Often musicians are unsure of where to begin in the long journey that is required in working toward their definition of success. Though some are content to stay close to home, retaining a definition of success that is intimate, there are others that are in need of something more. They live, love, move, and let the cycle continue until they have found what theyʻre looking for.
Christopher Paul Stelling is that musician. Though he originates from Daytona Beach, he has since spent his time traveling across the U.S. over the past decade. He has since settled in New York City with hopes of finally achieving what he has set out to do. Although his sound is much different from others who venture to such large cities, he consistently maintains a reference to his Southern influences with songs such as “Strange Darkness” and “Flawless Executioner”. Having previously lived in Asheville, Orlando, Boston, and others spanning coast to coast, he brings an intriguing sound that is difficult to forget.
His live shows easily leave a mark on the listenerʻs mind as well. Shows in New York City and Boston have given those in the Northeast an opportunity to get a taste for an organic sound and a musician who prides himself on staying true to what music can sound like in its truest form. And it isnʻt just the Northeast that has had the opportunity to absorb his haunting tracks. Having been approached by Daytrotter, Stelling was thrilled to have the opportunity to share his sound with the world.
We talked with Stelling about his Daytrotter session, how his travels have given him a new perspective when it comes to making music, and what his plans are for his upcoming record.
This Coast: Youʻve traveled quite a bit over the course of your life. Now that youʻve settled in Brooklyn, you seem to stand apart from other, seemingly more rock-influenced musicians. What influenced you to choose NYC over other cities with more folk/Southern roots comparable to your sound?
Christopher Paul Stelling: I don’t own a car, and although I consider myself to be very fortunate and wealthy compared to many in this world, I simply can’t live anywhere else right now. I can’t afford property or an automobile; New York being what it is, I am afforded a certain amount of freedom in that I can get around fairly easily and not have to have any real bills other than rent. I really would love to live in the South again, in North Carolina or Kentucky. I simply just don’t have the means. You know that old saying about how ʻIf you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere?ʻ I would have to argue that reality is very much the reverse of that for me. I couldn’t make it anywhere else; I came to New York.
This Coast: Do you feel the city has introduced new aspects into your music that you may have not anticipated?
CPS: Well, certainly, but more so, performing seems to have changed things more. I never actively gave performances before moving here. There was just a tension in the air, that and I had avoided it long enough. It was just my time to start. So if anything, the city pushed me out onto a stage by presenting me with its vastness; it made me feel like I could do anything at all, and no one would ever notice. Anonymity. Funny enough I’ve been noticed a little bit; people often give their best when they think no one is watching or listening.
This Coast: What do you feel you took away from your initial performances?
CPS: Well, obviously any artist doing what they do in a public setting is hoping for some kind of acknowlegment, hopefully positive. But [for me] it was more than just that. It was a personal sense of acknowledgment; I was coming to terms with the idea that you really did enjoy the connection that can happen between song, performer, and an active listener. It’s bliss.
This Coast: What do you want listeners to take away from your music?
CPS: The sense that they can too, the sense that it’s worth a shot. I want them to come with answers and leave with questions.
This Coast: What was it like recording your Daytrotter session?
CPS: I was all abuzz just knowing that I would be included in such an amazing archive. Those guys inspire me; they work hard. The studio, and perhaps I created this on my own, but that studio just seemed saturated with energy, as bleak and plain as it is. So many people have recorded there and so many people have heard and loved those sessions. But when it came down to it, I did what I always do: just played the song as wholly and presently as possible.
This Coast: How did that session differ from other shows youʻd done previously?
CPS: Well, it wasn’t a show, per se. It was a recording. People make a big deal about a “live recording”, and almost discredit it as not being a “studio recording”; I think that’s a bit absurd. Just because so-called musicians have become so dependent, it seems, on studio tricks and multi-tracking. In my opinion, this kind of recording that they [Daytrotter] do is the most pure and respectable. But back to your question: At this point in my jourey, if you saw me live, you would get just what you hear [with visuals]. Nothing is ever the same twice, so there is that to contend with.
This Coast: Do you have plans to expand your tour beyond the Northeast?
CPS: No, not presently. No plans, just a little bit of hope.
This Coast: What can you tell us about your upcoming album?
CPS: In August, I will be going to Kentucky and sleeping and recording in an all-analogue studio located in a working funeral home. There is a cave nearby that used to be part of the underground railroad. I really have no idea what I will do when I get there. I have a lot of songs, and I assume I will record a bunch of them, pick the best ones, [and] call it a record. I am not a fan of over dubs or studio tricks. If I have to hear a singer/songwriter record labeled as “sincere” and “sparse” with doubled vocal tracks and all that mess, it’ll be too soon. It will be called “Songs of Praise and Scorn”.
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