Behind the piano: Paul Constable

Behind the piano: Paul Constable

A couple of weeks ago I presented to you the song A silent tear by Paul Constable. It’s about time we got to know him a bit better!

Hi Paul!
Where are you from? And where do you live?
I’m originally from northern Minnesota along the border between the US and Canada and currently live in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. A couple of musicians of note hailed from those areas (Bob Dylan and Prince) although sadly our paths never crossed. I think for musicians, at least before the days of Netflix and 500 TV channels the long winters in the Northland contributed to lots of introspection and perhaps longer practice sessions since your recreational options would be sometimes limited by the temperature and weather. I have no data to back that up. It’s just a wild theory of mine.

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I’ve been playing the piano since about the third grade, around seven or eight years old. I also played acoustic guitar through my high school and college years. I spent some time in Guatemala when I was around 17 with a cousin who was a luthier. He told me he would help me build some guitars and that he always gave away whatever he built. So I learned a lot about guitars musically and construction-wise and did build a couple under his direction and indeed gave them to a couple of Guatemalan friends. I’ve always been curious about where they eventually ended up. 

Tell us about how you started playing music.
My sister and brother and I all had piano lessons from an early age. Since my father was a minister there were always pianos in the church and parsonages to play and I took advantage of that. I would end up playing for services and even funerals when I was still pretty young, 11 or 12. I remember a piano teacher giving me a book of Boogie-Woogie and Dave Brubeck and from then on I was hooked. 

How long have you been making piano music?
I’ve been playing (wow I’d never really thought about this much) for around 50 years. I should probably be a lot better than I am after all that time.

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
Actually that was pretty late in the game. I had played both solo and in a variety of bands through the years doing mostly covers or versions that included a lot of improvisation. But I never thought of myself as a composer even though I had taken quite a few music classes, including theory, in college. I recall going to a George Winston concert probably back in the early 80’s and remember thinking how effortless his music seemed but it didn’t connect with me then that I should try it myself.

About two years ago I started attending some songwriter sessions in Minneapolis at The Warming House, a great venue that supports and nurtures the artist community in the Twin Cities and they gave me honest feedback and encouragement. From then on I started learning about studio production techniques and I found the most satisfying result to me was a rich and full solo piano sound with minimal production. (I guess that would make me a post-minimalist.) I do remember the moment sitting down at the keyboard, clearing my head and letting a melody just sort of unfold itself and letting it pull me along to its conclusion. Once I discovered the sort of mental space I needed to be in and fostered that, the next tunes came easier.

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
Well, George Winston and Michele McLaughlin immediately come to mind as a couple of the most well-known that I like. And I love listening to someone that is fairly new, Alexander Lorella, and also Yimura. So many new and talented artists are appearing that are a joy to discover. We’re fortunate to be living in this time.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s?
There’s not one in particular although I tend to find myself playing “Peaceful Passage” from Dreams quite a bit when just noodling around looking for the muse.

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
What a thoughtful question! I guess a rule I’ve been breaking is related to tempo.  I sometimes have my wife give me some feedback and often it’s related to slowing, slowing it down, making it relaxing, with few surprises. So I’m playing in rubato often. I want my listeners to experience what I’m feeling at the moment of writing something. I want them to have that same feeling of relaxation and I don’t particularly want to captivate or wow them with anything technically. So I tend to be slow and lingering.

I’ve also heard of the “rule of three” applied to music where you want to always be trying to maintain interest – two similar things/ideas and then something different. It’s also I guess sometimes applied to comedy and photography. I think though, in this genre for me the idea is not necessarily to impress and entertain but guide the listener on a relaxing journey. I guess I kind of went on a bit of a journey myself in answering this question.

How do you record your music?
I thought about renting studio time for Dreams and was about to book some time. But I pondered it a bit more thinking about some studio experiences I’ve had in the past, and realized I could be much more relaxed and spontaneous and more in control of when I record if I was able to do it all myself while maintaining the same production quality. So I used some of the budget to buy and learn a DAW as well as other recording equipment. I’m pretty happy with the results. I didn’t do the mastering myself. That seems to require a special touch I’m not sure I have yet.

What’s your take on sampled instruments?
I like some of the pianos that come with Reason, a DAW I’m using but I didn’t use any of them on Dreams. I really love the Royal Grand 3D that comes with Nord products. So I used that on some of the tunes.

The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from?

I think everybody must be born with a whole bunch of “songs” inside them. The trick is finding the key to unlock and let them out. Sometimes I find the key for “releasing” a song after a great conversation, a delicious meal, a strenuous exercise session or after writing or reading an inspiring poem.

Anything else you want to share? 
Well, I’d like to say I’m very much honored to be part of this series and really appreciate the work that’s being done with the blog and the site in supporting musicians.

Thank you for this Paul! And you are also very welcome! I’m glad this blog I being appreciated by the community!

Please check out these link for more information about Paul and the music he makes:
Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Website / Spotify