Christopher Paul Stelling

Christopher Paul Stelling and Julia Christgau | Atlanta, GA | 2 Mar 2012

The press release described Christopher Paul Stelling as “foot-stomping” but a synergy between that and quiet yet forceful determination wasn’t what I was expecting.

Stelling, whose latest album Songs of Praise and Scorn was released on Mecca Lecca on Feb. 21, brought his guitar to WonderRoot in Atlanta on March 2, where his incredible finger-picking and the aforementioned foot-stomping belied that there was but only him and a guitar up on stage. He stood there on something that looked like a piece of plywood, with a tambourine on the edge, mic’d to an amp, and between the sound of dueling guitars that his fingers produced and the percussive beats coming from using the wood and tambourine as a sort of drum set, the aural illusion was complete. Even though I knew it was just him and Julia Christgau (who provides additional vocals, pictured above) up there, I kept looking out from my camera to see what other people had joined him. But it was just him and his guitar and his feet.

There were tornadoes that night here, and between the severe weather alerts and the driving rain, most people probably stayed home. The crowd who did show up appeared to have turned out mostly for the opener, Atlanta-based Ben Trickey, but quite a few stuck around for Stelling’s headliner, once they stayed, they really stayed. Opening with the just-released single from the album, “Mourning Train To Memphis,” Stelling showed off his more than substantial talent on a noticeably beat-up (yet surely loved) electric-acoustic Gibson. We had a few minutes before he and Julia went on and went outside to shoot pictures in the rain, while the tornadoes spun in north of us.

Christopher Paul Stelling | Atlanta, GA | 2 Mar 2012

meowhouse music+pictures:  So, 15 shows so far … how many more?

CPS:  About 40. [N.B. see current bookings as of publication date.] February 19 was the first show. No, the 18th. And the last is somewhere between May 1 and the 18th, so we’re traveling anywhere between 2 and a half and 3 months.

me:  What’s been your favorite part so far? Is there a favorite part? Is there ever a favorite part??

CPS:  I like driving. [laughs] I really like driving.

Stelling has been called the new maestro of finger-picked melodies” and a master of furious guitar lines, but he says it took “lots of time spent [laughs] – that’s about it.” There was no magic moment, no particular teacher who inspired him above all others. “I think it’s very self-learned. There wasn’t anyone who really influenced the way I play now, at least. I do like some of  the old folk guys – John Fahey, some others – but I try to seek influence from what I come up with, as opposed to hearing something and trying to emulate it.

me:  How’s the record doing?

CPS:  It seems to be doing pretty well. It only came out a week ago so it’s a little hard to tell–

me:  You don’t have the numbers yet?

CPS:  I know what I’m selling, but I don’t have the figures for iTunes or other sources yet. But it doesn’t really take much to impress me on [sales], honestly … it’s getting good press. It’s hard to know how much people even buy records anymore; they just listen to them online and you can’t really track that. It’s “DIY” now – 10 years ago, if I’d gotten as much press as I’ve gotten off this record, I’d expect to be doing pretty well in sales. … Music today is on a person-to-person basis. You win every single one of your fans.

me:  I’ve covered some pretty big musicians who have gone the DIY route and it’s amazing that there are more and more of them who do personally interact with their fans through their websites or social networking – they don’t have employees insulating them. It’s actually them doing the posting, doing the commenting and tweeting and sharing a fan’s photo. It’s getting more and more common to have big “rock stars” actually say thanks directly and personally. That’s something I would have said was almost impossible 10 years ago. It’s more critical than ever to develop that connection with fans and make them feel they are important, because the way to make money is to get them to come to the show – not so much to buy the albums anymore.

CPS:  Yes, exactly – there used to be one press outlet and now it’s everywhere–

me:  The field has spread out. It’s not just a case of winning over the RS reporter anymore.

CPS:  The Village Voice previewed my last album–we gave it away with the interview. My website jumped a little, not much, wouldn’t say it went through the roof. it wasn’t bigger than the day I did a Daytrotter session. You’d think of those on completely different levels but [their being comparable in promotion results] actually makes sense.

Stelling is in Chapel Hill, NC, tonight; next week back to Georgia, then Texas, Kansas, Colorado, and many other stops as he winds his way back up to New York.

Christopher Paul Stelling – “Solar Flares” live at Indaba Loft, NYC

Violin performance on the album by Cheyenne Marie Mize

Songs of Praise and Scorn by Christopher Paul Stelling – download “Mourning Train to Memphis” free.