Jesus and Kiddie Pools: An Interview with Paul Thorn
With his rough-hewn voice and knack for storytelling, singer-songwriter Paul Thorn is one of the most talented and entertaining artists on the roots music scene, delivering bluesy country-rock that’s often based on life lessons learned from the two most influential figures in his life: his father, a preacher, and his uncle, a pimp. The Mississippi native’s new album, What the Hell is Goin’ On, has him interpreting material from some of his favorite songwriters, an eclectic group that features artists from Buddy Miller to Lindsey Buckingham to Eli “Paperboy” Reed. We caught up with Thorn in between gigs and picked his brain about the new record, his favorite songwriters, and the importance of carrying pepper spray.
Juli Thanki: Why did you decide to make a covers album?
Paul Thorn: I just wanted to have fun. People are always asking me what kind of music I like, so we just went into the studio and found some songs that we liked and recorded them. I actually am friends with a lot of those songwriters; I’m fans of theirs, and I just wanted to tip my hat to them.
JT: You’ve got some big alt-country names on the album, but you have a few unexpected songwriters on the record too, like Lindsey Buckingham and Paul Rodgers. How’d you come across those songs?
PT: Before he was in Bad Company, Paul Rodgers was in an awesome band called Free; I call it a “cock rock” band. They did blues rock, and I think the world needs a song like their “Walk in My Shadow,” because in today’s world, in most songs about women, there’s a lot of whinin’ and cryin’ and sittin’ by the telephone waiting on some woman to call. This song has the exact opposite sentiments: it’s about a man who’s taking it, and a woman who’s liking it.
JT: How’d you end up with “What the Hell is Goin’ On” as the title track?
PT: Me and Elvin Bishop are friends. He sang that song on his porch one day and it was a really powerful song. It’s about the condition of the world. There’s a big moral and spiritual decline taking place, and this song speaks for the times, and when he sang it on the porch, I knew I wanted to sing it.
JT: How did the two of you first meet?
JT: Elvin came to one of my shows by chance a long time ago. I was a fan of his – I remember telling him that I saw “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” on The Midnight Special when I was a little kid. When I got to actually meet him, it was like meeting Superman. We struck up a conversation after the show and became friends. He invited me over to his house, where he’s got a big yard. Every time I visit, he gives me a jar of homemade kiwi jelly, so we’re good friends.
JT: You and the band stay pretty true to the original versions of these songs, but you also put your own bluesy, gritty spin on them. How would you guys work up songs?
PT: I’ve been with the same band for going on 20 years. We just know one another and have fun. When we were in the studio, we just started playing the songs, and after a few takes, it sounded the way it sounded. We just went in and pushed “record.” We had to do several takes, and when you cut a record, you go back and do a few overdubs here and there, but we pretty much just recorded live in the studio.
JT: I think “She’s Got a Crush on Me” might be one of the best love songs to come out this year.
PT: In today’s world, women have such a high standard to live up to, with all the perfectly-formed women on television. If we’re not careful, women who are beautiful will start to feel inadequate. The opening line of the song says, “She’s a little bit overweight / She’s not a fashion plate,” and, at first, you think it’s an insult. But as you get a little further into the song, you realize that he’s paying this woman a compliment, and just because a woman has put on a few pounds, it don’t mean she ain’t beautiful. The only woman that’s ugly is a woman that’s mean.
JT: There are a few of them out there.
PT: I know it. That’s why I carry pepper spray in my pocket.
PT: Drawing is my hobby. The album cover shows me and Jesus sitting in a kiddie pool surrounded by beautiful women who are feeding us sandwiches and bringing us Kool-Aid to drink. When I was growing up, I learned in church that, in Heaven, we’d sit at Jesus’ feet and worship him for eternity. That sounds like more fun for Him than it does for me, so I figure my version of Heaven will be me surrounded by beautiful girls. In Heaven, the girls won’t be jealous of each other; they’ll be happy to share me.
JT: And in Hell, you have to listen to Toby Keith on your iPod for all eternity?
PT: Yeah, that’s one of the drawbacks of going to Hell. The only music they have is Toby Keith. In that album cover, all the people that are burning in Hell are there because they didn’t buy any Paul Thorn products while they were on Earth. All I’m trying to do is help them and make them wake up before it’s too late.
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