Creative duo Paulsen-Shepler engage with melody, concept and design united, throughout their brand new EP Undertow.
Beginning with the humble yet increasingly bright and uplifting title-track, the project moves from gentle folk beginnings through to a big-band finish that begs for audience participation. Rather quickly we find ourselves enveloped in an anthemic chorus that naturally invites interest in the live experience.
Strength of songwriting is undoubtedly a strength of this entire EP, starting with the infectious and poetic opener, and continuing throughout each of these five eclectic yet well-rooted songs.
For On The Long Way Down, the timeframe is far more brief, the acoustic guitar and somewhat twinkling keys still recognisable, alongside the voice, but we lean towards a more indie-rock vibe that’s again memorable but perhaps a little more emotively contemplative.
Things rise up again afterwards, for the wonderful Black Hole – a passionate track with another superb melody at the forefront.
We later shift towards piano-led melancholy, captivating for its instrumental power and intermittent return to optimism and hope, for The Lake. Even in the absence of lyrics, Paulsen-Shepler deliver a fine balance between eclecticism of creativity and their own unmistakable audio-identity.
Making fine use of the value of each individual musical layer in completing the journey and sound, Paulsen-Shepler employ the accessible nature of this leading voice in a way that connects, then further that connection with a bold and beautiful display of musicianship and production that consistently elevates their appeal.
East Riverbend wraps up the playlist with another indie-rock anthem of heartfelt and poetic intentions, as well as a nostalgic warmth and resounding positivity that lingers once the music comes to an end.
* * *
You’re multi-instrumentalists. How did you decide who would play what during recording?
P: I composed our demos on piano, ukulele, and guitar, so when it came time to record, anything that went beyond my skill-set became Ben’s expertise.
S: I’ve always identified with the figure of speech, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I’ve gained experience on a lot of instruments over the last couple decades — I’m not an expert at any of them, but it certainly enables me to make some interesting arrangements.
Additionally, the seemingly infinite virtual instrument libraries are always a great help when we’re looking for a sound neither of us can create.
What’s your favorite instrument to play right now – the one you can’t walk past without jamming?
P: I love my Kala baritone ukulele. It’s more portable and handier than my acoustic guitar while still giving a similar, rich sound.
S: I’ve got a Wurlitzer Spinet Piano in my living room, and I’m always sitting down for a couple minutes here and there throughout the day. It drives my wife crazy sometimes.
You were both involved in the production of the horror short Homebody. Are you big horror fans and does the genre influence your work at all?
P: I love horror and all the incredible film scores that have come out of the genre, especially from Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermmann, and John Carpenter. I composed our song The Lake as a sort of horror theme.
S: I’m a big fan as well. I think recent horror soundtracks have demonstrated that you can use pretty much anything to create music. I’m constantly reminding myself that I can be free to use non traditional instruments to create sounds and textures.
What are the biggest influences on your current work and sound?
P: I was pulling from a lot of popular rock music from the late 80s and early 90s when I wrote these songs, but I think Tom Petty’s solo albums and songwriting with the Traveling Wilburys had the biggest hold on me.
S: I’ve been listening to a lot of pop music actually. Trying to glean what I can from the producers of these huge tracks, as well as the mixers that make these songs sound so in-your-face, but silky-smooth at the same time. As for formative influences, I’d definitely point to pop punk/rock bands like Relient K and Punchline, and folk bands like Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. On the orchestral side, John Williams, Ramin Djawadi, and some of Bear McCreary’s recent scores are high on my list as well.
What’s the best part about playing music with an old friend?
P: We can joke around and not take things too seriously. We also like to revisit and sing along to old music from our childhoods in our downtime which is really fun. Here’s looking at you Relient K and DC Talk.
S: We’re so comfortable together that making music is just another thing we do, like going on bike rides, or playing NES Baseball. It’s great!
* * *
Download Undertow via Bandcamp. Check out Paulsen-Shepler on Instagram.