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Interview – Paleface

Photo by Sooz White

Photo by Sooz White

In a world where musical authenticity is constantly being called to question, anti-folk icon, Paleface, is as real as they get. After nearly three decades of writing and performing music, Paleface remains true to his craft and continues to create art that is raw, fresh, and inspired.

Paleface’s music career is much like a collection of short stories, woven together with unpredictable highs and lows—each chapter marked with different shades of joy, sorrow, chaos and control. Throughout it all Paleface has managed to come out on the other side with tales to tell.

Paleface got his start playing music at NYC clubs in the late 80s, rubbing shoulders with creative minds like Daniel Johnston and Beck. While being managed by the legendary Danny Fields, Paleface signed a major-label record deal, began putting out albums, and touring with bands like Crash Test Dummies and The Breeders. Everything appeared to be falling into place, but by the late 90s Paleface’s partying lifestyle caught up with him, nearly taking his life and forcing him to reevaluate his direction.

By 2000, a sober Paleface found himself among a new crop of imaginative musicians in NYC, many calling themselves “anti-folk.” Artists like Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor, and Langhorne Slim shared the stage with Paleface, and he soon became an integral part of the anti-folk scene.

“Anti-folk didn’t stand for anything,” Paleface said. “It was whatever you can do to make art you should share it, get on stage, do it. If people like it, great, if they don’t, that’s OK, too. Nobody was gonna crucify you ‘cause you were bad or not what they wanted. In that anti-folk scene nobody would care ‘cause anything goes.”

It was during this period in his career when Paleface struck up a friendship with Scott and Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers). This instant artistic connection ultimately drew him, and girlfriend/drummer Monica “Mo” Samalot, away from New York in 2008 to start a new life in Concord.

After moving to North Carolina, Paleface and Samalot hit the road, touring as a high-energy folk-rock duo throughout the United States and Europe. Paleface continued to record and release albums like the self-released “A Different Story” as well as “The Show Is On The Road” and “One Big Party” on Ramseur Records. Studio and on-stage collaborations with The Avett Brothers exposed a whole new audience to Paleface’s music and it appeared that his momentum had shifted up again.

However, a health scare and setback in Europe while promoting “One Big Party” forced the pair to take time off to regroup, yet again. Unable to tour, Paleface spent time focusing on getting healthy and painting — a talent he had discovered while living in NYC.

“Painting is very meditative and relaxing in a way that music is not,” Paleface said. “It’s like a puzzle that you figure out as you go which at any moment can change or be wrecked by your next move. Music, if you change something you can immediately go back to how you had it if you don’t like the change.”

Paleface creates bright, bold, music-inspired folk-art. His canvas and drum head paintings often carry uplifting themes, much like his music, and he sells them as special one-of-a-kind merchandise at shows.

“I think of my paintings as rock-n-roll folk art, and my music, too,” Paleface said. “I like the fact that people can get this special thing that’s much better than a CD or T-shirt or even a print … 250 sold paintings later I’m still making them and getting more and more interested in it all the time.”

In reality the paintings help to supplement the often stretched-thin income of a touring independent artist. Life on the road is difficult, but Paleface has managed to stay positive after all of these years.

“[Touring] is harder work than people know,” Paleface said. “It sounds romantic and I wouldn’t trade it, but you can get tired with the miles. Great shows can always help build you up and bad shows remind you nothing is certain, but I love seeing all the friends we’ve made out there on the road and checking on the progress they’ve made in their own lives.”

Paleface has been touring through Greenville for several years, a stop that he may have missed had it not been for his connection with the Avetts.

“The first time we ever came was back in the day playing with the band Oh What a Nightmare, which at the time was The Avett Brothers’ other project, kind of a hard rock trio with Seth on drums and Scott on electric,” Paleface said. “I like Greenville a lot. The Spazzatorium was a great scene and Jeff [Blinder] who used to book there had really good taste so it was always fun to go there and play. After it closed we just kept coming back because we liked playing here.”

While the Avetts may have brought Paleface to Greenville, Samalot keeps the duo coming back. She is the driving force when it comes to the business side of things — mapping out tour routes, booking venues, handling all social media—in addition to rocking the drums and singing harmonies. Paleface and Samalot are partners in every sense of the word. On and off stage their mutual respect and love is unmistakable and they are constantly pushing each other to improve.

“(Samalot) really loves harmony so we’ve been doing a bit of that of late,” Paleface said. “She also remembers songs that I forget and if she likes it enough pushes me to bring it back and make it something. I must confess that I’ve only recorded a fraction of the songs I’ve written so it is good to have someone who remembers them.”

When it comes to songwriting, Paleface’s talent is off the charts. He is a true storyteller, creating a unique auditory experience that reaches all ages. Paleface’s ability to write songs with traditional acoustic instrumentation that ends up feeling charged and electric is unmatched and magical.

“[It’s an] obsession,” Paleface said. “I don’t need to bottle it. It just is an inextinguishable flame that burns inside.”

As he begins another new chapter in his career, Paleface is approaching his newest material from a more informed and introspective place. Though it has been challenging, he is confident that his approach will yield some of his best music to date.

“For a while, because I’ve had a rough time in the music (business), I just wanted to stand on stage and sing happy songs and I didn’t really care if it was cool or not,” Paleface said. “Lately I’ve felt a little restless with that. I’m taking my time with it so I don’t know when it will be finished, hopefully soon.”

Until then, fans can catch Paleface touring across the country. This month, Paleface will once again make a stop in Greenville to close out Spazz Fest VI at Christy’s Europub on March 22 from 7-11 p.m. Fans can expect Paleface to deliver another fun and lively performance, full of some of his best old tunes, a few new ones and plenty of audience interaction.

“I want [the audience] to feel the energy and give it back so we can both bug out to the sound vibrations,” Paleface said.

This piece originally ran in Mixer Magazine.

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Summer Festival Spotlight – Newport Folk Festival

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Imagine yourself meandering through the rustic barracks of an 18th century waterfront U.S. military fort.  Sounds pretty cool, right?  Now imagine that the sun is shining, the beer is flowing, the harbor is dotted with white sails and white caps, and every single one of your favorite bands is playing.  Luckily, you don’t have to just imagine this perfect scenario–you can experience it!

Now in its 54th year, the Newport Folk Festival continues to carry the torch when it comes to stacked lineups with all of the best festival trimmings.  Over the July 26-28 weekend, the industry’s most talented musicians will land at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, RI and play to a–more than likely–sold-out crowd.

Here are some of the top reasons to get your hands on the oh-s0 coveted Newport Folk Festival ticket (or find a friend with a boat and post-up in the harbor), along with fan feedback from some new and slightly seasoned Newport Folk festivarians:

1. The Lineup:  Unlike other festivals, Newport doesn’t release their full lineup until well after tickets go on sale.  Savvy festivarians know to purchase tickets early, because year after year festival organizers book only the best acts.  Second-timer Karen, from Nashville, TN, didn’t need to know the lineup to know she would grace Fort Adams with her presence again this year.  “I bought my 3-day pass the day they went on sale, without a single act having been announced.  No need.  I knew it would be good–no, great,” she said.  And she was certainly correct.  Heavy-hitters include Feist, The Avett Brothers, Beck, The Lumineers, Jim James, Old Crow Medicine Show and Trombone Shorty, to name a few.  While these are certainly impressive headliners, Newport will also host one of the most impressive lineups of indie bands on the festival circuit this year.  Bands like Langhorne Slim and the Law, Shovels and Rope, The Lone Bellow, and The Milk Carton Kids, along with solo performances from Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle, are must-sees at this year’s NFF.  First-timer Blair, from Asheville, NC, is most looking forward to Langhorne Slim’s performance on Saturday, which is slated to be one of this year’s crowd favorites.  With such a stellar lineup, fans like Karen are going to have to think long and hard about where to be and when.  She added, “My only frustration is going to come from having to make some hard choices about who to see when every act is terrific.  Good problem to have, though, right?”

2. The Backdrop:  There’s nothing quite like watching the sun set over Newport Harbor as the headliner closes out the day with an inspirational performance.  The NFF has one of the most beautiful backdrops around–historic mansions nestled into vibrant, green rolling hills surrounding a sailor’s paradise.  From Fort Adams, this breathtaking scenery is sure to make any festival goer stop in his/her tracks and take in a panoramic view.  Repeat offender Karissa from Hackettstown, NJ shared her thoughts on the festival’s landscape.  “Last year was my first NFF, and I plan on going every year now.  It’s clean, it’s close, and the views are amazing.  When you’re at Fort Adams, you’re right on the water.  You can look out and see people on their sailboats dancing to Jackson Browne or My Morning Jacket.  You can see the famous Newport Mansions on your drive in and dream about spilling a few million out to live in one, one day.”  Sounds pretty magical to me!

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3.  The Nightlife: After the sun goes down and all of the lawn chairs get folded up, the festival still rages on.  On Friday and Saturday nights, Dawes and Friends will play shows at The Jane Pickens Theater  to benefit the Newport Festivals Foundation.  Just down the road at the Newport Blues Cafe, Deer Tick will close out Friday-Sunday nights with performances to benefit both the Newport Festivals Foundation and Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.  Though frontmen Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and John McCauley (Deer Tick) are friends, collaborators, and recently appointed Newport Folk Festival Board of Advisor members, you can bet that the vibe at each show will be span the spectrum.  A word to the wise, the rowdy bunch should fall in line with Newport’s golden(toothed) boy McCauley at Newport Blues Cafe, while the more laid back fans should kick it with L.A. rocker Goldsmith and pals.  Either way, the evening events offer festival goers a chance to keep the party going, while supporting great charities.

4. The Festivarians:  Music lovers travel from far and wide to get to Newport, and these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill festivarians.  Rather, they are fans that know a thing or two about music, and that’s why they are there–for the music.   After her first NFF, Karen noticed that the crowd was one of the things that made NFF so special.  “I have been calling it an adult festival, but that’s not really accurate.  It is very mellow and civilized.  I can compare it to MerleFest, actually, now that I’ve been there.”  Karissa added, “At NFF, everyone is on the same page.  Audiences are respectful.  I didn’t see a single person stumbling around drunk, trying to push their way to the front, which is kind of hard to believe for a three-day festival!  You can look to your left and right and on either side of you is a person wearing a t-shirt with your favorite band written across the front of it–pretty amazing.  I’m all for NFF.  Best festival, hands down.”

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5. The Unexpected:  From Dylan’s 1965 plug-in to The Pixies unplugged in 2005, you just never know what kind of amazing musical treats will pop-up at NFF.  Over the years, fans have been delighted with surprise onstage collaborations, fort-top performances, and secret acoustic sessions.  It’s safe to say that NFF will deliver more unforgettable, unexpected moments this year, as well.   In 2010, The Avett Brothers, rode a scissor lift high above a line of port-a-johns and played a secret short set to those fans who able to sneak away from the other stages.  This is just one of many moments that will live on in the NFF history books:

6.  The Layout:  Due to tight capacity restrictions at Fort Adams, NFF has been forced to keep the festival numbers down, which is quite amazing considering the caliber of musicians that attend.  Having a festival with only 4 stages in a very close proximity to one another, but with ample space to keep sound separate, is a major plus for NFF.  “The beautiful thing about NFF is that it’s small. There are four stages and it only takes a minute to get from one to another.  I recently attended Firefly Music festival in Delaware and it was so crowded and the stages were so far apart, it took my friend and I forever to figure out where we were supposed to be.  We actually walked around Firefly reminiscing about how perfect NFF is,” shared Karissa.  The festival layout allows the experience to remain intimate and engaging, as if you were enjoying a private show with 10,000 of your closest friends.

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These are just a few of the many reasons to get to the Newport Folk Festival this year from July26-28th.  At the time of this entry, single-day tickets for Friday were still available.  You may have to resort to Stubhub or Craigslist for the Saturday and Sunday shows.  But, just remember that there’s always next year, so be sure to buy your tickets early.  See you in Newport!

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