INTERVIEW: Jonathan Paull Gertler

Jonathan Paull Gertler’s music is a gentle nod to the folk singer-songwriters of yesteryear while incorporating roots rock, some jazz phrasings, and splashes of Americana. His lyrics have a depth and breadth that only time, experience, and maturity can bring to the table, and his songs are a breathtaking sonic stroll through life lessons woven among easy-on-the-ears folk-roots instrumentation. He makes music meant for repeat listenings, for quiet Sunday mornings, for late-night drives, for the soundtrack of our lives. 

Vents Magazine sat down with Gertler to talk about his brand new album, “No Fear” (out now), and we took a deep dive into our favorite song on the record, “Time and Place.” We chatted about observational songwriting and expressing the human condition, favorite artists and albums, and how losing someone close to him inspired a very special song. 

Hi Jonathan, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Great, thanks! Hope all is good with everyone there.

Your new album, “No Fear,” is really special and caught my attention right away.  Can you talk to us more about this collection of songs?  How did you come to put this album together?

“No Fear” is the third album I have put out since 2013, and it is the culmination of much that I have learned about production and, more importantly, the best and simplest way to bring my songs forward. It’s representative as well, I think, of my most mature songwriting. I have the luxury in life of music being a passion rather than a job, and thus I am able to experiment and explore without time pressure. The songs on this album came to be over about a two-year period of writing. I wanted to stay rooted in the acoustic world, emphasize simplicity and melody and layered but not over-instrumentation. The album itself evolved over about a year-long period of studio times, was vetted among the musicians and one live gig in various stages, and, with strong collaborative music-making, came out at least close to what I wanted!

We absolutely fell in love with the song “Time and Place” — it’s a great listen and it’s one of the singles that was released before the album came out.  What was the inspiration behind it?  What prompted you to write it?

“Time and Place” is a requiem to loss but persistent connection. Something that, as we live enough of life, we all experience. The song was an amalgam of regular chord formations superimposed on alternate tunings, giving the suspended chord sounds that are the mainstay of the verses. The line that started the song was, “The first time today I thought of you.” I lost my sister when she was too young, and I was thinking of her and also thinking of distance, separation, and the fact that life’s challenges create fears and desires we can’t necessarily solve or allay. The song is about the ties that bind even when the world conspires to take them apart.

Any plans to release any sort of video for the track?
Not yet.  But if there’s interest in the song, I would certainly consider it

How was the recording and writing process for that song? 
The writing process was among the fastest ever for me. I wrote the music and lyrics together, improvising singing and chords for 15 minutes into a voice memo, and I refined it over a two-day period. Recording took a little longer to figure out. It is performed on my sister’s vintage 1969 Martin D12-20, which is a hugely quirky instrument that sounds like a harpsichord when amplified. Catherine Bent took the simple base recordings (my 12-string, Sal Difusco on acoustic, Joe Santerre on bass, and Jon Chase on drums) and added the obligato which Jon mixed beautifully into the track.

Your lyrics are top-notch, and you are a real wordsmith.  Do you have a favorite lyric line or two in this song?  What about those words really works for you or speaks to you?  

“Want then fear
No clear way
Life appears
We have no say”

and then

“The first time today that I thought of you
A world away but I’m right next to you”

As I said above – this is the essence of the song’s message. Separation, want, fear, and the lack of being able to determine what is ahead but the need to live fully is what the song speaks to.

What do you hope listeners get from hearing the song?
I have friends who have responded to the meanings in different ways focused by their life’s experiences.  My work is observational, though culled from experience, but not autobiographical. And thus, if it is a reflection of my human condition, I hope others can find that it speaks to theirs and can, in some way, relate to it positively. That’s all one can ask.

Your sound mixes up Americana, folk, roots-rock, and tops it off with a modern sensibility, so the music sounds classic and but also really fresh at the same time.  How did you settle upon the “Jonathan Paull Gertler” sound?  And how would you describe your sound, using one sentence?

Acoustic with open tuning or some jazz chord intonations, the occasional unexpected modulation, and the human condition expressed lyrically is what I hope I achieve, as well as some element of fun and enjoyment.

When you are able to head back out on the road, what song are you most looking forward to playing live and why?

Not sure when (or if) I will – I am not a gigging musician — but I’d love to play a few times with just me alone on guitar or maybe one other instrument. My early years playing out before the rest of my life took over were always in guitar and vocal duos, and it would be fun to recreate that. So that probably limits me to the more fingerstyle stuff from all three albums.

Who are your biggest musical influences?  Why do you love them?  What are your three favorite albums of all time?

I have to list singer-songwriters from decades ago if I am honest about my roots: James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Karla Bonoff, Crosby Stills and Nash. And then add in Jason Isbell, Joni Mitchell, Chris Smither, Jesse Colin Young, Lyle Lovett, Grateful Dead, Steely Dan, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and jazz influences in chord formation and progression.

Albums: I just rediscovered “Blue” by Joni Mitchell. I love the first side of the Allman Brothers’ live album “At Fillmore East” (I saw them there – best spontaneous guitar work of that generation in my view). James Taylor’s “Live” album is, to me, the great collection of his amazing tunes and covers, incredible musicianship, and the obvious pure joy of making music together that he brings to the table. But the list changes all the time.

What else is happening next in Jonathan Paull Gertler’s world?

Musically, I keep writing. And I love the wonderful surprise of people reacting positively to my music.

Save/Add:  https://ffm.to/xgxy0o5.opr

Artist website:  https://jonathanpaullgertler.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Jonathan-Paull-116651119042411/

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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