An Interview with Eric Paul: Multi-talented Writer and Musician.
Eric Paul is a singer/songwriter, musician and writer born in the United States’ smallest state of Rhode Island in 1974. Beginning his career as the frontman noise rock icons Arab on Radar, his erratic, energetic lyrics and performance made them cult hero’s in the scene between the late 90’s and early 00’s when up to 9 releases were made between 1997 and 2002. He also performs in Doomsday Student and has performed with The Chinese Stars in the past.
So, going back a year I was writing pretty basic poems in a notepad my wife had bought me for Christmas, with an expensive looking gel pen I would come to call my “quill”.
I look back on that poetry pretty grimly.
I don’t think it’s anything I would perform now, but it got me started. Kind of like the first time I went swimming. I had no idea what I was doing with my legs or hands, but wanted to return to the peaceful calm of the water. It was kind of like the first time I kissed a girl. Weird, I wasn’t 100% happy with it, and certainly wasn’t perfect at it. But I wanted to do it more. It was kind of like stretching out an idea for longer than needed. Kind of.
As I scrambled and searched for artists who had followed a similar path as myself. A lyricist frustrated in his current guise as a frontman due to restrictions on melody, I came across many musicians and new wave poets, but none that had such an effect on me as Eric Paul. The weird thing is, the guy is a noise rock legend. An icon in his own right. But a musician I hadn’t heard of. I came across his poetry first.
One weekday night I decided he had such a profound effect on me, I would send a cheeky Instagram comment asking for some advice. Where had he started? How did he get so good? Everyone has their own way of getting to a place. Oddly, and wonderfully, we struck up a friendship of sorts and conversed over email.
The man is not only a fantastic wordsmith, but I’ve found an absolute gentleman. Always available for advice despite his busy schedule of teaching, spoken word, poetry, performing and playing music. I couldn’t thank him enough.
I have covered his poem “I Offered Myself As the Sea” once or twice live due to my sheer love of it, and find the more I learn about his work, the more I want to know about his journey.
This month I got an awesome opportunity to sit down and talk to him about his poetry and his releases, where he came from, how he came from it and how he sees it going:
Eagertongue: I got into poetry myself from playing in bands, and being obsessed with lyrics. You obviously were very popular on the scene with more chaotic bands such as Arab on Radar. How easy did you find the transition from music to poetry?
Eric Paul: I might be being too literal here, but I feel that I haven’t made a total transition from lyrics to poetry. I am still writing lyrics as often as poetry — right now, I’m working on my third album with Doomsday Student. If anything, I seem to have added a discipline to my pursuits, but I do understand what you are getting at. I only point this out to illustrate that as I continue to write in these two disciplines, the writing in each continues to affect the other. They each have their own challenges. With lyrics there is a lot of flexibility with meaning but you are restricted by meter and melody. Whereas in poetry the opposite is true. I continue to struggle and grow with the craft involved in both disciplines, and that is what exhilarates me about writing. The lyrics I wrote for Arab on Radar were my first attempts at writing, and when I look back on that early stuff I’m rather embarrassed by its execution. But I did have solid aesthetic and knew where I wanted to go. It just took a lot of work to get there. It was the same with poetry. But I will admit, the more I learn about poetry and the more poets I study, the more I feel that poetry has been a much more challenging craft to practice.
ET: From a personal perspective I look up to you heavily and hope to follow your route. Did you have any inspirations that made a similar journey to where you now find yourself?
EP: One of my favourite bands of all time is The Birthday Party. I loved Nick Cave’s lyrics in that band. I also loved how he released books outside of his releases with the band. I remember buying King Ink in my senior year of high school and reading it over and over. If I had to trace back the beginning of my journey I would say it started with that book.
ET: Your words are wickedly dark. Is there a reason you take that route?
EP: Quite simply the foundation of my writing – or, more broadly – my perspective on life, is influence by my very turbulent childhood. Those experiences are in every line of my writing and they tend to be dark and absurd.
ET: You’re known for your energy on stage. How do you channel that into your spoken word performances?
EP: I’m uncertain why, but they are rather different experiences for me. Performing with the band is both cerebral and physical. Whereas reading my work in public is just cerebral. The readings are more of the intellectual aspects of what I experience as opposed to performing with the band — those are more visceral.
ET: Wes Eisold, Justin Pearson, yourself and other icons of the punk scene have moved into books, short stories and the like. Why do you think so many have taken that route?
EP: I’m not really sure about Wes and Justin — but for me, I have a lot personal exploration that I feel the need to do. My creative impulses cannot be satisfied by solely writing lyrics and performing with the band. I also have a lot of ideas that don’t always work in a collaborative setting and if I want to see them through, I have to do it on my own.
ET: Any advice for anyone wanting to go from music into spoken performance?
EP: I’m hesitant to give advice. I make a lot of mistakes. But, my overarching advice is work on your craft. A huge turning point for me was going back to school and wholeheartedly committing myself to improving as a writer. I sought out a graduate program that employed a professor whose work I admired. While in the program I developed a strong relationship with her that continues to this day. She understands my process and where I want to go with my work — that has been everything for me. Besides that, I would say, take chances, put yourself out there and don’t allow yourself to be hijacked by your insecurities. Every artist has work they feel ambivalent about and as an artist you have you accept you may never feel 100% about anything you complete.. That is how your work evolves. Just keep yourself in motion.
ET: And lastly, where can people who haven’t heard your stuff go to check you out?
EP: If you want to check out any of my stuff you can go to my website, www.iofferedmyselfasthesea.com, which has my discography, recordings, and more interviews, and links to purchase my work. You can also check out www.doomsdaystudent.com, my current band’s site.