Romantic Thoughts the new EP of LA-based crooner, Paul Bergmann conjures up romance not so much with someone else but with the man’s stirring vocals. Falsettos are handy but they don’t make you go weak in the knees. Bergmann’s deep croon harkens back to a yesteryear of matinee idols yet his lyricism is firmly tethered to a present-day modernity.
It’s a smattering of Suck It and See-era Arctic Monkeys in its alluring baritone and the quick and clever turns-of-phrases wrapped around warm, lolling melodies. He may sound a little like pre-AM Alex Turner or as others have observed – Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen or whoever but it never sounds like he’s a facsimile of the sum parts or trying to emulate any singular voice. In Romantic Thoughts, Bergmann who has dallied with ‘forlorn folk, surf-punk and gothic-country’ has circled back and now revealed himself to be an original.
Bergmann will return to San Francisco next week to perform at The Chapel. He will be on of three acts opening for San Diego band Crocodiles next Sunday, Dec 20. Be sure to get there early so you don’t miss him.
The new EP recently released on Fairfax Recordings is produced by Nick Waterhouse and Kevin Augunas at the old Sound City studios. The opening track, “You May Never Know” is reminiscent in production to Richard Hawley’s recent “Heart of Oak” – grand and cinematic in scope while “Drunk (Alone and New)” is a tumbling melody punctuated with harmonica. The later inches closer to his true voice – a pleasing folk troubadour-style. Poetic in his description of the state of being inebriated.
“Ocean Song” highlights his love for the Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash country school of story-telling, engaging it the way it draws the listener and holds them close. Telling of how this Massachusetts-raised boy feels about his adopted home of Los Angeles – and the longing of some innocence lost. It reveals more than the actual titled song “Los Angeles” which is also on the EP.
Then there’s the wonderful duet with Emily Kokal of Warpaint. If “Ocean Song” is searing in its subject matter and soaring melodies giving off a kind of heat, “Wishing Song” is cool and soothing like water to a burning fire. The Woodie Guthrie-inspired tune’s collaboration was born the way so many wonderful things are – a drunken pact made at a party in the wee hours of the morning.
Bergmann speaks to byteclay.com about his voice and how he has come to employ it for “Romantic Thoughts” and reveals more about working with Kokal who has a reputation for being private but is not averse to collaborations with fellow artists.
Examiner: So let’s start at the beginning, how did your parents sort of discover you had this voice, and then think it a good idea for you to take lessons?
Paul Bergmann: Well I was into theatre and musicals when I was in High school. First year in Sophomore I wanted to try out for My Fair Lady, I got a good part because of my voice and my parents said, ‘why don’t you take some voice lessons?’. I took lessons with a classical-leaning voice teacher – a friend of mine also did it but I embarked on it without any endgame in sight to being a rock star or anything.
Examiner: You’ve got a lovely deep croon, how’s your falsetto?
PB: I can do a falsetto but that is different to going high in your singing voice. My voice is almost too thin when that high. I have always been a lower down, textbook baritone. Not a tenor, not a full on bass. I think it was in college … I spent a year in a chorus and I realized I had a deeper voice. Growing up I was in a junior choir so I always thought I had a high voice but towards the end, I realized my voice was low.
Examiner: And what about your brief dalliances with surf-punk, what was the experience like?
PB: Towards the end of my time in college, I was in a folk trio but I always wanted to be in a rock band. This surf-rock trio that was around let me sing a couple of songs with them. It was all Helter Skelter and playing The Strokes and songs like that – it was such a rush and I thought, ‘f**k it, I want to do this!’ Then I went back to Massachusetts and fell into this punk scene doing Danzig and The Misfits kind of punk music, as well as indie-leaning and surfie songs. My friend Caleb then finish Grad school and we didn’t know what to do – so we thought ‘we should move to LA or NY!’. We picked LA , moved here and started living together. The band didn’t really take off so we went our separate ways. That was a point when I was leaving alone in this apartment for a month, I didn’t have a job, I just broke up with a girl and decided to go solo. I heard bands doing this dark western stuff and looking out at all these sunny, LA palm trees, I started to sense this underbelly. That’s when I came up with the EP, Paul Bergmann and The Fairmoans. Oh, I had also been involved with a duo, Eekus. But I put The Fairmoans EP on vinyl and gave it to Neil Shield of Origami Vinyl – when he partnered with Fairfax he showed it to them and I got signed to the label.
Examiner: You sound quite different on Paul Bergmann & The Fairmoans – it’s very deep, Roy Orbison-cross-with-Jim Morrison. It’s almost too deep “Only In My Dream” is so low it strains. But “Wandering Girl” that is a lightness and flourish in your voice which I feel is more apparent in this new EP – when did that sort of shift in focus come about?
PB: Absolutely, the reason I kind of abandon that – it was a flirtation with that style of country and I started to feel its limits. At the time, it was very real, meant a lot and was poignant for me but that kind of style was too stylized. I was also playing with a big band and we could play so many sounds but it was the same 8 songs for a year. So I gave myself this project – A Song A Day For A Month, which became more like a song every two days for 2 months. I was listening to a lot of Woodie Guthrie and it was all earnest that was when I wrote “Wandering Girl”, I was going through a hard time. It also set the foundation for my songwriting and I became more discerning. I discovered that even though my voice was still a little over-affected, I was settling into it – somewhere in the middle.
Examiner: I feel like you still have an inner rock-star inside of you but this brand of crooner folk-pop suits you what has it been like discovering your ‘true voice’?
PB: It’s been interesting I’ve sort of been pulled in different directions – what is easy for me, what I am naturally talented at, what I want to be doing and then striking a balance. I really want to be in a rock band but I do like where I am now. I have never been enamored by my own voice. I have a good technical voice but if anything I have always wanted a more unique voice. But you know what, screw it I am just really going for it, doing this with this voice I have. I think I’ve become more discipline in terms of striving for one thing. In my early ‘20s I was all over the place. I wanted to keep doing different things. Now, I want to give these songs a chance.
Examiner: Can you tell us a bit about this sort of fabled Echo Park music scene that you’ve fallen into?
PB: I moved here … in May it will be 5 years, when I first got here you’d go to a bar, people see you around and ask you, do you play music?. You find out quickly that everyone is a musician but it’s such a supportive scene. I did smaller venues and have watched the scene evolve – and even I have that sense of nostalgia now when I see the new and younger crop of musicians who have come up with Lolipop Records. It’s still very Echo Park and everyone shares the stage – be it indie-rock, folk rock, EDM it’s a cool spot to be in. And people from successful touring bands are also hanging out in this places. That’s how I met Emily Kokol from Warpaint!
Examiner: How did the “Wishing Song” get written, then recorded with Warpaint’s Emily Kokal?
PB: We were in a local bar talking about labels and she said, she liked my music. I didn’t know her that well but I decided to hold her to it. I wrote this song already and it was under a file on my computer – this snippet of a song. It was something easy but really had a nice texture to it. It didn’t have a chorus so I took a few minutes to write one. She was amazing we had never sung together but luckily our voices blended well. We recorded it all at once – into one microphone, the guitar and two vocals and it all glued together so nicely. I come from a lo-fi DIY background and I know the tempo in parts is a bit weird and a few bump notes but I’m ok with that.
Examiner: Working with producers you normally wouldn’t have how did you feel that affected the songs you pursued? What was the process like cause it can be hard to relinquish the reigns?
PB: It was definitely interesting. The one song that was more of a collaboration is the one I submitted to, and decided that instead of saying ‘no’, I would let this be the song that I get the most input. That was “You May Never Know”. And then there was “Drunk (Alone, and New)” I was introducing it to the label and there weren’t too keen but Nick said do the ‘chorus, twice and do it bridge, chorus, bridge,’. So I came back with new words and it was verse, verse and more verse (laughs). It was very Bob Dylan then I thought, ‘oh screw it, better write a chorus cause I knew the label would ask me. (Laughs)
Examiner: Who did the painting that’s on the cover of the EP?
PB: I did.
Examiner: Wow. You described one of your songs like an Andrew Wyeth painting – you seem to really connect with that visual side to your music, what does this relationship mean to you?
PB: I think honestly I’ve always liked music but songwriting especially has been challenging to me. Art is more natural to me. I have always been able to do it but I don’t know maybe I’m lazy or I just need more immediate gratification. (laughs) I have a strong preference for imagery related to a band. I think it affects the way a band and the artist is viewed more than people realize. Which is why I get really into music videos, I have a strong sense of what I want the video for a song to be like, that’s why I let everyone know from the start. I have a strong creative vision and sometimes that is more enjoyable to me than just the music.
Examiner: You recently did a Daytrotter session in San Francisco, what are you most looking forward to when you come do the show here?
PB: Playing with my new band in another city. Over the last year I have been playing with these three guys and I love how we sound these days. One of them won’t make it out – he plays the upright bass. But I have a friend in San Francisco, Luke Sweeney he will play bass for us there. And am also looking forward to playing these new songs that we haven’t sung live yet. And being at The Chapel, I wanted to play there last time we were in San Francisco but didn’t. I heard it’s a great venue.
To purchase the Romantic Thoughts EP, please click here. For tickets to The Chapel show please click here.