Strange Loopis the name of Paul Dempsey’s new solo album, the follow-up to 2009’sEverything Is True.
After a five-album run with Something For Kate, Everything Is True served as something of a palate-cleanser. It was Dempsey’s first solo record, revealing a more folk rock side of his songwriting, which then cast the Something For Kate material in a different light.
Strange Loop is stylistically a broader release than Dempsey’s debut, ranging from the alt-country sprawl of ‘The True Sea’ to the fuming energy of ‘Morningless’. But the origin story of both records is much the same – namely, Dempsey felt a strong urge to depart from the band format and take complete control.
“I love working with the band, and I love the way we work – it’s a definite collaboration, there’s a lot of creative tug-of-war,” he says. “But it’s certainly nice to then go do something else that’s not a tug-of-war and that is completely self-indulgent, and I’m the boss of everything and get to have everything just the way I want it. It’s good to do both – I feel really lucky that I get to do both.”
While you might catch Dempsey touring his solo material with a band, Strange Loop and Everything Is True are solo records in the truest sense – Dempsey plays all the instruments and makes sure every drum beat and guitar note turns out just how intended. That said, at a root level, his songwriting practice remains much the same.
“I’m always just writing songs, and it just depends. For instance, I know that the next thing that I do is going to be a Something For Kate record. So anything I may write from this day forward, I’ll bring it to rehearsal and hash it out with Clint [Hyndman] and Steph [Ashworth]. Whereas for the past two years I’ve known that whatever I was working on was going towards my solo record.”
Strange Loop was conceived alone, but the finished product was recorded with producer Tom Schick at The Loft studios in Chicago. Schick’s CV includes albums for Wilco, Ryan Adams, She & Him and Glen Hansard, which encouraged Dempsey to seek him out.
“My demos are pretty much what you hear on the record,” Dempsey says. “My demos are very fleshed out and all the arrangements, all the instrumentation, everything’s pretty much there. But I don’t trust myself to engineer and mix it and be able to be completely objective about it. Because I am playing everything on it, I feel like I need to at least have some devil’s advocate, someone being an unbiased third party. And then I also want to be in the hands of someone whose ears I trust. Having heard so many records that Tom’s engineered and mixed, I love the way they sound, I love the way he records drums and the way he records guitars and the way his mixes gel together.”
Something For Kate’s latest record, 2012’s Leave Your Soul To Science, was recorded with John Congleton (St. Vincent, Angel Olsen), while they’ve previously worked with Trina Shoemaker (Midnight Oil, Queens of the Stone Age), and Dempsey recorded Everything Is True with Wayne Connolly (You Am I, The Vines). Dempsey has valued each producer’s unique approach, which in turn keeps him interested in finding new producers to collaborate with.
“They all employ different techniques and they all favour different sort of gear, but [are] also just different people. We’re a band that when we go in the studio, we know what we’re going to do. We’re not really looking for someone to pull our songs apart or make changes to our songs. For us it’s really more about finding someone whose ears we trust and who we think is going to record and mix us in a way that we’re going to like. But we also like to keep working with different people. Some bands find someone who is just their guy, who just gets what they want and that person almost becomes a member of the band. But for us, we like to keep on seeing how different producers will capture us.”
Given his extensive experience with producers of different persuasions, Dempsey has come to recognise a producer’s greatest asset. “Before you even hit ‘record’, I think the most important thing a producer can do is just get the band excited about what they’re doing and make everyone feel enthused about what you’re doing and what the possibilities are.”
On the subject of feeling excited, making a solo record is an effective tool in replenishing Dempsey’s enthusiasm for playing in Something For Kate, and vice versa.
“I’m really happy just doing lots of different things. I definitely am not at risk of getting bored. I feel like I have a few different careers going on. I have Something For Kate, I have my solo acoustic stuff or my solo stuff where I can take a band with me, and my band lineup can change. I also produce records with other bands, I do stuff with The Black Arm Band – I feel like I’m constantly doing something in the music realm but at any given week it could be a different thing. I really enjoy that. I feel really lucky to just have these different sources of stimulation. Everything keeps everything else interesting.”
[Paul Dempsey photo byCybele Malinowski]