolver, The Complete Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington Sessions, State Radio—Us Against the Crown, Robert Johnson—The Complete Recordings.
FLUENT You’re a college grad. What’s the importance of education to your music, and does it affect your songwriting?
PAUL Indeed, I got a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Shepherd University.
The importance of that education to my music has little to do with the subject matter covered in those courses and a lot to do with the teachers I had. Professors like Dr. Joe Merz, Dr. Jason Best and John Schultz taught me to think for myself and to always be passionate about learning. This framework has definitely had an effect on my songwriting because it has always kept me motivated to listen to different types of music and experiment with different arrangements or lyrical vantage points in order to create my own sound.
FLUENT Describe your songwriting process?
PAUL Songwriting, for me, is a process that begins in one of two ways, the first of which mostly happens in my car. I drive about 56,000 miles a year as a musician and a lot of the time it is in silence. I know it sounds weird, but I have found that my mind is most active when I am driving. I often come up with melodies or lyric ideas that I record immediately to the voice recorder on my phone. Most of them just get deleted, but every once in a while there is some good stuff in there. That is how “Send Your Love” came about.
The second way is through my daily practice regimens on the guitar. I practice by playing along with songs on various online radio channels as well as learning new scales or new ways to play chords. This usually sparks ideas for songs that I may not have lyrics or melodies for at that given moment. Again, most of the times I just scrap these ideas, but occasionally parts of them will stick together to form the foundation of a new song.
FLUENT What makes you want to perform a cover song?
PAUL I am compelled to learn other people’s songs when they move me on an emotional level. And the reason that I play those songs for others to hear is not because I am trying to copy what the original performer did. I just want to turn someone else on to something that made me feel so good.
FLUENT Looking back through history, what musician would you most like to jam with and why, and what non-musician would you most like to have a conversation with and why?
PAUL I would say that Stevie Ray Vaughan would the one I would most like to jam with. I know it may be cliché, but his mixture of intensity and finesse is unmatched in my opinion. The emotions that I feel watching videos of him are unexplainable, and I would just love to be in his presence.
As far as a non-musician goes, I would most likely want to have a conversation with Carl Sagan. I am really interested astronomy, and have been more recently getting into quantum physics because of his initial inspiration. I love watching re-runs of his TV show “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” He seems like such a down-to-earth guy, and I really agree with a lot of what he has to say.
FLUENT Any non-musical hobbies? What non-musical thing could you spend all day doing?
PAUL I love hiking and kayaking. I could definitely spend all day doing either of those things. I love the feeling of being alone in the middle of the woods on a mountain trail or floating down a river. The sights and sounds in those scenarios are so overwhelming and inspiring. It is spiritual to me. I try not to lose sight of that natural beauty.
FLUENT What’s your favorite book? Movie? TV show?
PAUL Favorites are hard and change is inevitable, but for now…. Favorite book: The Intention Experiment by Lynne McTaggart. Favorite Movie: “Good Will Hunting.” Favorite TV Show: “Mad Men.”
FLUENT You’re well known for your blues influences, but you seem to have much more depth to your playing. What’s the evolutionary history of Paul Phau?
PAUL Well, I started playing guitar when I was 14, inspired initially by who I thought was George Harrison, but later found out was Eric Clapton. I’m talking, of course, about that guitar solo in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” When I got my first electric guitar, I learned a lot of classic and modern hard rock tunes from Black Sabbath to Stone Temple Pilots, and played rhythm guitar in a high-school rock band. During that time I was also influenced by songwriters, classic and contemporary, from Bob Dylan to John Mayer.
Somewhere during my senior year of high school I got the itch to start singing, and for my senior high-school talent show I made my debut performance as a solo musician with The Fray’s “Over My Head” (Cable Car). My parents hadn’t even heard me sing up until that point. When I got into college, I was turned on to the blues by a family friend who inspired me to dig up the roots of that genre and other genres it inspired or created. Genres like jazz, New Orleans funk, country, reggae, fusion and more really came together to help me find my own original sound.
Through this evolution I have learned that it is important to stay stimulated. It is easy to stick to what you are comfortable with, but it can only retard your progress. Many artists are enamored by the idea of being defined by a single genre. I, however, feel like that is limiting. I try not to label my sound as anything more than just being a singer, a songwriter and a guitar player. I feel like my new album represents that. All of my influences have blended together in order for me to sound how I do now. I will always keep that blender on, and I will constantly be adding things to it.