Hi Paul, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
I’ve been fine thanks! Busy getting everything ready for the release of the new single, the album, and planning some live shows in the UK in early 2019.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “The Great Silence”?
“The Great Silence” is a term used by cosmologists to explain the lack of signals coming back at us from space when we send out messages, such as the Arecibo message sent out in 1974. I was researching it as a topic for the album and came across a poem by Abraham Sutzkever called “The Great Silence”. He was a famous Yiddish poet known as the “greatest poet of the Holocaust”; even though his poem was clearly spiritual, I thought the words really lend themselves well to the “message” concept and so I incorporated that into the track. It is narrated by the actress and cellist Rachel Dawson. The juxtaposition of the track is that when she says the words “The Great Silence”, the track really kicks into life which is a representation of all the noise around us versus the absolute silence of space.
Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
A BBC Horizon documentary called ‘Strange Signal from Outer Space’ whetted my appetite and really inspired me to look deeper into the subject matter. Some tracks on the album such as “Arecibo” and “FRB” are inspired by stories from the documentary and I’ve actually secured the use of some of the narrated audio in the track “Drake Equation” from the BBC.
Any plans to release a video for the single?
Yes, there is a video on my YouTube channel https://youtu.be/V6NLL-bPUr0 and on my website www.paulk-music.com. The video is a representation of the “noise” of technology and the silence of outer space.
The single comes off your new album The Fermi Paradox – why did you choose to make a conceptual record?
I think it’s interesting as an artist to research and write about a topic for an album. It certainly spurs creativity for me and it worked well on my last album, “Omertà”, which was the fictional screenplay for a movie about a hitman hiding in plain sight as a priest. I usually do the research myself, which then throws up titles and imagery which I incorporate into the artwork and the live shows where we use a lot of projection to tell the story of each track. I think when performing instrumental music, it’s a good idea to have that visual element upfront as well as you are trying to convey a story or image completely through the music without the storytelling capability that a vocal would add.
Was this the idea all along?
Yes – the idea was pretty much sketched out in advance with the subjects I wanted to write about and the titles and I then set about writing the music around this plan.
What’s the story behind the title?
Enrico Fermi was an Italian-American nuclear physicist forced to leave his home country of Italy when pre-World War Two Italian racism laws impacted his Jewish wife, Laura Capon. Ironically, before World War Two, Fermi became an American and an integral architect of the Manhattan Project that ended the same war that forced him out of his own country.
One day, at lunch apparently, a few short years before he died in 1954, Fermi asked his scientific colleagues “Where is everybody?”. Of course, they knew right away that Fermi was talking about other worlds and the search for cosmic company in the universe. The implausibility of other life forms in an infinite, silent universe became known as ‘The Fermi Paradox’.
How was the recording and writing process?
It was actually fairly quick, around six months in total. I usually demo all the tracks myself, playing the string parts as synths and adding basic bass and guitar parts and a rhythm if needed using a drum machine. I then record the main piano and keyboard parts and usually score and record the strings next. We then build the bass, guitar and drums around the core of the track. I’ve used a lot of fretless and 5/6 string bass on this album and also more backing vocals stacked as an instrument for atmosphere. We had a great time recording Theremin, uilleann pipes, Irish whistle, electric violin and Mellotron on this album and I give a lot of freedom to the musicians involved and then pick and choose the best parts for the mix. I mix everything myself as I go along, so by the time recording is finished the track is about 90% there. I then hand it over to Barry Grint at Alchemy for mastering and we send versions back and forth a few times until I’m happy with the final sound! (Not that any composer is ever 100% happy!)
How have Joseph Silk and Mario Livio influenced the writing on this album?
During research for the album I came across the Oxford University Fine Tuning Project. Joe and Mario had a great conversation on “The Fermi Paradox” in one of the videos on the site and I approached them for permission to sample it and use it on the album. Mario has a great scientists’ voice (you will see what I mean when you listen to the track!) and they were kind enough to grant me permission to use the audio when I explained the concept to Joe. I think it’s a conversation that explains the whole concept in about two minutes and really gets you thinking about the subject, how we got here and what’s been going on in the universe for the last 13 billion years!
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
Interestingly, certain events have stayed with me my whole life. Man walking on the moon, the shuttle disasters, Voyager and more recently Space X and the Mars Rover and coupling this with a general interest in science fiction and technology provided a great source of inspiration. Some of the samples from NASA on the album are phrases I remember hearing at the time they were broadcast. A great example is “Challenger, go at throttle up” which I used on the track “12 Billion Eyes” as a tribute to lost astronauts and cosmonauts who died to advance our understanding of space travel. The track being instrumental, I don’t have to worry about lyrics on this project but I do collect words, phrases and titles that I use for other more vocal led projects.
Any plans to hit the road?
Yes. I am currently planning the live show and we have started rehearsing the band and scoring for the string quintet. We’re planning some shows throughout 2019 and I’m really looking forward to playing the album live.
What else is happening next in Paul K’s world?
As well as planning for the live shows I’ve just completed writing the follow up to “The Fermi Paradox” which will be called “Reconstructed Memories” and is a more electronic/ambient piece, again based around a specific subject. I hope to release that next year as well as the new Glitch Code album “Minimal” which is a follow up to our debut “Gifted_Damaged” from 2016. That’s a vocal led project featuring myself and Rachel Harvey which is more electronic than my solo work. We will be performing the new album and track from the last album as well next year so pretty busy in the coming twelve months!