Paul Dempsey talks QMF 2015, new album, Slayer & Taylor Swift


Paul Dempsey needs no introduction; he’s been a hallmark of the Aussie music scene for the past 20 years, both as the frontman and principal songwriter for band ‘Something for Kate’ then later as an award winning solo performer. His 2009 album ‘Everything is true’ peaked at number 5 on Australian album charts and number 1 on iTunes, and went Gold in Australia. Paul recently embarked on a tour to preview some material from his new solo album (which is currently in progress) and is set to play Queenscliff Music Festival in November.

I, on the other hand, need plenty on introduction. I am not in regular contact with musicians. I am not a smooth interviewer or skilled journalist. I sometimes see famous people from afar, having managed to get backstage at a festival or gig and I often go into fan girl mode and need to escort myself promptly away from almost certain humiliation. So you can imagine my state of panic, excitement and nerves when the ‘LoudNLocal’ boys offered me the opportunity of my lifetime…. to chat with none other an Paul Dempsey, my longtime idol (with a healthy amount of school girl crush thrown in for good measure). The following transcript is an example of my awkward rambling, and his patient and generous responses. Being in quite the state, I forgot to record the start of the interview but can recall it went something like this …

Me: Hi Paul, Sarah here calling from LoudNlocal, thanks for taking the time out to chat with us!

Paul: Sure, no problem.

Me: (thankfully remembering to press the record button) Let’s start with your recent tour, how did you go with previewing your new material?

Paul: oh yeah, of course, it was fun! The shows were great, I love playing live, and the new songs felt good to play. I guess that’s the main reason I like to preview them, I wasn’t really looking for, you know, the audience response or anything, because it’s kinda hard for people to respond when they’re hearing something for the very first time, it’s more having those shows coming up just forces me to finish a bunch of half finished ideas…. I certainly achieved that. They felt good to play and there’s something about playing songs live that suddenly makes them more real.

Me: sure, have you been trying out any new sounds at all?

Paul: yeah I have been in my demos that I’m recording but the shows I did were just me with my acoustic guitar, so, there’s not to much more to that

Me: and what made you chose those venues (Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and WA)

Paul: I didn’t really want to play in Capitol cities or places that I’d been to recently, I just felt like getting out of town a bit and escaping the cold in melbourne …

Me: Now your playing Queenscliff Music Festival this year, it’s a festival you’ve played before, what’s the appeal?

Paul: it’s just a really great atmosphere down there. I like festivals that are out of town a bit and Queenscliffe is a beautiful place. It’s just got a great feeling and a great atmosphere, it started off small many years ago and it’s become a great strong and successful festival, and they always choose a great lineup that has something for everybody and it’s predominately if not all Australian artists. I’m excited, this year is he first time that I’m doing it as Paul Dempsy not Sfk. I’m bringing my band with me and it will be he first show I’ve done wit a band for years.

Me: Are you going to have a chance to have any down time and check to other bands?

Paul: I hope so! I will have just gotten back from Chicago and lots of frantic rehearsals and stuff. Hopefully by the time we get down there and do our thing we’ll be able to let of some steam and enjoy some music

Me: I see that Kate miller- Heidke is on the line up, and chance of a collab?

Paul: there probably is quite a decent chance actually!

Me: I’ll be keeping an eye out for that!

Me: (some rambling about the weather, then pulling myself together moved on) So where are you at with the process of writing and recording for the new solo album?

Paul: I’m leaving in about 5 weeks to go and record it in the states, so I’m almost there. It’s mostly written, I’m just finishing up a few things. You know I’m always writing up until the very last minute and in the studio as well, you never know what might come along, so I’ll keep on writing until the final day of recording. I’ll be gone in mid September and should be all finished by the end of October.

Me: so why did you choose the states for your recording?

Paul: for the producer/engineer that I want to work with, a guy called Tom Schick, he has a studio out there in Chicago, and I was keen to work with him so it just made sense for me to go over.

Me: are you going to be involved in any of the production yourself?

Paul: oh definitely, when is doing my own demos and stuff like that they’re very much produced, I kind of throw all the ideas at it and craft it as much as possible so that when you’re in the studio your not kind of sitting around, I like to go in there and know exactly what I’m doing. Things are already produced to a certain degree before I go in, but I definitely wanted to work with Tom as well because it’s always nice to have that second opinion and someone being a bit of a devils advocate, so it’s definitely a co-produced type thing.

Me: do you think that you’ll be learning from Tom about working as a producer as well, I know you’ve done a bit of production work with some up and coming Aussie bands.

Paul: yeah, I learn from every experience and I’ve been very lucky that with everyone I’ve ever worked with it’s been a positive experience. I’ve heard some really unfortunate stories from friends and colleagues who’ve had bad experiences in the studio and were really lucky we’ve had overwhelmingly good experiences and I’ve learnt something from all of them. It will be my first time working with Tom, and we’ve had a few Skype conversions and I’m a fan of the other work he’s done, so I’m excited! (Tom’s worked with Sonic Youth, Paul McCartney and Rufus!)

Me: what brought you together with Mossman Alder (who Paul had produced for and supported him on his recent tour)

Paul: They approached me, they were ready to record their first full length album, we got together and did some pre production, and we spent a few days together in their rehearsal room to make sure everyone was on the same page and liking each other’s ideas, then I spent about a month in all on their album. It was great for me, and they’re a really awesome band and I’m happy with how the record came out.

Me: are there any other up and coming bands that you have your eye on at the moment?

Paul: I just finished another record for Mike Noga (drummer for the drones), this is his 3rd solo album, we’ve just finished work on that, it should be out before the end of the year. I think he’s a great song writer and great singer and has a great bunch of songs, so keep an eye out for that.

Me: I definitely will! You have a few connection with the drones, you’ve been in a doco with Gareth (Liddiard) recently…

Paul: yeah, myself and Gareth and Sarah Blasko, we all sat down to have a chat with these guys  about what it’s actually really like being a working musician. There’s obviously some misconceptions and slightly more romanticised notions about what it’s like to be in a band. It was nice to sit down and have a frank conversation about some of the ups and downs.

Me: what was the take home message from you?

Paul: my attitude is that I certainly would never complain about what I do for a living, I absolutely love it, and in many respects it’s a dream come true that I get to do what I love as a full time job, but the fact is there are some romanticised notions that it’s all easy, all parties and good times, but in Australia at least, it’s like running a small business and you have to do a lot of work and you have to sacrifice a lot before you get to the point of being able to do it full time

Me: have you seen any shift with the way people are marketing themselves, with a lot more social media opportunities and electronically produced music?

Paul: yeah, I guess there is a shift … Anything I say right now if going to be a generalisation, but I do see a lot of younger bands starting out and they’re really hoping to get noticed by making some sort of viral video… Look it’s sort of different and it’s the same. There are always going to be bands out there looking for shortcuts, and there are always going to be bands that are prepared to just work. In that respect nothing’s changed. He internet obviously makes it possible for bands to look for more shortcuts, but there’s still plenty of awesome bands who are just going out playing their asses off.

Me: anyway you guys certainly did that over 20 years touring and playing with ‘Something for Kate’. I was wondering how you go about differentiating the writing; to decide whether it’s a ‘Something for Kate’ or a solo song?

Paul: yeah, I don’t really think about it to be honest. When I’m working on my own stuff I play everything, and all the ideas are mine, and I don’t have to collaborate or debate anything I do it all my way, it’s totally self indulgent (laughs). It ends up just sounding a certain way. If I brought exactly the same piece to a something for Kate rehearsal it would get … There’d be a lot of push and pull,making it apart and putting it back together until all 3 members of the band are happy with where it’s at. It just comes down to the collaboration. Something for Kate stuff just sounds the way it does due to collaboration and my stuff takes on a different sound because it’s just me following my own trains of thought.
Me: you tend to mix your shows up a bit with some covers, some something for Kate tracks and your own work, why do you use that approach?

Paul: just for fun really, it keeps it interesting. When I play solo shows I have a loose set list in case I can’t make up my mind, but I generally just follow my instinct in the moment. You get a vibe from the crowd and mood on that night, and inlet that guide me. It’s no secret that the music I write is very particular  and throwing in a cover can be a bit of a circuit breaker from more serious and complicated songs …
Me: and you seem to have very diverse taste is music!

Paul: I love a good song, I don’t care where it comes from. I’m very open about my musical taste, I’ll happily play a Slayer song followed by a Taylor Swift song, a good song for me is a good song, and there’s so many different factors in that.

Me: what prompted the ‘shotgun karaoke’ series on YouTube?

Paul: SFK were on kind of a long tour, and every evening after sound check I would go into the backstage room and on the spot play a cover that one of the band members challenged me to play, they’d just throw it to me on the spot, and I might have 10 mins to learn then we’d film it on an iPhone and throw it up on you tube. We were doing that every night of the tour as a music challenge. By the end of the tour there was a lot of people saying “you got to put these out” so we made a record …

Me: that series single handedly helped me procrastinate my way through uni so thanks for that!

Paul: (laughs) no worries!

Me: I better let you go, thanks for speaking to loud n local. I have to say the boys at LoudNLocal have done me a bit of a favour, I’m not usually one of the interviewers but I’m a bit of a fan girl and they’ve passed this one on to me so I really appreciate it!

Paul: oh wow that’s cool! My pleasure, no worries, good to chat!

Me: (hangs up, swoons then nearly passes out)!

Interview & article by: Sarah Rossiter