Posted August 17, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

The Universal Truths of Paul Thorn

Paul Thorn
Paul Thorn

On his new albumToo Blessed To Be Stressed, singer-songwriter Paul Thorn takes a break from autobiography to provide a few observations about everyday life and the current state of the world. He has said the songs are about “universal truths,” and they tend toward the positive. For the title track, he borrowed a saying from a friend of his and paired with a meaty guitar hook. It’s another great album from a guy who came to music late in his life but has become a renowned singer-songwriter in alt-country circles. He called us from his home to talk about the new record.

I like the story about how you sang “Three Times a Lady” by Lionel Ritchie with your acoustic guitar at a talent show when you were in grade school and suddenly I went from being a social outcast to the most desired boy on the playground.
I wasn’t the most popular kid in school when I was growing up. Back then, you weren’t cool unless your hair was long. My dad was a preacher, so I couldn’t wear my hair long, but I got in the talent show and I sang “Three Times “ and I won. All of a sudden, all the girls liked me and I went from a nobody to a somebody.

Did you realize you could be a performer?
I don’t think in the sixth grade that I could think that far head. I just liked the attention. When men do things, whether it is sports or music, at the core of it all is an attempt to get the female.

You’ve said that you tried to write about “universal truths” on your new album. Talk about that approach a bit.
It’s a very happy record. There’s a lot of positive songs that I think will make people feel better. “Everything’s Gonna be Alright” is my philosophy. You also got songs like “Everybody Needs Somebody.” God knows that’s a universal truth no matter who you are. The title cut I got from a lady who I used to go to church with. Her name was Mrs. Johnson. She had all these great one-liners. I once asked her how she was doing and she said she was “too blessed to be stressed.” I hope that this record will make people feel a little bit better.

I think music does have a healing power. I could bless somebody and make them feel better as they start their day.

How did 2012’s What the Hell Is Goin’ On? Influence these songs?
My last record was a departure for me. I had never done a covers record. They were just songs I liked from songwriters I admired. It morphed and changed my songwriting style. Throughout my career, I’ve been known as a storyteller. These songs are not stories. They’re anthems. One thing I do on the road is that I get on YouTube and find somebody I admire and listen to them talk and just hear what they have to say. It’s my own devotion. One day, it might be Maya Angelou and the next day it might be Charles Bukowski. I’m interested in other people’s philosophies. It helps me. I tried to make these songs like my little devotion. It’s not a gospel record, just positive things to help people have a better day. I love to study other people and be emphatic and not so judgmental.

Did you come across all these writers at school?
I didn’t learn much of anything in school that I retained. I’m dyslexic and I had a hard time. Back then, they didn’t know what dyslexia was and thought I was dumb. I felt dumb a lot of times. I really learned by getting out in the world and living a little bit and traveling. That was my education. I got turned on to people from a whole other mindset. Maya Angelou was a great poet and great philosopher and then you have the Bukowski . . . Time magazine has this show called “10 Questions.” They find people and ask them ten questions. We all go down different paths and we need to be respectful of that. I grew up in church, but if you get your information from just one source, that’s a recipe for ignorance.

Do you gravitate toward Southern writers?
Not necessarily. When I think of Southern writers, I think of Southern songwriters. I’m a big fan of old school country songs like Roger Miller, Kris Kristofferson. That’s the school of writing that I have a lot of respect for.

You didn’t want to write about yourself but you end up doing that a bit on “Backslide on Friday.” I find it hard to believe that you sin in any serious kind of way.
I mention myself in that song but you can insert your own name in that song. We all suffer from the same disease of procrastinating. We say we’re going to do this or that, but our follow through doesn’t back it up. It’s just a song about the human condition. It might make someone laugh and think they’re not the only one who’s dropped the ball.

You also talk about sinning but I can’t imagine you do anything too bad.
Everybody does seem good when you first meet them. But everybody has secrets and everybody has things they do wrong. There’s not a single person here who doesn’t do the wrong thing from time to time.

Talk about “Mediocrity’s King.”
It’s about how the standards have been lowered, whether it’s popular music or politics or department stores. Mom-and-pop stores used to exist and you used to be friends with the people who owned them. Now, if you go to Walmart, there’s an elderly person who says hello to you when you walk through the door. After that, you’re on your own. No one is going to help you. They have 30 cash registers and only two of them are open.  Everything is so cold-hearted and detached. Everyone has their iPhones out and they don’t look out at the world. I don’t call it progress. I’m not going to call any names but it’s no secret that a lot of modern popular music is just junk. I call it McMusic. It doesn’t give you anything. It doesn’t say anything. It’s just filler. I’m not a political person but now you see politicians on TV and they’re just reading something that someone else wrote. It’s disheartening. There’s very little spirit in it.

And singers sing other people’s songs.
I never thought much of American Idol. Sure, they can sing, but they get some professional songwriters to string some clichés together that have worked in the past and they tell them what to wear. They’re just molded into a form. The biggest demographic is the gullible and uninformed. That’s the people who like it. They don’t know about Roger Miller, Charles Bukowski, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. I mention in the song that if Johnny Cash were trying to make it, they would laugh him off the stage and say he didn’t look good enough.

Your band is really clicking isn’t it?
I’ve had the same guys in my band for over 20 years with the exception of my bass player who has been there five years. They’re great musicians. We played together a long time and it shows. Some bands hire session guys and it can get the job done. When you hear an AC/DC song, you know it’s an AC/DC song because it’s a real band. That’s missing in the manufacturing of stars. The music itself sounds the same. The only difference is the singing. It’s just a formulaic thing.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].