He’s perfectly at home on stage, as he’ll be tonight in Alcoa’s Springbrook Park for the final “Songs By the Brook” concert of 2019, but Brian Paddock finds joy like no other when he’s behind the studio glass.
His most recent album — “Love Is Weird,” credited to Brian Paddock and the American Gentlemen, the band with whom he’ll perform tonight — was released in May, only eight months after his previous effort, “Under New Management.” That one, he told The Daily Times, was meant to establish him as an artist independent of his old band, Shimmy and the Burns. “Love Is Weird,” he added, gets a little closer to the sounds he hears in his head when he first sits down to compose songs on an acoustic guitar.
“‘Under New Management’ was very much a solo endeavor,” Paddock said. “There were two drummers on that record, and seven different people playing guitar, so there were seven different styles of guitar solos — and that’s kind of a lot. When we were making it, I was just like, ‘Oh, this person is willing to do it. And this person is willing to do it. Cool.’
“That record was much more of a collection of individual songs that were each recorded somewhat differently, whereas ‘Love Is Weird’ is much more of a band record. I think that playing the songs with the band and working them out in advance rather than me recording a scratch track to a click or working out somebody different to play drums on each song made it more cohesive.”
Part of that cohesiveness is building the rock ‘n’ roll on “Love Is Weird” to suit not just his voice, but his introspective way of penning tunes. Self-acceptance was a long time coming for the burly roots-rocker, who remembers the sting of being told as a child by an elementary school teacher that he wasn’t good enough to join the school choir.
It was his wife, Jessica, who pushed him to try it, and by that point, he was 30 years old. Playing open mic nights in Johnson City, where the couple lived at the time, he met one of the guys who would join him in forming Shimmy and the Burns, a band that would grind away in the local scene until finding a healthy measure of acceptance.
Gigs at the 2017 Rhythm N’ Blooms Music Festival and Waynestock in 2018 put the band on the map, but when the guys went their separate ways, Paddock shed his nickname and underwent a crash course in professional studio work with John Baker and Gray Comer of The Arbor Studio in South Knoxville.
“It’s my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I love playing shows, and I want to do that as much as possible, but the recording process — just building the song from the ground up, especially with all these great creative players I’ve stumbled into having willing to work with me —I can’t even describe, adequately, with my limited vocabulary, what it feels like. Just taking a song that was just an idea or something I made up in my living room while I was supposed to be working, and taking it from strumming on a guitar and saying what I’ve got to say, to adding all these pieces and making it full, there’s nothing more rewarding to me than doing that.”
And then taking those songs with a steady band — Baker on bass, former Burns drummer Gurnee Barrett on the sticks and Denny Myers on guitar — and playing them live: It’s more than he ever could have hoped for when he first started out. A shambling teddy bear of a guy, Paddock has turned what was once deemed a liability to his elementary school choir and turned it into a thing of roughhewn beauty. In the vein of guys like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Patterson Hood, he takes what he’s been given and channels all of the heartache, all of the pain, all of the love and loss and wonder of this East Tennessee life into every note.
The result is a collection of songs that ride a groove between Crazy Horse frenzy, Slobberbone frivolity and Backyard Tire Fire earnestness, to name a few Americana touchstones to which his new material compares.
“I just really like making records, and every time, I think I’m personally getting better at writing, and tightening up phrasing,” he said. “It’s really important to me that songs are easy to understand to anybody but also, for people who are like me who like to listen over and over again to analyze things and listen to what’s being said, that there are a lot of additional things happening in the song that, at first blush, people wouldn’t know or recognize.
“For example, there’s one song I have that sounds like an oh-woe-is-me breakup song, and that’s not what it’s about at all. It’s actually about a guy I was friends with in college, who had a long history of making insensitive remarks about people of color, and finally I was like, ‘Dude, enough. We’re not friends anymore.’ It was more of a, ‘All these things have happened to me, and I’ve lost all these things, so I can easily lose you, no problem.’”
And while “Love Is Weird” is only 4 months old, Paddock and the Arbor crew already are working on his next release: a six-song EP that has a heavier story-song focus. And, true to his creative form, it may not be what fans expect.
“There’s one song that’s kind of like a soul-meets-blues-rock kind of song, and one that’s just going to be cut like a live demo, just a solo acoustic song,” he said. “Some are going to be a little more country, and some are going to be a little more of a dark folk kind of thing. And the one that’s a live demo? It’s a song about how Christian Bale is the best Batman.”