Tony Cummings quizzed the hugely experienced frontman of the PAUL COLMAN TRIO
The surprise comeback last year of the Paul Colman Trio was great news for fans of thought provoking and witty pop rock and their 2011 album, called appropriately enough 'Return' has spawned the Cross Rhythms turntable hits "Wannabe" and "Show Me The Real You". Since Australia's Paul first emerged in the '90s as a solo artist he's packed in a head-spinning amount of musical activity. After two solo albums he formed pc3 (as they are often known) with bassist Grant Norsworthy and drummer Phil Gaudion. The Paul Colman Trio quickly became the hottest thing in Australian Christian music (for a season outselling Delirious?) before relocating to the USA in 2001. The trio found it harder to establish the same level of success in the crowded Nashville CCM scene though they enjoyed Christian radio hits with "Turn" and "The Selfish Song" and their album 'New Map Of The World' (2002) received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album.
A few months after the release of 2003's 'One' album the Trio announced they would be "taking a break as a recording/performing band" citing "financial and family considerations" as the reason for the break. Paul stayed in Nashville and recorded a solo album 'Let It Go' before joining CCM stars the Newsboys in 2005, replacing guitarist Bryan Olesen. The first Newsboys album featuring Colman was 2006's 'Go'. In 2009 Paul announced he was leaving the Newsboys and reverting once again to a solo career. His album of covers and previous hits 'History' received mixed reviews. In January 2011 Paul returned to the studio with Grant Norsworthy and Phil Gaudion to begin work on a new Trio album. Cross Rhythms spoke to Paul about the unexpected return of pc3.
Tony: Tell us about reforming the Paul Colman Trio. How did that all happen?
Paul: There's a Fest in Australia called Easter Fest and they are probably responsible for that because they asked us to get the band back together and then we enjoyed ourselves so much. I purposely told the guys that I didn't want to rehearse before the first show, which they were quite worried about. But I think the reason why our band worked is that I'm this crazy guy that wants to go into uncharted waters every moment and they're both extremely creative professionals that want to drag me back and rehearse and I think that's the reason it works. Without them, nothing good would have happened and without me nothing fun would have happened. We kind of turned up and after the first song thought my goodness me, we really have some magic together that I've never experienced in any other group or any situation. So after that, we sort of plotted how we could do it again. Then we kind of let it go for a bit and Easter Fest asked us to come again so we thought let's get around the country and do a tour. Then the thought came up let's release a DVD of all our other stuff and then the thought came up let's make a record. We've had a great time and on a more profound level some of the relationships in the band which had got pretty strained towards the end got sorted out. Being in a band is pretty difficult and Grant, the bass player, and I were kind of at each other a lot. We nearly had a punch up before we got our Dove Award. Now it's amazing because our relationship is better than it's ever been and yet we're guys that are pretty honest with each other so there's nothing passive/aggressive about it. We really go at it. That's been the greatest thing to me: having a relationship mended and healed and thriving.
Tony: Are all three of you still living in Nashville?
Paul: No. Grant and I are living here and Phil the drummer lives in Melbourne. At one point when we were mixing the first single "I Don't Know Why", I was in Norway, Grant was in Nashville and Phil was in Australia and we were connecting on Skype and okaying mixes. Being on three different continents making a record is a pretty interesting experience.
Tony: Is there a chance that you will become a permanent gigging band again?
Paul: I don't think so but we will become a band in the sense that if there is a market for us then I think we will play together more regularly. But I don't think that we will all join and be a band again. Me, personally, I love an eclectic life. I don't like doing the same thing all the time and I think that's one of the big reasons why I got rid of my record label, got rid of my agent, my manager, everything. The real music industry model, it doesn't matter whether you are U2 or some little band releasing your songs on MySpace or Facebook or whatever, you make a record, you promote it and you tour it. And that's really what you do. The bigger you get, the more planned your tour is and the less improvised you can be. I like doing very different things. I would love to do a certain portion of my time with the Trio but I don't think any of us really want to do it full-time again. I think the beauty of it right now is it's a wonderful condiment in our life and it could become a small steak or a couple of veggies but I don't think we want it to be the whole meal.
Tony: Tell us about the single "I Don't Know Why".
Paul: Most of the songs on this record started as demos and we finished them off whereas this song started with me backstage in Detroit just before I had to go on and play and this thought came across my mind: God, I have absolutely no idea why you would love me, though I can think of every reason why you wouldn't. But I am so glad you do. And this little riff came out. I hung on to it for a while and worked on it in Australia in December when I was over there on holiday. Then Grant and I worked on it when I came back to Nashville. The chorus was written with Grant and me sitting with Phil on Skype and then we finished it in two days in Nashville just before we recorded it. So it's a really true collaboration. We were just looking for a song that was exciting, fun and catchy and yet was about a pretty big idea. So that's where the song comes from. What's amazing to me is that I hear all these comments on Facebook saying 'classic Paul Colman Trio' and the 'classic sound' and I think how funny that we disbanded seven years ago. We write a song on three different continents, we write the chorus on Skype, we spend time in the studio and somehow we come out with a sound that's us. It's beyond explanation.
Tony: Let's turn the clock back a little bit. Why was your spell with the Newsboys so short?
Paul: Well, I originally joined that band out of therapy because I felt like I'd run a long way on my own and with the band and I just needed to get back in touch with why the heck I was doing everything. I was quite confused. Sometimes you can get so driven and so anxious about success that you actually lose your love for music, why you even started. And I felt like I'd got to that place. I was having a conversation with God, saying 'God, I don't know what to do. I feel like I'm pretty confused here.' And right out of the blue Peter Furler asked me to join the Newsboys. . . But towards the end I thought - the Go tour that we did was 15 months, that means you're away from home four or five days a week and I'm like, Why am I doing this again? I felt like the season had come to an end and I left the band with the relationships 100 per cent intact. I felt like I wanted to go back to doing my own thing, to be back in charge of my own schedule. When you work for a band or a corporation you don't get the chance to choose when you work and when you don't. And I really like that freedom. When I told Peter about leaving the Newsboys I was real nervous about it. And he goes you know what, I felt like it was meant to be three years and I felt like it was meant to be done now. So I was very happy about that. Like I said, I have a very eclectic life. One day I'm talking to a bunch of kids in a high school, the next day I'm playing in a pub, the next day I'm playing in a church, the next time I'm playing in Europe, the next day I'm producing a record, the next time I'm doing a Paul Colman reunion thing. I like that sense of eclecticism and I like staying in people's houses and I like getting waylaid. I don't like tour buses and arenas; it just drives me nuts.
Tony: One more Newsboys question. To quote from "Your Love Is Better Than Life" - is it a ministry or is it a show?
Paul: I think it's both and I think it's okay. I think the problem with the word 'ministry' is I can't think about anything that isn't ministry. I think people make it very complicated. Bottom line for me is music is my job, and my life is my ministry and I'm not confused about it. So, I think all of us have mixed motives. I don't know anyone on a stage who is a preacher or a priest or a musician that could say they have perfect motives and that everything is about God and their ego has nothing to do with it. I think that's rubbish. And I think God's happy to work with us as long as we're honest about it and we know that we're a mix up of a whole lot of things and in the end, our sustenance relies on his performance not on ours. I think if you're just honest about it - I don't think I've ever had a pure motive in my whole life, let alone on stage. I think God works with damaged goods."
Tony: Looking back on what you could call the Paul Colman Trio's golden years, what sticks in your mind?
Paul: I think what it was, by the time we formed the band, all of us guys were seasoned musicians. We'd all played in a number of environments and we'd got to a point where that was kind of the best thing that we did. We might not have been 'the best' but playing music was what we did the best. And I think it was this amazing chemistry that we had. Grant and Phil were experts at following me wherever I went and I became more and more trusting and reliant on their ability to kind of tame me and help me be more consistent and more of a professional. It just worked. Somehow this kind of craziness that was very entertaining, with the fact that we'd written some pretty good songs that were quite catchy, people just seemed to like it. We are actually a bit silly and a bit zany and yet we also have content. I think the other thing too is that all of us guys are on the same page in the way we see our faith and we've really wanted there to be a wide range of people at our shows. We wanted to be a band that hopefully showed people that following Jesus didn't make you a boring person that can't be related to but instead it made you more who you are and more normal and more fun. And yet able to go from a very serious moment to a stupid moment where we're all laughing so hard we can't even sing. I think that's kind of compelling. People are not looking for something predicable or boring. They're looking for something exciting. We happen to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the greatest radical that ever walked the face of the earth and yet, unfortunately, if you look at half of his followers you think he must be a boring old fart. There's not a lot of excitement there. Somehow all of that came together, it was the right time. Aussies are not very religious so I think we're guys that are down with Jesus but I don't think we're very religious and I think people like that as well. In the end it's a bit of a mystery and every time we do a tour like now we're all very insecure about whether the people actually care or not. And yet just about every tour we've done has been sold out. But we never take it for granted.
Tony: For those who've still to hear 'Return', what are they going to hear?
Paul: A really eclectic bunch of songs - gosh, we got more genres than a Bonnaroo festival here. It's crazy to me how it works but for some reason it just works. We've got a song called "I 53" - Isaiah 53 set to music, and I'm about to do something that I've been wanting to do for years that I've never been able to do. A lot of these worship artists in Nashville and around America and even people like Delirious?, they have this song that's like Scripture, and it says 'by Martin Smith' or whoever and I'm like: hang on a minute! I just read that in the Bible! Obviously, cos it's out of copyright, there are no suing problems but we've credited the song Paul Colman, Grant Norsworthy, Phil Gaudion, Isaiah. I'm really looking forward to it - give credit where credit's due! We copied out of the NIV Bible for crying out loud. There's another song that Grant started - and I think Grant's brain when he passes away at the ripe old age of 150 where he still looks 35, I think his brain is going to be dissected by scientists because it really is an amazing place to visit. He came out with the riff of this song by choosing to get a rock and roll riff that had all 12 notes of the equal tempered scale. I don't know if that's been done in rock history before. When I first heard it I was like that's wacky then after a while I'm like that's pretty cool. So I jumped on board and I have a bit of blues in my background - I love Credence Clearwater Revival, I love Muddy Water, Tony Joe White and that period when Elvis went into gospel and blues so some of that came onto the track. Then I sat down and wrote the lyric about a conversation between me and the Devil and the Devil's basically saying, "Hey, listen. You're just the sum of all your mistakes, it's over, you're a loser, just stop. You're going to stay in this valley of shame your whole life." And I'm saying back, "I don't want to be like a bird in a cage, a flickering flame on Jim Morrison's grave. I want to be something different. I don't want to listen to that crap." So the song is like the perfect Paul Colman Trio song because you've got this fun music and kind of fun lyric then all of a sudden you read it and it's pretty heavy - it's about shame, accusation, wanting to really live your life. Yet when you listen to it it's very playful. I could go on forever about all these tracks. It's just fascinating to me; that's the spirit of the band and it keeps coming through.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.