Paul Thomas Saunders, despite his defection to ‘that London’, still holds a place in the heart of Leeds. So when we heard that he was due to release a full length album featuring his heartbreaking beautiful songs, well, we had to get on the case. George Paris spoke to this elucid Eddie the Eagle of emotional expressions…
“I have something to my name now, a sole achievement. I’ve always been worried that if I died there’d be nothing noteworthy to say in my obituary. Not in The Guardian or anything, just in a local rag, but still. Until this point I’ve felt pretty close to being that character (more like caricature) who snootily calls themselves a writer, but will never write a novel. At least I’ve made a wholehearted attempt, like Eddie the Eagle. Yeah, I feel like Eddie the Eagle circa 1988.”
Paul Thomas Saunders, the once Leeds residing musician, released his debut album Beautiful Desolation earlier this year and stopped off in Leeds to play the Belgrave as part of his debut UK headline tour back in April. This was all once he had exhausted himself from celebrating the release with a plentiful amount of “drugs, prostitutes and Jazz,” of course.
As an artist with a penchant for the emotive and ethereal, his songs are coloured with a hue of literary prowess. With song titles such as ‘Starless State of the Moonless Barrow’ and ‘In High Heels Burn it Down’, vivid imagery seems to reign on this young songwriter’s agenda.
“I think a literal song is a limited one. On certain occasions there’s a need for that, topical songs, good protest songs, but I really don’t like that quality in many other contexts. I like music that has an otherworldly quality, so in my music I prefer things to be a little dreamier, rather than accurate descriptions of particular events. It’s more about feelings, atmospheres and emotions than stories.”
“I just like music that means something. I used to work at Samaritans and I noticed that when people were in a desperate place, and I mean real despair, often the language they chose was beautiful. That sounds odd but it really stood out for me; poetry is the language of pure human emotion, good poetry anyway. I think access to that language is less a skill but an observation. I really hate it when people use big words in songs though. Bukowski packs the hardest punch of any writer I’ve read but the magic is it’s not written in the vocabulary of scholars and academics. Saying that, in an early song I used the word crepuscular. That was a real moment of shame for me.”
“A time will come, be it now my album is released, or further down the line when people really don’t like or get what I’m writing. It happens to even the greatest artists at some point, so I try not to write for the sake of writing because when the inevitable clanger of a record occurs, at least it will mean something to me. Music is a pretty indulgent career in the first place, so to find worth in it, to make it fulfilling, it has to have a deeper meaning to me.”
The final package of Beautiful Desolation contains a series of beautiful photographs taken in Death Valley, California by photographer Neil Krug; Bat For Lashes and Boards of Canada sit amongst his roster. “It looks like a lunar landscape out there” comments Saunders, “artwork is a really powerful tool I think, it puts people in the right headspace before they start listening, so in that respect visual imagery is really important to my music.”
“When I’m working on a piece of music I try to visualise a place that I want the music to represent. It helps me push a song in the right direction. With the album it was very much footage from the NASA and Soviet Space Program archives.” – The album’s title takes itself from some of the first few words Buzz Aldrin muttered as he stepped on the moon – “Those desolate, lonely yet beautiful images were the perfect physical metaphors for solitary moments of thought, which is where the lyrics all came from. I think if the music reminds people of a particular image or setting it helps to remove them from their surroundings and listen to the music more intimately.”
To an artist who favours conjuring up themes of isolation, taking this mindset and telling them to perform in front of large crowds is surely a daunting experience. Saunders confesses: “playing live is still not the most comfortable experience for me. My code of conduct is to stand there, remember every bad moment in my life, and just sing. Nothing else works for me, or at least that’s the only thing I’ve been able to carry off so far. I’ve always thought capes would be fun though.”
Saunders’ last visit to Leeds before the Belgrave involved a headline show for Communion inside “the perfect venue” that is Holy Trinity Church. “There’s something about churches that just summons the spellbound spectator in everyone. People watch silently then go crazy at the end of each song. Church-y Cathedral shows are great for us too because those high ceilings and all the natural reverb make everything even more ethereal than I could have ever dreamt.”
With any tour, especially with an artist that finds live performance somewhat awkward, fears can be eradicated over time: “we’re just starting to become comfortable again after not playing for so long while we were recording the album. But everything feels really fresh at the moment. Foolishly I wrote a lot of the songs in foolish tunings so I’m ashamed to say I hit the road with 5 guitars. Not even new guitars either, I’ve had to dive into my past and resuscitate some relics. They just about lived up to the task.”
After returning to play what is already starting to become one of Leeds’ heavyweight venues Saunders’ graced the Belgrave stage on April 11th. “It was on everybody’s lips since I left Leeds. It was great to see what all the fuss was about! Leeds has a knack for creating legendary venues. The Brudenell surely must be some kind of listed building by now! Someone get it a plaque at least.”
Paul Thomas Saunders ‘Beautiful Desolation’ is out now on Atlantic Records – it’s quite beautifully desolate. Visit www.paulthomassaunders.com.
Originally written for Vibrations
Filed under: Music