Interview with Paul Willson



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00:00:16 - A Musicians Purpose

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Partial Transcript: Right, well, you know, I think one has to kind of create one's
role as a musician these days. In terms of how you identify. There are so many
different possibilities for what a musician does; what a musician's purpose is
in the world. I definitely feel that my purpose is partially the musician and
the entertainer but also the poet's purpose. {1:00} In terms of.. I feel that it is the
role of poets to communicate challenging messages to folks also historically to
pass along messages of wisdom or spirituality and spiritual knowledge from
earlier times. So I feel like some of it is storyteller. So it's sort of all of
those things, poet, entertainer, storyteller.

Segment Synopsis: Willson discusses the role of a musician as he sees it.

Keywords: Music; Poet; Purpose; Spirtualism

00:01:40 - Paul Willson's Instruments

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Partial Transcript: I play.. the most recent.. gig is
doing Irish music. So you can see over there I have a couple {2:00} fiddles, guitars, a
few other instruments, I've got a tenor banjo and other things I'll use for that
music. But that is.. But yeah, traditional Irish music, old songs, ballets, some
that I've written myself for that poet purpose. Then some other fast tunes, like
dance kinda tunes, like you probably know how those go.

Segment Synopsis: Discussion of Willson's musical repertoire

Keywords: Ballads; Banjo; Fiddle; Guitar; Irish Music; Traditional

00:02:35 - Willson's Goals and Current Missions

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Partial Transcript: but so, that is a big part of what I'm doing now. I'm trying to maintain on
the one hand playing the traditional stuff and honoring the tradition, but also
writing my own songs and my own tunes. I think especially I lunged to that role
of poetry that I {3:00} like and kind of aspire to. I sort of feel like the poet is the
spiritual seeker that tries to communicate those explorations and discoveries to
the wider audience. I'm not sure if I'm answering your question.

Segment Synopsis: Discusses his role and goals

Keywords: Aspiration; Audience; Music; Poet; Traditional

00:03:14 - Balancing Traditional Styles with Individual Creation

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Partial Transcript: And it works, it works for sure. Because it's more about you, honestly. So in
this case, when you are writing say your song for this Irish performance and you
are trying to maintain this traditional sense. How do you balance this
traditional music with your own vision and that kind of thing?

P: Yeah, that's a good question. Well there is certainly idiomatic things that
are demanded as far as different {4:00} types of subordinates and melodic patterns. The
thing is that you don't want to be too, too self conscious of. You want to
hopefully have absorbed and integrated enough of those harmonic, rhythmic,
melodic, lyrical qualities and patterns and then naturally be able to shape
something new out of them. I think that ... It's a very good question it's also
something that you hopefully want to let happen. You learn and you study, and
you learn and you study, and hopefully you {5:00} allow something to come out. So I can
actually show you if you'd like some.. It's not any point in the thing, but I
can play like something to illustrate if you'd like.

Keywords: Balance; Lyrical quality; Melody; Patterns; Study; Tradtional

00:05:13 - Early Musical Roots

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Partial Transcript: A: That would be interesting... on the note of studying, what got you started on
music? Where did you learn to play?

P: Hmm --laughs- that's funny yeah I was thinking back. I started on piano when
I was a kid. Maybe like third grade or fourth grade I can't really remember.
But, I didn't love it, I couldn't stick with it. It wasn't a real part of myself.

A: Parent's told you to do it? That sort of thing?

P: -Laughs- yeah, but then, I kinda got this burning desire to play the guitar.
I think all the music that I liked at the time-- Actually as a kid I remember in
fourth grade I got really into {6:00} Rage Against the Machine and, you know the heavy
guitars and I thought that was so cool, and I still do. So I was trying to
figure out this instrument, like Red-Hot Chili Peppers, the album
Californication had come out sometime around those years. So I was trying to
pick up little bits of the song when I got my guitar. But then the piano again,
I just hooked on the guitar, and then that lead to.. Once I got into singing I
started learning things like bluegrass, and then old time songs, and then Irish,
and Scottish, and English songs and then eventually at that point it was like--
the guitar is a great vehicle especially for songs and accompaniment and if you
really want to play the tunes and have more fun, the fiddle would {7:00} make more
sense. There's just, it's just kind of the king of the folk instruments and
those areas so...

Segment Synopsis: Discusses his beginnings with music and early instruments/rationale

Keywords: English; Fiddle; Folk; Guitar; Irish; Music; Piano; Rage Against the Machine; Red-hot Chili Peppers'; Scottish

00:07:26 - Musical Education and College Music

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Partial Transcript: A: Did you do traditional education for fiddle and guitar, like higher levels
beyond? I mean, you mentioned you self-taught for your guitar.

P: Yeah! Well, I'm doing a terrible job telling you all of this, but I did have
a teacher for guitar who was actually the same piano teacher, but he did a bunch
of other instruments and so his name was Mike Dantoni. He was a very kind guy. I
studied with him for those years up till going through high school pretty much.
Then I did go through music school at VCU for jazz guitar. Not really because I
love jazz, but I was starting to love jazz. Especially there's a {8:00} few records
that I feel are like some of the best stuff that has ever been created in any
genre. Like, the things you've heard of I'm sure are some stuff by Coal Train
and Michael Davidson, Wayne Shorter. You know, if you get into like, there's a
whole genre of like big band stuff, too, but I didn't really... Jazz wasn't my..
. What I really wanted to do super much. It just made more sense than me doing
classical guitar, and there were only those two options. If there was, more
experimental guitar, like rock guitar I probably would have chosen something
like that, but I'm actually thankful because it taught me quite a lot. You know
what I mean. Most music I can hear and tell you if it has by any {9:00} conventional
themes like a harmony and melody and rhythm I can tell you, I know how to
understand a lot now that I've gone through those years. So I am thankful, but I
don't really play jazz anymore.

A: But it gave you a baseline.

P: Yeah!

A: So, taking it back, you've gone through college, learning about jazz guitar..
What got you into the music scene? What got you started playing in a group? Did
you join a band and then go for it?

P: Well, you know, I'm trying to be an accurate historian because I am aware of
my own biases sometimes. When I was in school, I think I was a side man for a
few groups before too long. {10:00} I was a hired guitar player for a few groups. I had
gigs doing some kind of standard material. But then I also got in bands doing
more weird avant-garde jazz. More modern jazz that had more aesthetics of indie
and rock music--

A: But still jazz, experimental--

Segment Synopsis: Discussion of his traditional music education and groups in college.

Keywords: Big Band; Coal Train; College; Fiddle; Guitar; Jazz; Michael Davidson; Rock Guitar; Traditional Education; Virginia Commonwealth University; Wayne Shorter; indie rock

00:10:28 - Creating a Band and Writing music

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Partial Transcript: P: Yeah! All that kind of stuff but it was always on me to make my own band,
because I always... I think I was to some degree afraid of losing myself and
what I loved in music if I just was a side man and if I just played straight
ahead music or in this case other groups. So I pretty much always had my own
band, you know? I had this band called Yellow Grass and it was a modern {11:00} jazz
group that played very melodic and very harmonically driven music. Like very
deep chord changes and kind of complicated, and sort of heady, but still very
much melodic melody and harmony focus, which was different to like the other
groups which were very experimental and doing weird things. I still have those
recordings somewhere, but that was my way of really maintaining my sense of what
I love about music and what I have to say. I was in college and that got me
connected to lots of folks, but I don't know if you have ever been told this
about running a band but if you write good material, you can get better players
to play it for you or play with you --laughs- {12:00} so people liked the material that
I was writing. So I had a lot of the best players around the city with me. By
the time I made the second group, which only lasted a year or two. But you see
this thing framed up here where it says Old Soul? The bottom right panel, my
sister did the artwork. This was the album cover for the album that that group
did. And that group had Steven Harris and Marcus Tenny, David Hood from the OBS
brass, Evan Sarver, Olivia Ogy, Mack Koya. Just a bunch of folks that are really
wonderful musicians, and like I said, if you write the music and people think
it's good then, you are kinda already in.

A: {13:00} i'm no stranger to the whole experimental music scene-- I'm from Portland,
Oregon, so the music is kinda weird. The local music is very strange.

P: -Laughs-

A: But anyways, nowadays, what are you up to now in terms of your band and your
music? You said you were playing Irish music. Are you part of other groups as well?

P: Well, it's actually, it's been an ongoing question because.. No. essentially
no because there is one band that's with Andy and some other really good
musicians too called Rumput and we are pretty active. We've been playing a good
bit these last couple years so that is {14:00} definitely a band around town and we
commit to weekly rehearsals and everything. We traveled to Indonesia over the
summer so that is an active band, but otherwise no. I mean, other than this
group that I am leading with the Irish stuff, not really. I think the one
struggle I've had is how do I pick and choose when there is so many different
types of music I play, and when I got into Rumput I was still trying to keep
this other band going which was kind of like this weird hybrid of.. I was
singing a lot of the songs that I had written because that is what I really got
into like I said like the folk songs and writing so I had been playing with
vibraphone, drums, bass, and I was {15:00} playing electric guitar and singing and I had
this group that was awesome. It had really good players, good friends of mine
playing this weird kind of jazz/rock songwriting blend that I actually loved but
I couldn't keep it up with the other band-- I was trying to do too much shit. So
I had to kind of just let that go so I still feel kind of sad about is the
truth. But other than that, no. I am singing and playing fiddle for Rumput which
I really love and I love the people in that and the music and I'm continuing my
own thing recording a lot on my own. Recording with some equipment that I have,
hence this stuff over here. But no, I'm not really playing as much as I {16:00} used to
in terms of, under my own name and booking a lot of gigs.

A: Do you wish you were?

P: Kind of.

Segment Synopsis: Discusses his first band and current ventures with some aspects of musical composition

Keywords: Bass; Composition; Drums; Folk; Old Soul; Recording; Rock; Vibraphone; Yellow Grass; jazz

00:15:55 - Richmond Music Scene

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Partial Transcript: A: Yeah I can feel that. Transitioning to Richmond as a whole, we are supposed
to talk a little about the music scene here, get your perspective on it. You've
clearly been involved with a lot of different areas of Richmond's music scene. I
guess, just to start off, what do you think about it broadly? Is it good? Is it
bad? What can be improved?

P: Well, you know, I have to be honest, and say that first I don't have a lot of
other experiences as an adult performing around different cities. I have played
in a city for a night or two at a few different little excursions and things but
{17:00} I don't really know too much about-- I don't have a great basis of comparison. I
think that Richmond has a lot of good things. It certainly has a lot of good
indie rock bands and metal bands and kind of grungy punk type of, grungy
Richmond stuff or I guess whatever you want to call that stuff. I think it has a
lot of very vibrant scenes-- I think that there are some really good jazz
players. I think the scene has a lot of quieting that helps a little bit with
that because there's not an active--

A: There no audience for jazz?

P: Yeah. There's like some audience, but I think there's some kind of-- It's the
music that doesn't know its place anymore I think. Like it doesn't have a {18:00} clear
audience like you said and it also doesn't have a clear sense of self in this
day and age. Like what is it? Is it old jazz? Is it experimental stuff? Is it an
institutionalized art form? Like what is it? It doesn't know. People don't know
and there is some really good folk music too I know. I think I know pretty much
everyone almost that plays Irish music in town because there aren't that many
people. And I know a good bit of the bluegrass players--not all of them, because
that's a bigger scene--and there's some really good players with that. I think
the scene is really good in a lot of ways. I think that I look at it from a real
macro perspective and see that just music is kind of in a strange place in the
{19:00} world in terms of what is its role. You know how before I said that I feel a lot
of my role is that of a poet or almost a spiritual speaker. I just feel like
that used to be very much part and parcel of a musician; whether it was a bard
or a griot. And I feel like those institutions are losing power and hold. I
guess as with anything else there's some good to it. So many people are now just
picking up instruments and making bands and stuff and I think that's cool. I
guess its some of that western idea of like I can do anything that I want to and
be whoever I want. Its cool, I also just feel {20:00} like the role of music and some of
the deeper lessons, to me, it should perhaps serve and offer some of the past
and connect us to knowing our own selves and our own identity. I feel like a lot
of that is lost which I feel kind of down about.

Segment Synopsis: Discusses the Richmond music scene and specifically the current status of Jazz.

Keywords: Bluegrass; Jazz; Metal; Performance; Punk; Richmond; Spirtual

00:20:31 - Popular Culture Music

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Partial Transcript: A: So in that same vein, how do you feel about popular culture music. As some of
it doesn't really have any meaning at all, or doesn't feel that way. When you
listen to pop music its all formulaic--

P: Well, I'm trying not to get on my soap box, you know? Because honestly,
there's a big part of me inside that what's to do that. You know, my fiancé
that shares this house with me, she loves pop music and it {21:00} makes her happy.
Great! If it makes people happy, great! I think it gives a lot of people
pleasure, cool, I have no problem with that really. I think my problem isn't as
much with what pop music is as much as it is with the voices and messages and
qualities and deeper traditional kind of elements that are lacking. That's more
my issue. There's still some pop music I love, I'm trying to think of who I
could give you the names of. But even some of the shit I hear on the radio, I'm
like "ohh ok," even if its just a vapid message.

A: Its just entertainment then.

P: Yeah. I'll joke around, for most of my income I'm a therapist actually. I
went back to {22:00} school and became a social worker and most of the kids that I work
with doing therapy, they don't know most of the music I really care about. The
like whatever's on the radio; but we'll find some common ground. I can get down
with some of the shit. Like I'm all right with Taylor Swift and Kanye West and
even Bruno Mars sometimes, you know? He's kind of funky, brings back some of those--

A: Traditional vibes?

P: -Laughs- Traditional synthesizers yeah. I think there are some great artists,
you know? Like I really do admire Kendrick Lamar, I guess I have a handful of
artists I really like. I used to like Father John Misty, I like Fleet Foxes, {23:00} I
just don't really keep up with.

Segment Synopsis: Discusses pop culture music and its 'messages (or lack thereof)

Keywords: Entertainment; Father John Misty; Fleet Foxes; Kendrick Lamar; Message; Pop; Therapy; Traditional

00:23:00 - Callbacks in music

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Partial Transcript: A: Kendrick Lamar definitely has a message. And there's value in that for sure.
Plus, he's talented.

P: Yeah. Yeah. Plus, you know, not to belabor the point, in addition to what
you're saying, its like he.. he on some level gets it, I mean less so with some
of the new stuff like the last album, but especially the one before it with To
Pimp a Butterfly and the one before that, he had like really cool musical
elements there. Like he had Robert Glasper, you know the jazz pianist, he was
sampling some of his shit on To Pimp a Butterfly. Like you can hear McCoy Tyner
chordal piano playing style on that shit, you know that's the kinda shit I'm
talking about. That's referential to what came before us, {24:00} you know that whole
linage. Sometimes it feels like we're just in this vacuum where we have no
connection to anything prior. We're just kind of in this timeless place of
anything goes which, again I think there's some good things about that, it's
liberating, but I love to hear music that connects to our bigger story. Like to
hear McCoy Tyner, I'm like ohh!

A: It's a call back to the original. Gives reference too, pays homage to his work.

P: Yeah.. and it interweaves too, its like it pays homage to it and then it also
establishes our connection to it, so its kind of like a living thread instead of
just "we're just here now doing whatever and its not clear what we're really
{25:00} about or what we came from or why anyone should really give a shit" other than
like the obvious glamourous elements of course.

A: It's enjoyable to listen to, I guess--

P: Well that's true, and that point shouldn't be belittled.

A: For sure.

For a lot of people that's what music is. But I don't know.

Segment Synopsis: A discussion on callbacks in music with a focus on Kendrick Lamar

Keywords: Kendrick Lamar; McCoy Tyner; Purpose; Robert Glasper; To Pimp a Butterfly

00:25:00 - The Value of Music

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Partial Transcript: A: It makes sense. I think in most cases music should have some value beyond
superficial for people that want it to. Like you can listen to music, and I
definitely see this from my experience of listening to music, in the background
and you don't really listen to the words. The more modern stuff that doesn't
really have much meaning you have to listen to. And sometimes there is stuff
that you can listen to and actually fully listen, I mean listen to the lyrics
and the tones and how the artist means to create it.

P: {26:00} For sure. And I mean, and I don't mean to say that I think every music should
have a clear message, or be espousing some values or views. Its more like, kind
of like what you were saying, the tones and the way its crafted is often message
enough because its showing.. its just showing a greater presence of mind and a
greater presence of depth, you know? It doesn't have to be like political or
religious or spiritual or anything in my book. Its just-- does it have-- is
there anything of consciousness about it?

A: So when you're creating music, then, how do you go about trying to--I mean
from the perspective of a musician, you make your own unique music-- {27:00} how do you
go about trying to capture that intention or that goal when you are creating
music. So when people listen they can hear what you are trying to do.

P: It's another sort of deep question. What I'm hearing partially is how much do
you go out to meet the audience and how much do you consider the audience when
you craft. And I think --laughs- I try not to actually, to be honest. There's
times when I do. I'll write a particular lyric knowing that if it makes me laugh
maybe it will make someone else laugh because they'll share this feeling from
which it came, {28:00} like something ironic or some kind of poignant but funny view of
an aspect or reality of life. It's a tough question to answer. I think that the
biggest thing for most people is not really the lyrics, its more the aesthetic,
shearly musically. I think that there--maybe I can say this-- I think that I've
tried to find grounding through aesthetic. Like with the Irish music and the
Folk kind of British Isles ballad sound, there's an aesthetic in that that is
also very much tied to similar stuff to bluegrass and a lot of {29:00} pan-folk close to
the ground tradition. So I think that that aesthetic, in itself, when the
audience hears that, that's part of the message already. They're like "wow this
person is connected to stuff that has been going on for a while, he's aware of
that, has studied that, and has a relationship to it." It's funny, I never
really thought of myself as a traditionalist at all; I always fought the rules
in Jazz school and was like "I don't want to do it this way, I want to do it my
way," but, at the end of the day, its not as much about that is it is about what
do you want to have relationship with and, I think for me, I think there's two
things like I said. There's the aesthetic for one, which kind of determines who
wants to listen to it. {30:00} Most of folks now with the pop music, I think that's all
about aesthetic too really. You know people just hear, "ohh this is that sound,"
its that sound of that sub-synth base kind of sound and a lot of the trap drum
beats and stuff like that, if its that sound, people don't care what the words
are, the just are like, "this is it." And same for the folk stuff, but I guess
on a deeper level than the aesthetic, or at least different that the aesthetic,
maybe not deeper, you have to consider, at least for me, if I believe part of
the value of my music is the poetry and saying something inspiring to that
person seeking to know themselves and what's greater than themselves and
interact with the mysteries of life more, then you have to be aware {31:00} that if you
play this music in a bar, maybe someone will be open to that, but maybe they'll
also be drinking and not paying attention. So some of it is-- you have to choose
context, I think. You choose-- like I even know, its been a while, I've been
meaning to get back, over the years I've shared a lot of my music with a
contemplative prayer group. And ill bring the lyrics to say two songs, and play
two songs, just with my guitar or just voice in a circle of maybe twelve to
twenty people and in that context they're ripe and ready to go into that more
exploratory, poetical, spiritual kind of connection so {32:00} I think finding contexts
where it can be received that way could be said the same of art music. There's a
cool thing I want to mention too, I don't know if you are already familiar,
classical revolutions. It's a thing that's going on around town that's been
going on for a while that's all about providing a program and platform for
classical music in the city, which I also love. So they had a recent performance
at Flora, and the reason I'm bringing it up is because, even in a place like
that that's also a bar in a restaurant, the vibe is created so that there's
almost a similar reverence. So it becomes a listening room where it's a purpose
deeper than "I'm just kind of going to hear this sound in the background." It's
really like going into the {33:00} art in a meaningful way. So you can create that
anywhere but you have to create the space for it.

Segment Synopsis: A long conversation on connecting with audiences and building meaning and value into musical compositions from a creator's perspective

Keywords: Bluegrass; Connection; Irish; Tone; aesthetic

00:33:06 - Tension between the Introvert and Extrovert in a Musician

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Partial Transcript: A: Makes sense. Is there anything I've forgotten to ask you that you think is
important to cover about yourself?

P: No. Not really. I know I've just been a stream of consciousness with you. But
you know I think it's good to have conversations about this. So I'm glad you're
doing this project. I think Andy knows it's important too. I could go on forever
about a lot of different things. {34:00} Is there anything you want to get to?

A: I think we've covered much of what I'm trying to elaborate on.

P: Do you have a particular aim for what you're trying to shoot for?

A: The assignment is vague-- describe an oral history of a person described in
the Richmond music scene. I think that what we are doing is pretty ideal in that
I'm hearing your perspective; the stream of consciousness helps because I can
get this broad view.

P: I would say maybe one more thing, if it's really me telling my story
honestly, I think I have to speak for a brief moment between the tension between
the introvert and the extrovert musician inside me. Musicians are hungry for a
connection of their music with audiences. They want to be energized, they want
their music to have a purpose, to touch {35:00} people. They want to be heard. This poet
seeker mystic side really just wants to make challenging, truthful, deep
material and trying to combine those is a strong creating tension for me. It's
hard, even with Roompa, I'm pushing a lot to have them, I haven't told them I
have this view, but I'm pushing to include some of my own material and just
themes of some of these poetical and spiritual themes {36:00} because there's a part of
me hungering for that too, in addition to the connections and performances we
are already doing. So I feel that maybe many folks in the scene have something
like this, you know? Maybe like artists in general question how can I maintain a
relationship with my deeper self and with the world? And it's hard because they
have different demands, sort of.

A: Alright then. I don't have anything else to ask--

Segment Synopsis: Willson talks about his conflicts and struggles in creating music.

Keywords: Musicians; Mystic; Poet