On the Edge: Doug Paisley

photo by Ian Lefebvre/All Eyes Media

If there’s such a musical genre as “singer/songwriter,” Doug Paisley fits the description perfectly. The Toronto-based artist has been cooking up his own dusty brand of storytelling and poetry for several years, landing somewhere near the nexus of country, folk and whatever you like to call Bob Dylan. His new album, Strong Feelings, the follow-up to 2010’s Constant Companion, arrives on Jan. 21 and features the talents of The Band’s Garth Hudson as well as sax wizard Colin Stetson.

Doug says he doesn’t have one set routine for writing his songs, other than just sitting with a guitar and starting it over until it feels right—in varying degrees of time. “Sometimes with songs that get written really quickly, it’s almost like it’s the whole thing,” he explains. “But sometimes it might just be like a kernel and it may not be as important [as] what you build up around that or how you present it.” He cites new tune “Where the Light Takes You” as an example of the latter, a song that morphs from pretty, straightforward verses and choruses with intricate guitar parts to a heavy, organ-driven minor-key finale that recalls some of The Beatles’ more psychedelic works.

On the other hand, the mostly acoustic “Because I Love You” took almost no time. “For some reason I had an idea and liked it enough to sit down with it and the whole tune was written really quickly,” recalls Doug. “That’d kind of be the opposite, where it was completely finished at the moment of conceiving it.” 

Doug has a distinctly country sound in much of his music, including the mortality-focused “Growing Souls.” He’s also willing to abandon it completely, as on the jazzy, romantic “What’s Up Is Down” with its tricky chord changes and tasteful saxophone solo.

The writing process of combining lyrics and music is frequently not a linear one for Doug, though. Sometimes songs take years to complete. “When you’re working with all melodies and ideas you get your own personal earworms—the same way everyone gets songs stuck in their heads,” he explains. “It’s this sort of synergy where you’ll be driving or you’ll be somewhere and then, for whatever associations or totally random reasons, that thing will pop into your head. It might stick on to something else you’re thinking of in the moment. It’s a very haphazard and unproductive process, you know?” he adds with a laugh.

Even so, with Strong Feelings, it seems like Doug’s method is working just fine.

Learn more about Doug Paisley.

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