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Interview with Paul Cardall, April 2008
Interview with Paul Cardall, image 1
Paul with Michael Debbage
Back in 1999 Narada Records released Paul Cardall’s stellar album "The Looking Glass" that was deeply influenced by the music of David Lanz. Since then Cardall has done a lot of musical exploration that has ranged from down tempo electronic music to the more recent contemporary edge of "Songs Of Praise." Not only did the album focus on vocal arrangements but the Mormon rooted pianist also collaborated with the Evangelical Christian rocker Steele Crosswhite. This courageous move resulted in his most challenging and almost anointed album to date.

That said, Cardall is not afraid to look back and as a result his latest endeavor is the repackaging of his earlier material "Hymns" and "Hymns II" issued in a two CD set called "The Hymns Collection" that also includes some enticing bonus tracks. With a busy life as both a recording artist and his own label to run, Paul recently added fatherhood to the mix that has only made his life even more hectic. Nevertheless, Paul was kind enough to put some time and thought into our second set of Q&A interview via email to share about the three r’s near and dear to him…religion, (w)riting and relationships.

MD: It has been nearly 4 years since our last interview and you have been a very busy man. So let’s get personal immediately. You are now a proud parent so tell me how that has changed your life?

Cardall: I once heard that same question posed to Jerry Seinfeld who we one- time recognized as a life-long bachelor. His comment, "Duh. What was I thinking! Experiencing my child's childhood feels better than everything in the world." I share that view. My daughter is now 2 and a firecracker. It has its challenges but her smile far out ways any exhaustion my wife and I feel at night from keeping up with her. In order to create or practice music I do have to escape because Eden wants to sit side by side with me at the piano and play along or she'll throw a fit.

MD: After many years of corresponding via email we finally met at one of your inspirational performances. This was a musical performance along with a personal testimony in which you shared your Mormon faith. Is it true that you appear to be even bolder about your faith?

Cardall: It has always been my desire to help people feel peace or the love of God through the power of music. It was not my place in the beginning to preach religion but as I became more established in my career I felt I had earned a trust with my audience where I would allow them into what I really think and feel about life. I want to be the most honest and sincere artist without a veil over who I am as a person. All music can be interpreted many ways. It's a universal language. But, the core of my music has always been my belief that God is a loving Father in Heaven. We are his children. And one gift he gave us is music which helps us feel the power of that love, particularly through difficult times when we are subject to the natural laws of this earthly experience.

MD: While your faith has always been expressed through your music it appears that it is even more purpose driven. Since our last interview you have released "Christmas Hymns Volume I," "Primary Worship" and "Songs Of Praise." Will we see another more commercially driven disc such as "Miracles" or has your music become more intentional?

Cardall: I have been contemplating another commercial recording but I have to follow my heart because that's where the creation comes from. I'm thinking of another "Faithful" like recording; commercial but still has its faith elements. (You can ad "Miracles" to that list of cd’s because it's about life's journey. If you look at the track names you'll notice a pattern. . . I thought of the "miracle" of birth, the many "voices" on earth we hear, a "time" limit because we'll die, an "unseen world" that helps guide us, the purpose of life with "Live to Love", learning to overcome the world's temptations "Leaving L.A.", recognizing God's creations "Sequoia's Path", etc. etc. . I could go on. So, for almost all of my recordings I came to it with the angle of faith.).

MD: Your 2003 recording "Faithful" was a huge departure when you, and I quote “chose a path that combine[d] new age piano with down tempo or electronic music.” Once again, you unexpectedly recorded "Songs Of Praise" which focused on vocal performances. What was the motivating factor here?

Cardall: "Faithful" was a leap forward musically. I had produced several solo piano based recordings on my own and was anxiously trying to grow as an artist. In 2003 my photographer Joshua Waldron encouraged me to meet his friend Jon Shults who was starting up a new studio at the base of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. I listened to several of his engineered projects and immediately wanted to work with him.

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"Faithful" was the result. Jon expanded my vision musically and added elements I desired like percussion and electric guitars, which I feared, would bother my audience. But, I knew it would add greater depth and power to my music. I am very happy with the result. This desire to grow and evolve as an artist evoked the inspiration for Songs of Praise. Having long been a fan of Christian music, I wanted to do one album that added my voice to theirs. But, I held off a year and did "Primary Worship." In 2005 my wife became pregnant. We had wanted a baby for many years. You would think I would be full of inspiration and ideas for songs. But, nothing came. Only 1 tune was written which we named after my baby girl, Eden. After she was born, I was so overwhelmed with happiness for this new life, that I was deeply spiritual and thanking God for all of my blessings. Life is not easy, but there are great rewards. My daughter was one of those blessings. My mind became full of words and music. I knew it was time to do my "Songs of Praise." The goal was to bring together instrumental music and interweave them with vocal songs.

MD: Without being disrespectful, I think it would be fair to say that the Mormon faith has some very different doctrinal and historical foundations that make it challenging to fit into the mainstream Christian circles. Nevertheless, you choose to collaborate with the Evangelical Christian rocker Steele Crosswhite. How did the two of you manage to meet? What were his initial reactions to your ideas? "Songs of Praise" is a beautiful recording. As a result of your collaboration with Steele what has been the reaction in the Mormon and Evangelical circles?

Cardall: That’s not disrespectful. I enjoy talking about my faith. But first, I met Steele while working on "Faithful" with Jon Shults. We had become friends and often talked about our admiration for Jesus. Steele had given up a rock star lifestyle to become an Evangelical pastor. He’d been on the road with Sheryl Crow, Foo Fighters, and Maroon 5. He is a very disciplined soul and I admire him for his loyalty to his faith. And one thing was clear I loved his music and particularly his voice. That guy can sing. When it became apparent to Jon Shults that I would be doing "Songs of Praise" we talked about using Steele as the voice. Steele was very gracious and happy to do the project. He had no issues with my lyrics. To him it was, “I love 2 things; Jesus and Music” – He’s a great man and I concur. And it never occurred to me that my audience (which a large majority are Mormon because we sell the music in 500 Mormon book stores) would be offended. I was right. My Mormon audience loved it. But, it has been difficult to find anyone willing to distribute the album among the Christian market. The tune “Grateful” did really well on a Salt Lake City Christian radio station but some few local Evangelicals were not happy that Steele would “help our cause” and I’m sure there were some self righteous Mormons who weren’t happy I was using “Rock N Roll” to express my love for God. Regarding the doctrinal difference between Mormons and other Christian churches is based on our “Mormon” view of the Godhead and our belief in the principle of continuing revelation leading to an open scriptural canon. We don’t support the Nicene Creed, with later reformulations such as the Athanasian Creed. For me, I like the simple history of a young American boy born in 1805 named Joseph Smith; that like Samuel of the Old Testament was pure enough to hear and listen to the voice of the God. This young boy would seek answers from God through meditation and prayer independent of any religious organization and go on to restore the church of Jesus Christ and all of its true principles that provide a great life of peace and eternal understanding. There is a great sermon by Mormon leader and Apostle Jeffery R. Holland (who used to be president of Brigham Young University) that clarifies our doctrinal differences for those interested. Here is the link: lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-775-15,00.html

MD: As a former Narada recording artist your label Stone Angel Music was initially a way to effectively distribute your own music. However, recent activities show releases from Steve Sharp Nelson, Jake White and most recently the forthcoming Ryan Stewart recording. How is the business aspect going?

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Cardall: I love helping other artists and seeing them launch their project. The first of those albums was for cellist Steven Sharp Nelson. I took a chance on doing the project under my label. I mean, who buys cello music? We debuted that album on the Billboard Classical Charts and it has done very well. He’s a great man and talented. We then released guitarist Jake White and I was very happy with the result. Next, we’re releasing Ryan Stewart. He’s a pianist and film composer. So business is great. We have loyal customers who are enjoying our brand “STONE ANGEL MUSIC” – they trust what they purchase if it comes from the label. People can listen to our music at store.stoneangelmusic.com

MD: I have already heard some of the soundbytes of Ryan Stewart? Tell me a little more about this new artist?

Cardall: Ryan’s mother taught him to play the piano. She died when he was a little boy leaving his father with 10 children. Ryan found peace in music. He has always wanted to do an album. "Equanimity" is his debut. I am very happy for him. He has built a huge fan base by using You Tube. Hundreds of thousands have viewed some of his home movies of him playing the piano. youtube.com/user/ryanstewartmusic

MD: It appears that you produced Steven Sharp Nelson’s recording "Sacred Cello." Though you have been involved in the recording process on your past recordings generally you leave this aspect in the hands of Jonathon Shults. Is this an avenue of the creative process that you are becoming more involved in?

Cardall: I enjoy producing but I know my limits. If it is a piano album with a few instruments I feel comfortable doing the project. But, on a larger scale, I like watching Jon go to work. If artists want help with piano projects I am happy to look into it.

MD: Continuing on the production theme, several artists such as Yanni, David Foster, David Lanz, Michael W.Smith and Brian Crain (the latter without the budget support) have recorded albums with a full orchestra. While this has been somewhat explored on the album "Miracles" have you ever considered doing an entire album with a full blown orchestra and choir?

Cardall: I would love to do a full-blown orchestral instrumental album. I’m sure something like that will happen in due time when my audience grows large enough to support the effort financially. "Songs of Praise" was the first album to utilize this effect throughout the recording although it was simplified to 16 string players.

MD: Looking back at the album "Miracles," though it has less overt religious themes, musically, alongside "Songs Of Praise," this was probably one of your most optimistic albums. Upon revisiting “Miracles” it appears that Ryan Stewart was very involved in the orchestration aspect and even collaborated with you on the title track. What is the extent of your involvement on his album? What can the listening public expect?

Cardall: Ryan Stewart is brilliant. He has beautiful melodies and a spiritual depth in his music. And his recording, that I mainly encouraged, is all him. We go back to our adolescence. I had met him in high school while ditching class. He was on the stage in the auditorium playing the piano. This was when I first started dabbling in my own playing. Ryan could sit and play anything. He composed a beautiful concerto for his senior year “orchestral night”. A year later, I tried out to be in the “orchestral night” with some goofy Russian polka I composed on the piano. The teacher in charge asked for the orchestral parts. I told him I’d have the parts to him over the weekend. I recruited Ryan’s help. We stayed up all night with Mountain Dew and Twinkies while Ryan orchestrated the entire thing for me. The outcome was great and it was my first public performance. So when I chose to do some orchestral music he was the first I asked to help out for the "Miracles" project. Traditional new age fans will love his album; "Equanimity."

MD: Moving on to your own material, in January 2008 you released "The Hymns Collection" which is the digitally re-mastered package of your earlier albums "Hymns" and "Hymns II." The album apparently debut #12 in the Billboards New Age Chart. You must have been thrilled! Despite the blatant album title it is still selling to the general listening public. Do you think this is a reflection of society not only looking for good music but also seeking to fill a void?

Cardall: I’m pleased with the chart and happy to see it on there. Since that debut "Hymns Collection" has risen to #6 after several weeks. I’ve always assumed that the if a tune like “It’s hard out here as a PIMP” can win an OSCAR for “best song of the year” then anything is possible. A Christian oriented album can debut on a “classified” New Age chart and be well received by the general public. I think people are looking for good music and I’ve earned a trust with my audience. They accept the religious undertone because they know I’ve put my heart into it and it’s honest. "Hymns" and "Hymns II" were released back in 1997 and 2001 respectively and despite one of the albums being over a decade old the production quality has held up. Sometimes it is hard to improve on a good thing yet when compared side to side there is still an improvement in the clarity.

MD: Walk us through the re-mastering process?

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Cardall: If you could go back and change moments of your life you may or may not. In regards to these albums, new technology has allowed me to do just that by re-mastering. I’ve heard these recordings over and over and there are moments that required a “do-over” session. Mastering allows me to re-invest more time into things I’ve wanted to fix for more than a decade such as pitchy moments or poor EQ on a tune. I’m happy with the result. The piano is the hardest instrument to record and make sound beautiful in a recording. We never get the full and complete beauty of its live ability. New technology is improving the sound quality.

MD: For your listeners who have the original pressing there is a bonus melody on each disc. Were these recorded specifically for "The Hymns Collection"?

Cardall: I added 2 hymn medleys exclusively for "The Hymns Collection" because I have been playing these for years at shows and never had them on a recording. “The Fireside Medley” combines a tune from "Sign of Affection" called “Remember Me” with John Longhurst’s “I Believe In Christ” (Mr. Longhurst was the Mormon Tabernacle Organist for 25 years) along with a favorite hymn of mine, “Come Thou Fount”. “The Restoration Medley” tells the story of the beginnings of Mormonism by combining popular LDS hymns “Joseph’s First Prayer” (about the founders vision of God) “Praise to The Man” (a tribute to the founder Joseph Smith life’s work to lay the foundation) and “Sweet Hour of
Prayer” (a hymn about the beauty of prayer and the opportunity to learn about God ourselves by saying our own personal prayers to deity).

MD: So we started this interview on a personal note I hope you don’t mind me ending it on one. You have now been married to Lynette for over 11 years. With the demands of the creative process, your record label and more recently fatherhood, what is the key to the success of your marriage?

Cardall: Life is full of its challenges. Balancing things can be very difficult. But, I believe it comes down to our priorities. One of my heroes David O’ McKay once said, “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” Complete happiness, for me, comes from surrounding myself with family. I love family. Mine is far from perfect but the more family you have around the greater the joy is. I think also religion is a great asset in a marriage. Since we’ve been on the topic throughout the interview I could add that my faith recognizes that marriage is eternal and families are bound together beyond the grave because of the atoning sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our relationships can be eternal. My wife and I pray together every night before we retire and thank God for all the great blessings in our lives. We acknowledge His hand in our lives. And we humbly ask for help through our challenges. This adds great strength and humility to our relationship. Lynnette is my best friend and I adore her. The music business is a passion but my wife is the love of my life.
Michael Debbage
April 2008