His coworkers at the nursing home where he works as a maintenance manager may not even know that he’s a musician, that he’s appeared on MTV’s “Spring Break,” or that he used to spend the majority of the year touring the country with his former band, Noah’s Reign. He’s had his taste of fame. He’s hit rock bottom. And he’s still playing music.Acoustic solo artist Jason Paul plays two to three shows a week in the Fort Wayne area as well as a couple of shows a month as a member of the band The Joneses. His solo acoustic shows feature him on an acoustic guitar playing mostly cover songs, although he does have a history of written and recorded music as both a solo artist and past member of several bands.
And unlike many acoustic solo musicians, Paul tries to maintain a high energy level and get attendees involved throughout his show.
“I don’t just sit on a stool and it’s not a quiet show,” he says. “It’s less drama and less shoulder-to-shoulder than when a band plays, and you can actually carry on a conversation. But it’s an acoustic show where people are actually up dancing, and I try to keep everybody involved. There might be one request out of 15 that, if I don’t know it, I might fake my way through it [laughs]. You know, everybody can get involved enough that if they want to get up and sing with me they can, and I try to keep everyone involved in that aspect.”
Anyone who attends one of his shows (or puts in a request via his Facebook page) can receive a free copy of his solo album First Impressions/Second Chances which was recorded in two separate phases, from 1999-2003 and then from 2008-2010. A portion of the period in between was spent in rehabilitation from alcoholism, and part of it was in a self-imposed exile from the music world. The album consists of a total of 11 songs, 10 originals and one cover (a version of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See”). The song cycle overall follows the course of his life into the descent of alcoholism, a departure from the music industry and a subsequent recovery and return as a musician.
“After my tour and everything was over, I realized I had a major, major drinking problem,” Paul says. “And so I completely dropped out of music, went to rehab and did the whole nine on that. And what I ended up doing was staying away from music altogether because I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to do that without falling back into [alcoholism].”
While the album features not just him on an acoustic guitar, but accompanying instrumentation such as drums and electric guitar, his solo shows remain just that for the time being (he is currently attempting to put together a three-piece band, but that has yet to materialize). The album was also recorded in two different locales, the first part being recorded in and around his native Mississippi and the last part recorded here in Indiana. The song cycle mirrors his life throughout that time frame.
“The first part of it was kind of a downward spiral,” he says. “Trying to figure out how as an adult ... what you saw yourself being when you’re a kid and you think ‘Okay, by the time I’m 25 years old I’m gonna have a house and this and this and this.’ And you finally get to that point and have had it and lost it and walked away from it. And from that point on, it’s like I’m saying, it’s too late to stop what I’m doing now. I’ve gotta give it all I got.”
Even though the lyrics and the themes on the album reflect Paul’s own life, they are not limited to his experiences. Part of that is by design; while he clearly writes from his own perspective, he intentionally leaves the song meaning somewhat open to enable his audience to bring their own lives into the experience.
“To some people [the lyrics are] about their relationship with their boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, their relationship with their kid, or their relationship with spirituality. It’s a toss-up of everything,” he says. “So when I write a song, I try to make it where, even though it means one thing to me, I don’t want to lock it down into where it has to be that for everybody. I want it to be as universal as possible. Because what is important to me is, well, I finally found what I was looking for, meaning sobriety. To somebody else, it could be their spirituality, or they found their long-lost sister. I try to keep it to where it can be as universal as possible.”
Paul may currently be pushing a solo CD, but the setlists of his shows are almost entirely cover songs. Part of that has to do with his audiences often being unfamiliar with the album, but he does manage to fit the occasional original into his performances.
“Ninety-eight percent of my show is still covers,” he says. “But now that I’ve been pushing these discs out and everything like that, I’m starting now to get some requests for my original stuff, or sometimes I’ll just throw one in every now and then and hope I didn’t tick anyone off that they didn’t know what it was. But ... when you’ve got someone singing back your songs to you, that’s about as good as it gets.”
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