In the Fall of 2000, Lifeboy, my band at the time, played a show with another high school band called Esposito, named after a Max Fischer character. When we heard them do Weezer's "Holiday," we knew it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Frontman Dave Paulson graduated high school and lurked around in Character, the instrumental band whose leading voice was provided by Dave's duct-tape covered strat. Eventually, Dave was drawn back to the microphone, and he coralled friends who'd all scattered amongst other bands to form The Privates. In between obligations, Nashville's youngest supergroup played rare shows and released CDs when they could. Last year Matt Bell, whose Silent Friction once headlined shows with Esposito, brought Dave on the road as an honorary Pink Spider. This week, Matt's putting out The Privates' new frankensteinian LP, "Barricades," as the first full-length release on his new indie label Mean Buzz Records. I sat down with Dave to pick his brain about Esposito, My Chemical Romance, and the fate of The Privates. At a Nashville cafe, Dave eats a grilled cheese with tabasco sauce, and wears a plain white t-shirt and a short-billed army cap. He looks a little worn out, yet still alert, perky. Okay, I didn't really sit down with Dave and note such observations, I've just always wanted to start out an interview like that. Here's what we had to say over Gmail.
Sam: It could be said that The Privates' claim to fame is that in a way they're not a working band. This year, you and the other three band members are all tied up with other projects; Rollum is recording with The Features, Keith is recording with De Novo Dahl, Ryan's found himself on tour with Lambchop, and you were recruited to join The Pink Spiders' live show. How did you manage to record a full-length album as a band?
Dave: Most of the material we were actually able to work up as a group in a natural manner. From August '05-February '06 we were just practicing/recording and playing shows when we could. By February we had seven new songs. The other four didn't come as easily. Once spring rolled around, everybody's schedules had ramped up and it was nearly impossible for the four of us to get together. I ended up going over to Rollum's and just rehearsing with him for three new songs, so we could at least get a good rhythmic feel for them. He and I recorded demos of them and sent them to Keith and Ryan so they could come up with parts for them. Time was running out before I left to tour all summer, so I recorded my guitar and vocal for those last 4 songs at Lake Fever by myself with just a click. I had to imagine everything else being there. It wasn't the best way to go about it, but it's all we could do. "Sea to Sea" was solely a studio creation. I just played the keyboard and sang and asked them to build something around it. The day after I recorded my last part, I left for Warped Tour with the Pink Spiders. I'd get mp3's emailed to me as each piece was added, Every morning I'd walk around a fairground or a parking lot with my laptop trying to steal wi-fi off of other tour buses. The mixing process was mostly done in this fashion, too.
It's gotta be great knowing that Keith, Ryan, and Rollum are three musicians who will always come up with distinctive, creative, interconnected parts. How pre-planned are your songs' arrangements in your mind?
They do whatever they want. When we practice I'll just play and sing and they'll jump in with whatever springs to mind. Occasionally I'll have a part in my head that I feel strongly about and suggest it to them, but I try to do that sparingly. What they come up with is much more interesting, and inspired. Rollum almost never goes for the obvious beat, and I think that approach gives each song a stronger identity. Some of our chord/time changes would feel jarring, but the lines that Keith came up with made them sound natural. Ryan's range is insane. On some songs he's the guy that throws the wrench into the works and deliberately ignores the rules (and that's a crucial thing for us) but sometimes he'll go in the complete opposite direction and come up with these baroque-ish parts that work perfectly. I did a few demos of these songs by myself before I brought them to the band. I've since gone back and listened to them and realized how bland the arrangements were. But maybe I was holding back because I knew they'd come up with something better.
You journeyed into the machine with The Pink Spiders: MTV, TRL, Warped Tour, roadies, autographs, tits. What did you take away from that experience?
I think one of the big motivators for joining them was that it seemed like maybe my only chance ever to experience all that. Not that I didn't think the Privates were good enough, just that we were heading in another direction. I think i used to write music that was much more accessible, and in recent years, at least from what people have told me, It's gotten progressively more idiosyncratic. "Weird" is the popular term. I had kind of ruled the whole mainstream thing out for me. So when I still got the opportunity to see that side, I jumped at the chance. But I felt more like a tourist than an active participant. I felt totally at home with the Pink Spiders and our crew, and I'm very proud of what we did - especially the album - but with everything else, with the label and other bands we toured with, I never really fit in.
Did it make you more inspired to "make it" with your own music, or even more turned off to the industry?
I guess I didn't feel profoundly inspired or turned off from the whole thing, just separated. I've always understood why Good Charlotte and Yellowcard sell millions of records. Your music will agree with certain people, and sometimes they happen to be in greater numbers than others. The experience was still definitely a positive one. I'm more optimistic now, and I hope I'm less of a jerk.
Esposito was probably more accessible, or at least a little more in-line with what “the kids” were listening to. Do you ever think Esposito could have been one of those bands out there right now?
I think we had plenty of potential, but it's hard to say. I wish we could have seen what the rest of the country thought of us. Seeing all the emo-tinged pop bands on Warped Tour this summer made think of it. We never would have survived, though. It's really hard to do one thing for a long time at that age. You wonder what you're missing out on. These days it kinda seems like the spoils go to the ones that are most committed. That definitely wasn't us. But then again, technology has changed everything. Look a band like Panic at the Disco - they were high school kids that posted a basement demo as a comment on Pete Wentz's Livejournal. We didn't have that in 1999. We drove to Spongebath's office and gave them our EP. We should have been frozen from then until 2004.
Do you think the state of popular music today is better or worse than it used to be, say, when you were growing up?
Popular music is probably on the whole, better than it was 10 years ago. Everybody's being more adventurous, or as much as they can be. But there's so many mediocre bands with a lot of hustle bubbling under on Myspace. I think it confuses the kids. When you're 14 you want to listen to a band that nobody else knows about. On Myspace you can listen to any band at any level in the country and the only distinction is the number of friends. And most of these bands aren't good. But you don't know that at 14. I had Silverchair records.
Hey – “Diorama” is incredible, but nobody in America knows about it.
Oh, sorry. I didn't get that far, but I remember hearing that they got better. I had the first two. Freak Show is hilarious.
What popular bands do you like / listen to?
[Of] newer mainstream stuff, I like My Chemical Romance, T.I., Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Green Day.
You’re the third person I know who’s told me My Chemical Romance is great.
My thing with MCR is kinda complicated. People latch on to their theatrics, but they actually care about melodies, I think that when you see them play you can tell that they're trying really hard to make something decent. I'm rooting for them.
The title track on the new album, "Barricades,” taps into a what seems to be a recurring theme for you: nostalgia. Do you wish you were still one of those 14 year old kids?
I don't want to relive the past but I think I've always tended to look back at things more than other people. That being said, the new album was much more in the moment than our earlier stuff.
You've always written catchy songs, but "Heart's Got a Hole" is on another level entirely. Do you care about writing hits?
I do care about writing hits, but I don't want to force it. The best hit songs I think are more born out of spontaneity. I think with some albums and bands you can smell the forced single from a mile away. I think "Heart's Got a Hole" just came out as naturally as anything else we've done. It may have been a little more conceptual. I actually brought it to the band as a Specials-ish mid tempo ska thing. When that wasn't working, I said, "Well, what if we played it like Gary Glitter?"
What's your favorite song you've ever written? And don't gimme any of that "they're all my children, I can't pick just one" crap.
Probably "I'm a Koala and I'm Cold".
I think I've probably lost a good amount of sleep trying to interpret your lyrics. When I hear lines like "We can now say it's been years / The time has come to reappear," I feel like you're talking about something really important that I have no clue about. Are the lyrics to your songs as arbitrary as their titles?
The lyrics mean something to me, but very rarely do I say something that I want other people to pick up on. There aren't secret codes or anything. When I listen to lyrics I tend to apply my own thoughts to it instead of trying to figure out what the singer's saying. And to me it's much more rewarding when you can relate to an abstract line as opposed to a blunt one.
It'd freak me out if somebody actually knew what I was talking about. In our defense we've now dropped the joke song titles. For the most part.
The lyrics on Barricades seem a little more personal, as if you're letting people a little closer to what it is that you're talking about. “One Piece” seems to be about long-distance relationships, “My Shoes” could be about being on the road with the Spiders, and “Surprise” makes me think of George W. Bush.
It's still a little more broad than that. All of those subjects apply to the songs, except I never really had Bush in mind. Either I'm unable to or I don't enjoy honing in on one particular subject. It's usually a bunch of different thoughts with a common theme.
What's going on with Knowledge the Knowledge (Dave's long-distance project with Esposito bassist Seth Murray)?
Knowledge the Knowledge is still around but we haven't completed anything in awhile. We have lots of bits and pieces of things. I think we're going to try to record more over the holidays when Seth's back in Nashville. Emailing is an interesting way to collaborate, but I'm more interested in working together in person. We'll see how it goes.
It's been a while since anyone heard much from your electronic alias, Wembley. Your former Character bandmates Ryan and Scott detoured into that world with Hands Off Cuba and are now touring with Lambchop. Are you still tinkering around on your computer?
I pretty much lost all interest in serious electronic music and I'm not sure why. I did most of it when I took a break from singing in a band, and right when the Privates started, that stuff immediately fell off. I still tinker quite a bit but now I just make beats. I sampled ZZ Top's "Tush" the other day and it was funny.
The way it looks now, it's not going get easier for The Privates to be The Privates anytime soon. What's the plan?
We're just hoping that the record alone is good enough for people in the rest of the country to take notice. We're sending alot of stuff out to press and college radio. A full-fledged tour probably won't happen soon but we're going to do some 3-4 day runs in the spring, up and down the east coast.
What's on your Christmas list this year?
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Gamecube), an Erik Satie songbook for piano, Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer DVD, an iTrip and "The Wizard" on DVD (finally!!!)
The Privates play The End in Nashville, TN, Saturday December 16th.
"Barricades" comes out Tuesday, December 19th on Mean Buzz Records.
Video: Dave Then and Now (Esposito live at Indienet, 11/25/2000, and The Privates live at The End, 12/31/2005)
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