Just last week, New York-based singer-songwriter Paul Maged released his sophomore LP, entitled Diamonds & Demons. With a wide array of influences including everyone from Billy Joel and Jimi Hendrix to Green Day and Pearl Jam, Maged’s newest is unsurprisingly diverse in sound and structure.
We had the chance to speak with Maged for a bit and discussed his newest album, the important concepts it covers, and how his interest in music began at a young age. Follow us through the break below and get an in depth look into the mind and career of Paul Maged.
How long has music been a major part of your life? What first inspired you to get involved with it and how did you get your start?
Music has been part of my life as far back as I can recall. I remember listening to old Billy Joel albums and being so moved by his music that I began writing my own songs when I was around 8-10 years old. I would write lyrics and have the melodies for them in my head. There was one of his songs which was very obscure and I learned it and sang it back to my mother claiming I wrote it. She thought I was a child prodigy [laughs]. Around that time, my dad bought me a tiny two-octave Casio keyboard so I could begin creating the melodies around the lyrics. Those were somewhat the formative stages of songwriting for me. I recently found some of the lyrics that I wrote and I was actually surprised that they weren’t terrible. Then during high school my father got me into the Boston Conservatory of Music for private vocal lessons with a popular local opera singer. That really gave me the foundation and technique for singing and breathing the proper way.
And along the way, who would you say have been some of your most important influences that have helped shape your sound and style?
There’s so many. Growing up my dad turned me onto soul/R&B music; Sam Cooke, The Drifters, Motown, and I fell in love with that sound. Then my own explorations took me to Zep, The Beatles and Jimi. Then I went through my singer-songwriter phase of worshipping Billy Joel and Elvis Costello and then into my grunge phase which I think I’m still lost in — [laughs] — of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Green Day is also a big influence for me. They can go from writing theatrical melodies with well thought out stories to straight up 3-chord punk, which I love. R.E.M. is another big one for me. Current bands have influenced me too. I love The Shins, Band Of Horses, old Strokes and early Killers.
I hear everything from classic rock to bits of punk throughout the new record which the influences you mentioned would certainly account for. Are these styles that you purposefully set out to display when writing this new album or do these sounds just kind of organically develop as you create?
That’s a great question. I’d say it was a mixture of both. I love so many styles of music but overall I was trying to make a really good modern rock record and was feeling very grungy and punky throughout much of the process [laughs]. There were times when I said, “Okay, I’m ready for a real rocker now and I want that grunge feel” (“Images” and “Human Warfare”). At one point I wanted to take a step back and write a total singer-songwriter type song and I wrote “Annastasia.” Other times it would come out organically like with “Look At Me.” That started out with more of an R&B vibe but then I kept hearing that cool riff and it morphed into a classic rock sounding tune.
How would you describe Diamonds & Demons compared to your previous works?
Far more evolved in every way shape and form from my first album. The production. My first album has some good songs but it was produced by a nut job who would half-ass it. You would only get a couple of vocal takes. During those takes most of the time he wasn’t even in the room. He was out smoking cigs or shooting the shit. Vocals weren’t properly fixed, drums sucked, the musicians weren’t consistent and there was very little collaborative effort with the producer. It’s hard for me to even listen to it now after this one, from a production standpoint.
Diamonds & Demons is a professional album. It’s produced by multi-platinum producer Sean Gill who is a pleasure to work with. He is a musician and songwriter himself and will go the extra mile all the time for the artist. It was a stark contrast from my prior album and one that created a very positive recording experience.
From a songwriting perspective, I really tried to challenge myself. Each song I forced myself to try something different outside of my comfort zone–let go of all inhibitions–and I think it shows in the writing of the words and the music. It is a more mature piece of work.
You have some pretty important themes and messages that you explore throughout the album lyrically. Can you explain that a bit and where these ideas and convictions stem from?
Well, like most people I watch and listen and see what’s going on in the world and a lot of things bother me. Killing sprees, new wars, climate change, greed, political gridlock, religious extremists and the list goes on. These are issues I become passionate about and I feel compelled to discuss them through my music.
On a broad scale, the root of what I want, and I think what most people want, is peace in the world and a happy and healthy planet, but we certainly aren’t going in that direction. I believe the more that people bring the issues that they are passionate about into the open, the more chance we have of progress and change. We need individual thinking not the following of the herd.
World leaders need to step up and do something about climate change. It is real and it is science-based. Politicians and those whose extreme religious views block their ability to side with logic and science, are the ones to be afraid of. They are the ones that will stand in the way of progress and our planet will pay the price, as it obviously already is.
Though there are a handful of songs on the album about social issues, the larger part of the record is just about living an everyday life and the emotional struggles we endure as we navigate through our own individual journeys. Growing up, getting older, loss of loved ones, being nostalgic for another time, sadness, wanting to get away from life for a while, finding true love. This to me is what my album is about. Humanity, finding oneself, soul searching, regrets, love and death. I think it’s something everyone can relate to. It’s about finding our way as individuals and as a planet.
There’s a lot of instrumentation going on throughout the release. Do you play all the instruments or did you have anyone else helping out with that aspect?
I play keyboard and piano on the record. Ari Friedman plays all the amazing guitar parts, including electric, acoustic and bass. We tried to bring back the guitar solo which you don’t really hear much in music anymore and Ari did an awesome job creating some sick solos. Marc Hoffman is on the drums and he created some really kick-ass and complex drum parts.
What do you feel you bring to the table that’s going to catch listeners’ attention and make them want to care about this record?
A strong opinion on themes that people care about and are passionate about. I also just really wanted to make a good old-fashioned rock album. It’s a dying breed in this watered down pop and hip-hop culture. I grew up on rock and it’s who I am and I’m proud of the fact that this album rocks. It has honest and thought-provoking lyrics, catchy melodies and powerful vocals. The musicians on the record and the production are both stellar. It has something for everyone. There’s even a pop song with an R&B vibe and a reggae-inspired chorus (“Paradise Island”) so it’s not all rock [laughs].
Do you have any touring plans in support of the release?
For now local gigs in the New York area.
With the album completed and set for release, what have you been working on since finishing it up? Any new plans already in motion?
I have recently started writing new music that will hopefully make up my third album and I’m curious to see where the music is going to take me. I’m looking to really explore different dynamics within my music, getting into more mood driven and atmospheric pieces.
Overall, what do you hope to accomplish with this project? Any major goals that you’ve set for yourself as a musician?
A ‘Best Rock Album’ nomination at next year’s Grammys? Or not. I seriously just want to be creating new music. It’s the process of creating that is gratifying to me personally and to continue to grow as an artist. I have poured my heart and soul into this album for over 4 years and am very proud of it. I have now put it out there into the ethers of the internet which is scary and exciting at the same time. Whatever path it takes me on…
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