I look at him, the gorgeous 21-year-old who recently signed with Timbaland and who’s sitting in front of me, dressed all in black, sipping a beer out of a bottle he had just taken out from one of the side pockets of his jacket, and I see it. I see a million eyes staring at his long fingers sliding down the keys of his piano, while he sings about dense topics such as memory, self, and subconscious with a soulful voice that will surely give you goosebumps. I also see his anxiousness—a surplus of energy that comes from his burning desire to show the world everything he has to give.
Austin Paul has journeyed down the road of introspection enough to know who he was, who he is, and more than anything, who he wants to be. Pharrell told him he was Freddy Mercury. Some say he sounds like James Blake and John Legend. Noisey compared him to Prince, though he can’t name you more than two Prince songs and doesn’t really care. He recognizes his talent, but also acknowledges the fact that he has to make all the right decisions to accomplish his goals. He is wise enough to know that he can use his spirituality in a pragmatic way—as a tool to keep learning about himself and getting closer to his brilliance.
Austin released R E V I V A L, his last EP on February 14th at the Bakehouse.
We sat down to talk to him about his music, spirituality and future in the music business.
CD: What’s the first memory you have of music?
AP: I would say probably my dad singing on stage and being that guy, when we were in Missouri. That’s where we used to live when I was super young. He used to sing worship songs, like gospel and hymns and things like that.
AP: My dad really wanted all his kids to be involved in music. It was one of his favorite things, so he would sing to us when we were babies, and if you sing to your kid, eventually the baby will start projecting the note, it’s just like language. And then when I was 5, I joined this show choir thing at my Elementary School, and then until I was 12 I was doing that, and I was also involved in the church choir. In middle school, I joined the Magna Choir, still classical gospel and world music. The teachers were too intense in all the technique and all that, and I was just trying to learn, and have fun, and be a kid, and so in high school I kinda strayed away from that and started writing my own music, and that’s the kind of thing that I’ve been doing.
CD: You mentioned in an interview that you had an “awakening” when you wrote Hallelujah, my favorite song of yours. Can you tell me how this happened?
AP: I was in high school and I became so obsessed about proving to myself something I believed, that it became less about believing it and it became more about knowing that it was right, so I could just not worry about it, and proving to somebody that I was right. And then I just realized that nothing is about telling somebody what to do, it’s about growing, and seeing, and just being aware. That’s how I wanna live my life— being aware of how other people feel and being aware of how I feel.
Listen: Hallelujah-Austin Paul
CD: I also know you know a lot about the history of religion. How does this kind of knowledge affect you as an artist?
AP: I realized that a lot of the symbolism I use is biblical symbolism, and I do it subconsciously cause I grew up around that. And since that was something that I was raised on, it only felt natural to use it as inspiration to convey my message.
CD: The first two lines of L A D Y are:
“It was one cold midnight when I first danced with the lord
The same spirit that spoke to me had peridot gold thorns”
Where did that come from?
AP: I do a lot of meditation and a lot of divination kind of stuff. So when you go into your mind and get into that zone, you start speaking things to yourself, however you wanna call it, or subconscious entity from some other place through this stream of consciousness that is obviously around us, and there was one point where I finally realized that I was talking to something other than myself…part of myself, but not myself. And that’s what it made me realize, that I’m not just imagining my life around me, and that there’s something bigger going on. And peridot is my birthstone.
CD: What kind of meditation do you practice?
AP: Scry. I have 3 candles and I do birth, life, and death, and then I do cards, and then I do water, put candles around the water, I just do that kind of stuff. I don’t believe in any specific thing, I just believe in the fact that the physical environment is affected by our emotions, and things like that. We don’t even know it. Sometimes people don’t understand, it’s not about learning things to benefit your life and like get money and things like that, when you hear about that stuff that’s all to make money, it’s a scam. It’s about understanding what you really feel and living up to that.
CD: And what goes on in the video of L A D Y? It feels like a summary of a Shakespeare novel…
AP: Yeah, I’ve gotten into like a lot of historical symbolism, and I kinda wanted to portray my own parable. And the whole story was about not necessarily not feeling comfortable with you are, but depending on the situation, being a certain way, and calling on to these certain personalities in yourself to cater to the situation. And that’s a very idiocentric thing, but that’s just the way I think. So basically, in the video I’m going into this situation and I’m getting people to help me for my own selfish desires when I could do it by myself. It’s doesn’t have to be by the expense of others. So that’s the whole concept, we do this deal, they put me into this initiation and overwhelm me, and then I become one with them, and then we go through all this effort, we get what’s in that box, we take it all, and then they all die. So it was all for nothing in a way. I’m the only one who survives, and then I’m singing to the body like “if you can find me through this cosmic…” It’s that’s just about self. Everybody knows to know who they are cause it feels good to be confident in one thing, you know, it’s almost like belief, you have something to hold on to, that anchor, and it’s hard to be that anchor for themselves, but that’s what people need to do, to rely on themselves and stop giving the power to other things.
Watch: L A D Y
AP: It was cool, he was showing me a lot of music, well, first he played some of my songs that he had not heard and he really liked them. It was really intimidating, he’s really big, and he has a really deep voice. All I can do is soak in the information, but at the same time not let the intimidation get in the way of being true to myself, you know, cause you kind of have to realize that they’re people too, and just because they did it one way it doesn’t mean that’s the right way. He doesn’t know everything, but he has a good head on his shoulders as far as how the music industry goes, you know, but it’s good to be around people like that, from whom you can grow and learn. That’s what I do, when I’m with him, I just sit down and listen, and I talk when he engages the conversation, but for the most part I just watch what he’s doing. Just soak it in.
CD: And what did he tell you?
AP: They say so many things, and it’s hard cause I wanna believe them, you know what I mean? And take it all in, but sometimes it’s too much, like the first time I met Pharell, he was like “Dude, you’re Freddy Mercury, you’re not gonna be releasing two albums, you’re gonna be doing 20 albums, you could be a timeless artist”, like, “you don’t understand how fast things will happen for you”. He was like, “you could be the voice of our generation”. Timbaland is just like “dude, I have fun with you. I’m happy to be here working at 6 am.” I think he has a lot of trust, he believes in me and my potential.
CD: He’s produced a lot of commercial music, a lot of hits, and I feel like you are not the type of artist that would like this. What are your thoughts on that?
AP: One of the things and it’s what not a lot of people see, and it’s because of those stories, where it’s like “Yeah, I was doing this, but they wanted me to do something different”. That is true, but not because they are scheming about it, it’s just because if you see somebody and you see they’re not living up to their potential you see, you wanna say like “Yo, you should be doing this, cause that’s how you can get to this place. I always think about a lot of my friends who are doing music who aren’t really doing anything with it, but they’re so good, and I’m like, “you could do it this way, or you could do it this way”, but in reality they’re the ones who know the way they should be doing it, and that would get them to where they’re going. You can’t tell anybody else how to do something a certain way, but you can give them your opinion, and a lot of these people just because somebody says one thing, they just give in to it, and before you know they’re somebody completely different. And it wasn’t them initially trying to change, it was them giving in because they believed that they had to give in. I don’t believe I have to give in and say “Oh I’m doing this cause you’re saying so. I wanna define the situation, not adapt to the situation. I’m telling him “Here are the songs I’m writing, what’s you’re advice?” “Oh yeah, I get that, I get that, but I feel strong about this, and this is my music.” But I’m really inspired by him because he has experience and he has a vision for artists, like he sees it, and he’s inspiring, and also he’s not like “you have to do it this way”, he’s like “this is what will make it happen, but I’m just gonna cater to what you’re doing”. I’m producing most of the stuff we’re doing, and he’s just coming in and taking some stuff out, and putting it back in and you know, it’s not based on him defining who I am, it’s based on him cultivating who I wanna be and contributing to me being better.
CD: Who do you want to be?
AP: I want people to know that I am serious about what I’m doing, and it’s not just about working with people or having cool friends. I want a reputation for not being like that, for just being serious about what’s actually going down, for always staying true to music, and being enough to where I can be working with artists, and developing artists, and contributing to the change and the culture of music to like good music will be the mainstream of music, for a lack of a better word, I hate that word, but yeah, that’s what I wanna do.
CD: Who inspires you?
AP: Prince, Kendrick Lamar, Tupac, Jay Z, Tom Waits, people that are just themselves, and as much as people say “You’re crazy, you can’t be this way, you can’t be this other way”, at the end of the day everybody likes them for being completely true to themselves. The realness is the only thing that transcends.
CD: What are your plans/goals for the near future?
AP: I just wanna make really good music and get more into the music environment. I wanna be working with people, producing with people, being a part of collaborations and stuff like that, but at the same time I just wanna be ready. I wanna work on my craft first before I start working with other people in their projects.
Words and photos by Camila Alvarez