Explore Liverpool music writer Matthew Jacobson interviews Paul Iwan, a talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Liverpool and provides our streets with heavy synths, soaring melodies and driving guitars.
Paul has something to say and it comes from the heart – his latest album Present is the second solo release and his first signed to the passionate and creative hub – Klee Music
Within the album Paul covers love, loss and personal struggles with PTSD, but there is a message of hope and power within. It is a powerful and thought provoking record and one on repeat.
I wanted to know more about the man himself, so I interviewed Paul about the early years, the recording process, PTSD and the future.
Was the family home full of early inspiration for music?
Absolutely! My family aren’t musicians but everyone has always been obsessed with music. The classics were always around and Mum and Dad had really eclectic music tastes – Bowie, John Lennon, Page & Plant and Van Morrison would sit alongside Vangelis, Pavarotti and Joan Armatrading. My parents are both from big families, so records belonging to various aunties and uncles were also incorporated into my music education; Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, The Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ultravox and Gary Numan.I shared a bedroom with my brother and he was heavily into U2, with my sister in the room next door blaring out Prince. I was the meat in this musical sandwich and had no choice but to take it all in! It wasn’t until the age of around sixteen that my own musical identity started to form.
And what music really caught your attention?
For me, Bowie was and always will be the gold standard. Could I express that as a kid? No, but I knew he made me feel differently than most other artists; this magnetic, mythical creature staring out at me from album art as his music seemed to vibrate every fibre of my being was transformative. The brutal honesty of John Lennon’s solo stuff would always resonate. And The Manics too: especially their Holy Bible period as it was just so dense with musical and lyrical ideas.
When did you first begin to play music and write songs?
I don’t have any formal music education. I started to play keyboard in school at the age of 11 and had a really inspiring music teacher. He wasn’t about notes or dots, he was about enjoying music. I began playing keys with the school band at 14, picked up other instruments along the way and then found I could hold a tune. Writing came much later, I’m a late bloomer there! I just started writing for myself, to express feelings and thoughts. This developed into me wanting to understand songwriting and trying to refine my approach.
The writing process, are you always thinking about writing or do you stop and say it’s now time to write a song?
Both really. I can have something gestating for ages and then have to sculpt it. I can also do process and writing to a brief. ‘Returning’ was a song I wrote for the Liverpool Acoustic 24hr Songwriting challenge in 2019, as part of Threshold Festival. The brief was just the word “Returning”. I entered the competition and won which was both a big shock and a huge confidence booster.
An example of a completely different process would be a song like “Mono” from my new album PRESENT – over a period of about two months, I had an end section clear in my head but then had to work backwards to get to that point.
The new album has a central theme of humanity and the crossroads it faces, and real life experiences – how do you find the process of writing lyrics?
Yes, all the light stuff! I think writing has to be the truth. The truth as you see it, no matter how that differs from the ‘norm’. As I was writing PRESENT, Covid was happening and the world was being separated. I saw all this fear and I think my experience with PTSD and isolation, due to my disability, gave me a different perspective on things. There are always hard choices presented to us. With us separated from each other, normal discourse was removed. I think art can help us see things from a different perspective and explore ideas.
We are definitely at a crucial point in history: human rights and civil liberties under threat, increasing censorship of free speech and a general rise in government overreach and authoritarianism. What’s worse for me is the Labour Party not opposing any of it! I saw a great meme recently: ‘What’s the difference between a conspiracy theory and reality? About 3 months’. It’s remarkable to see all this happening in real time but if we put our hand on the tiller, we can steady our own ship, face what’s happening and act on it. We are far more powerful than we realise.
You also write about PTSD, which is from a personal experience, was this difficult or emotional to write about?
Yes, always. But that’s where the truth is. Anything that is worth doing is always going to be difficult.
As a recording artist, did lockdown impact creativity?
Lockdown was a strange one for me as it was when Klee Music approached me to make an EP or “mini album” as they put it. I do all the playing and recording bar some drums and guitar bits. Four months later, I had 11 songs and a full album in the bag – which is PRESENT. So yes, it was strange being signed in lockdown!
Are you looking forward to playing live and how would you describe being on stage?
I do love performing live but It’s been quite a long time since my last gig – November 2019 I think! I’m launching my album on Friday 8th April at Prohibition Studios, which will be a very special night for me. I’ll be performing an acoustic set on the Julian Cope Framus followed by a full ‘plugged in’ set so yeah, really excited about that!
And what next for you ?
I recorded a live acoustic session at 3rd Planet studios as part of the Edenhurst sessions featuring other artists on the Klee Music label, scheduled for released in September. Plus, I’ve already started work on the follow up to PRESENT, so there might be another collection of songs released next year. So yes, really exciting times.
Thank you for your time Paul and very best wishes for the future..
Check out Paul’s website for more information www.pauliwan.co.uk
With love and peace