Los Angeles punk veteran Paul Roessler has spent decades being a driving force behind the production of acts like Hayley & The Crushers and Josie Cotton. Now he’s stepping into a unique spotlight of his own creation in a way like never before: with the release of his thoughtful odyssey The Turning of the Bright World. Not only is he exploring topics like mortality and the chaos of modern life with a spunky flair, but he’s doing so on his own terms without the pressure eating him alive.
“I feel like the last demons that were driving me for fifty years to constantly be creating with this insane obsessiveness are dying,” Paul tells TREMG. “It is a sort of empty feeling. I know the next couple records I am going to do, but part of me feels finished. This is a death album after all. So many of the songs wind up being about that. I’m not dying anytime soon, but I really felt like I was making an old, old man album in a way. Music is such a huge part of my consciousness that in a way, I feel like I’ve already died!”
This self-proclaimed “old, old man album” is evocative, imaginative, and unexpected. Pre-release single “Maker” eerily insists, “get ready to meet your maker” and prompts a little existential moment in the listener over bright synths and guitar tones. “The Only Thing That Matters” opens with an ominous flair reminiscent of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” before shifting into an anthem for empathy: “the only thing that matters is who you helped or hurt today.”
“Awake” seemingly satirically suggests that the only way to truly tune out all the negativity in the world is to “bask in indifference and just stop caring,” though the project is practically a thesis statement in caring about those around you and making a positive impact in your life. “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” touches on consumerism and its impact on the world while apologizing for the state of society. Roessler reflects on life and the problems we all face with a sense of wisdom that only an “old, old man” could offer, with a timeless charm that any generation can connect with.
“I want to hear people say they understand what I was trying to convey, even if they have a different take from my own,” Paul shares. “I’m super interested to hear how a song lands for a person. It’s not so much someone saying ‘Oh, I love that, you’re great,’ it really isn’t. It’s more about someone saying they listened to a song a few times, and this is what they got from it. That’s such a lovely deep form of connection and communication. Sometimes I don’t want to spoil it for them when they got something completely different from what I intended…”
Throughout his decade-spanning career, Paul has been a member of groups like Twisted Roots and The Screamers, toured with Smashing Pumpkins as part of Fancy Space People, and touched countless fans worldwide with his alluring perspective and thought-provoking work. While Paul is helping listeners process the world around them, it seems like he’s also helping himself process the world around him, making his art even more authentic and charismatic.
“Your questions made me realize that I can’t retire, or stop trying to create new songs,” he admits. “There are still important things I haven’t addressed. Or, at least, I’m starting to feel that way again. I had the idea that I ceased being relevant sometime over the last ten years and that was okay. I can shut up and leave more room for all the great new young artists who are appearing everywhere you look. I kinda thought I had said everything on this album. But I forgot a few things.”
You can find The Turning of the Bright World on your favorite streaming services now, and get to know Paul Roessler on Bandcamp, Instagram, and his official website! Keep reading for more from our conversation with this intriguing artist.
Congratulations on your new album, The Turning of the Bright World! How does it feel to finally share the record with the world?
Thank you!! I feel like there are a bunch of “correct” answers to this question that people wheel out for interviews. I’d like to be honest and really try to answer this without sounding like some kind of ass. I haven’t really thought about how I feel about releasing it. I’ve had some people say some really nice things about this record which makes me feel really good. For sure.
Between putting out The Drug Years last year and this record this year, I feel like the last demons that were driving me for fifty years to constantly be creating with this insane obsessiveness are dying. It is a sort of empty feeling. I know the next couple records I am going to do, but part of me feels finished. This is a death album after all. So many of the songs wind up being about that. I’m not dying anytime soon, but I really felt like I was making an old, old man album in a way. Music is such a huge part of my consciousness that in a way, I feel like I’ve already died!
For the first time, I wonder what it would be like to be a normal person, have a weekend off once in a while. Hang out with friends.
One of our favorite lyrics on this project is “everybody’s gotta raise a savior,” since it sums up society’s pressure to be perfect so well. Is there a certain lyric on the album that you’re particularly proud of?
I’ve worked pretty hard on the lyrics. The other day I was struck by “Love calls all things to its side” from “Elephant Man.” I was always more stuck by “Show the light girls the turning of the bright world” and kinda overlooked that one.
I like the chorus of “The Only Thing that Matters,” and the second verse where I talk about “there’s a particle of you in the first drop of rain that fell…” I think “Lose the one and you go on, anything can be done,” from “Possibility of Psychic Phenomenon” is the saddest line on the record.
I like “Live like mine is the last generation” from “Awake.” Other lines in that one also…
I like all the lyrics from “Seems like a Good Idea at the Time.” but I think I especially like “something that’s never happened is so hard to predict, said the turkey to the farmer on the day he was picked.” Oh, and “Everyone felt so innocent as they murdered away, they went to the gallows with a smile and a wave.”
In “They,” I like the part that says “Now I can go walk underneath the canopy and listen to the grass as it grows up over me, ‘cause people like you will do it better than me.” I like all of “They.”
There are more. If I don’t love the lyrics, the song never gets finished. I like “Gone, never mine…” from “A Shallow Shadow Complete” and “It’s no worse than a soldier/Hurts no worse than a widow…” from “The Late Show.”
Which song on The Turning of the Bright World means the most to you and why?
You ask really hard questions that make me think really hard haha. I don’t know if you’re even trying to, but I really want to try to answer you without being glib.
The last ten or twelve albums I have done came from desperation, precarity, loss, and general chaos. When I started working on this record, my life had settled down to an almost normal routine for the first time. I was happily married. I had a job producing and recording artists and my own recording studio. I felt driven to create, but my usual sources of inspiration were no longer there. Many of those sources may well have been unhealthy, but so be it. So in a way, I was wrestling with how to make music from a truly healthy place and not be completely insipid and boring. There is nothing “cool” about someone who is sort of settled down and achieving some kind of balance, right? Who cares? We love train wrecks, there seems something dangerous and exciting about it. At least I always felt that way, and still do to an extent. But the most important thing is honesty, because if you’re honest, you have a chance to connect to another person and not just entertain and amuse them. So I was in a bit of a trap.
So each song is me finding a solution to that trap, and I’m proud of each one. I really had to look outside myself and observe the world and see the desperation and chaos outside me and connect to it, even if my life didn’t look like that right now. I had the experience of having been there for decades. It’s almost like I might possibly have some solutions and alternatives to offer, if someone cared to hear them. It’s a really hard place to write from, but I kinda like hard.
I am a person who tries not to settle on opinions on anything; to always just stand before the world open and observant. But I had to admit, much as I didn’t want to, that I do have opinions. Sometimes I don’t know I have them till they appear in a song. So I learned a lot from the songs as well. It’s strange to feel proud of a song, where you don’t really feel like you even thought it up. But I did create an environment for the song to appear and grow, so I guess I could take some pride in them.
So specifically, facing death with dignity and calm and even joy means a lot to me apparently. That happens in “Elephant Man,” “Maker,” “A Quiet Night on the Mooncam,” “No Time,” and “They.” It means a lot to me that I was able to address identity in “They” and people’s slavery to consumerism in “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.” I like that I was able to write about the philosophy of higher dimensionality that P.D Ouspensky talks about in “No Time.” I mean, that’s kind of a stretch for a rock ‘n’ roll song haha. I feel like I take a very fierce position in “The Only Thing that Matters.” That’s a song that could be looked at as the cheesiest of new age songs I guess. That’s what makes me feel like I was being so ballsy to do it, because I believed it, and I dared to be criticized for it. That’s punk rock to me. I like what happened in “The Late Show.” That song is strange and mysterious to me.
Which songs on The Turning of the Bright World took the most and least time to make?
I actually work pretty fast. “Possibility of Psychic Phenomenon” is the simplest and probably fastest. “Awake” might have taken the longest. Honestly, I usually have most of the music for a song done in a day or two. Writing the lyrics and singing takes another couple of days. Then I’ll kinda live with them for a while, and hope there isn’t anything too fucked up about them. I work with people that work wayyyy longer on songs than I do. I’m looking for a sort of explosiveness that isn’t really about endlessly polishing. I like to say that I’m kinda Jackson Pollock about how I make my own songs, haha. But there can be a real agony to writing lyrics. Like doing math. I often call myself a lot of mean names when I’m trying to write lyrics.
Which song on the album were you most excited for fans to hear?
I pretty much expect different people to like different songs. Some of these are reallllllly slow and I sort of worry that it might just be too catatonic for people. I really try hard to not care what anyone thinks, but then you release a record and the demons wake up and I start caring, can’t help it.
I want to hear people say they understand what I was trying to convey, even if they have a different take from my own. I’m super interested to hear how a song lands for a person. It’s not so much someone saying “Oh, I love that, you’re great,” it really isn’t. It’s more about someone saying they listened to a song a few times, and this is what they got from it. That’s such a lovely deep form of connection and communication. Sometimes I don’t want to spoil it for them when they got something completely different from what I intended…
You told Rock and Roll Globe that you see this record as a “summation” of your experience playing in bands and exploring your own individual sound. How does your approach to your own work differ from how you approached band-focused work?
When I work with someone, I could play everything and then it would sound like me, and we don’t want that. People are constantly asking my opinions and very rarely taking them hahaha. I’m often trying to capture what a band or artist does, and the only stamp I want to put on it is that they think it’s the best they ever sounded. I have no ego about working my ideas into other artists’ music. There are things I like that other people literally think are wrong notes!!!! So I have to set that stuff aside. Some things are the same though. I’m looking for an excitement and an energy and a magic, and a lot of times that requires me letting THEM figure it out, not giving them answers.
With my music, I’m more free to allow mistakes and accidents and the subconscious to direct the proceedings. If I mess around for three or six or nine hours and no song comes out of it, no one gets hurt. Making music is very effortless for me. Writing songs feels like advanced calculus. It takes a lot of effort and patience for me to push a piece of music over that hill.
You wrote your first album when you were just in high school, which is incredible! Some of your biggest influences back then were Frank Zappa and Jethro Tull – have your inspirations changed over the years?
Well, I was learning music theory and playing a lot of classical music, so it was kind of a natural thing to put all that in there and show off a little. I can still fall into that and I don’t hate it. I’m not going to lie and pretend that I’m not trained and haven’t been doing this for a long time. Even in the punk days, I still embraced that stuff.
I would say that what has changed is I kind of started appreciating singer-songwriters a bit more. I played with a guy named Mark Curry at the beginning of the 90s and that was probably a bit of a turning point. He did one of the best shows I ever saw with just his voice and an acoustic guitar. Elliot Smith, Connor Oberst, Pheobe Bridgers, Pat Schneeweis, Bob Dylan, Ceschi, Bowie. Those are some of my favorites, but there are so many. But lyrics and ideas just became more and more important and everything else became in the service of that.
I’m attracted to the degree of difficulty in synergizing lyrics and music. And finally, I noticed that simple music with powerful lyrics can make me have a more intense emotional experience than instrumental music. But that’s just me. And there are always exceptions.
Are there any songs that didn’t make it onto The Turning of the Bright World that fans might get to hear someday?
Oh, yeah, tons. But they’re not as good, so I’ll probably just try to write more. I throw them up on Soundcloud, if the six hours of music I released over the last two years isn’t enough. There’s a ton on Bandcamp. More than anyone could probably ever want.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with your music already, which of your songs would you recommend to them to get a feel for who you are as an artist?
Waaaal, I’m pretty diverse. If you like prog rock, you could listen to “The Arc,” which is the 45-minute song I wrote in high school. And I wrote a 21-minute song in 2017 called “Galatea” based on a book by Richard Powers. So I do some crazy shit. There are some songs like “Shine,” “Poor Sunshine,” and “When You’ve Tried Everything it’s Time to Stop Trying” that are kinda signature in my mind. But truthfully, this album is the most complete all-around thing I’ve been able to pull off. Maybe I just think that because it’s the newest?
We at TREMG love getting to know new artists who haven’t gotten the success or attention they deserve. Who are some of your favorite underrated artists at the moment?
Man, first let’s all be honest. It is impossible to keep up with how much great music is being made. People send me so many different artists’ music and I’m almost always impressed. I haven’t heard stuff that everyone knows, totally huge popular cool stuff, and I totally missed it. Part of that is that I spend 10 hours every single day making music, and often when I’m done, listening to music isn’t the first thing I want to do. I’ve always been like that. In those times, I sometimes, in an exhausted way, listen to old comfortable music from my childhood, just to see if it still stands up. Most people listen to music that way I think. I do occasionally.
From the outside world, only one or two artists a year break through and turn me into a fan. If they are popular artists, I find that thrilling, it means I’m not completely alienated from the modern world. The fact that I got all gaga about Phoebe Bridgers or Bright Eyes made me really happy.
Being a fan of someone I haven’t worked with is really rare these days. I am a lifelong fan of Ceschi from the moment I heard 2020 BC, a song I listened to over and over. So, but to answer your question: I want people to know about my friends who I made music with and became family and whose music I love the most: Kira, IGAF Sequoia, the Moon Bandits, Josie Cotton, Crow Jane, Harry Cloud, Tombstones in their Eyes, Pat the Bunny, TSOL, Cherish Alexander, The Gitane Demone Quartet, the Wristslitters, Savannah Pope, Paul Boutin, Inger Lorre, Spaghetti and Frank, Los Fubars, The Bastards of Belleview, The Penjos of Doom, the Lords of Altamont, the Fancy Space People, Prissy Whip, Egrets on Ergot, Phideaux, The Balboas, Kurt Stifle, Fur Dixon, Haunted Garage, The Rikk Agnew Band, Dropouts, Cliff and Ivy, Richie Ramone, David Wayne Reeves, Haley and the Crushers, Kesem and goddamnit, I’m hurting the feelings of someone right now, because I’m going to leave off there…
Is there anything else you’d like to mention that the questions didn’t touch on?
Yes. Your questions made me realize that I can’t retire, or stop trying to create new songs. There are still important things I haven’t addressed. Or, at least, I’m starting to feel that way again. I had the idea that I ceased being relevant sometime over the last ten years and that was okay. I can shut up and leave more room for all the great new young artists who are appearing everywhere you look. I kinda thought I had said everything on this album. But I forgot a few things hahaha.
I was thinking I had succeeded in pissing everyone off that there was to piss off on this record, but I’m starting to see new horizons of people to go after and try to shake up and scare. Or heal. Or inspire.
There is something horrible and beautiful about an old man still giving enough of a shit about the rest of the world that he still slaves to give them some little piece of his soul with the quixotic idea that it makes any kind of difference. I long ago stopped thinking I could make a big difference, but making a small difference is much more right-sized and realistic. Just that tiny difference that happens when someone hears music, and they feel that sense of blissful discovery.
And I’m remembering how fun it is to open a new Pro Tools session, with not an idea in my head of what I’m going to do, and start playing, and then the computer speaks as if it has a soul and really, it’s just a mirror…