Paul Brady and Theo Katzman make an unexpected gigging duo
Irish songwriter and LA producers team up for a series of Souls in Sync tour dates
From June 1st to 5th, Paul Brady (right) will be sharing the stage with Los Angeles musician and songwriter Theo Katzman.
“Theo Katzman was the first musician who was much younger than I am – he’s 32 and I’m 70-something – that I had heard in a long time, yet he had multiple frames of reference in blues, jazz, rock and pop music. I just emailed him and asked him if he fancied doing some shows. He agreed.”
Paul Brady, one of Ireland’s most established and respected songwriters, is pondering on his next small step: performing without the safety net of song familiarity and secure audience expectations. From June 1st to 5th, Brady will be sharing the stage with Los Angeles musician and songwriter Katzman.
Visiting Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Belfast, under the banner of Souls in Sync, the duo (with full band) will be collaborating in a way that neither has before: Brady will be performing songs from Katzman’s back catalogue, and Katzman will be doing the same with Brady’s. With up to 24 songs lined up, the split is 50-50.
The set lists for the shows are still being fine-tuned, reveals Brady, but he will spill the beans on one quite important element: “a lot of family favourites will not be heard. Songs that Theo performs will be from my albums, yes, but I haven’t played many of them on stage before.”
'I don’t know what’s going to happen next with this particular outing'
In what could result in a surprise for the audience as much as the musicians, Brady asked Katzman to send him a list of songs he thought might work in such a set-up. Glancing through the song selection caused him to mull over the self-censorship of his own material, a topic rarely if ever addressed by musicians.
“When I looked at myself and how I have censored my own output to what I think might be most accessible to people,” outlines Brady, “I realised I cut out a lot of songs that I really loved and that expressed a huge part of me, but that I didn’t feel would be immediately accessible to the public.
“Everybody wants to be loved, to feel to some extent that what they’re giving is what people want to hear, and I guess there’s subtle self-censorship that undermines the song, perhaps, or the audience. It was partly as a reaction to this that I asked someone else to say that this or that song is really good.”
The not unlikely partnership started over a year ago when Brady checked out a gig of Katzman’s in Whelan’s, and subsequently traded songs with him at a post-gig house party. It was here that Brady discovered Katzman was, almost obsessively so, familiar with his entire back catalogue.
Katzman doesn’t deny his fascination with Brady’s work. It began, he recalls, when a good friend of his (Michigan-based producer/musician, Tyler Duncan, the first American to win the All-Ireland Championship on uilleann pipes and bodhran) played him Brady’s 1978 debut solo album, Welcome Here Kind Stranger.
“I totally fell in love with it, and typically when I fall in love with an artist’s music, I start going through the catalogue.”
What was it about Brady’s music that engaged him so much? “I relate to the change in styles,” explains Katzman, “because artists evolve over time. I was not expecting everything to sound like the first album, and I was pleasantly surprised by the changes. The initial thing that really struck me was not only his voice but also the emotion in it. I could hear his spirit, and it’s on all of the records. That’s what really got me.”
For Brady, it was not only Katzman’s solo albums (of which there are two) but also his work with Vulfpeck (four EPs, four albums) that snagged the attention. “Theo is making the kind of music that I love and that I’ve always tried to make myself, which is as close to pop as you can be with real influences that have an integrity of their own, somewhat like jazz.
“The songs aren’t written by five producers in a studio for a singer who isn’t a musician. I just think he knows what he’s on about – he loves music, jazz, blues, country, pop, rock, and that’s been my hinterland, if you like.”
Quite different stuff
There was another reason, however, lurking in the background. Brady admits that he was “fed up making just another album that I’d play shows to promote. I wanted to do stuff that was quite different and which excited me, challenged me, that would take me outside my comfort zone.”
While Brady says he doesn’t consciously search for new ways to present his music, he admits that one of the downsides to being exclusively in control of his creativity is that “you very rarely surprise yourself, because you go to the same wells, dip into that one and then another one. By saying this, I’m not doing myself down – I like the songs I write and I’m proud of them, but I know what’s coming next.”
After a while, he says, he came to the conclusion that not knowing what came next would be a pleasant if not robust discovery. “That’s what these shows are all about. I don’t know what’s going to happen next with this particular outing, by the way. If the shows don’t capture the imagination we might not ever do it again, but I know it’s what I want to do right now.”
I look at Paul and I see that what he has done is what I want to do
As for Katzman, he just wishes he had more songs to bring to the party. “I have two solo albums, whereas Paul has many more. To become a better songwriter, you need to live a life, collect experiences, observations, and develop as a person. At this point of my life I recognise that it’s the beginning of my journey, but it does me a lot of good to look up to Paul and to know that I can dedicate my life to this practice and this journey of being an artist. That’s very rewarding.”
And what of Brady? The redoubtable songwriter says that he has only ever wanted to engage with the music, that he has never liked the superficiality of the fame that can go along with it or the demands it makes. “I sometimes think I’ve engineered myself, subconsciously, into an area where I don’t have any fame. I like to say, jovially, the best thing that ever happened to me was when I came to the end of being attached to major record labels.”
As Brady has previously intimated, the what-comes-after-this scenario is nothing more than working with Katzman for the next short while. He has, he says in all seriousness, removed himself from the music industry machine, which he rightly describes as “insatiable.”
“I’m lucky, also,” he concludes, “that it doesn’t bother me I’m no longer on the tip of everybody’s tongue. It doesn’t bother me in the least – I’m not bursting to make another record.”
Theo Katzman on Paul Brady
“We have only spent a little bit of time together, but I feel we are coming not only from a similar place, creatively, musically, but also in the way we hold music as the highest priority, to be an artist, a student of the craft. By that, I mean someone who has made an extensive body of work.
“Paul is a prolific songwriter, so many albums, and so much good material. Nothing has been phoned in. I look at Paul and I see that what he has done is what I want to do.
“Certainly, he’s a legend, but that isn’t really the status I seek, and I can tell it isn’t the status that Paul has ever sought. In many ways, something like that can actually be a hindrance if you’re not careful because then you’ve got this thing that you have to live up to.
“I don’t know Paul well enough to know whether he has gone through any of that, but I’m certain he has come out the other side. You can hear it in his music and see it in the breadth and scope of his catalogue.”
Paul Brady and Theo Katzman embark on the Souls in Sync Tour from Saturday, June 1st. Visit aikenpromotions.com for further details