Christopher Paul Stelling – “Strange Darkness”
From The Songs of Christopher Paul Stelling 
Christopher Paul Stelling – “The Museum vs. Jesus”
A Few Words with Christopher Paul Stelling
Is it more difficult for you to play a simpler, slower melody like “Strange Darkness” than a faster, finger-picked song like “The Museum vs. Jesus?”
CPS: Well, I’m assuming your speaking of the dexterity involved. I would have to say yes, of course playing a slower paced song can be somewhat easier as far as adroitness might be concerned, but there is something to be said for letting the more rhythmic fast picking carry me and song into somewhat of a trance. whether difficult or not though, I enjoy the physicality of playing fast. It could train wreck. That’s exciting
When writing a confessional song like “Strange Darkness,” who do you see as the audience for these words?
CPS: This one in particular has taught me things about myself that I wasn’t very aware of until I became more of a participant in its mythology and less of its author. I was in quite a state emotionally when I wrote it. I recorded the guitar part on a tape deck with only sounds coming from my voice—the sounds I wanted to hear. Later, while listening back, I wrote down the words I thought I could hear coming through. In a way the words found themselves. I typically don’t write this way. It was an interesting experience. There have been moments at shows, when I sing the last phrase, people gasp a bit…exhale. At that point it’s no longer my song, it’s theirs.
Name the 5 most influential figures in your guitar playing style?
CPS: Okay, Well I have been very influenced by banjo players like Doc Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb, and Hobart Smith. Their downward frail teamed with an emphasis on the melody. Also, guitar players like John Fahey, Robby Basho, the Takoma Records guys. Alex Degrassi was a huge influence. About 4 years ago I went out to California to meet him and play a bit together. He told me crazy stories about playing with Fahey when he was my age, and having to drive Basho (who was somewhat eccentric to say the least) to shows because he didn’t drive. Finger picking came somewhat naturally. I found out that a more distant and removed part of my family are a sect of bluegrass banjo builders and players in Virginia. That was affirming for sure.
5 biggest influences on your lyricism?
Oh geez. I think that just because one is influenced by a style doesn’t necessarily mean they strive to emulate it. Perhaps just being inspired by witnessing an artist’s drive and fluency can be enough to help one strive for their own voice. That being said, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Dylan are all incredible songwriters (duh). Kurt Cobain hit me young. Hank Williams, of course. Nick Drake. That’s 6 i guess. I’m not done yet though. Poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke, oh man so divine. Richard Brautigan, so sweet like a cloud. Kenneth Patchen, one of the most heavy hitting of somewhat forgotten American authors. The Journal of Albion Moonlight is one of my absolute favorite novels. Henry Miller. I guess I’ll stop.
Tell me about “The Museum vs Jesus”.
What started out as a scene became three vignettes. It’s about lovers I guess. The title to me sums up a battle the mind can play between memories and what actually did occur in a given situation. It’s very visual to me. The guitar playing is busy, like the mind struggling to capture details before they become blurry. My friend Cait, who filmed the video, kept bringing the camera in and out of focus. Although it didn’t occur to me until just now, that’s a bit symbolic. It’s very interesting and provoking to me, the way Christianity has influenced western art. These paintings and effigies we see in museums are nothing but an interpretation far far removed from what this figure might have looked like—second hand memories.
“The Museum vs Jesus” lyrics:
i wonder if i’d kissed you that day in the museum
would you still have gone and fallen back into the arms of jesus
standing there surrounded by medieval suits of armor
engraved with scenes of battle
your presence made even warfare
seem somewhat beautiful
and forgive me if i think your beautiful
its just that im not sure ive known real love
you’ve got these ways about you though
they make me wanna try
but you better go now
hes waiting, waiting to take you home
you better go now
hes waiting right out side
and i hope he tells you your beautiful
i hope he tells you your so damn beautiful
hope jesus tells you your beautiful tonight
late night on foot excursions
from our borough to the city
towering suspension bridges
don’t you think it such a pity
icy water down below seems like it’d
really sooth these sores
i think i might survive the leap
but i don’t think id make it to the shore
but dont you think its beautiful
the way the city lights reflect upon the tide
theres something bout this scene here though
it just makes me wanna cry
dont you ever wanna cry
youd better go now, im earning
still learning to be alone
youd better go now before the moon pulls
at my tide
but aint it all so beautiful
aint it all so beautiful
oh jesus your so beautiful tonight
the next morning i awoke under
the borrowed sheets of a dear x lover
she was down there cursing me
deep under the covers
she then emerged and grabbed the palm
of my hand and said
you got a real short lifeline d ya think you
can still make it
make it to that promised land
and i said but baby don’t the young die beautiful
at least thats how i thought i heard it said
don’t take this the wrong way but
me i’m quite prepared to die
so come on lets go now
its morning lets go and face the day
learn through love dear while we still have the
and aint it all so beautiful
aint it all so god damned beautiful
pray it’ll still be beautiful tonight
September 22 @ Pianos / New York, NY
September 25 @ Bull McCabe’s Pub / Somerville, MA
October 3 @ The Rock Shop 7pm
October 23 @ Rockwood Music Hall – (CMJ Showcase – 4:00pm)
Your New Favorite Band: Christopher Paul Stelling // 1.13.10
Everyone was born to do something. Christopher Paul Stelling was born to play music with an acoustic guitar. Luckily at some point in his youth an acoustic found its way into his clutches and Stelling learned to play it. Not only can the man play an incredible finger-picked melody, but he learned how to compliment his playing with compelling lyrical storyelling like the legends of the past. His sound is not of a contemporary time but rather the roots of our whole American musical existence.
Stelling is for the Dylan lovers who’ve found a new idol in Tallest Man on Earth. And much like Tallest Man on Earth, Stelling can hold your existence in a way most singer-songwriters fail so often. He knows how to engage a room.
Christopher Paul Stelling: New Record and Videos // 6.17.10
In the latter part of 2009 I met Christopher Paul Stelling at a friend’s house party where Stelling would be performing. Up until that point I had only heard of Stelling from that friend, who raved endlessly about him. I’d taken a gander at his myspace and enjoyed a couple of the sounds, but never quite gave the songs the undivided attention they deserved.
Meeting Stelling for the first time he made a powerful impression immediately. Unlike the stream of hipster musicians I encounter on a daily basis, he had a unique presence. There was no wall of defense/judgement. With long hair, and natural-colored clothing that looked as though they’ve seen the world, he was a hippie in the nicest sense of the word—intellectual, approachable,and warm-hearted.
A little later in the night, in the living room of a Bed Stuy apartment, he performed a handful of songs on his beat-up acoustic guitar. The entire room was captivated throughout the entire performance. His fingers picked through the strings at rapid pace brewing up fluttering melodies while passionate words of the devil, swamps, love and loss escaped his raw throat. The faster songs like “Pig Roast” had the more immediate impact, lending to energetic performance where Stelling stomped his foot violently as added percussion.
Needless to say, the first time I saw Christopher Paul Stelling perform, I was thoroughly impressed. His passion and skill radiated from his performance and felt real and unique.
Through the rest of the year and the beginning of 2010, I’ve seen him perform again and again, finding different types of magic in every performance and song, while also getting to know him as a person. He’s refreshingly honest and true to himself, both in his music and his life.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be one of the first people with a copy of his debut double-album The Songs of Christopher Paul Stelling. Twenty sounds sounded like a lot until finding out the massive number of recordings they were cut down from.
Listening to these tracks, I felt especially moved by the slower, heartfelt ballads like opener “Flawless Executioner” and “Like Little Broken Birds.” Unlike the live performances, I could devote more time to the tracks, hearing things that I couldn’t possibly hear in the heat of a performance. Clocking in at well over an hour, there’s not a minute on the record in which Christopher Paul Stelling not only believes the words he’s singing but also feels them. That’s exactly why songs like “The Ocean Took My Love Away” are so touching to listeners. Anyone can write emotionally impactful words, but if their presented with a sterile approach, they become meaningless to anyone hearing them.
Live @ Union Hall // 2.3.10