Words: Emily Heylen
Image: Cybele Malinowski
After a solid 20 years playing as both a solo artist and as front man of Something For Kate, it’s fair to say that Paul Dempsey has concreted his place as one of Australia’s most successful and well respected musicians.
And yet – he readily concedes that as a songwriter, two decades later he’s still honing his craft.
Dempsey’s latest solo album, ‘Strange Loop’, is his follow up to 2009’s ‘Everything is True’, and it’s a lyrically elegant, sonically lush effort.
It was recorded over a fortnight with producer Tom Schick in Wilco’s ‘The Loft’ studio in Chicago, and if you’ve had your ears wide open lately, you’ve likely heard the album’s lead single, ‘Morningless’, with its frantic energy and trademark intense Dempsey vocals.
Or, perhaps you’ve seen the Mad Men-esque ‘Morningless’ video clip, made by Alex Badham:
Or its follow-up, ‘Idiot Oracle’:
‘It feels like more of an eclectic record’, Dempsey says of ‘Strange Loop’.
‘It’s got a bit more going on sonically, a few more instruments, a lot of different sounds compared to “Everything Is True”, which was more acoustic guitar driven. It seems sonically richer, and a bit more musically diverse.
‘Lyrically, my writing is becoming more character driven as time goes on. I like being able to set up these dialogues where you can pit opposing views or introduce paradoxes.’
And overall, he says, it’s the lyrics more than the music that he pours his energy into.
‘Music comes pretty easily to me; I’ve never had too much trouble,’ he says.
‘Your hands are throwing up chords, and your instincts are guiding you and you just end up somewhere that you’re happy with.
‘But the lyrics, because you’re dealing with language, you engage a whole different part of your brain. It feels more like a puzzle that you have to solve. And obviously there are emotions involved as well, so it becomes this mental, emotional puzzle.
‘That used to bug me, and it used to give me anxiety, but now I just accept that it’s a process, and it takes a long time. If anything I embrace that now.’
It’s this process – at least partly – that Dempsey credits with keeping him engaged in writing great songs for more than two decades now.
‘When we started out, we didn’t really know how to write,’ he muses.
‘But 20 years later I’m still really excited about writing and getting better at that.
‘I feel like it’s something that you could do for ever and ever and still be learning, still be finding ways to express yourself, still assembling words in a way that doesn’t work in everyday language.
‘Lots of song lyrics don’t make sense if you say them out loud, but put them to music and have someone sing them to you, using literally their whole body, and suddenly it takes on this meaning – it’s unique.’
Performing live is Dempsey’s other love – a love that has only grown with time. During a recent extended stay in the US, he played a multitude of small shows, racking up more gigs in two years than in the past ten with Something For Kate.
And he’s shortly heading off around the country to tour ‘Strange Loop’.
‘When you’re having a really good gig, it’s like you go somewhere else, time stands still – it’s like a holiday’, he explains.
‘You get off stage and afterwards you’re not sure what’s happened, it’s like you’ve been unconscious or you’ve run a marathon or something.
‘Playing together [with Something for Kate], it’s like you’re all holding this thing up in the air, and you can’t do it by yourself. There’s a sort of interdependence and interrelationship.
‘After 20 years too, you develop a chemistry with the people you play with. It’s a really special thing, you can’t manufacture it, and it takes 20 years for that to happen.
‘The way we play together now, it’s not like it was 10 years ago or 15 years ago or 20 years ago.
‘Now, it’s like this whole other new thing and it continues to get more interesting.
‘Time just gives you these gifts that you didn’t expect.’
‘Strange Loop’ is available now, and you can catch Paul Dempsey touring Australia-wide in August, September and at the Caloundra Music Festival in October.
Tickets available online. www.pauldempseymusic.com