An IndiePulse Music Exclusive Interview
Paul Edelman, singer, songwriter, guitarist, poet and performer, fronts Asheville, North Carolina-based group, Jangling Sparrows. 140 Nickels, Edelman’s fourth release and the second with Jangling Sparrows, comes with exciting new influences he’s coined, “Zyde-Folk”.
While staying firmly grounded in Roots Rock/Americana, there are some distinct flirtations with second-line feels on several tracks. From the songwriter that says, “style is just another tool for expression.”, Edelman still wears his songwriter badge on his sleeve with poignant lyrics and emotional delivery. On 140 Nickels he adds big, fun rhythms and high caliber guitar chops. The album’s title, explains Edelman, is a reference to the days of being a struggling artist, to “scraping enough money out of one’s couch in order to get a can of dinner or a cheap six pack, a call to “bottle that feeling, that earnest drive and integrity of expression that we had for our craft in those days that sometimes gets lost as we grow.”
140 Nickels has received worldwide radio airplay and stellar print reviews from such high-profile publications as NO DEPRESSION, The Alternate Root and Music Connection, and was a L.A. Music Critic Awards’ “Best Indie Album of 2017” pick, who wrote, “watch for these guys near the top of the Americana music scene.”
Jangling Sparrow’s frontperson Paul Edelman recently did an interview with Indie Pulse Music, here’s how it went.
IPM: How’s the promotion of your new album “140 Nickels” been going thus far?
PE: Very well, thank you! It’s one of those things where the more things open, the more work you make for yourself. In a good way. I imagine you can relate in what you do as well. As an indie artist, knowing how to make the most of what’s happening is a constant learning process. I’d rather drag a cheese grater across my face than sit in front of the computer as much as I do, but that’s part of the deal. You work for the opportunities, then you work from the opportunities.
IPM: What role do you see radio playing in the promotion of your music?
PE: Hmm…I imagine it as an integrative part of a whole. Radio is still a very effective tool if you know how to use it properly. For example, making sure your music is going to the right programs that will play it rather than just sending to random stations or shows. It takes a lot of research. That said, people that have radio shows either online or maybe a college station, they can be the life blood for a burgeoning career. Getting sandwiched between two larger artists on someone’s show can be a nice perk. We’ve all been that listener, where you’re like, “who the f*ck is this?!”. I mean, that’s basically how things happen still. They are some of the few people left that truly love new music and turning others on to it. Much like what you do. It’s hard to overstate how valuable that is.
IPM: When you do live gigs, are you able to perform all originals, or are there knuckleheads in every city yelling out for you to do covers?
PE: I’m able to do all originals and for the most part we manage to stay with those venues that want that and cultivate that. I do like to throw in a few covers. It’s fun to reinterpret. We were doing a version of The Song Remains The Same for a while. We were goofing in rehearsal and It just happened that the squeezebox really brought out the sort of celebratory quality of the song. I never noticed it, I guess because you think of Zeppelin as so heavy but it’s there and it ended up being very non-ironic and non-kitschy and it made sense for our set. But yea, there’s often someone coming up to the stage like, “do ya, do ya, hic, ye know any…”. And you can always see them walking toward the stage like that zombie painting on the stairs. Honestly, the only time it frustrates me is when whatever they request is just so far removed from what we’re doing. It’s like, what have you been hearing all this time? Are you having a horrible time? Or they have that “you’re here for my bidding” tone in their voice. Mostly, I try to perform in the spirit of service. I’ve learned to say, “I don’t think we know that, but we might be able to get close to it.” That usually sends them away appeased.
IPM: What’s the performing dynamic like when you play out solo, as opposed to when you perform with Jangling Sparrows?
PE: Solo is all about raw energy for me. I can really melt into the songs more. It’s performance but more like performance art in my case. I play a lot more story songs and really get into characters. Or really go down the rabbit hole with an emotional content. I get a lot of pauses before clapping at my solo shows. People get a little stunned sometimes because I can really go there, I love it.
That can happen with the band but the band is more about dynamic energy and entertainment. It’s a tight show but I like to leave pockets in the night where anything can happen. It keeps us all on our toes and present. With the band I really like to convey the sense of joy. In both cases I like to be in control of the stage/audience barrier. Build it then poke holes in it. With band shows I’ve been known to go into the crowd and have people strum my guitar during solos.
IPM: Why did you decide to pursue a career in music, in the first place?
PE: Because I’m an idiot. But you probably want more than that. But seriously, I’ve just always done it. When I was little I’d jump up on the fireplace mantle, grab the handle to the wire curtain like it was a mic and go, “It’s showtime!” then I’d go into Act Naturally. So, I was more like David Lee Roth, I guess, when I was 4. At some point things started to converge. I was at a point where every person in my life I knew, I knew through playing music in one way or another. I was becoming aware that this thing was shaping my life and maybe it’s time to take control of that. I knew I was getting good and I really felt that I had something to give back to this. I still do.
IPM: For musicians going out on tour, what are some of the best places you’ve played at? also, worst places?
PE: Worst places? Man, I don’t know, I feel like, to me, some of the worst places are the ones everyone is clamoring to get into. The ones that make you pre-sell your own tickets. Or they know they have a good built in crowd but still break your stones about draw even though you’re from out of town. Or they have like, 10 tv’s plus one above the stage that they leave on. Or make you build the line up even though they know all the band’s in town and could do it in a fraction of the time. Basically, these are the places that treat the musicians like they’re the least important thing about what they do, like they’re doing you a favor. I’m fortunate to be able to stay away from these places for the most part. The best places can look like anything from a bonafide music hall to a dive. The key is, as long as I can tell they care about the live, original music. You can feel it. Sometimes it’s just one person working hard to make this happen at this place. But you can tell when it’s important to them too. It can be anything from how they try to make you comfortable to putting on like music at set break. These are the places where people go even when they don’t know what’s going on because the venue does such a good job that people just know to expect good music. Or a place like The Grey Eagle here in Asheville. This is a national destination venue. Most places like that don’t give new or local artists the time of day. But they use their position to get local openers or host local showcases regularly. It makes so much sense, it baffles me why so many places don’t do it.
IPM: In your music we hear Americana-Roots, but you also label your sound, “Zyde-Folk,” an interesting hybrid. Can you elaborate on this?
PE: It was the squeezebox. I had a duo, Me on acoustic and a piano guy. We had been playing out a while and it occurred to me that the show was BORING, one day in rehearsal I noticed the squeezebox in the corner and convinced him to play it. So, we worked on, like, three songs with it. So, then we go to the next show and the place is wall to wall people. The stage was in this corner and even that was barely enough room. We couldn’t load in the keyboard. So, I made a command decision on the spot that we’re gonna do the whole show with squeezebox. We winged it and aside from the nice, loose energy the show had, I found myself really playing off the squeezebox. I was playing with rhythms on the fly. A lot of them came out like ska or 2nd line and zydeco feels. We started getting positive reactions to the new show, so I wanted to see how it translated to the full band. Turns out it translates well. The name kind of popped in my head organically, like the music did.
IPM: What band(s) and/or solo artists are doing things with their music career that over time, you’d like to emulate?
PE: That’s a tough one. Mostly because I imagine myself as creating my own path. But also, there are so many artists in my genre today that are only in it for what they can get out of it. I don’t see innovation or any kind of path carving going on too often. But I like the idea of collaboration, so I look at Emmylou Harris as someone that has been able to collaborate with so many artists and still carve out her own career. Longevity is also important to me, it says you’re in it because you love it not because you’re milking it. To me, that’s should be a big definer of the Americana genre. This type of music isn’t pop anymore so it should be attracting the real lifers, not every dipshit with a bowler hat or a sundress. So, I look at Neil Young, Jay Farrar, Guided By Voices, They just put something out. These are examples of artists that you can tell are in it for the love and passion for music and they do it no matter what trends are doing. I’d also add Bob Dylan, not necessarily for the music per se, but he’s one of three artists I admire for the same reason. I group him with Clint Eastwood and Pablo Picasso. They all have this insanely lengthy career path where they put something out, it gets panned and all the critics say the thing they did five years ago was brilliant, and this repeats for forty plus years. All the while they’re staying true to the tenants of artistry. Experimentation, passion, drive, personal growth.
IPM: If you weren’t playing, recording and performing music, what do you suspect you’d be doing for a living?
PE: I’d be a carpenter. It’s funny but construction really helped me get my legs for a music career, the pursuit of music helped me approach carpentry like an artist. Conversely, construction has helped me treat my music career with a real nose to the grindstone attitude. Show up, shut up, do your best work every time and good things will come. I’ll still jump on a crew, it keeps a touchstone to that mindset, it keeps me honest.
IPM: Politics are the order of the day since Donald Trump was elected a year ago. Do Jangling Sparrows have any political tunes in the can, or any planned?
PE: Oh dude, you have no idea. The only thing I’m still deciding is whether to put them all on one CD, one body of work, or spread it out over a bunch of CDs. At least a couple are going to be on the next disc and they’re already in the live show. Actually, they’re more social statements than political. Most of those songs are about a more over-arching sense of right and wrong in our culture and the power that we really have.
IPM: Where would you like to see your career, say, five years from now?
PE: I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life. You know, I get asked a lot, like, what do I want out of it, where do I see it going. But I can tell the tone of their question is more like, “Do you really think you’re going to ‘make it'”? (not you guys)-My answer to them is always this, I can name ten artists off the top of my head that you’ve never heard of, whose careers I would love to have.
Making a sustained living at this, to me, is a very realistic notion. In every other field you can think of, if you’re talented, driven and stay positive, you can be successful. This business is no different. Just don’t quit. So, in five years I see myself sitting back down here with you. But maybe next time I’m helping you get subscriptions instead of you helping me build fans.
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