Comedy isn’t the first word you tend to associate with the name Paul Dempsey. But he assures Camilla Jones that after 20 years in the music game he still cracks himself up. The Something For Kate frontman is in town to air some new material before heading into the studio to record his second solo album. In high spirits, he takes time out to chat with our crack reporter, letting us know that we can expect just as much side splitting hilarity in his sophomore offering as his debut. Seriously.
It seems one of the biggest mistakes would be to confuse Paul Dempsey’s seriousness for solemnity,“A lot of what I write seems to make me laugh more than anyone else,” he says. “I think a lot of my songs are funny but apparently my sense of humour is way too dry. Steph and Clint are constantly telling me no-one’s going to get the joke and they’re possibly right. But it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable for me,” he laughs.
Whether he’s singing about economic crashes or existential crises, it seems we’re forever on the outside of Paul’s jokes, but since he’s so charmingly self deprecating when examining the heavy subject matter that inspires his musical humour, you certainly don’t mind. “I guess I’m a bit of a nerd. I’m still fascinated by many of the same things that have fascinated me since I was a teenager. The nature of reality. Human reality – the reality of anything. Just existence. I dunno, I seem to sort of live in a perpetual existential joke.”
Thankfully for fans, Paul’s perpetual navel-gazing penchant continues to plague his consciousness. “It’s something that occupies my mind a lot. What is this? Human beings and the nature of identity interests me and how we identify ourselves and our consciousness. How do we go through the day thinking what we think – and how we think – and the way we interact. I guess I’m just really interested in how we explain this all to ourselves. It all sounds very serious but I guess I try to do it with a sense of humour,” he says.
Since comedy seems to be the running theme of our conversation, I offer that perhaps now as a father, Paul is well within rights to work the Dad jokes, “I’m so good at them!,” he enthuses. “I’m a shocker with Dad jokes. It’s a natural ability that I seem to have.”
When I ask whether themes of domestic life or fatherhood will make an appearance on his new album, Paul’s answer is refreshingly frank, “I get asked that a lot – whether becoming a parent has affected my writing – but it doesn’t really. Obviously it affects everything. It affects your whole outlook on life. I don’t necessarily think it’s particularly exciting subject matter though. My songs are still about cerebral things, if that’s the right word.” Who wants hear that solemn baritone wasted on songs about dirty nappies anyway?!
“Music and songwriting is a dialogue that I’m having with myself I guess. I guess that’s where I derive a lot of satisfaction – just having that ongoing dialogue with myself and the things that inhabit my songs. And just the fun of getting up and performing. I enjoy that more than anything else,” he says.
Which brings us to the subject of his upcoming three date tour – Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Perth. I ask what he’s hoping to get out of the sneak public preview of his new material. “Something about having to perform songs live forces you to make decisions about them, sort of forces you to basically finish writing them and figure out how you’re going to sing them and perform them. It’s more about me putting pressure on myself so that I’m ready to play them.”
“Going out and playing these new songs live before committing them to tape is part of the process of discovery for me, of working out whether the songs feel like they’re really solid and in robust enough shape to be committed to tape, or whether it feels like there’s still weak points. That’s something, that for whatever reason, I can only identify that when I get on a stage and actually try and play them to people. It’s not the same doing it in your bedroom singing them to yourself. That pressure – that urgency isn’t there.”
He tells me that he’s not seeking so much of a rapturous reception, as feedback from himself about what’s working and what’s not. “It’s about needing to feel a sense of urgency about what I’m doing and that energy of being on the spot, having to do something new and fresh. You get that when you’re playing new songs for the first time. It forces you to make decisions and it forces you to rise to the occasion. If you play it really well, you feel great and like you’re on the right track with that song. Otherwise you might come off stage feeling like there’s something about the song that needs more work.” Fortunately for us, we get a preview of Paul’s next work ahead of time – a musical stand up routine, where we may miss the punchline, but we’re going to love it just the same.
Paul Dempsey will play the Soundlounge on 22 May.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Butcher.