Music at Heart: Paul Dempsey

Music at Heart: Paul Dempsey

Paul Dempsey will be airing material from his recent solo LP, Strange Loop, at this year’s Heart of St Kilda fundraising event. Released in May, the album follows Dempsey’s solo debut from 2009, Everything is True. After a five-album run fronting Something For Kate, Everything is True was something of a palate cleanser that revealed a more folk-rock oriented side of Dempsey’s songwriting.

Strange Loop is stylistically broader than its predecessor, ranging from the seven-minute alt-country sprawl of The True Sea to the acoustic pop of Idiot Oracle and the fuming energy of Morningless. However, both records share a similar origin story – namely, that of Dempsey feeling a strong urge to depart from the band format and take complete control.

“I love working with the band, and I love the way we work; it’s a definite collaboration, there’s a lot of creative tug-of-war,” he says. “But it’s certainly nice to go do something else that’s not a tug-of-war and that’s completely self-indulgent and I’m the boss of everything and get to have everything the way I want it. It’s good to do both – I feel really lucky that I get to do both.”

While a backing band will be joining Dempsey onstage, Strange Loop and Everything is True are solo records in the truest sense. Dempsey played all of the instruments, making sure every drumbeat and guitar note turned out how he intended. That said, at a root level, his songwriting practice remains much the same.

“I’m always writing songs, it just depends [what project they’re for],” Dempsey says. “For instance, I know that the next thing I do is going to be a Something For Kate record. Anything I may write from this day forward, I’ll bring it to rehearsal and hash it out with Clint [Hyndman] and Steph [Ashworth]. Whereas for the past two years I’ve known that whatever I was working on was going towards my solo record.”

Strange Loop was conceived alone, but the record was finished alongside producer Tom Schick at The Loft Studios in Chicago. Schick’s CV includes albums with Wilco, Ryan Adams, She & Him and Glen Hansard, which encouraged Dempsey to seek him out.

“My demos are pretty much what you hear on the record,” Dempsey says. “My demos are very fleshed out and all the arrangements, all the instrumentation, everything’s there. But I don’t trust myself to engineer and mix it and be able to be completely objective about it. Because I’m playing everything on it, I feel like I need to at least have some devil’s advocate – someone being an unbiased third party. And then I also want to be in the hands of someone whose ears I trust. Having heard so many records that Tom’s engineered and mixed, I love the way they sound, I love the way he records drums and the way he records guitars and the way his mixes gel together,” Dempsey says.

Something For Kate’s last record, Leave Your Soul to Science, was recorded with John Congleton (St Vincent, Angel Olsen); they’ve previously worked with Trina Shoemaker (Midnight Oil, Queens of the Stone Age); and Dempsey’s Everything is True was recorded with Wayne Connolly (You Am I, The Vines). Dempsey values each producer’s unique approach, which sustains his interest in finding new collaborators.

“They all employ different techniques and they all favour different sort of gear, but [they’re] also just different people. We’re a band that when we go in the studio we know what we’re going to do. We’re not really looking for someone to pull our songs apart or make changes to our songs. For us it’s really more about finding someone whose ears we trust and who we think is going to record and mix us in a way that we’re going to like. But we also like to keep working with different people. Some bands find someone who is their guy, who gets what they want and that person almost becomes a member of the band. For us, we like to keep on seeing how different producers will capture us.”

Given his extensive album-making experience, Dempsey’s come to recognise a producer’s greatest asset. “Before you even hit record, I think the most important thing a producer can do is get the band excited about what they’re doing and make everyone feel enthused about what you’re doing and what the possibilities are.”

On the subject of feeling excited, making a solo record is an effective tool in replenishing Dempsey’s enthusiasm for playing in Something For Kate.

“I’m really happy doing lots of different things. I feel like I have a few different careers going on. I have Something For Kate, I have my solo acoustic stuff or my solo stuff where I can take a band with me, and my band lineup can change. I also produce records with other bands, I do stuff with the Black Arm Band – I feel like I’m constantly doing something in the music realm but at any given week it could something different. I feel really lucky to have these different sources of stimulation. Everything keeps everything else interesting.”

Written by Augustus Welby
Photo by Cybele Malinowski

When & Where: Heart of Saint Kilda Charity Concert, Palais Theatre – September 6 & Workers Club, Geelong – September 8