Paul Messis: Garage Punk Unknown

Turn Me On, Dead Man Radio begins a new regular program this week called Dig the Now Sound, featuring garage/psych released since 2010. This show, which will air Wednesdays at noon eastern time, celebrates the explosion of recent music that incorporates elements of garage and psychedelic rock and yet is very much of the present. The first show will air on September 12, 2012, and the featured track will be “I’ve Been Through It Before” by Paul Messis, a cover version of a song originally recorded in 1967 by the Plagues from Lansing, Michigan, for the Fenton label. This track is included with the compilation accompanying Issue 6 of Lost In Tyme. Paul was good enough to take the time to answer a few of my questions. But first, “I’ve Been Through It Before”.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: What got you to cover this song “I’ve Been Through It Before”? You’ve done other covers of 1960s-era Nuggets, so what stands out about about that song in particular that made you want to record it?

Paul Messis: Yeah I like recording covers, on my LP I featured two covers, one of the Dovers and one of The Barons, I do covers as a way so people who may not have heard them before can investigate the originals, plus I usually have a kinship with the covers I attempt, certainly is the case with The Dovers cut on the LP.

in regards to The Plagues cover, well…. I recorded around the same time as the tracks on ‘The Problem with Me’, it was me using an art form I related to to express the stuff going on in my life at the time, the song kinda hit the nail on the head for me regards to the girl I was dealing with at the time.

musically however is the epitome of the mid best garage sound, totally unique, the elements are so teenage, so full of angst without phoney bullshit, like drugs or drink… it’s teenage frustration pure and raw…. that’s what I liked about this song… other bands within the garage punk genre today, have this waster vibe, but back in the 60s that wasn’t the case at all, kids didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, they were running on pure frustration and that’s what is killer about all those 60s garage cuts, for me though ‘I’ve Been Through It Before’ is one of the best, plus the vocal suited my style… also what is genius about this, is the scream at the end of the solo, the only song with a scream at the end of a guitar break rather than before.

I just love the Michigan teen scene, labels like Fenton, Ikon, IGL, Soma etc…. I just like naturally of it… the kids all wore smart shirts, straight legged pants, and loafers, they were not trying to be anything like a lot of the so-called rock n rollers of today who you just need to look at and know they’re total frauds.

With my own stuff, I’m trying to be as honest as the kids from the 60s, cos I feel what they were singing about was honest and real and this applies today too, but sadly not many bands or musicians stay true to this.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: You’re very up front about your influences. I’m always interested in hearing about what inspires artists, but I’d also like to know what you think are the the negative aspects of your influences. What are the excesses that you’d like to avoid (or set right) in your music?

Paul Messis: I get a lot of folks, especially the younger modern-day crowd, say my music is pastiche of a “retro-throwback”, to those people, I simply will say “you just don’t get it”… For me when I first heard Pebbles Volume 2 at the age of 15 it was a milestone moment in my life, it seriously changed my life, I knew when I heard those records, that this was what I had to do, I wanted to make music, which was raw, honest, using melody and great songwriting.

60s garage is in my blood and I think anyone who is hugely influenced by something in their lives must have that subject matter in their veins to a lesser or greater degree, for me the melodies, harmonies, angst, frustration and the pure realness of 60s teen-beat music just clicked in my brain and my task as a musician is to at least get it right and correct and honour it is some way.

I also feel a need to sort of highlight it for people in my own generation (even though they don’t really buy it, or understand it, or really care for my music anyway)

Most of the real influences for my music, aren’t even musical, they are from the everyday experiences I go through, i.e. girlfriends, lack of money, depression, heartache, society, being an outsider etc

There are no real excesses I worry about with regards to making this music aside from coming across as a novelty in some way, when treading the path of a revivalism you risk easily coming across as phoney or a fraud, there are so many bands, which I won’t mention which to me have come across as a cheap gimmick within the garage/psych genre, some of these groups have been playing since the early 80s and still don’t really understand the music they are attacking, to me these groups are like cartoon bands,  however with my own music, I don’t intentionally aim to create a revivalism or try hard to be “60s garage”, for me it’s pretty natural, I simply aim to make some cool music and do what I do and I will call it quits when it feels right for me to call it a day, which could be sooner than people might think.

I am not too fussed what people think about my music, I’m not selling masses of records anyway, so I essentially just make my music for myself, I don’t particularly care for others’ opinion of me, I just wanna make garage records and if people dig it, cool, if they don’t well, that’s not gonna make me do anything different to what I am doing now (unlike some bands who will sell their own mother to get a dime or some fame)

Turn Me On, Dead Man: You’ve recorded with the Higher State and Jessica Winter. Talk a little bit about your collaborations. How did you hook up with those artists?

Paul Messis: The Higher State is a group I joined because they had bassist troubles, the studio in which I record ‘Sandgate Sound Studios’ belongs to Marty and Mole of The Higher State, as a band they have had a totally hard time finding a bassist since they formed in 2004 and they asked me if I would do it and I agreed to do it, I enjoy this because it gives me a chance to play music live with my closest friends.

With regards to Jessica Winter, I had written two ‘West Coast’ styled psychedelic songs, which I wanted to get out of my soul BUT knew they wouldn’t work in the context of being on my own 45s of LP’s, so I got in contact with Jessica after hearing her own band’s material and felt she was the right girl for the job, she is in the same age group as me, she has a voice which suited the vibe of the song and she looked good too, she also has her own band ‘The Hall Of Mirrors’ and is a talented song-writer herself,  she was ideal and I am happy how the sides turned out, it was fun and nice to hear a different dynamic to my songs.

The Sufis collaboration has yet to happen, so I won’t go too into that just yet, but I contact Calvin telling him I liked what I heard of his group, told him about me and also told him, I was visiting TN in the summer, he invited me to their studio and well… let’s see what happens there and then, anything could happen, then again, nothing could also happen.

Collaborations are fun, essentially you can learn from others and also provide teaching in return, I enjoy working with other people and would jump at the chance to work with more people if I could, this is mainly because I have been making music alone since I was 16, always searching for musicians to play with to no avail, so when folks’ are into the idea of working together or joining me in music making, then I feel it’s a good thing most of all for me. Collaborations also give me a chance to stray away slightly from my teen-garage influenced stuff and explore other avenues, like psychedelic music or folk music or anything really.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: What are your future plans?

Paul Messis: I may be recording a couple of tracks with The Sufis in Nashville in Early September, it’s been spoken that we possibly will record one of my unreleased original tracks ‘Inside my Mind’ and then work together on a completely fresh track there and then on the day as a band, if the two tracks sound cool, I am contemplating putting them out as a 45 myself on my own self-funded label later in the year, I think I’d like the project to be named ‘The Market Squares’, I’ve always liked that, it has a very ‘Oxford Circle’ vibe about it – bare in mind none of the above is set in stone yet, so it’s all just hearsay at the moment.

During the early part of 2012, I begun work recording songs for my second LP, During October I return to the studio to finish-off the LP which is going to be called ‘Case Closed’ and which will be my second album, the album is due for release in Spring 2013 on State Records, I may proceed with a 45 on 13 O’Clock Records during the summer of 2013.

‘Case Closed’ for me is going to be a very personal and existentialist album, I feel it’s going to be one of the best ‘garage’ albums in the last 30 years… well I’m gonna try to make it the best I can.

After that, I have no plans as such… I would have made a body of work, I am exceptionally proud of and would have put my whole early to late twenties of life into music.

I am considering starting a label possibly, but this is only an idea at this stage and depends a lot on if my collaboration with The Sufis works out.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Any parting thoughts?

Paul Messis: Whilst it is fresh in my mind… which I generally just wish to discuss in regards to my music

One thing I find with my own sounds is, although I have been selling records pretty fluently and it is kind of amazing I have been able to release four 45s and an LP so far, I am clearly making the labels I am on some sort of money.

I however feel my music isn’t greatly known to more people, for the reason that my sounds are completely authentic, I have found especially in the UK, people can’t work it out at all…. successful groups today who use vintage recording equipment and have an old vibe about them still in a weird way have a very modern vibe and sound about them, if you listen to a group like The Allah La’s (who I love and respect) their songs are still quite modern in a strange way, as are The Paperhead and Sufis and a few other bands who are doing similar music to me, I can’t altogether define it… it still sounds very modern to me, in terms of songwriting, however my stuff, people have told me they genuinely would have thought it was a lost garage find from 66… I recently was listening to Bill Kelly’s radio show on WFMU and he played one of my songs and in the context of the other songs he was playing, the fidelity suddenly dropped and it sounded totally lo-fi in comparison to the other bands, it didn’t bother me…. but it made me think about how my music may be viewed/heard and I feel to some degree folks can’t get their head around the totally authentic production sound of my recordings… it’s pretty effortlessly for me and the guys at Sandgate Sound to get that sound however.

Another thing which goes against me, but I suppose this is done through choice, is NOT playing my material live…. the UK gig circuit is a pointless endeavour, bands in London for the most part play for free and don’t get paid, hardly anyone goes to see live bands in the UK and in general the UK live music scene is dead…. I’d rather not waste my time struggling to get shows and not getting paid for my art and playing to a handful of people…. so I just make recordings and along with the guys from State Records and 13 O Clock Records, completely take charge of everything myself, i.e. self funding, self promotion, making promo videos myself….. there are no outside sources interfering in what I do, there is no high-profile dealings with companies who help get my music to a wider audience,  it is a complete DIY effort and because of this I suppose genuine art never really gets a look in publicly,  even in this day and age of internet popularity the HYPE MACHINE reigns supreme… but I am happy my music hasn’t been over hyped because when you climb to a higher level of interest the fall is far greater, it is damaging to egos when this happens…. this especially is where I am interested in seeing where a few of my contemporaries who are more popular than me are in a couple of years i.e. will they keep true to themselves of sell out to keep that popularity flowing.

One thought on “Paul Messis: Garage Punk Unknown

  1. Paul Messis is everything that is right and wrong with the music business. In a better world he would be a Garage Punk Known and a star and he would still be unhappy and full of angst. 🙂

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