(*Note: This issue, and the next few following it, will be with the bands and artists that I did not get a chance to interview at S.C.E.N.E because of my ill health that day. I will indicate when the issue is with a S.C.E.N.E artist, and I want to thank all who agreed to a later interview.)
Paul Federici, from what I can deduce, is a quiet man in many ways.
His guitar work is subtle and acoustic.
His voice is mellow and goes perfectly with the guitar.
And, before music became full-time for him, he completed a Masters in clinical social work.
But sometimes, being an acoustic musician is more powerful than the loudest full band.
Take the song ‘She Is Lost’ from his release Relative Importance. It’s devastating. (In a powerful way. Not a rude, negative way.)
Paul was one of the artists I was supposed to interview at S.C.E.N.E, and I’m very happy he agreed to one over email.
KW: How did you get your start as a musician?
PF: It’s funny, around the time of my cd release show back in January, I had an article written about me and the opening line of the story was: “Paul Federici has a sort of complicated relationship with music.” I laughed when I read it at the time, and though it was quite fitting. My transition to being a musician was far from smooth or typical I guess, and I was, as with most things in my life, a late bloomer. I always loved acoustic music and became fascinated with the guitar. My Dad was a Bob Dylan fan and always seemed to have an old cheap 6 string kicking around the house and I just picked it up one day and was basically hooked. It wasn’t until the end of high school and the beginning of my university years that I actually got into it though, but it quickly became an obsession and I spent countless hours teaching myself chords, progressions, scales, tunings and basic theory. I pretty much spent my entire 3rd year of university strumming the guitar alone in my room trying to piece together cover songs. Music was always a solitary pursuit for me because I had a lot of anxiety around performing in front of others and I felt very insecure, especially with songs that I wrote – I always felt they were terrible and I was way too self-conscious to play them for others. After university I gathered up the nerve to play an open mic night in St. Catharines and after that performance I was offered a weekly gig there, which shocked me. I went on to play cover gigs there fairly regularly, but after a year or so I continued to battle the nerves and self-doubt which led me to stop playing for over 7 years. I ended up completing a Master’s degree in clinical social work, only to find myself burnt out emotionally on the job – and it was only when I bottomed out and realized how unhappy I was that I found music again and decided that I had wasted enough time pretending I was something else.
KW: What made you decide to play the style of music you do?
PF: I’m not sure it’s a choice really – I only know how to write songs from a personal perspective but I definitely want to keep the music as honest as possible. I really hate the notion of a team of songwriters working together to craft a “hit” it just seems so disingenuous and I don’t see the point. I never try to force my song writing in a particular direction and I try to keep the process as spontaneous as possible. I don’t sit down with a theme or style in mind; I just let the mood dictate where the song goes. But I was always drawn to mellower music and love great melodies and harmonies which I think comes out in my songs.
KW: How would you describe your sound, yourself?
PF: I would describe myself as honest, straight forward, and down to earth – I think I’m a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. I try to be as sincere and genuine as possible and I think these traits come across in my sound as well. I’m not trying to write epic radio singles, I’m not trying to be trendy or sound like someone else – all I’m trying to do is write simple songs that are honest and mean something to me. In addition to that I would say that my songs take on a folk-pop feel, are heavily based on vocal melodies and they often have a layered feel to them as I try to shape my music using harmonies. I also strive to have diversity in my song writing -I’d hate to be an artist where people say “oh, if you’ve heard one Paul Federici song you’ve heard them all” and I’ll often use a variety of alternate tunings to elicit different sounds and atmospheres.
KW: You are touring alot this summer. Where are you hoping to make some stops?
PF: Yes, I’m trying to make the most of the summer months and I’ve already played shows in a number of cities across Ontario. I quit my job about a year ago to focus solely on music, and I strive to stay as busy as possible so I’m continually looking for new venues to play. Right now I’m really excited about my upcoming shows in Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal as those are 3 fantastic Canadian cities, but in all honesty I enjoy most places I visit since I like to travel especially when the weather is great. I’d also love to organize and East/West tour!
KW: Your album ‘Relative Importance’ was released back in January. Can you tell me a bit about it?
PF: Well it’s an 8 song project that was recorded at Catherine North Studios in Hamilton, a beautiful church turned studio that’s worked with artists like City and Colour, Whitehorse, and Feist. The album was produced, engineered and mixed by Michael Chambers who has done a lot of work with Whitehorse, and he’s just such a talented guy I feel very fortunate to have met him. I decided to record in Hamilton because that’s where my father was raised and “Relative Importance” is the name of poem my Dad wrote in the 80s that was published in an anthology I found in the St. Catharines Public Library. It’s definitely an introspective, mellow album that explores the themes in my mind when I was quite depressed, and several songs really helped me through a rough time – I think the song “There’s a Reason” really captures that essence of how I was feeling at the time. All of the songs were written in the 6 months leading up to the time we started recording in August of 2011, accept for “Conveniently Yours” which was a song I wrote in 2008. It was actually the first song I had written after a 5 or 6 year break from song writing and I always believed in it, I consider it a turning point for me where I started to have more faith in my writing. If I didn’t write “Conveniently Yours” I’m not sure I’d ever have recorded an album. Since the release of the record I’ve garnered positive media attention, received regular play from a number of college and university stations and on February 21, 2012 “Relative Importance” reached #1 status on the 103.7FM Brock University Radio charts.
KW: What are some of your plans for the near future?
PF: I’m really looking forward to July 24th which is the ceremony for the Niagara Music Awards and I’m grateful to be nominated for Adult Contemporary Album of the Year as well as Male Vocalist of the year – so I’m excited to be part of celebrating music in my home town. I’ll also continue to tour throughout the summer and fall, and when that slows down I plan on teaming up again with Michael Chambers at Catherine North Studios in Hamilton to record a second album. I’ll be holding a fundraiser in Niagara on Saturday October 13th to help raise some money for the project and more information will be coming soon on www.paulfederici.ca
KW: Who are you listening to right now?
As far as more popular artists go: City and Colour, Ryan Adams, Feist, Ron Sexsmith, and John Mayer. But I also find myself playing music from a number of independent artists that I’ve played with this year touring like Mike Vial (Michigan), Corey Glover (Michigan), Aaron Berger (Niagara), Chad Price (London), and James Struthers (Winnipeg).
This issue we would like to thank:
The City Of St. Catharines
The City Of Hamilton
Everyone who participates in live music, in any way.