Having already put out a sophomore album, KLUDGE, earlier this year that exponentially broadened his band’s vision, such is the preternatural energy level of Daniel Pujol that he decided to go back and revamp PUJOL’s debut as well. Thus, United States of Being has now become Reunited States of Being, recently released digitally and on cassette, just in time for Cassette Store Day, naturally. Most bands only go as far as a remix, and even then they usually wait more than just a couple of years, but such was not the case here. Adding whole new parts and arrangements to the original tracks, Pujol filled in and built up the record in a way that matched up with how he had always imagined it would sound.
The cranked up rambunctiousness of United States of Being playfully belied the wondering soul of its lyrics. Perhaps only at the end, with the closing “Psychic Pain” (“I’m not a demon/ I’m not insane/ It’s just a feeling/ Without a name”), did it become clear that things might not be all good all the time. If listeners were concerned where things were going after ending on such a dark note, KLUDGE immediately addresses any such fear with the resilience of “Judas Booth”. “I’m getting back into the swing of things/ I had a real bad year”, the album begins, before the humble self-congratulation, “But I think I did a real good job/ Of convincing myself not to blow my brains out”. It’s hard to imagine a more rousing chorus being wrought from lines like, “I think I did pretty okay.”
PUJOL’s bracing mix of punk and ‘70s jukebox rock is still to be found all over KLUDGE, but instead of flooring it until the gas runs out, the album varies up the speed with the rolling, acoustic-led “Dark Haired Suitor”, and “Spooky Scary”, an updated country blues tune that fits so well with Pujol’s scraped vocals it’s easy to imagine him recording an entire album just like it. KLUDGE is full of immediately pleasurable songs that are about the search for more than immediate pleasures, as the single “Circles” illustrates: “Show me more than kleptocratic/ Demagogue control/ Show me that you ain’t a lizard/ Show you’ve got a soul”. It’s still great party music and all, you just might be more likely to find yourself sitting on a beanbag talking about philosophy rather than doing keg stands out back.
We recently caught up with Daniel Pujol to find out more about both the new old album, Reunited States of Being, and that new new album, which Nashville Scene recently named Best Rock Album in their 2014 “Best of Nashville” issue.
SSv: KLUDGE was recorded in a teen suicide-prevention center, so I have to ask: what’s the vibe like recording in a place like that?
Daniel Pujol: Pretty normal. A lot of my early recordings with MEEMAW and PUJOL were done at teen centers or all-ages venues in Nashville. They have the same resources as a studio and the money goes towards a decent cause. Or I can work for them in exchange for time in a room. I like being around non-music people when I make records.
SSv: How did finding that particular place happen?
Daniel: The producer grew up with the owners. They are great, caring people.
SSv: “Judas Booth” starts the album with a lyric about having a bad year due to an existential crisis, but ultimately finding a way to be upbeat about, at least, not doing yourself in. Was the song directly influenced by where you were recording the album, or even a kind of tribute to it? Or was it somehow a coincidence?
Daniel: It was total coincidence. However, I was told that Mt. Juliet had an unusually high teen suicide rate. In an identity-obsessed culture, I thought it would be appropriate to write a song that separated the physical self and an individual’s sense of self. Separate body and identity. Personify them as body versus shadow. The character murders their shadow instead of killing him/herself.
Seems like we are encouraged to lump body and identity together now, and take the dissonance out on one another. I think that encourages an unhealthy level of myopia and a culture obsessed with behavioral and ideological consistency. I have no interest in consistent behavior or “being myself” so people can sell me stuff and tell me who or what I am.
SSv: How did that bit of Gary Oldman trivia [about luring him down to an abattoir] find its way into the song? Are you a fan? I had to look it up.
Daniel: I didn’t know Gary Oldman ever frequented an abattoir in a movie! Ha. It’s about Dracula in the song. The shadow and how it performed Dracula’s malevolent intentions behind him.
SSv: Searching for reasons to be glad, or at least hopeful, in the face of different kinds of adversity seems to be something of a recurring theme on KLUDGE. What kind of year has it been? Or had it been, leading up to the recording of the album?
Daniel: People around me were experiencing a lot of changes, most of them negative. Very contemporary changes that I also found thematic culturally. I was interested in writing an album where people handled their problems like adults and present that enthusiastically — like it could be cool to deal with life obstacles head on. Characters who don’t blame someone else, but look within themselves and tackle their own perspective. Characters that refuse to succumb to the psychic cancer the world has abandoned them with. They don’t have to hate the world because they rejected it’s entire premise. They only have hope. A lot of people I know worked their way out of a bad year. I respect people like that.
SSv: KLUDGE expands the dynamic range of the sound established on or your debut; adding new instruments, utilizing different kinds of arrangements. Was that entirely intentional, or was any of it a product of environment or circumstance, given the album’s somewhat harried recording process?
Daniel: Kludge is the kind of album I’ve been trying to make since I stopped only using GarageBand. A four piece rock and roll band being recorded and presented like a tiny orchestra. With guitars. With music. Specifically for Kludge, though, I wanted a cartoon nightmare edge. So did Doni, the producer. So we did it.
SSv: Did mixing up the approach more like that help you get things across in PUJOL’s music that you hadn’t been able to before?
Daniel: It just made it closer to my original intentions. We refused to let the production be streamlined and homogenized. Each song was treated as it’s own piece.
SSv: Your lyrics are often quite expressive and open, even deeply revealing, depending on whether you read them as strictly autobiographical or not. Why is it important to connect with your audience about big-picture stuff like existence and identity — or perhaps even confront them with it?
Daniel: I don’t know if it’s important, but that is just the kind of stuff I’m interested in. How do you write a song in the 21st century? I don’t think existence and identity are big picture or even that far out. People deal with that on Facebook every day. I think I’m writing about pretty basic everyday stuff. Not anything that heady or escapist. I guess if I’m going to get up in front of people I might as well engage the planet I live on instead of avoiding it. Or trying to escape it.
SSv: “Dark Haired Suitor” and “Spooky Scary” answer the question of how your voice would work in a gentler setting, and it’s a completely natural fit, perhaps especially in the country blues of “Spooky Scary”. Did you grow up around a lot of that kind of music? Do you see yourself writing more songs in that vein?
Daniel: I would do more songs like that. If the recording situation is right, I’ll do whatever works. I write different kinds of songs all the time. It’s important to make different kinds of recordings.
SSv: In the “Youniverse” video, the two main characters have so many clothes in their respective bedrooms, and coming out of their bathroom cupboards, that they are practically swimming in them. It seems to say something about options, identity, and choice, but I’m not sure what. What was the concept behind the “Youniverse” video?
Daniel: Two people who are the same kind of lonely recognize one another as sentient beings. Not as a mere type of person laundered through an manicured abstract identity. Hence the endless outfits and clothes shopping. They chuck the clothes and fall in love. They both grab that slug and suddenly they’re on the same planet together. The video is basically a visual narrative of the lyrics. Perry and Eddie did a great job.
SSv: Ted Leo has a nice little cameo in the video, among others. How did that come about?
Daniel: He’s just a real groovy guy. Totally surprised me. A very nice surprise.
SSv: It’s not very often that an artist re-records an entire album after already releasing it – especially so soon after releasing it. What was it about United States of Being that made you want to go back to it?
Daniel: It’s still the same performances. I did not re-record the whole record. I just had Brett add lead guitar and background vocals, Clay add some bass, and I re-tracked some drums. I vari-speeded the songs up to grooving tempos. I wanted it presented the way I originally intended when I wrote and demoed the songs. It’s pretty right on now. I didn’t have a four-piece live band when I made it in 2012. I wanted lead guitar and real backing vocals on it. Always did. Not just my voice. Not just piano clinks. It’s about the songs, not me. It’s a guitar rock and roll record. End of story.
SSv: Do you feel satisfied that Reunited States of Being accomplishes what you set out to do? Or was there anything that left you wondering if there would be a Re-reunited States of Being in a couple more years?
Daniel: It’s finished. It has the vibe now. Dreamy. Tiny dreamy orchestra. A wind-up toy. For what was recorded, it’s as good as I could get it given my resources. The songs got what they deserved.
SSv: What’s going on in that cover photo? Looks like you are perhaps wearing an American flag?
Daniel: My friend Whit tied that on me at a NYE show. You can’t see anyone’s eyes.