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Paul Dempsey playing at The Aussie BBQ at The Corner Hotel, Melbourne Australia
Photo by Ros O'Gorman

Paul Dempsey, The Austrade Interview

Wed, 09 Jun 2010 10:20:13 +1000

Continuing his series of excellent interviews with Australian artists for the European market, journalist Bernd Bruggemann sat down with Paul Dempsey in Colonge, Germany to talk about his career for Austrade. here is the interview:

Heat generally cannot flow spontaneously from a material at lower temperature to a material at higher temperature.

Just in case you might not have recognized it: We are talking about thermodynamics here. More precisely about the Clausius statement, which is a version of the second law of thermodynamics.

As a music journalist this is not the first thing you think about while you have your first coffee in the morning. But Paul Dempsey, Something For Kate's singer, does - and tells Austrade about the reasons.

Thirty minutes before the first show of his German solo tour he took some time to walk across the evening sun of Cologne. Next to him was Bernd Brueggemann from Austrade and both started a conversation about friends, depression and the future of Something For Kate.

Austrade: We are walking across the streets of Cologne, thirty minutes before your first concert of the German tour. How do normally spend the final half hour before a show?
Paul Dempsey: Normally I try to write some kind of setlist but I never stick to it. And I sort of hum and warm up my voice. Nothing too interesting, no yoga or anything like that, no meditation.

Austrade: So the times when you were nervous before a show are long gone?
Paul Dempsey: It's funny! I do not remember being nervous before a show, but I always start to fall asleep. I think that is my body's way of being nervous. I start to yawn and I want to go to sleep. I think my body tries to shut down. It is strange. But then the adrenalin takes over and it is all OK.

Austrade: Not sticking to the setlist and basically playing whatever you want to play next is something you can't do when you are with Something For Kate, where you play with Clint and Stephanie. This must be one of the most enjoyable things of having a solo record out?
Paul Dempsey: Yes, it is! Definitely one of them. I can just do whatever I feel like doing, I can move at my own speed, it is more of a personal thing. You can be more responsive to the crowd. You do not have to stick to a plan. When you are with a band you have to stick to the plan so that everybody knows what they are doing. It is good, it is really loose. It can go anywhere, depending on the audience.

Austrade: On the other hand there is nobody to hide behind when you are on stage alone. Is that a problem?
Paul Dempsey: That is the trade-off. The hard part is that you are all alone and if it is not going so well you just have to push through it. But I have been lucky. I haven't had any shows that felt like they were not going well, that I felt like I wanted to get off the stage. They have all been really good. I think the audience feels more involved when it is just you because it is not so loud, like a rock band. The audience can hear themselves, everyone can hear each other. So if people start talking other people will get annoyed. So everyone just stays quiet and it becomes really intimate.

Austrade: Do you need that kind of intimacy for the presentation of the album?
Paul Dempsey: No, I don't need it. I mean, it's good, but I have also played to people who have no idea of who I am and what I am doing - and they don't care. I then I don't care either, I just play and I enjoy myself. And usually a couple of songs in everyone stops and goes 'What's going on here?'.

Austrade: Since you are one of the artists who cares very much about lyrics: Doesn't it annoy you when you are playing to a crowd full of drunken people and nobody listens to your songs?
Paul Dempsey: No, it doesn't annoy me, because if people go out for the night to have a good time than it is OK.

Austrade: Are these the two opposite ends of the road? You can either pay attention to the lyrics or have a good time?
Paul Dempsey: I can still enjoy what I am doing, because I am still singing my lyrics even if nobody is listening. I am having my own internal dialog. I can still enjoy myself and become lost in my own little world. I can almost leave the audience behind. But obviously it is better when everyone is connected and sharing the moment.

Austrade: How was it like for Stephanie and Clint when you told them that you are going to record a solo-album?
Paul Dempsey: It was the other way round! They told me! They said 'You're gonna make a solo record'. It was their idea and I did not want to. They thought we had made five Something For Kate-albums in a row very quickly and the last one was very hard to write. I had a bit of a hard time with depression for a little while and it made the making of that record very hard on the three of us. Then we finished the record and we went on tour and everything was better and it felt good, but we were not ready to go back into writing. The other two said I should just keep on that good rhythm that I was on and just keep writing and make my own record and do a Something For Kate record after that. And at the same time Clint opened a bar in Melbourne and he wanted to spend some time on that. Stephanie was doing photography and other things. So it was just that after ten years of constant touring we just needed a break. But we have started writing a new record now and it is going really well. We are all very excited again and it feels like a new band!

Austrade: On the other hand there are many people that compare your career to the career of Powderfinger. After Bernard Fanning released his solo record there were only two more Powderfinger albums before they called it a day. So how many Something For Kate albums are going to be released before you quit?
Paul Dempsey: Something For Kate to me feels like home. It has been really fun doing the solo record and I will do another one and maybe another one at different times. But Something For Kate is the most important thing to me and I don't see it ending. We don't feel any pressure anymore. We have been around for long enough that we are just dancing to our own rhythm. We don't feel the pressure to keep having some fabulous career and keep on being a big successful band. We are happy doing what we are doing when we want to do it and the way we want to do it. And the most important thing is that we WANT to do it. I think that I will always feel like that and I know that Clint and Stephanie will as well.

Austrade: After they "forced" you to write a solo album you basically locked yourself away, started writing and recorded all the instruments by yourself. Considering the fact that you suffered a bit from depression – how was that like? Was that a bit of therapy, too?
Paul Dempsey: I guess it wasn't easy, but it was easier because I only had to worry about myself. I think part of the bad time I had was, that I felt so much pressure that I was responsible for other people and if I wasn't writing and wasn't being creative or being productive I was letting people down. So when I was by myself I didn't feel like that anymore and I almost just let go of worrying about anything. I almost thought that maybe this album would never happen. And it took a year, but once it started happening it just felt good and it was very exciting. It took a long time, I am a slow writer. But it was great, I had lots of ideas and I loved playing all the different instruments and putting it together and experimenting.

Austrade: When you have been on tour in Australia with a backing band did you have many moments of surprise when your band played bits totally different than you did when you recorded?
Paul Dempsey: Yes! When I put together the backing band, I never expected anyone to play the parts exactly how I played them. I said to everyone that it is important that it just feels like a band and not four guys pretending to be me. It is a band! So the whole feel changed for the better, it's a good thing. We have been touring for six months and the songs have just changed and changed and they are really different now. We recorded a Live-Set three weeks ago and it doesn't sound like the album at all, but it's good, it's fun!

Austrade: Talking about fun: What do Paul Dempsey, Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones have in common?
Paul Dempsey: Wow! (Laughs.) That's a good question! Can I have a hint?

Austrade: I'm afraid the question sounds much bigger than the answer we thought about… You all got important songs covered by artists. Two of your singles were covered recently by Clare Bowditch and Oh Mercy. How do you like their versions?
Paul Dempsey: Fantastic! I was so happy when I heard them. It is an honour to have somebody cover your songs. They are not just covers, they are real re-interpretations. They made their own songs, I like that. They just used my words and they wrote their own songs and they are great. I like the way Clare Bowditch took a song that was very quiet and gave it big pounding drums and made it really loud. Oh Mercy took the song that had the big drums and made it really quiet.

Austrade: Why is your album called "Everything is true"?
Paul Dempsey: I guess it has it's own paradox. If everything is true, then nothing is true because truth then no longer has any value. In some way every song of the record talks about the idea of truth. I don't think that there is a such thing. I don't believe in a sort of universal truth. It is a subject that fascinates me. People are constantly clinging to truth or what they believe to be truth, but it is completely in their own individual make up.

Austrade: But what do you believe in? Love? Money? Beer?
Paul Dempsey: I believe in flux. I believe in the second law of thermodynamics. Belief as well – I wouldn't even use the word because everything changes. Even beliefs change and evolve. I feel like an observer of things. And I feel that it is better to not put a flag in the ground and say 'this is what I believe'.

Austrade: Does that make life more complicated?
Paul Dempsey: Yes!

Austrade: You do not have any other choice?
Paul Dempsey: I haven't seen any truth that I accept as truth. Maybe one day I will. But I am not convinced by god or money or power. I guess this is why I write words, because I don't know. I don't have any answers. And I don't think anybody else does. If you have the answer you don't have to think anymore. And that seems strange to me.

Austrade: Just before the interview I was listening to "Fast Friends" from your album and my immediate reaction was: Does he have any friends?
Paul Dempsey: Yes, I do. I have many friends. Good friends!

Austrade: Do you believe in them? Do you believe in their trust?
Paul Dempsey: Yes, absolutely! But I don't think that is a belief. It is a reality, it is something that I rely on, it just IS. There are people that I can relate to and talk with, relax with and laugh with. We share things in common, and probably a lot of the things we share in common are a lot of questions about the things I just said. We have a lot of talking and thinking and a lot of ideas. That is what I like to get from people. The people I am not interested in are the people that say 'the answers are this, this and this'.

Austrade: Did you ever regret talking about depression and therapy in interviews? I ask that because since then one could barely read an interview with you where you were not asked about that, and we are no exception here, I'm afraid…
Paul Dempsey: Well, I brought it up. Yeah, sometimes it feels like I have talked enough about it, but at the same time the reason I have decided to talk about it in the first place is because I think that it is better to not feel guilty. I think a lot of people who suffer from depression feel guilty. They feel like being selfish, they feel like they shouldn't talk about it because they sound like they are whining. I think it is important to not be like that and talk about it, so that people think that it is OK to talk about it.

Austrade: Do other people sometimes see you as a "spokesperson" for the people who are not able to talk about it?
Paul Dempsey: I certainly don't see myself as a spokesperson. But if anybody sees me talking about it and therefore thinks that it is alright for them to talk to their friends about it, than that is a good thing. I get a lot of E-Mails and a lot of letters from people who tell me that they are going through the same thing or that they had battles with depression as well and that it gave them some sort of strength or consolation to know that someone else that they respect goes through that as well. It is a lot of people! It is one in five people in Australia. I think in Europe it might be one in four.

Austrade: On November 10th last year, here in Germany the goalkeeper of our national football team killed himself because of depression. Everybody was totally shocked and there were many speeches made that something has to change in the way we interact with each other. Half a year later not so many things have really changed.
Paul Dempsey: Well, I think it must be a lot harder in sport because there is a lot more pressure to be a big strong man and you are not supposed to admit any kind of weakness. And that is problem: People see depression or mental illness as a weakness. And it is not! It is not a weakness! It is a chemical imbalance, you have no control. Clinical depression or bipolar-disorder or any of these things – it is not a choice that you make - it is chemicals! That is what people need to understand.
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