May 03, 2006

Interview: Paula Kelley

Paula Kelley has always been a favorite of mine. Her first band, Drop Nineteens, was a blast of shoegaze-influenced indie-pop, and though her next two bands were good, they didn't set the stage for what would come next—a trip into delicate, grand Bacharach-styled orchestra pop. The Trouble With Success, or How You Fit Into the World was one of the best records of 2003, and we certainly wasted no time in proclaiming it so. It's a great record, and you need to seek it out ASAP.

As a result of a recent move to the West Coast, Kelley took some time and went through her recording archives, and the resulting record, Some Sucker's Life, Pt. 1, (recently released by Stop, Pop, and Roll) is just as strong as any of her previous releases. One might expect a record that compiles demos and unreleased songs from the past fifteen years to be rather chaotic and not at all cohesive in style, but that's certainly not the case. True, a good majority of the songs found here are mellow, occasionally solo acoustic affairs, there's plenty of variety. There's the excellent power-pop/pop-punk of "B.S. I Love You" and "Your Big World," the psych-rock of "High Boots" and "Talk Away" (which sounds like a long-lost Brian Jonestown Massacre jewel), and the utterly wonderful shoegaze of "Untitled" and" Born to Be a Star." The record also contains some rather nice pop moments, like "You're Up" and "Girl of the Day." Though most of these songs date from the 1990s, one song, "Goodbye September," is a new track from some recent sessions. Then there's the gorgeous cover of Blue Öyster Cult's "Burning for You," which in its stripped-down acoustic mode, is about as ominous as BoC's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." Ultimately, though, these songs prove Kelley's superior talent. After all, isn't it a sign of brilliance when an artist's "rejects" and unreleased songs are of such a high standard? I think so. These demos are excellent, and this is a wonderful collection.

Listen To: "Born to Be A Star"
Listen To: "Burnin' For You"

Paula recently told us a few things about her new record:

Were you surprised by the quality of the demos in your archives? When you started listening to your old tapes again, did you expect to find an album's worth of quality material? Were you more surprised at the number of songs in your collection, or the quality?

I certainly didn't expect to find an album's worth of material. When I decide to shelf a song, it's for good reason, at least for how I feel at the time. I wasn't surprised at the number of songs. I've been writing since I can remember so I know my back catalog, released and otherwise, is quite sizable. There were, though, lots of instances of "well, now, this isn't so bad, is it?" And when it came down to it, Aaron and I were struggling over cutting the last few songs from the album as we had too many. That was unexpected.

When you write songs, would you consider yourself more of a perfectionist, often setting aside songs that sound great in retrospect, but don't seem to work at the time, or would you consider yourself more of a pessimist, setting aside perfectly good songs because you think that they're not very good?

Whether a song is "good" or not is subjective. If I think a song is ass, I truly believe that, whereas someone else may like it. When I set aside a song it's always because I don't think it makes the grade. When I write one I consider to be great, I want to play it as soon as possible. I don't really run into the problem of a song not working at a particular time. I seem to write in stylistic cycles. I am grateful to my brain for functioning like that beyond my consciousness.

Listening to these songs, were there any songs in particular that made you think "Wow, why did I let that one slip by?" or "Gee, that one was better than I thought!"?

"Better than I thought" - yes. I have an affinity for "High Boots" which was on the first Boy Wonder demo. It never made it onto an album. I get excited by new songs as I write them so I suppose that one got overshadowed. "Why did I let that one slip by?" - no. I feel that if something's good enough, worthy enough, I'll remember it. I haven't proven myself wrong yet....

Considering how lush and expansive your songwriting is now, do you think there any musical ideas that you've developed from reviewing your old demos?

No, my writing is so different now, and I'm happy where I am musically. Reviewing the songs was more like a sometimes pleasant trip down memory lane.

What's going on with the Paula Kelley Orchestra these days?

We're playing frequently in the Los Angeles area and prepping to record my next "proper" album. We're aiming to start early this summer. Also, Aaron and I will be going on tour on both coasts in support of "Some Sucker's Life pt.1" from late June through July, so watch for dates on the web site.

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