I’ve seen Paul Pfau play locally at Gypsy Sally’s and with The Nine Songwriter Series with Justin Trawick. He is a well-respected musician in the DC area. In 2011, Paul was nominated Best New Artist by the Washington Area Music Association (WAMMIE). In 2013 his Happy To Be album won a WAMMIE for Debut Album of the Year.
Seeing him on The Voice this season has been surreal so I wanted to get to the bottom of him appearing on The Voice and what has led to this incredible point his life. So far he passed the blind auditions where he was picked to be on Pharrell Williams’ team. He also won his Song Battle Round against Meghan Linsey singing a duet with Linsey, “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Beatles. Pfau is currently touring all over the country.
Hall: How did you get selected for The Voice?
Pfau: Well I was sitting at home back in May working on some songs when I got a phone call from an unidentified California number. I let it go to voice mail as I do with all numbers I don’t recognize. When I checked the voicemail it was one of the producers and he invited me out to a private audition. I went, and they liked me I guess because they flew me out to LA for the executive call backs later that summer.
What is it like being on The Voice?
It’s pretty wild. During the whole process you aren’t allowed to tell anybody what you are doing, where you are, or what is going on… so you end up developing this super tight bond with the people around you (other contestants, crew, etc…) pretty quickly. We all have the same thing in common, the biggest opportunity in our lives is right in front of us and we were all just so happy to be there. It feels like a dream. We are all so tight. The most important behind the scenes info I can give you is that we are all a family. We all support and love each other. This is such a unique experience and not many people understand the stresses that come with it. It just brings us closer together. We also went bowling a lot.
When did you first get the ‘music buzz?’
I first got the music buzz probably back in the 90’s during the boy band craze. I loved me some Backstreet [Boys] and N*SYNC. I have no shame! Ha! Ha! I say that because listening to that music was the first time I started noticing song structure. When I was in middle school I remember my dad listening to The Beatles in his car on the way to the grocery store and BOOM! It hit me like a ton of bricks. I heard Clapton playing guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. That was when I knew I had to really get to work.
What has been your musical journey?
Since that moment, I picked up a guitar at 14 and played all day every day through high school. I was a guitarist in a rock band called Exit 42 (where we all lived) and later changed our name to The Reign. During my senior year I made my debut appearance as a singer at the Senior Showcase Talent Show. I forgot the words, but other than that, I got some pretty good feedback. When I got into college I started focusing more on my own love for songwriting and playing the guitar so I left the band to focus on honing my craft. During my senior year I started going to blues jams and eventually formed my own blues band and played around the area until joining a “funky rock and roll band” which later became Paul Pfau & the Dimestore Band. That lasted for about a year. Due to some turmoil within the band, I decided to just go solo. I put out my first record in 2013 called Happy To Be, but before I could even tour on it, I was diagnosed with a vocal nodule that sidelined me for the rest of the year. In the meantime, I filled in as a guitar player in a couple of touring bands which really opened up a lot of doors that I wouldn’t have seen had I not gotten my nodule. A blessing in disguise. Shortly after, I returned to the road was when I got the call from The Voice, and now I am here, talkin’ to you. Quite the roller coaster!
Who are some of your musical influences, and how would you describe your music?
Wow. I’ll start by saying there are too many to list. There are so many artists I look to for different reasons.. Clapton and Hendrix for their guitar playing, Sinatra for the tone of his voice, as a songwriter it doesn’t get better than Lyle Lovett or The Beatles. But when I look at modern artists that are melding these influences together as well I look up to John Mayer, Ray Lamontagne, Gavin Degraw, Maroon 5, etc… My music is off the wall. I never knew how to classify it until I met Pharrell. I am other, and I am proud to BE other. I try not to box myself in with genres. You never know where that inspiration is going to come from. Stay open to the moment.
Are there any young musicians today who remind you of yourself and have your style of music and performing?
Well I still consider myself in that young and upcoming category. I don’t really think anybody has molded themselves after me. There may be some middle or high schoolers but I haven’t met any personally. I like to focus on being the one who always needs to learn. You can never master your craft and that is the fun in the journey. There is always something to work on.
What do you like about being a musician who performs in the DC area?
I like the DC area music scene a lot. There are a TON of amazing songwriters and instrumentalists here. It’s pretty crazy actually. Since there is no industry here people don’t think of DC being a music town, but that is far from the truth. I have been so inspired by many artists in the area. There is a very big DIY feel to the whole thing. I heard once that Andy Zipf used to have blank T-shirts, logos, and an ironing board that he would bring to shows and literally make t-shirts for the fans right in front of them. That is just one example of hundreds. People work really hard here and I am grateful to be a part of the scene. Also I need to mention that the support and camaraderie amongst the musicians here is second to none. We all help each other out and come to each other’s gigs… sometimes even play in each other’s bands. It’s truly wonderful.
How would you describe the DC music scene? What music venues are your favorite in the DC area?
I think I kinda described it in the last answer, but it less words: Strong, Creative, Original, Supportive. My favorite venue hands down is 9:30 club. I am lucky enough to have played there four times and hope to continue to do so. We do have a lot of others though… U Street, Gypsy Sally’s, IOTA, Black Cat. I mean, we are lucky. There are some great venues here.
What are your favorite highlights of your career so far?
Obviously being on The Voice is one of them. Working with Pharrell, Lionel Richie, and Nate Ruess (of the band fun.) has been pretty outstanding. Also getting feedback from Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton is very cool and humbling. It’s been such a roller coaster. I have played with the Beach Boys, I have been lucky enough to hang out with some of my favorite guitar players like Matt Schofield (English blues guitarist and singer) and Sonny Landreth (American blues musician from southwest Louisiana). Being on the radio for the first time was a big deal, having songs at the top of the iTunes charts, just being able to travel the country doing what I love is a continuous highlight. It amazes me how the music can bring you to places you never thought were possible. Every day is an opportunity to do something great.
Anything else you would like to do in your career that you have not done so far?
I try not to really hold expectations for what’s to come. I could say obvious things about how I would love to win a Grammy or play sold out amphitheaters all over the world. But I like being open and letting the moment surprise me. That’s kinda how the whole The Voice thing happened, just came out of nowhere. I know that is kinda backwards from what most teachers advocate, but I have a different approach to this whole thing and it seems to be working pretty well. I just focus on the moment. I work as hard as I can on my craft and networking. I let the rest fall into place. All I am concerned about is making music that myself and others can enjoy. I feel like if you can just focus on that, people will gravitate towards what you do. If you would have asked me this a year ago I wouldn’t have said that last sentence.. I was beginning to stop believing in it. But that’s when you need to be your strongest. Life is going to test you. You gotta be ready.
What advice would you have for young musicians who are about to embark on musical careers?
Probably the same stuff everyone else says… BECAUSE IT’S TRUE! I have three rules for anyone that asks me this.
- Find out what it is that you LOVE to do. It can be ANYTHING (literally anything… mopping floors, sitting, standing, singing… doesn’t matter just as long as you LOVE it with all of your being.)
- Practice, practice, practice…. I practice playing guitar and singing for 6-8 hours every day… sometimes you do need a little break, but I just use that time to network and focus on the business side. It’s truly a 24 hour job. Again… you gotta love it.
- BE YOURSELF! There are too many other people trying to be like other people. This was solidified in me by working with Pharrell. I never thought what I was doing was cool. People just weren’t latching on and I was wondering to myself if I should hop in the main stream and start pumping out some cookie cutter pop music. I’m glad I didn’t. I now know that this is the most important thing. I can’t sing like most people. I have a limited range and don’t do any runs when I sing, but I have a tone that is all mine. Nobody sounds like me. Nobody sounds like you. And that is the about coolest thing you can know.
Lastly what local DC musicians do you recommend people should we be checking out?
SO MANY! Melodime, The Morrison Brothers, Justin Trawick, Andy Zipf (Cowards Choir), Bobby Thompson (Blue Heart Revival), Dave Farah, and Don Kim. Some other of my friends that are going to kick my ass when they see that I left them out. It’s not intentional, there are just literally too many to think of on the spot. That’s how cool this town is.