Paul Melancon
By Ronnie

I never thought I'd find a great power-pop artist right in my own backyard. But right here in Doraville, Georgia I found what could (or rather SHOULD) be the next power-pop giant. To quote from his own press, "he does not think he will save rock and roll". Paul Melancon lets his music do his talking…

E.C.: Of all the genres of rock 'n roll, how did you come to choose power-pop as your music of expression?

Paul: Well, not to sound like a cop-out, but I think it's more accurate to say it chose me. I grew up on pop. I mean, I also grew up on ‘70s soul, but I don't think I'd carry that off as believably. But I can still picture myself at 10 years old listening to ELO records and fantasizing about playing in front of a crowd. But more than that, I never really made a conscious decision of what style of music to play. I play what I want to hear and it naturally tends to gravitate toward pop. Those major to minor chord changes... I'm like a junkie, I know it's bad for me but I just keep coming back.

E.C.: Your new CD, "Camera Obscura" was recently released and you've been promoting it on the road with a tour. How has it gone so far? How accepting have you found the audiences?

Paul: It sort of depends on the show we play. Touring out of state on our own has been tough. No one knows who we are. But at the same time, back in November we did six dates opening for the Indigo Girls, and while you might think their fans might not know what to do with us, they were amazingly receptive. What I find is that the style of music I play, that sort of Michael Penn, Neil Finn, Aimee Mann sort of thing, what tends to get lumped together in the AAA radio format, the people who like that sort of music will generally like what I do. But unfortunately they also tend to be people who don't get out to see bands they've never heard of. So, when We can slip in under their radar, if they're out to see a known quantity and they also happen to see us, we tend to do very well. It's that first step of getting ourselves in front of them that's the toughest.

E.C.: Your first CD, "Slumberland", was mostly acoustic-based. How did your songwriting approach differ for the new album?

Paul: Well, it didn't, really. Everything I write starts out acoustic. Slumberland was more acoustic in the end simply because of the level of production that I could afford to do, so it was a little less ambitious than this one is. The production is also due mainly to Rob Gal, my producer, who does most of the full band arrangements and is amazing. I never want any record to just be a collection of songs I could afford to record, I want to make RECORDS. So I was already sort of planning this one out as we were wrapping up Slumberland, but both of them were sort of plotted out the same way beforehand.

E.C.: In one of your interviews I read that CAMERA OBSCURA was a concept album of sorts. But, I just don't get 'concept' when I listen to the album. Maybe I'm just taken away by the wondrous melodies. Plus, the one thing I HATED in high school was when we had to interpret poetry! Did YOU intend it to be a 'concept', or do you just leave the meaning up to each individual?

Paul: Well, I didn't intend it to be a 'concept' record, really, but it was a sort of themed record, the same way that "Sgt. Pepper" has a theme running through it. What I intended was that there's a central occurance, something that gets referred to vaguely in the first song and is expanded in the last song. The other songs are influenced by it and in general they all deal with people who can't seem to relate to the world and to people in any normal way. But apart from that main occurance there's no 'storyline' to the CD, and to be honest I never really intended it to be the focus of the CD and tried to leave it sort of deliberately vague. I've always tried to write music that seems simple on the surface and that begins to reveal a stranger underside if you happen to listen to it more. The CD was meant to be the same way and the songs can all be taken by themselves and then hopefully the larger, darker whole will begin to seep through.

E.C.: There is even a song titled, "Jeff Lynne" on your new CD. The lyrics aren't really about Jeff Lynne, but rather broken relationship-type lyrics. But...the song is almost a tribute to ELO, using ELO-type embellishments in it's structure. The fun part of this song was pointing out which parts referred musically to which ELO songs! I think it was clever of you to do this type of "tribute" to ELO. I definitely hear some elements of CROWDED HOUSE in your songwriting style. What bands other than ELO have influenced you?

Paul: Well, firstly, it was fun to do. Actually, some of the backing vocals were hard because it was almost embarrassing to do. But I grew up with ELO and it was a sort of gift to the eight-year-old me. Crowded House is a good call, I've been a fan of Neil Finn since the Split Enz days and his songwriting is a big influence on me; his ability to write a sweet sounding song that's actually very creepy lyrically. I'm also influenced by Michael Penn and Aimee Mann, really any kind of well-written pop music. And I find myself really envious of Ben Gibbard's (Death Cab for Cutie) lyrics.

E.C.: I also think it is ironic that you have out-ELO-ed Jeff Lynne on the track "Jeff Lynne". It has all the classic trademarks of an ELO song and Jeff Lynne seems to have lost or forgotten his muse. In my opinion, the last so-called ELO album, "Zoom" was a travesty, sounding nothing like ELO (maybe he thought he would get better sales by attaching the ELO moniker to his recent solo CD). However, there might be some hope left in Mr. Lynne, witness his remake of "Mr. Blue Sky" in some TV commercials. (I hear from knowledgeable ELO fans that the song is not the original but a recent remake by Jeff Lynne) After seeing his recent performance on PBS I was really bummed when he cancelled his U.S. tour. What was your reaction to the "Zoom" CD?

Paul: Well, I can understand the disappointment in the new record. I think I come at it from a songwriter's perspective, though. As much as I would like (as a fan) to have "Out of the Blue II" I can't imagine (as a writer) still mining material I wrote over twenty years ago. I can appreciate someone trying to grow as an artist, and I found enough ELO on the record to sort of hang my hat on, even with the differences. I thought it was a better record than the final two ELO records, as well as his solo record from the early nineties. He seemed to actually be taking it seriously, which was something I didn't feel about the other records.

E.C.: I really enjoyed your self-penned "bio" on your web page. I found your quotes both humorous and a little bit profound. For instance, you said that, "[Paul]...does not think he will save rock and roll." Does rock and roll have a future?

Paul: Well, I'm not exactly sure I'm the person to answer that. But I think it definitely has a future, I'm just not sure we'll be able to find it. The major labels and the RIAA seem intent on making sure there's no life left in her at all, so I think the best place to find rock and roll will be bands struggling in your hometown. Just as a side note, the bio on my site was written after having read a thousand or so bad band bios over the past few years. They all seem to sound the same and I can't imagine anyone who has to read them taking them seriously.

E.C.: When it comes to classifying your music, you state that, "[Paul] ...does not think he combines acts ...into a wholly new and original style. Nor does he want to. Paul Melangon plays music. Literate, moody, indie-pop music. Whatever the hell that is." With that in mind, I'm not going to ask you to describe your music. But instead I'm going to ask you what you want the listener to remember after hearing your songs?

Paul: That's a tough one... I think I'd just like people to think that there was more in there than they first thought when the catchy chord changes grabbed them. Which implies that I hope the catchy chord changes grab them in the first place.

E.C.: Your voice really stands out and grabs your attention. Did you have any vocal training?

Paul: No, not unless you count sitting in my room as a kid singing along to Pop records. I think I'm just lucky it all worked out.

E.C.: I was especially surprised to find such great power-pop right in my own backyard in the town that I reside, Doraville, Georgia! The unlisted track on your CD was a cover of the Beach Boys "You're So Good To Me". Have you ever thought of covering the Atlanta Rhythm Section song, "Doraville"? (I'm asking this purely tongue-in cheek mind you!) Of course, giving it your own special power-pop treatment?

Paul: Ha ha ha... Actually, it's not as tongue-in-cheek as you might think. I brought it up a month or so ago in rehearsal but my band just stared at me. I could have sworn the song was a hit but maybe it was more of a local hit than I thought. Apparently not many people have heard of it. I thought it'd be really funny, but I suppose if people don't know the song the joke is sort of wasted. I keep thinking Doraville should make it their city song. Assuming cities have songs. They could play it before traffic court every day.

E.C.: As a songwriter, do you have a 'surplus' of songs around? Is there a timetable for the next album?

Paul: I am actually a really slow writer. If I can get 5 or 6 songs written in a year I'm doing pretty well. What you hear on the CDs is usually almost everything I've written. At this point I have about half a record written. I'm looking forward to recording again but I don't think it'll begin Until this fall, and even then it's dependent on my finances, obviously. I spent a year and a half on "Camera," actually, so I think the next one will be a bit more straight-forward.

E.C.: Finally, I’d like to pose a "fantasy" question...if you had just one artist that you could tour with (past or present), who would it be?

Paul: Well, my absolute honest answer would be any band whose fans I could win over. But in the spirit of the question, I think any band successfully touring in the seventies. To me that was the heyday of the touring band and the idea of travelling in a bus playing the US during that period would be the epitome of what rock and roll is all about.

Click here to visit the official Paul Melancon website