When you take a look at Jon Pauling’s list of musical influences, all of the requisite ones are there for a guy his age (50). Beatles, Stones, Hendrix and Zep, the Johnnies Cash and Lee Hooker. But when you see “Byzantine chants” among the notables, you begin to think maybe this guy is a little more than just the “man with a simple guitar and a microphone singing inspirational songs” that his bio suggests.
We had a chance to talk with Pauling this week from his home in Newcastle and we asked him — a among other things — how he came to like that ancient art form and how he might have worked it into his music.
You were 13 when you moved to California from the Midwest. Was there any culture shock involved?
“Yes, it was ‘What are all these fences doing in everybody’s yard?’ That and just coming to a city in general. I was a farm boy in Missouri. Even in Illinois we had acreage. But we loved the weather; that was the reason we moved out here.”
You composed a classical piano piece at age 14. Did you give any thoughts to going in that direction musically?
“Not really. I kind of kicked myself because I really appreciate it, but it wasn’t that appealing to me to continue on that course. It took a different type of dedication to classical music than the pop world. My influences being the Beatles and all that, it seemed like the landscape, creatively, allowed more to happen where you could mix classical with pop. And lyrical content was important to me. Also, it’s easier to bring a guitar along than a piano.”
When you write songs today is it on piano or guitar?
“Both. Right now I prefer the guitar. It’s pretty handy. I think it’s the style; I’m getting more into Americana, with Dobros and mandolins and the like. The shows I’m doing are more along that line. It’s not totally bluegrass but I appreciate Ralph Stanley and that whole vibe, raw and stripped down.”
Where and when did you develop a fondness for Byzantine chants?
“On my last record the producer turned me on to them. He was an Orthodox Christian and he turned me on to a lot of music from that era. I love it. It’s amazing and it’s beautiful. On my last CD, I wanted to record a choir but instead we used four background singers and layered their voices. It ended up being a wonderful sound. Obviously it wasn’t a Byzantine chant but it had the tonality of it. Finding a choir wasn’t as hard as finding a place to record it.”
In 1992 you had a song on the radio and were touring to support it. Was that about where you wanted to be at age 28?
“It’s been a parallel life for sure. To get there in music is a hard road. I’ve always had a day job. The dream is writing and recording and performing. Whether you’re doing it in a church or in a club, all of those other things are great, but it’s the act of doing it. It’s not so much about the financial reward or accolades. Music is a lifestyle. As long as I have it in my life, I won’t go insane.”
Ten years later, while working on “Carry Me Home,” you seem to have turned a corner with your spirituality. Was it always a part of your life?
“I went on a lot of different paths and eventually came to have a relationship with God instead of inside a particular religion. I follow the Bible and I follow Christ and I hang on those words. If people have that sense of moral navigation, then life goes pretty good.”
You once said “I want to change this world and turn the tide on hatred.” Can music do that?
“Music can have a huge impact, being the universal language that it is. It exceeds boundaries and brings people of all walks together. It can move places inside someone they didn’t really know they had. It’s basically in the spiritual realm, as well as the physical. We hear with our ears but we feel with our heart. You can touch someone’s heart, that’s how you can have an effect.”
Who out there do you think is able to do that?
“Bob Marley is still moving us today. There’s Sting, Bono. Johnny Cash’s later stuff is still moving. Ray Lamontagne makes interesting music; he’s got some stuff that moves people. Ben Harper, Switchfoot, very introspective, very smart.”
You seem to be one of the regular performers at Dono dal Cielo Vineyard and Winery, playing with Johnny Flanagan. What are your shows like?
“It’s kind of a cool vibe; they get a great audience out there. I knew Johnny’s brother back in ’80s. He does commercials. You know the Byers Leaf Guard commercial? That’s me at the end … ‘Byers!’ Johnny and I like a lot of the same type of Americana and Beatle-esque music. He plays the mandolin and Dobro. We kind of mix it up, my originals and music from artists we both enjoy.” Auburn Journal 2015 Interview