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Interview with Paul Shapera
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
My first goal as a kid was to write and draw my own comic books. Then I wanted to be a writer. It was in high school, when all those years of piano lessons were finally showing dividends and my emotions were exploding like firecrackers, that music took a firm hold and refused to let go. If I couldn't do music anymore, I would definitely become a writer. I just hate editing text. Listening to the music that you’re working on each evening is a far more pleasant experience than rereading and editing prose.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I read voraciously, (I’m the son of a librarian), and adore traveling. Reading and creativity should need no explanation as consuming ideas is the most proficient way to generate new ones. Travel is also pretty self explanatory. I would just mention that probably the single best activities I've found to promote creativity are walking and driving. I’ve had drives where I have to pull over repeatedly to write lyrics down, or I fill up a recording app on my phone with spoken ideas or hummed melodies.
How long have you been making music?
I’ve been doing this for decades. I’ve been doing this for an audience for one of those decades and the rest were me banging it out for nobody while waiting tables and making coffee.
Where are you based and how did that influence your music?
I’m from Pittsburgh, which ensured a steady diet of classic and prog rock growing up. I lived in a lot of places around the states, but about 13 years ago moved to Eastern Europe, Serbia, a move I'm not always sure about. However, coming out of New York City, it freed me up from having to spend my entire life desperately trying to pay rent. I could live longer on less and this allowed me to make the album Dolls Of New Albion that finally broke me into the world of having an actual audience and making a living doing music.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
I do very theatrically, story-oriented albums using other singers who live far distances from me. This makes live shows tricky, but not impossible. Usually theater groups write to me and ask to perform a work, I say yes, and sometimes I'll watch a bit of it if they upload it online, which can be good fun. Right before the pandemic however, we got all the performers I've worked with from the UK together to do a cabaret style performance, and fans flew in from all over. It was a wonderful time and i would have done this sort of thing again sooner, but the #^#$%&* pandemic. We are throwing another cabaret this summer in Minneapolis, bigger and better so to speak, and I have high hopes for it. Meeting and hanging out with the fandom in person was a trip and half.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
As far as how to make a living, I have no idea what to tell young, aspiring musicians, and I do get asked quite a bit. There is no magic formula, and on that front all I can offer is my own story.
One piece of advice I do have, both for my younger self and aspiring youth: don’t waste too much time making what you think other people want to hear or what you think is most likely to succeed. What do you REALLY want to make? Because when I gave up making albums I thought might be “successful”, admitted I was never going to be successful, and went back to making the weird, musical sci-fi stories I truly wanted to make, this was when I broke through. It’s easy to get lost in an ocean of people all working in a certain style. Break free, stand out, be different.
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
There is always a part of you searching the world around you for an answer of how to do some part of your craft: a story idea, a character detail, a bassline, a musical mood, a melody.
I usually write a story first. Sometimes I write the story as an outline, sometimes just a piece of prose. Then it is outlined into what songs it will entail. This can sometimes only be up to a certain point and I will solve certain holes later. While I'm coming up with the story I'm considering the musical mood and genre. Then I sit down and start making the song. These days I will create the vocal melody first so I know what key and chords I'm going to use. Then I start loading instruments into my DAW and playing. If a song veers off from my original notion of it, I will almost always follow it and see where it wants to go. I’m a big believer in discovering things along the way and letting the piece take on a life and identity of its own. All my plans are just deciding in what direction to shoot my arrow. Once I start walking after the arrow, finding it becomes irrelevant and what I do find on the journey becomes everything. Nonetheless, I am telling a story, so I make sure that whatever I do, it serves the larger goal.
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
Some common themes tend to pop up through the musical stories:
action have unintended consequences and the less pure the intention the more problematic the consequences
all human collective endeavors are flawed.
the most powerful way of accomplishing meaningful change in the world is often through small, individual acts with pure intention
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I am currently finished a synthwave murder mystery which will have a youtube listening party on Dec. 18th where the fans will gather to stream live and when the album gets to the reveal, the album playthrough will pause and fans will get a half hour to discuss and submit a guess as to the murderer’s identity. If they win I will have to do an hour long livestream of my covering various 90s/00s emo band songs on piano. After this, there is a live show this summer (2023) in Minneapolis, July 14 and 15 with numerous singers from the albums singing fan favorite songs.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?