How did I meet Paul Melançon? I was climbing into the original Uncle Green van, an old Ford Econoline we bought from Sears—no back seat, only a small love seat we took from our living room, so Paul had to sit against the metal wall. He was still in high school, I think, and stowing away to our gig in Clemson.
Tangent: I don’t remember how we kept the equipment from rolling around the back of that van as we drove, but I’m glad nothing crushed Paul on the trip. I do remember the infamous “Three on a Tree” clutch system:
Many years later, when Uncle Green entered its stage of stasis, I got to play a few songs on Paul’s first solo album, Camera Obscura. I am currently lucky enough to be a member of his backing band, the New Insecurities. Look, there’s even a single out!
A cast of talented co-writers helped me finish the songs for the soundtrack, and they all sing wonderfully, but I knew I would need someone to eventually sing all the Spider songs, to create some continuity. Paul was my first and only choice, so I’m glad that he agreed to do it. He recently talked to me about the book on his website:
I thought it only fair to ask him about being Spider, and his own musical plans.
You’re usually one of those “write everything myself” people, yes? Have you co-written songs, in the past?
A few, but not very often. In my first serious band I used to write bridges a lot for our other songwriter, but we only tried once to literally write a song together and we never got past that first stage. I guess I’ve gotten very used to being the sole voice in the music I was making.
I am working on a side project, though, where I have farmed out most of the music to a number of friends and then just written the lyrics. It’s been strange but a good process. I had gotten into a particular writing pattern before I took a break from music and since I’ve started up again I’m really trying to break those habits and try different ways.
So which is easier: writing words without music, which someone else writes, or getting the words and then having to write the music?
It’s definitely easier for me to write lyrics to someone else’s music just because that’s closer to how I normally work: music first, lyrics second. So with someone else’s music I can still sit with it and listen for the melodies that come. Writing music to your lyrics was more like math to me. I had to sit with them and try to crack the right rhythm and things like that. It didn’t really open up for me until I had the idea that a kid trying to write a hit would be looking for inspiration in his idols, and that’s when I came up with sort of lifting “Taxman” to start it off. I enjoyed the experience a lot, it was just harder.
Is it hard to sing other people’s lyrics, after all these years of singer-songwriter-dom?
I imagine it’s a lot like acting and trying to move past simply memorizing the lines vs. inhabiting a role like it’s yours. The words always feel a little alien at first to me and so there’s a distance from them that takes a while to bridge. But I think it’s probably also a matter of just not doing it enough.
Was there a song that was particularly easy to find the voice for (aside from, you know, yours)? One that was particularly tricky?
It’s funny, because I hadn’t read the book before singing them, so I made assumptions about where in Spider’s career some of the songs happened that ended up totally wrong. The song that was easiest for me to find the voice was probably “Gardenia,” except I thought it was a wearier, later hit and that turned out to be wrong. The toughest song to do was, by far, “Doin’ Fine” because it’s effing Murray Attaway and I am never going to be able to be Murray Attaway.
And, hey: aren’t you working on a new record or two? It’s been a while. Wanna talk about where you think your new stuff is headed?
I’m working on a regular ol’ Paul Melancon record with the New Insecurities. In my head it’s a big project that will hopefully involve lots of extra media aside from the record itself. I set up a bunch of things that I have to create alongside it without any real idea if I can accomplish them. The record itself is inching closer every day, I still have hopes I can release it before the year is out.
I’m also working on the side project I mentioned before, which also has BIG IDEAS surrounding it. That one is a little further out. And I have a vague notion of what the next regular ol’ me record will be after that. It took me way too many years to figure out that it’s good to have multiple things working in my head because I can switch to a different one when I get stuck on another. I am also trying very hard these days to trust my ideas more and talk myself out of less.