Paul Gurney is a man of many musical parts.
On Anzac Day he was at the Grey Lynn RSA in Auckland with Jubilation Gospel Choir – New Zealand’s leading a capella gospel choir – giving voice to Johnny Cash’s Wayfaring Stranger as part of the day’s commemoration service.
“It’s a bit of a tradition that the choir sings at the RSA, which co-incidentally is the venue we play in anyway,” Gurney says. “It was a beautiful morning, a lovely service and a nice song to present at the end of it.
“I have been in the choir for nearly five years. I am one of the tenors. To be honest, the choir is a lovely foil to the band world that I’m involved in.”
Four days earlier, he was at the Thirsty Dog in Auckland for the launch of his debut solo album Shadow of Love featuring the DeSotos, whom he has previously released two albums with.
Which begs the question, why isn’t it a DeSotos album?
“Fair question,” he says. “I had a bunch of songs some of which I had written a couple of years back and I guess was really eager to get into the studio and record them. I wanted the band involved along with a few guests from a production point of view. Everybody was very cool with that and very generous of their time.
“Once I got underway with the recording process, I thought ‘I’ve almost got an album’s worth of material here’. Co-incidentally, I had been in the US visiting New Orleans last year and I had had a spurt of writing when I came home, so that really delivered the final songs for the album.
“It didn’t necessarily start out being a solo project but it certainly ended that way. I also need to point out that some of the material on Shadow Of Love wouldn’t necessarily be a good fit for a DeSotos album. The most obvious example would be Sinner You’s Better Get Ready, which I sing with Jubilation Gospel Choir.”
Another track, Trace, features Richard Adams – on violin and in a co-writing role – who is a member of another of Gurney’s musical projects, AGM.
The lyrical themes on the album are also more of a personal odyssey than one taken as a group.
“This cycle of songs explores those darker sides of the sweetness of love – the longing, the loss, the “might-have-beens” of life that are the price we pay for a life experienced to the fullest. But ultimately these are songs of hope, stories of learning and acceptance.
“I have always been drawn to a dark lyrical idea married to a warm melodic structure, and the juxtaposition this can create for a listener. The likes of Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris have always been masters of this art, and it is my hope these songs will evoke a similar feeling.
“The feel is also a little more spatial and laid-back overall. Many of the songs are very much personal. Cold Wind is a song that when you first hear it, you might think, that’s just another break-up song. It is actually about a good friend of mine, who passed away from cancer. It was written during a period of grieving. When you know that about the lyrics then you listen to the song in a slightly different way.
“It’s always interesting when it comes to how people interpret lyrics. I remember David Gates’ song Everything I Owned, which he originally recorded with his band Bread. Most people, on first listen, think it’s a break-up song. In fact, David wrote it about his father.
“Close Your Eyes is another song on Shadow Of Love that could similarly be misinterpreted. I describe it as my Thelma and Louise moment. It was written with a specific person in mind, who is heavily involved in the corporate world but probably doesn’t want to be. It’s a love song but about self-worth and being able to liberate yourself, throw off the shackles and get out of what seems to restrict you and smell the roses. It’s almost a messages of celebration in a way.
“I have always been a sucker for trying to marry up a dark lyrical idea with a beautiful melody. That’s what excites me about songwriting.”