Interview with Paul Belbusti of Mercy Choir
Definitely inviting you all to check out some pretty wicked & wise words from the mind behind the music of Mercy Choir, visionary artist Paul Belbusti. The music of Mercy Choir ranges in sound & scope…I truly wasn’t sure quite what would come back through the answers here in this interview…but I knew I’d want to read them. Paul has a very different approach than most, and one I appreciate very much. Proud to have him here on our pages and I’m extremely thankful he’s taken the time out to talk to us here about the inner-mechanics of his latest album Two Machines In The Garden, what drives him to make the astounding amount of music he makes and what fuels his tank. Check it out – there’s some excellent perspectives here on art & music in our time with Paul.
– Jer @ SBS
Interview with Paul Belbusti of Mercy Choir
SBS: Paul! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions from us! Give us a bit of a summary of your music career and tell us what inspires & drives you.
Paul: No, thank you. My life in music started when I was around 10 years old and realized I could accurately mimic many of the lead vocalists of hair metal bands. That led to singing in some rock bands with friends. Eventually I started writing songs. It’s not a unique story. As for what inspires me, I’m inspired by artists who work hard to challenge themselves and their audience.
SBS: Before we get right into it…let’s get a ‘base-reading’ for this whole interview thing… What would you say are five things you know to be 100% true about music?
- It’s free now and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
- No one knows how to make a living from it.
- It’s the best, and most universal art form.
- The better you are at playing an instrument (technically speaking), the more boring your music.
- There is nothing 100% true about anything, especially music.
SBS: Now…I’m a little bizarre but I’m not entirely crazy…correct me if I’m wrong here Paul but it certainly looks like you’ve been able to write, create and record more than most by quite a large margin…how have you managed to challenge yourself musically and creatively over time?
Paul: I don’t have a good answer, but here’s my attempt. My main interest, the aspect of music I enjoy the most, is writing, recording, and releasing albums. I don’t particularly enjoy playing live. I don’t know how to promote. Because of that, I have more time to focus on making albums. While other people are at band practice, I am writing and recording music. As for being challenged, it’s easy to feel challenged when you are not competent. I am a not a great musician or writer, so it’s always very challenging.
SBS: You mentioned to me briefly that typically in your music in Mercy Choir you tend to go solo. Recently you took your music in a new direction through your recent album Two Machines In The Garden and invited others to join you in the live recordings. You’ve had plenty of experience with a rotating crew of players to support you onstage during live shows…but how was it recording with others? I always assume as a guy that has done much of his own music through solo-recordings that people must be somewhat like me; I’m just not well-adjusted when it comes to ‘teamwork.’ So I suppose my question Paul…is what led you to go in a solo direction rather than a full band, and what made you reach out for other players on this particular recording?
Paul: The track “Machine 2” on this album is a conceptual piece of music. Its existence depended on a group of people being involved. I could have played a C Major chord for 25 minutes on a few different instruments and recorded it, but that would have been a different piece of music. The idea wasn’t so much the content, but the execution. The C Major chord we played isn’t interesting. The way we played it together without rehearsing was interesting.
SBS: Because your music and sounds change styles and shift so often…I’m wondering about your writing process. Yep…I know, I know; I’m revealing exactly what a no-talent hack of an indie-music journalist I can be. Or I would be…if I could only leave it at that; but I’m incapable of whatever the opposite of rambling is… Really though, I am wondering in the sense of releasing an album, or maybe working on one – do you focus on a particular sound or style and create a whole ton of songs? Or do you write & create through however you feel in any style at any given time and maybe ‘bank’ the songs for later for a more cohesive feel to an album? Oh boy…you see? My thought process has gone crazy here Paul…now I want to know if cohesion on an album is even something that IS important/should be important? So many questions…I’m cutting myself off. Paul – help!
Paul: I understand your question. I’ll try to keep my answer simple. Sometimes I plan to make a song or album with a certain aesthetic. Sometimes I succeed in carrying that through. More commonly, I fail in achieving that aesthetic and come up with something distinctly Mercy Choir. Cohesion on an album is important to me. Maybe very important. I don’t think I achieve it often, but I almost always try.
SBS: You’ve also spent a great deal of time in the ‘noise’ genres of music…can you explain the attraction? A lot of people don’t get the beautiful nature that can be found at the core of these ‘noise’ experiments…maybe target those people out there that haven’t gotten into the wild creativity of these sounds and styles…what is it about the freedom and creativity of ‘noise’ that draws you in as an artist?
Paul: Noise is relative. I know a lot of people who find the Beatles abrasive and painful to listen to and find Merzbow pleasing. I do think some music and sound is made with the intention of upsetting people and turning them off. None of my music is made with that intention. I’m attracted to abstract music for the same reason I’m attracted to meticulously composed music. Because it sounds good to me and it feels good to make.
SBS: In relation to your side-project in the noise-duo “Rivener” – is there a real way for ‘noise-anything’ to get out there right now? Inarguably this is a growing sound and being more sought after daily in our musical-culture…but there still aren’t too many traditional venues or radio-stations that carry the artistic and the bizarre. Does ‘noise’ the sound OR the label itself make it an even more uphill battle for an artist to get their work out there or have it well-received by those that listen?
Paul: Abstract music won’t ever achieve a mainstream audience, but I think more people are open to it than ever before. Possibly due to boredom. All abstract art exists on the fringe and that’s a good place for it to stay. However, it’s a niche and because of the internet, niches can find their audiences easily. Audiences can find their preferred niches easily. Because of that, it’s probably a good time to be making any kind of art.
SBS: Has your opinion of the industry, making music and all that comes with it changed over the course of your career? You’ve made an incredible amount of music and no doubt seen a lot of changes happen over time…but what about your own perspective towards it? Where did it start, where is it at now, and if it changed throughout this experience of yours, what brought that about?
Paul: Yes, my perspective has changed a lot. I never thought I’d be able to make a living making music, but I did once have aspirations of “getting signed” to a label and selling music, and touring, and being “in the conversation.” That model still exists, but it’s so antiquated and diluted and contrary to the act of making interesting art, that I have no interest in pursuing it. It’s a game that reaps very little reward. Even the current “buzz band” who is getting press because it’s their turn in the album/press cycle isn’t making all that much more money than me. More likely, they are hemorrhaging money. And they likely have much less creative freedom. If you still want to be a rock star, you need a psychiatrist. [pullquote]If you still want to be a rock star, you need a psychiatrist.[/pullquote] It has everything to do with attention and nothing to do with making a quality product.
SBS: What’s the future looking like for the next phase of Mercy Choir? You mentioned finishing up a full-band rock record…a collection of somewhat ‘straight-ahead’ recordings. You went extremely experimental/ambient for your last one…I’m hoping the experience hasn’t sent you running back to the rock for good! What can we expect or hope for from the upcoming year in Mercy Choir here in 2015?
Paul: The last Mercy Choir live lineup recorded new arrangements of some older songs. I’m not sure what will happen with that record, if anything. I’m still writing a Mercy Choir album that I’ve been working on for a year or so and that should come out by the end of the year.
SBS: Your credits and work are all extremely impressive my friend. Visual-artist…musician…you’re even a published writer as well with a new book coming out on February 27th called “Lucy.” Now…yeah we’re a music-pad here on the internet…but it’s safe to assume that if people are reading these words that they’re more than likely reading the words of many others as well – so tell us about the new book!
Paul: Gladly. Lucy is a very short book of poetry and prose. It’s fictional. It has three characters. It’ll probably cost about 10 bucks. I’m glad I’m not writing it anymore. I’ve learned recently that it’s a funny book. That was good news. I was afraid it was sad or scary. That’s about all I have to say about it. I hope people like it.
SBS: Before we wrap this up and start getting websites and a few last words from you…I just have a feeling I’m asking this next question of the right kind of person to have a great response…no pressure Paul… Take a moment here to tell us about the inspiration you find in your family. You’re married…and as far as I know you’ve got a two-year old son; I’m assuming fantastic – but what’s that like for you and do you find that it plays a role in the music you make?
Paul: Having a family makes me more prolific. I have little free time, so when I have some, I use it wisely. Before I had a family, I’d be happy dicking around with my guitar or in a studio or with other people trying to teach them how to properly play my music. Now I make stuff rather than just talk about making stuff. Also, having a wife and son gives me confidence because I know those are two people who love me no matter what kind of art I make. They support and encourage me, no matter what the endeavor. That gives me courage. With courage, you are free to mix any flavors. Without courage, you make oatmeal. With courage, you are free to mix any flavors. Without courage, you make oatmeal.
SBS: Websites Paul…sorry my friend…static and boring question my friend; I’m looking to you to jazz-up the answer here – it’s all on you now. Where can people find you online and how are you making these social-media hotspots all warm & cozy for when they get there?
SBS: Just want to say one more thank you Paul; I really do appreciate the time and effort it takes for anyone to do anything at all these days, and I know I tend to ramble. So thank you very much for decoding all that I’ve said and taking that time. I’ll trouble you once more before we send you off and invite you to our ‘open floor;’ a spot where you’re welcome to say anything you like or bring up anything we missed that you wanted to mention. Cheers Paul – all the best to you & the music of Mercy Choir!
Paul: Thank you! I would like to mention: Caffeine and Oxymetazoline are the two most effective over the counter drugs. Cable/internet providers engage in psychological and financial terrorism and are the worst and most dangerous corporations on earth. I’ve never seen a pileated woodpecker in person. The best thing you can do for someone is listen to them.
Make sure to check out those links to Paul’s work in Mercy Choir and check out our review on his latest album Two Machines In The Garden by clicking right here.
We’ve got questions, you’ve got answers – be our next interview guest at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!