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Q&A with Americana-UK

Feb 1, 2017 | Blog, News

24 June 2016
Rudie Humphrey

Paul Seeba is a singer/songwriter who lives in St. Paul (originally from Hibbing) with his wife and two daughters. He is also a student of history and a teacher of it. This background comes out in his lyrics and music. He plays live as a solo act throughout the Upper Midwest. Paul plays a variety of acoustics during the night of his solo act switching from 6 to 12 string and to different tunings. In addition, he plays in a four piece band called The Mitchell Yards

 Tell us about yourself and what you do?

I am largely a solo acoustic, singer songwriter (12 and 6 string), although I occasionally play in a four piece band called, “The Mitchell Yards”.  I use open E tuning a lot on the new album to get a fresh, full sound.  I strive to cross genres a little with my music.  I try to straddle a line among country, folk, pop and rock.  So I think the songs sometimes evade a particular genre. The lyrics often evoke narratives of the region where I live.

I grew up in Hibbing, a mining town in Northern Minnesota.  I now live in St. Paul, Minnesota (capital city), with my wife, two middle school age daughters and our silly, little dog.  When I am not playing music my other passion is teaching history to high school kids. 

How did you get together/start out?

In 7th grade I couldn’t make the hockey team (we lived in hockey country, 90 miles from Canada and it was competitive), so I found my way into the local music store and settled on guitar.  Many years later I am happy with the choice.  I can do this until I am old, and so far it has brought no aches/pains, only joy.  I have played in many cover bands during my time, but I am at a point in my life where I am mostly interested in just playing my own stuff.

What is your current release/future release?

It is called, “The Republic of Kinney.”   Kinney is a little village in North America that tried to secede from the United States some 40 years ago.  My roots are from up that way and my songwriting sometimes gravitates back there.  Kinney wasn’t successful (obviously) in its attempt to leave the US, but I like the story and find it to be a metaphor for other narratives that are curious to me:  rural abandonment  and separation.   Both are current themes that loom large in post industrial North America and Europe.

I think the record is a combination of roots and folk pop with lyrics that may challenge a listener.  I try to weave narratives from the Upper Midwest of the US into my songs since that is authentic to me, but I also try to write in a more universal fashion so it isn’t all local color (risking sounding too inbred).

I recorded this album in seven sessions at Sparta Sound (produced by Rich Mattson) in Northern Minnesota.  It was mastered by Tom Garneau who engineered at Paisley Park for a number of years. Some old friends helped me with the percussion and bass on this. Rekindling old friendships is one of my favorite parts about this recording. 

What is the best part of being in a singer/song writer?

It may sound cliche, but songwriting helps me process my thoughts, emotions and life. Winters can be brutal where I live so I get plenty of time inside to think.  Winter is also when I do most of my writing.   I can be a little scattered when I write music.   Rarely do I write something within a day.  It is usually a long slog.  Sometimes, I have a lyric, a melody or a narrative in my head for years before I ever put it all together as a song I would present to anyone.  

I get most excited about songwriting when I can find that confluence of an intriguing story line with a catchy melody backed with some chord phrasing that I like.  I don’t think of songwriting as poetry or prose writing.  It is a different art form and deserves its own recognition. 

What is your most significant moment yet?

I was really excited to provide the soundtrack for a PBS Documentary that won a Midwest Emmy last year.  My first album,” Mitchell Yards,” recalled the role of an old railroad station that played a huge role in WWII.  Being able to blend historical stories in a folk pop song was a lot fun and helped advanced awareness of historical preservation.   The music won an award from the Minnesota Preservation Alliance as well. 

What are your biggest musical influences?

Well, it is hard to not start with Bob Dylan as an influence since the town of my roots (i.e Hibbing, Minnesota) was also his.  I even had a few teachers that taught him in their earlier years.  The other musical titans like the Beatles, Byrds and Neil Young also weigh heavy as influences.  However, my heroes in the 1980s were groups like REM, U2, Replacements, Pretenders, XTC, The Police and The Clash.  Somewhere in the early 1990s I gravitated to the more acoustical roots music of Greg Brown, Jayhawks and Lucinda Williams.  The last 20 years or so I have logged many hours listening to the remnants of Uncle Tupelo.  I try to provide an even balance between Wilco and Son Volt.  Of course I love all the outlaw country stuff too, I never get tired of doing any covers by any of them.  Sadly, we just saw the last of Merle.

What venue/gig do you most want to play?

I have never been to Winnipeg, but it would be an honor to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival.  I could get there in a long day’s drive.  This summer I’m traveling to Europe (London, Paris and Amsterdam) in August.  It would be amazing to book a gig or two during my short time there.   

What is your best/favourite song you have written?

The song “Mitchell Yards” got the most attention on the last album partly because it was the title track, but I think it stands my test of playability.  I never get tired of playing it so I think that is a good sign.  It also dances on that line between having a historical story to tell, yet remaining an accessible, toe tapping tune.  

On my new album I am proud of the title track’s (Republic of Kinney) playfulness on different levels.  It can be interpreted a simple love tune, but I try to artfully weave in geography.  I think it is a little bold to start an album with the line, “Still trying to get skinny? Better move to Papua New Guinea.” Hope it provides a few chuckles, it makes me smile.  I’m pretty certain no one has used that line before.

I also like the ominous build up to “She Waits for Me.”  “Amber Glows” is one of the most personal and emotional tune that I have written so that connection remains strong. I wrote “Dollar Lake” over 25 years ago and longevity must count for something. Some tunes get mothballed (or completely forgotten), but I still like it after all these years.

What is your favourite album of this year?

I still can’t shake my Wilco habit of many years.  “Star Wars” seemed more accessible than the last couple of albums of they made.  I appreciate the noisy, dissonance of an album like “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” from 15 years ago (and some of  the jarring musical experiments since then).  I also think Wilco highlighted the art of musical contrast for me.  I don’t think I really “got” this concept until I listened carefully to them (or maybe I learned this years ago from the Beatles in “Day in The Life”).  However, sometimes I just want to hear concise tunes.  I think Wilco’s, “Star Wars,” did that for me. 

What does the next six months have in store for you?

I will keep pretty busy in my neck of the woods (Minneapolis/St.Paul) playing some residency gigs throughout the summer.  I will be doing some festivals this summer as well (e.g. St. Anthony and Stone Arch Festivals).  Introducing “The Republic of Kinney” will be tops on my list of things to do.  I’ll also have to remember to vote since there is some kooky stuff going on here in the USA.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Hopefully, still strumming and singing songs about whatever is in my head.  I hope to be as happy then as I am now, regardless of where I am playing.

What is the best thing about Americana-UK?

I appreciate that it is an international site that helps a lot of artists move their music forward, not just the majors.  I also like that the reviews seem unfiltered/unbiased.  In my mind the Americana UK reviews can be trusted since there really is no quid pro quo between the reviewer and the artist.  The reviewers have nothing to gain or lose by speaking their mind about an artist.  It is sort of like the blind taste test with wine.  A very honest opinion with no expectations or hidden motives attached.