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Interview With Paul David Stanko

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

How would you describe your music to any person who may have never heard it before?

Press image for musician Paul David Stanko.
Photo courtesy of Paul David Stanko.

Paul: My music is a rock-pop-new age-classical style. [Laughs.] Seriously, I write in all genres. I am a rock and roll baby at heart, so I guess progressive rock is my style. But many years of working in musical theatre pit bands gives it a bit of a broadway bent. I also play the RAV Vast and Handpan drums, which lean toward a new age style. Then with my church work and arranging for our small church orchestra, I have a strong classical flavour that gets mixed in there, and who doesn't love to dance, so you throw a dance grove to that all… What would you call that? What’s the significance of your musical moniker? P: Short version: It's my name.

Longer version: When I worked for a church back in the day, the pastor's name was Paul also, so when you said, "Paul David," you got me on the phone versus him. The next pastor at the same church was also Paul. Same deal. After a decade, it just sort of stuck. Oh, and my soulmate's name was David, so that helped me decide to keep using it.

What are your musical influences? P: A lot of my music is reminiscent of the styles I grew up listening to. My dad was really into 1940s swing—Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman—so I have a strong influence of that swing band, horn sound. My mom was really into The Carpenters and the easy-listening sounds of the 1970s, so that finds its way in. I rarely heard what we call classic rock when I was growing up—that didn't happen until later, but you'll find a heavy influence of that rock guitar in what I do. I did get into Styx and Queen in high school, so you hear that influence for sure.

Being from Minneapolis, Prince played an enormous role in influencing me as a writer, arranger, producer, etc. That Minneapolis sound is not always top of mind when I write, but the work ethic and desire to experiment with sound and ideas are there.

But I do get influenced by what I hear today—Robyn, The Teddybears, Walk the Moon, and Lizzo—all find their way into what I am writing. What are your musical inspirations? P: It’s trite to say life, but what else is there? Influences and inspirations can be very similar. I am a very good situational composer. For example, my "day job" has an annual conference. During the pandemic, we ended up doing it virtually. I am on the conference team, and as a way to make people feel engaged, I wrote a song that we could use for messaging and made people listen to it as part of their virtual conference experience. I did that again this year. It's inspired by the theme of the conference. They are not great songs (not meant to be), but they serve their purpose and are earworms by design. I work for a church, so if we're dealing with a specific theme, I will write praise choruses or choral pieces for that. In my own music, lyrically, it's real life: what is going on in the world at the time. Musically, I usually sit at my keyboard and smack down a chord. I might play around with voicings or progressions to see if I like anything or if the whisps of a song start to form. I definitely follow the whisps or ideas and flesh them out. I make sketches of them in my DAW, and I may revisit them, or I may not.

I currently have two pretty fun ideas—sketches—hanging out in my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, for those that don't know). There is this really fun meme on the internet I saw about "When I die I will be stardust once again—blah blah blah...until I land on your sandwich." I thought it was hysterical, so I flesh out a whole song about death and reincarnation and am working on that idea to a kind of Tears For Fears vibe. I also have a big band dance song about unlearning what you have learned to get back to where you used to be called "Gotta Un-F*($ Myself." That one I want to do with a full big band! If given the chance, what musician(s) would you like to collaborate with? Rather this is to either write a song or be featured on a track. P: Sheila E. and Harry Styles would be cool. I really like Robyn and the Teddybears as well. It would be fun to collaborate with them. You have a new song coming out soon, what’s the song about? P: My next single releasing in September, is called "Artist's Prayer." That track is interesting. I wrote the lyrics in 1993 and put them in my folder of lines/lyrics/quotes that I have around. I was looking for something to add to a song—and I don't remember which one—and I came across them. I just felt they were reminiscent of what every artist goes through when they stare at the blank canvas or blank score. Please, give me something to say.

In this song, you get to hear way more of those lush vocal parts that were influenced by The Carpenters or Queen. I mixed them higher to give a male chorus vibe to the piece. What’s something you hope people take away from the new song? P: It's really a prayer, as the title suggests—non-denominational, non-Christian—prayer. The vibe is very chill… 55 beats a minute, which is slow. My hope is people (who give it a chance) will notice how this "prayer" that every artist says as they stare at a blank page, a blank canvas, an empty stage—whatever your discipline—"I know I am not all that I could be, inspire me just the same, oh muse of creation." The song then blossoms into this amazing section where the singer finds that inspiration and their overflows and spreads to the world—which is what we all hope our art does: touches someone.

I wrote the lyrics when I was in a space of not trusting my gifts. I wrote the music well after my gifts had manifested. It is an interesting example of how you should never throw anything away. You never know when it might find life. I have tons of sketches of lyrics and ideas and chord changes that I occasionally rifle through to inspire me. Do you have any favourite songs to perform live? Could be your own music or even a cover. Any reason why? P: I have a song from my church life, "In This Moment." Like "Artist’s Prayer," it's super vibey… Think cold lemonade on the porch on a hot August afternoon. I really like singing that one. It is also a prayer. It is one of those songs I really can't take credit for—it fell out. I sat at the piano one day and was playing these changes. I recorded it on my keyboard and moved on. After the record came out (title track for "In This Moment" by For God's Sake), I went back and listened to it and there were only two bars difference from what I laid down that first day to the finished song. I say I didn’t write it: I just transcribed what I heard. That one is fun to sing live. If you could perform a show this very second anywhere in the world, where would it be? Is there any particular venue(s) or city/cities that comes to mind? P: Paris because, well, it's Paris. I feel connected to the city and I think they would dig me there. Or Hawai'i because, well, it's Hawai'i! What do you currently have planned for the remainder of the year? P: Working on the video and release of "Artist's Prayer." Getting out and playing more post-pandemic... Are we post-pandemic yet? And figuring out what my next song will be for sure. Thanks for the time today, Paul. Is there anything else you may want to add before you go? P: Just a big thank you to everyone for reading and listening and supporting independent music! We create it for you and we cannot keep doing it without your support! Thank you, everyone!


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