Photo Credit: Anthony Mulcahy
The inside of my grandma’s home was a place I never saw. We just didn’t travel much as a family, so the only time I saw where she lived was when she’d come in her RV or when she had to spend some of her last years in the trailer where I grew up. So when Christopher Paul Stelling talked about getting to set up shop in his grandmother’s home, and recording ‘Forgiving It All,’ I thought, how freaking beautiful is that? I also got kind of sad that grandma’s fail to last forever. So here’s not only to all the grandma’s out there but to Christopher Paul Stelling. A musician who, like many, was forced to focus off the road last year. From that came a record that’s out September 25th, pitbulls, and more – which we explored below.
Kendra: Being that this is your sixth LP in nearly a decade, are you able to listen back to 2021’s ‘Forgiving It All’ and sort of hear how you’ve grown as a songwriter in between this record and your last?
Christopher Paul Stelling: Absolutely, I can hear a huge difference between all of these records. I’m, sometimes, grateful for my lack of commercial “success” only because I’ve just been able to put my head down and work.
Every single time I feel as if the current record was informed directly by its predecessor — 2020’s ‘Best Of Luck’ taught me everything I needed to know to make ‘Forgiving It All.’ They’re very different records of course in that ‘Best Of Luck’ is a fully “produced” album and ‘Forgiving It All’ is bare-bones (just guitar and I). But depending on who you ask, a stripped-down record absent of any adornments might be at times more difficult to make.
When I told Ben Harper (producer of ‘Best Of Luck’) I was planning on following up with a stripped-down album, he understood as he had just himself made an instrumental album. I would never have had the confidence to make ‘Forgiving It All’ had I not just made ‘Best Of Luck.’
Kendra: In many ways, this album is a tribute to your late grandmother, Emma. Which, you recorded this album in her home. Were there any of her trinkets around that you sort of looked to as inspiration while working on the album?
Christopher Paul Stelling: Of course, I mean the house itself is a monumental symbol of my family. She raised three very young children herself after her husband (my grandfather) died tragically in an automobile accident when my father was four. My father as a young adult bought the house next door where I grew up. He worked the same job as his father (a pressman for a local newspaper, the Daytona Beach Newsjournal) his whole life. In a lot of ways that house symbolizes a lot of pain but also a tremendous amount of joy, and so to see it empty and set up my recording gear and be there through the night alone for two weeks was very comforting, almost seance-like.
Kendra: What about “Cutting Loose,” where did the inspiration behind this anthemic track come from? Was it the COVID fatigue?
Christopher Paul Stelling: Well, partially…every song has multiple meanings to me, some don’t reveal themselves for years and some reinvent their meanings, which is why I like to keep them relatively vague if only to keep them alive and accessible, but this one I think at the moment has a lot to do with my letting go of my “career” and expectations, the disappointment of losing so much touring and opportunities from the previous album, an ego death, but in a joyful way.
I feel like it’s more of a letting go song…ya know my previous album was also the last one on my contract with Anti- records, so I knew I’d be losing that support and community there and I’d have to carry on on my own, so that played its role in the song.
Kendra: I want to talk about a line from “Die To Know” in which you sing, “When I blindly trusted all of this/Before I learned to fear.” We’re of an age where we got to have innocence in our childhood, got to live with childish nativity. Today, it’s hard to believe kids have that same opportunity due to the internet and social media. With that, how do you think future generations are going to handle trust and fear?
Christopher Paul Stelling: How many more might there be? Hopefully. I’m fortunate to have a partner with a large family, and I’m glad to report that the kids are doing great. Maybe it’s more about the parents…ya know as long as we were home by dark it seemed like we had free reign, and I think looking back a lot of us are frightened by how free we were? Ya know?
Parenting in our generation seems a lot tighter than our parents were with us. Maybe we know more, maybe it’s us who’ve lost that naivety…the kids are ok. They still dream and imagine…maybe for less time.
The Internet, I’m sad to say, might be a troubling presence. Maybe it’s just the fruiting body of the mycelia of human experience, or maybe when we are done here it’ll be uploaded by the mothership as a record, but I don’t know we’d be proud of it…
Kendra: After thinking about that, I turned to “Wildfire” and got lost in it. It was so calm, it almost took a meditative turn. Have you found writing and creating music to be therapeutic over the years?
Christopher Paul Stelling: It’s the only therapy I’ve ever had access to, shit — I haven’t even had insurance in 16 years. So yeah, it’s an escape. Songs are something to conjure when I’m lucky enough to stand in front of a crowd. There’s always a counterpoint. In my limited way, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to create some of the most calming, anxiety-driven, angry, and sad songs I could imagine, and so they’re vessels for these feelings…
There’s a line in Wildfire, the first line…“It seems all of your fears were dead on arrival, that’s the difference between art and a means of survival.” I can watch that line turn over and morph and change in front of my eyes. I’m always looking for something that’ll prove me wrong and reassure me simultaneously.
Kendra: I bet some meditation of writing helped ease you a bit last year when touring pretty much became non-existent. As someone who spent a lot of time on the road, how did you go about wrapping your head around a pretty bare calendar last year?
Christopher Paul Stelling: Well, making this album helped and there’s a lot more that I haven’t been able to wrangle. I have two beautiful pitbulls I’ve rescued (Opelika and Ida Mae) with my partner, so we take a lot of walks. I miss the road but I was a bit masochistic when it came to touring…my body needed this time off, and I wouldn’t have taken it for myself…
Kendra: Now you have some dates lined up for this fall and well into next year. Do you think the time away from performing will push artists’ live shows more moving forward?
Christopher Paul Stelling: I just did a short run up the east coast, and after a couple of bumps I feel more connected and present than ever. 3.5 years sober helps that too. My shows involve a good amount of monologue and “improvised discourse” and possibly humor (though not in song). And so when it’s working it can be an emotional connection that I’m looking for with the audience. I think everyone is ready for that, let’s hope.
Kendra: You’ve got the album out in late September and dates already on the books, but what else can people expect from your direction this fall?
Christopher Paul Stelling: I think that’s about all I can manage. I forgot how much work self-releasing was. I hope I’ll have another album out in ’22, and I hope it’ll surprise me. I’m just grateful to be able to keep circling what it means to be a songwriter.