Featured Artist | June, 2016
Bio: Texas singer-songwriter Paul Demer interweaves spiritual imagery and personal biography to craft thought-provoking, hopeful re-remembrances of old stories. An heir to the melodic, sensitive-songwriter tradition, Demer has been compared to folk troubadours James Taylor and Neil Young, as well as contemporary balladeers Jon Foreman and Andrew Peterson.
AHD: Favorite Hangout:
PD: When in Dallas I like the Corner Market on Lower Greenville. Back home in Arlington my favorite spot is this strange and lovely place called Potager’s Other Stuff.
AHD: What are you currently listening to?
PD: Tom Crouch’s A Civil War of Head & Heart, David Bazan’s Curse Your Branches, and Zach Winters’ They Were Longing For a Better Country have all been on repeat lately.
AHD: How did you get your start in music?
PD: My dad plays viola in the Dallas symphony and my mom, who used to be in the Fort Worth symphony, is a violin teacher. There was always music in the house growing up and I started learning to play violin in elementary school. In middle school I discovered Weezer and Death Cab, and I started picking up the guitar and singing. I began writing songs around that time and played in different bands all through high school. In college we all went our separate ways, but I started playing solo shows almost every weekend. Haven’t stopped yet…
AHD: Congratulations on releasing your new album Maybe All Is Not Lost in January 2016! Tell us about the inspiration behind this incredible project!
PD: Thanks for the kind words! This project is unlike anything I’ve done before. For the last couple years I’ve been working as music director at a new church start in Mansfield called Galileo Church. As the church has grown and found its voice, we’ve sung songs from multiple hymnals, from contemporary songwriters, and from “secular” radio. Still, there were songs that we needed to sing that hadn’t been written yet. So I tried to write those songs and the church learned them. Then, last fall the church encouraged me to share these songs with other congregations, so I recorded them.
Lyrically, the album moves through our weekly liturgy -- the centering of our whole selves for worship, the corporate prayer of the church, the reading of and wrestling with Scripture, the preaching of the Good News, the confession of our sins, and the affirmation of our Lord’s all-inclusive table. If you listen to the whole album from front to back it should sound and feel like a church service. My hope is that listeners might find their hearts drawn close to the heart of God.
AHD: Where can we find your new album?
PD: You can find it on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon MP3, Bandcamp, Noisetrade, my website (pauldemer.com), and in the back of my Kia Soul…
AHD: You claim this album provided some much needed community in contrast to your last album. How did this creative collaboration affect your creative process?
PD: I wrote and recorded my last album in a period of transition. Most of my musical friends had moved away for college, and I just wasn’t all that connected. So I bought a drum set and some recording equipment and tried to make a record on my own. I’m still proud of that album, but it was a pretty lonely season.
In contrast, it took a village to make Maybe All is Not Lost. My beautiful church community inspired the songs, several of my best friends (and family) lent me their musical and artistic talents, and 88 generous crowd-funders paid for it before ever hearing a note. Because of that, it feels a lot less like my album and more like our album. We built it together. The support was so humbling and pushed me to make better art than I would have on my own.
AHD: How important is community and collaboration to your creative process? How has being a member of the Art House Dallas community affected your work as an artist?
PD: It’s becoming more and more important to my creative process. When I first discovered Art House Dallas I did most of my songwriting by myself. Now I’ve co-written songs with Cary Pierce (Jackopierce), Ryan Flanigan (All Saints Dallas), and others. Also, my girlfriend (who I met through Art House) and I collaborate on bi-weekly YouTube covers and have been backing each other up at shows. I’ve made lots of other friends too. It’s so great to do art in a community like this. I’m really grateful.
AHD: Your video series with Trisha Jeanette (“Songbird & Strings”) is so enchanting. What can we expect from this collaboration in the future?
PD: Enchanting… Can I put that in our bio? You can expect more cover song videos every other Monday. We love the ritual (and the occasional last-minute panic) of doing these regularly. We’ll keep filming them as long as we can keep finding cool locations. We’re actually planning to film one in Toronto in the future.
In addition to our Songbird & Strings videos we’ve been collaborating on our original music. Trish sings harmonies with me at my shows, and I play guitar with her at hers. We’re in the very early stages of recording an EP of her tunes, which are incredible. Hopefully she’ll be able to release that by the end of this year.
AHD: You just finished a run of local shows opening for different touring artists and will be doing a few summer shows/workshops in the next few months. What do you like most about performing? And what about teaching?
PD: I love when people sing along. That’s probably my favorite thing. Even when I’m playing for a crowd I’ve never met before I try to get them singing. I also really like meeting people, especially when I’m performing out of town. I think that’s why house concerts are my favorite; they’re so conducive to actually meeting people and having conversations you couldn’t have at a bar or traditional venue. I fashion myself a social introvert. Performing drains me but I love it nonetheless.
I’ve been performing since middle school, but teaching is new for me. I have one guitar student, this little girl at my home church, who is rocking it! But that’s really my only experience with teaching so far. This music festival in Wisconsin, the Mile of Music Festival, invited me to lead a songwriting workshop in August, which is something I’ve never done before. I’m excited about it though. If it’s anything like teaching my guitar student, I’ll learn a lot myself. I don’t really know my own songwriting process, because I’ve never had to explain it to someone else. I’m glad that can change at the Mile of Music this summer.
AHD: Art House Dallas is launching a new program called Deploy, which provides a way for artists to use their talents to encourage others through the power of creativity. You are familiar with serving in this way since you lead sing-alongs at nursing homes for Texas Winds Musical Outreach. How has this effort impacted those you serve? How has this impacted you as an artist?
PD: I’ve seen non-communicative stroke victims sing every word of “You Are My Sunshine.” I’ve seen stoic widows and widowers brought to tears after hearing the Frank Sinatra song that reminded them of their loved one. I’ve seen piss-stained nursing homes glimmer with God’s radiance as residents sing “Amazing Grace.” I’ve been kissed by a 90-some-year-old Holocaust survivor. I’ve played a birthday party for three 100-year-old women. I’ve led sing-alongs in the richest assisted living facilities and the poorest Alzheimer’s units.
In all these instances I’ve been floored by what music can do for people –- really, what God can do for people through music. It’s been said that music is the language of the heart, but I don’t know that I really understood what that meant until I started working for Texas Winds. All these experiences impact me just as much as they impact the people I meet. I’m continually reminded that art is not just a luxury but a basic need. Music reminds us that we are alive, even when life doesn’t feel like living. There’s a song in there somewhere.
AHD: How important is it to use your gifts to serve others?
PD: I’m incredibly privileged to get to serve others by doing what I love professionally. I’ve heard vocation defined as the intersection of giftedness, occupation, and service. More and more I’m assured that music is my vocation - maybe more so at the nursing home than at the sushi bar – but, even at the sushi bar, I’ve been encouraged and reminded that the songs I sing can and do serve people. My favorite musicians have served me through their honest art, and I hope that I can do the same for others.
Follow Paul’s musical journey here: pauldemer.com