Paul Nolan on messages in music, modern age labels, life in LA and the Tales we Tell

Lauren Krieger

 Ingo Vogelmann gets Paul Nolan to go deep as he gets ready for his new FRISKY show

Paul Nolan has been transmitting messages through his music for years, his deep love for it evident in the multitude of aspects he is involved in, from engineering, producing, managing, DJing and beyond. Now he will be bringing the energy that comes from such diverse experience and passion to the airwaves with his monthly show “Tales We Tell“. To talk about this, and so, so much more (the word “legendary” gets thrown around ;)) Ingo Vogelmann dove in with Paul Nolan over the Summer. There is a lot covered, but I promise the read is worth it! Read on & tune in to “Tales We Tell“, premiering December 8th @ 12PM EST. – Lauren, Editor

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Ingo Vogelmann: Hi Paul! Thanks for taking the time for an interview with FRISKY. Where are you now, and what are you doing, if I may ask?

Paul Nolan: I’m currently in Los Angeles, California, drinking my morning coffee, outputting stems from Ableton for a mix down I am completing today.

IV: Is it one of your own productions or a job for someone else?

PN: It’s for my Chapter 24 Records co-founder, Sam Pauli.

IV: Ahh, Chapter 24. I wanted to talk more about this later, but while we’re at it: when did you launch the label and how did you get to do this?

PN: Sam, Marcus (aka. Matt Black) and I launched the label in February 2015, just coming up to 18 months of releasing music! The truth is the story started a lot further back than this. A lot of people in the scene have recognized the label has grown quite quickly, and something of an ‘overnight success’, which is funny to me, as it proves that to be an overnight success takes years of work behind the scenes. So it was with the label. It took us collectively nearly a year of planning to get everything where we wanted it to be.

The concept, the look, the feel of it, the purpose and meaning behind it all, and what we were trying to portray and communicate musically and conceptually. I’d always wanted to start a label but the time never seemed right, the partners were never there, the concept not quite resonating with me. When Sam and I discussed the possibility of a record label could be in the modern age, and our views on it during one of our many ‘around the kitchen table’ chats in between our studio sessions, it became clear that it was a project I wanted to become a part of. So a meeting between Sam, Marcus and I occurred and it was this coming together of great intentions, good energy, and worthwhile ideas, and out of it came the label we run today.

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IV: How is Chapter 24 Records different from other labels? You mentioned a “modern age” label, I’m really curious about the concept now.

PN: Well, we wanted the whole idea and intention behind the label to be positive and show what could be possible for a label to do with visuals, artwork, and the amount of thought put into the music. All three of us were of the viewpoint that at its best, electronic music can be timeless, and bring about wonderful positive shifts in people’s ideas and perceptions of themselves, and the world around them. The DJ sets and labels that always did it for me were the ones that seemed to come with a narrative, a sense that a story was being told, a journey was being undertaken, that somehow underneath all the symbolism and synths was a deeper, more profound meaning.

IV: Is this your personal general approach to creating music?

PN: We’d also observed that in a lot of ways modern electronic music had untethered itself from that core meaning. Hence the label tagline ‘stories in sound’, and the entire reason for the label being called Chapter 24, is to bring about a return to those core values that helped this music grow and become such an important part of people’s lives. It’s my approach to creating music as well, absolutely. I find it frustrating when I’m working blind of the purpose of why the music should even exist in the first place. I’m a massive fan of music with meaning, being written around a central idea, purpose or experience, those things that unify us on a daily basis. The fundamental things that make us human … without sounding like an overly spiritual wanker.

IV: I guess we’re the same sort of spiritual wanker then.

PN: Haha … nothing wrong with indulging in some spiritual masturbation every now and then!

Also, we have embraced a very high turnover of music in these ‘throwaway’ times, rightly or wrongly. ‘Purely functional club tools’ as my good friend Paul Woolford recently put it. In some ways we were reacting against that with the label, and I attempt to react against that in the studio as well, as I truly feel it’s not what people really resonate with on a deeper level.

IV: Looks like I’m outing myself as your fan now, and this is supposed to be a FRISKY interview. I need to discipline myself …

Back to business: is it possible to make money with a label these days, does it make sense to launch a new label in 2016?

PN: Oh, fucking hell … here we go! Haha!

IV: Hahaha!

PN: Right, I don’t think record labels exist in 2016. Yes, you can print that!

IV: I certainly will!

PN: There’s no such thing. From the off, even though at the time we were learning what Chapter 24 was, or could be, we knew that it had to be more than a label, because, news flash: there’s not much money in running a label.

IV: This interview is legendary already now.

PN: Haha!

You have to look at it from a 360° point of view.

IV: Isn’t it more that you spend money on running a label?

PN: Absolutely, and with the amount of care and attention we put into it, at times our overheads can be higher than they would otherwise be if you took the ‘zero outlay’ approach to running a label. But we didn’t set it up for that we wanted to build a platform to communicate our feelings, thoughts and emotions about the music we love, but also to give that platform to exciting talent, introduce that talent to new audiences, and then eventually everyone benefits, including the three of us who founded that platform, by standing on that platform and connecting with as many people as possible.

IV: Add professions where I forgot some, and I’m sure I will, but when I’m not mistaken you’re a producer, DJ, label honcho, mixing and mastering engineer and composer. Is this what is needed to make a living in our niche industry today?

PN: I hate the term, but we really view Chapter 24 as a ‘content house’ and the label is an important but still singular part of a wider collective of things we do the parties in London, which have been amazing, the merchandise line we do in collaboration with Wasted Heroes who are hugely respected for their products in the scene, and working with our in-house artist Simon Vaeth, who has been there since the beginning setting the tone for the label visually. Yes, you have to wear different hats, and work in a variety of fields in order to make a living in music these days. Flexibility, being able to work in a variety of genres and with a wide range of people is essential. I also do a lot of work in Artist Development & Education, providing courses and mentoring for new producers, which is very much my background and how I’ve ended up where I’m at now.

IV: There you go, I knew I forgot something.

PN: Haha!

IV: Which I actually knew about, of course.

PN: All good.

IV: Do you have a favorite of all of this? Like DJing maybe?

PN: They’re all rewarding in different ways, the thought of not guiding someone talented to fulfill their potential depresses me, as it connects me to a higher purpose that’s not just about being the center of attention and flinging my arms in the air behind some decks. That’s the main thing for me, it’s all about leaving things better than how you found them, and I include people, artists, music, crowds at venues, and myself in that. None of it is mutually exclusive, they all interconnected and relate and reinforce each other … which is the most long winded way to say ‘no I don’t have a favorite I like all of it’, haha!

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IV: I understand. I bet you have a certain discipline in place to get all this done in a professional way, right?

PN: You have to! I try and look after myself as much as possible, I find yoga, exercise and the right nutrition for my needs to be the only way i can keep it all going. I’m the least ‘rock n roll’ dance music artist you can think of. I’m pescetarian, work out 6 days a week, I love Bikram Yoga, I don’t smoke, I’ve never taken drugs, I’m currently not drinking any alcohol for the time being … see, boring ginger bastard!

IV: I hope you’re not one of those people that die one day without knowing why!

PN: That’ll never happen! I’m too far into the journey to not get to that answer! Also, it’s trying to find the answer to that question which keeps you young.

IV: Sounds good. Is the stuff on Chapter 24 a certain genre or does it just have to be good music?

PN: We describe the music that we release and resonate with as having ‘heart and soul above all else’. So it’s mostly house and techno, with that kind of emotional outlook. We are very open minded about the styles of music we release, for example a release like Haxeri’s is somewhat different stylistically than say Atapy’s latest release which is due soon [editor’s note: available now!], but they still push at the same core values of emotion and humanity.

IV: Oh, I just downloaded the Atapy promo last night. Brilliant stuff.

PN: Thanks, its a huge package, and we seem to be growing with each release. We’re already way past what we thought we were going to achieve with Chapter 24, but we feel like we’re only just getting started with the concept.

IV: I’ll watch it closely! You live in L.A. … how’s life there, especially compared to Britain, and how did you end up there?

PN: Well, apart from the obvious weather difference (more sunburn for this pale ginger guy!) I like the openness here, the people are welcoming, and it was really a case of knowing what I wanted to do next. I’m a proud Liverpudlian, and I’ll always call Liverpool home. I’d kind of maxed out what I could achieve there, and the opportunities here, and the network I’ve built over the years of coming out here and seeing the lay of the land, were just too good to not give a proper chance to. I’d have regretted it for the rest of my life. My other main passion apart from music is film, and it’s no secret that I’ve long considered moving into composing for film & TV, and obviously, there’s no better place to do that than here in LA.

IV: Are you scoring film right now, or are any projects scheduled?

PN: At the moment I’m more focused on my solo material. One thing I’ve always yearned for, but for various reasons, didn’t give myself the opportunity to, was to develop my own sound as an electronic artist. I fulfill so many roles in the industry, from engineer to mentor to helping run a label, that my own voice and desires as an artist haven’t always come to the fore. Now, with the year I’ve had so far, I’ve got a real opportunity to work on that sound and bring it to a wider audience. I’m emerging from the shadows as it were, haha!

IV: One reason why I could jump from one thing another with you! You’re into too much interesting stuff!

PN: And that’s without talking about football or Brexit (don’t get me started!), haha!

IV: We get there, beware! Haha!

PN: Oh shit, I’m a newly minted member of Keyboard Warriors Anonymous, don’t make me break my dry spell!

IV: I’m the President!

PN: Well, I’d vote for you Ingo!

IV: Thanks, I appreciate that. We all want to know this, and I’m sure you’ve answered this question a million times by now, but how did you get to work with “the man”, Sasha?

PN: Well, its not that long of a story to be honest!

IV: But I want every little detail of it.

PN: I’d known Sasha for a long time through the club circuit, working for the likes of Cream back home in Liverpool, and through friends, chief among them Lee Burridge, who is still a great friend to me to this day! It was always a good laugh when Sasha and I caught up at various gigs, because we spoke about anything but music to be honest, mostly football as we both support Liverpool FC. As it turned out, I relocated to LA at the same time Sasha was to work on new music, and over a coffee in Liverpool he expressed an interest in working together on what became the ‘Scene Delete’ album. He knew what I was all about musically and technically from us doing mentoring together on various programmes in Ibiza, so he knew that I had useful skills.

From there, we spent practically every day working on the album in LA together, along with the rest of the production team, which included incredibly talented guys and even better human beings, such as Barry Jamieson (Evolution), Dave Gardner (Cosmonauts) and Dennis White (ThermalBear). It was, and still is, an amazing experience working with such passionate, and knowledgeable guys. You can’t help but improve in that kind of environment, help is never more than a quick call away. I feel I improved as a producer, engineer and sound designer immeasurably in that experience. Which proves without doubt that the only way you can really master your art form is by surrounding yourself with people who are better than you. One of my favourite sayings of all time is ‘if you’re in a room full of people and you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room’. It’s the same reason why footballers want to move to a different club to play in the Champions League.

You want to be surrounded by your peers who challenge and push you to up your game.

Being part of that amazing crew certainly does that, and working so closely with Sasha is a huge education in itself …

IV: When you teach folks, you’re not the smartest in the room?

PN: You’d be surprised! One of the things I love the most about teaching is the fact that I learn from my clients. One of the more selfish reasons I teach is because I want to improve myself, so I have to know more, stretch myself, continue to improve, so the client does too. Every now and then a client will do something I would’ve never thought of and it’s just the best feeling having acquired new knowledge and seeing the shift in thought patterns my client has undergone to get to that point.

IV: For me “Scene Delete” is some of the best stuff I’ve heard since … let’s say BT’s “This Binary Universe”. An incredibly well produced and insanely creative work.

What exactly was your part on “Scene Delete”, and what I really would like to know personally: did you come up with the idea of those panning little beats in the beginning, sounding as if the beat would move around your head in 360∞ style?

PN: I mostly did sound design and programming, but to be honest there’s a little bit of everything in there. I don’t want to take credit for any one part of it as it was truly a collaborative effort with Sasha and ‘the band’ we put together. I mostly built and programmed sounds with Sasha using an insane modular synth and effects processor we had in the LA studio, to get these ridiculous effects and sounds that could only be captured at that point in time, a one shot deal. That’s what I love about modular and old hardware synths, no presets, no saving, no undo button, just you, in the moment, recording your wildest experiments at pushing these units to their full capacity and possibly beyond.

IV: OMG, that sounds fantastic … I’d probably have sold a kidney for that experience. How long did it all take, from the thought of it to the finished master?

PN: Well, Sasha had been writing these pieces of interesting more ambient stuff whilst he was on the road for a couple of years and it all just mounted up to the point that something had to be done with them as they were too good to not finish. So by the time we got really into finishing all of this music off to the final finishing off of the album, was 7 weeks, which is an insanely short space of time.

IV: Indeed! Was it the typical “3 days no sleep, just work” thing?

PN: Not at all actually, we kept relatively reasonable office hours.

IV: I noticed that almost all tracks are kind of in a “dance tempo”. Have you guys fancied laying some four to the floor kick under it at any time?

PN: Already have ‘Pontiac’ was recently released on Last Night On Earth as a more ‘dance floor’ version which has been well received.

IV: Yes, I heard about it, unfortunately haven’t listened yet.

PN: How rude!

IV: Sorry, it slipped through!

PN: Haha, all good.

IV: When did you start DJing, and where?

PN: Funny story. Steve Parry, the legend that he is, gave me my first gig at Alderaan in Liverpool back in the day. He brought me through as one of Alderaan’s ‘Nu Breed’.

IV: Ahhh, I had an interview about this with him, here on the FRISKY news! When was that exactly?

PN: Around 2000, I think! I used to absolutely pester the life out of him at 3Beat Records, where he used to work, for white labels, promos and was throwing mixtapes at him on an almost weekly basis, haha! We’ve been really good friends ever since and only gotten closer and worked together more as the years have passed, now we’re working together on his music with me as an engineer, tracks like Flippant and Arpricity and his huge Alice Rose & Malbetreib remix on Selador were all done with Steve deciding the direction and producing, and myself as engineer, mixing and mastering.

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IV: Very good tracks! I play all of them. Do you have more gigs in the US or the rest of the world these days?

PN: Yes, I’ve got an amazing show coming up on July 16th, at Exchange LA, one of the best clubs in the city, with Matthew Dear returning in his Audion guise playing a live show. Also on the line up is the legendary DJ Three, another old friend of mine! I’m also playing alongside two of my new buddies in the LA scene, Human Life, who has released on Defected and Hot Creations, and Matt Ossentjuk. I’m also working on some tour dates for Asia in September, and maybe a cheeky appearance or two ADE Week, but you’ll have to wait and see what I’ve got up my sleeve in the near future, hehehe.

IV: No spoilers for us?

PN: Well it’s all in the process of being confirmed, so I wouldn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.

IV: Not even mine, haha?!

PN: Especially yours!

IV: You’re too kind, as always. When DJing: vinyl, CDJ or laptop/controller? And what do you think about all of this?

PN: I think I’m not a huge fan of laptops in DJ booths, personally. However, whatever works to make your performance the best it can be. Personally, I keep it super simple, USBs, Rekordbox, Pioneer. I played at Exchange LA recently and they set up 4 CDJ2000 NXS2 decks for me and I was in heaven, unless layering and looping possibilities live. If I could still do it and the music was available, I’d be vinyl all the way though. I’m an old vinyl head, so it still works the best for me, it allows for the greatest connection to the music and the crowd for the style I play. I have to say though, the modern USB and Pioneer set up is almost as good and in some ways, better.

IV: Sync button? That exists for CDJs as well.

PN: Personally, I think its futile, it’s one way of disconnecting yourself from the music. I loved my time playing out on ableton with a controller in years gone by, but I found the whole process oddly alienating for both the crowd and for me, as there was no risk involved, there was almost no way for it to go wrong in the mix, so complacency sets in. For me if there’s no risk, there’s no skill. What is a skill actually for? It’s to stop things from going the wrong way, correct? If that’s the case then the implications of the sync button are huge. The button itself isn’t really the problem, it’s more the people who wield it in ever more lazy ways.

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IV: Your very own FRISKY show is in the planning phase, behind the curtains where the FRISKY robots do their job. We are very excited, what about you?

PN: Very, mate! Looking forward to getting it off the ground!

IV: What do you plan to do on the show?

PN: The show is going to be called ‘Tales We Tell’ and it’s very much going to be an extension of what we espouse at Chapter 24: storytelling, narrative, and a sense that there’s a deeper meaning behind the music and the mixes that’ll be broadcast. Some shows will have a definite theme, whilst others will be recordings of live mixes from my shows around the world.

IV: Sounds great! Have you ever thought of playing “live gigs”, I mean with instruments on stage, not DJing?

PN: Absolutely! The opportunity has never really presented itself, in a way to make it interesting, and not ‘come and watch me read my emails on my laptop live’. It amuses me, to be honest. Most ‘live’ sets are basically just Ableton sessions and a few button pushes. It’s not engaging or challenging to me. I’ve always wanted the human factor and the skill to come out regardless of it being live or DJing. Last year I worked with Arthur Baker and The Martinez Brothers and designed a really fun live rig for them to do a live jam for Seth Troxler’s Acid Future party in London. The laptop was an incidental part of the process, just running Maschine with samples and loops on it. Everything else was hardware, the old and the new of Roland, all to celebrate 808 day. I think it’s more possible than ever to do live electronic music without computers. I recently saw John Tejada do a really inspiring live show here in LA at UR Art in Santa Monica. Nothing but two Elektron units. The short answer is ‘it’s more likely now than ever’, but you’ll just have to wait and see.

IV: I know you’re a political or at least politically thinking person. Do you remember the times, like 30 years ago, when musicians were much more political and understood their fame also as an opportunity to spread their political thoughts and ideas, and even stood strong for causes? What do you think about this today?

PN: I don’t necessarily view myself or anyone else as ‘political’ as such. I tend to view myself and others as humans first and foremost. I feel if you are going to concern yourself with the wellbeing of not just yourself, but of others, and the planet as a whole, as we all have the opportunity to, a certain amount of political consideration comes with that. Musicians are incredibly intelligent, sensitive and compassionate people, and one of the reasons why they perform or create is to connect to a higher purpose, to connect with other humans and to tell stories, as well as communicate ideas about their perspective on human potential. In the past that meant also taking up certain positions and using their music to fight for a cause they believed would be for a the greater good. This doesn’t happen now, exactly when we need it the most.

The thing is, and I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, we don’t really have a lot of ‘musicians’ in electronic music now, we have a lot of ‘producers’, which is a very different mindset. One is an artist, the other is concerned with creating a product to sell, so the message sometimes gets lost in the rush to market. It’s interesting that when I work with clients within Artist Development, the question I ask they struggle with most is ‘why are you doing this?’ A lot of people get into electronic music now because they love it, or they see it as an escape from a regular life or a job they hate. That’s totally understandable. However, we now don’t ask often enough what we can do with our music and performances to help improve the lives of others, to shape their thinking and shift their awareness and perspectives. Whilst I tend to not put overt political messages into my sets or productions, I do personally take up certain positions I believe to be to the betterment of people and the planet.

Through my music I try and focus on the themes and concepts that unite us rather than divide us.

IV: Wow, that was an incredibly profound statement! As the entire interview was, Paul. I’m so glad we found the time for doing this. So, thank you very very much, I enjoyed this a lot, and I can’t wait to witness your further development and your new show that’s coming up!

Tune into Tales We Tell, premiering December 8th @ 12PM EST [convert timezone]

Paul Nolan – Tales We Tell

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