The title of Boise musician Thomas Paul’s third full-length album, “Singalongs,” is obviously ironic: There is not a single vocal on the entire record (unless you count the light strains of casual conversation picked up by the microphone during the recording session). On Friday, May 6, Thomas Paul, a longtime counselor at Pendleton’s Rock and Roll Camp, will bring his album of impressionistic, art-rock instrumentals together for a rare full band performance at the Pendleton Arts Center.
The album production for “Singalongs” was rather unorthodox. The recording sessions were part of Modern Art, a First Thursday event in Boise at The Modern, a boutique hotel. Modern Art, which is entering its tenth and final installment this May, is an annual event where the hotel turns each of its rooms into a makeshift art studio for a night. Each room houses a painter, photographer, performing musician(s), theater troupe, etc., producing their craft. Attendees wander from room to room observing works of art in progress.
In Thomas Paul’s case, he decided to go one step further than presenting a live musical performance and turn his hotel room (Room 242) into a recording studio. The main bedroom sported Paul on guitar, bassist Bob Nagel, drummer Todd Chavez, and recording engineer Nate Agenbroad, while the bathroom became an isolation booth for saxophonist Eric Dewitt, violinist Jonah Shue, and flautist Jeffrey Barker. Audiences would fill up what little space was left in the hotel room, be hushed while the band knocked out a take, listen to the first 15 seconds of playback, then be ushered out so the next group could observe the recording process.
Being an instrumental album, one can’t help but conjure up images to associate with each song. This was certainly by design.
“A lot of these songs started with a cinematic idea,” says Paul. “Some pieces go back as far as the early ‘90s — they’ve been percolating for a long time. There are all kinds of origin stories for each piece. Each was written as a ‘short film.’”
Many of songs on “Singalongs” have an ominous, film noir-esque vibe and are indebted to composer Angelo Badalamenti, best known for his soundtracks for the films of David Lynch.
Paul is quick to note the influence saying, “The song ‘Thrift Shop Noir’ is dripping with David Lynch. I remember when I was 23 I saw ‘Fire Walk With Me’ and purchased the soundtrack. There are only two songs on that album that have lyrics. The music said so much. It probably helps that I was enamored with the film — at least the visuals.”
That isn’t to say that all of “Singalongs” will make the listener feel like they are about to stumble upon a body in wrapping plastic. “Billy’s Lullaby” was written as a lullaby for a friend to play his twin daughters while “Look!” functions as a rooftop chase sequence.
Of the sentimental and pastoral opening track, “East River Road,” Paul says it “was written at my childhood home, out in the country. If you wanted to go into the town of Idaho Falls I would have to walk or bike three miles. At the time, being a younger person, it seemed like an epic journey. It used to be more of a country road — now it is golf courses and subdivisions — but 25 years ago it was very rural.”
“I’ve always thought of (Stanley) Kubrick and the way he used music,” says Paul. “It’s very prevalent in his films. I’ve always noticed the music part of movies. I noticed early on that I didn’t care for grand, sweeping Hollywood themes like ‘My Heart Will Go On.’ It seems like with big Hollywood film composers, the music is telling you what you’re supposed to be feeling. I tended to like movie music that asked you what you were feeling, but then maybe I was drawn more to those movies.”
J.D. Kindle is a Pendleton musician and executive director of the Oregon East Symphony. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.