With a style of rock ‘n’ roll that blends the passion of old R&B with the authentic, road-weary roots of Americana/alt-country, plus the raw emotion of the blues, local boy Paul Chesne is an accomplished singer, songwriter and musician. He performs at the Cinema Bar this week, so we chatted about what he has in store…
CULVER CITY NEWS: WHEN DID YOU START PLAYING AND WRITING MUSIC, AND WHEN DID YOU START TAKING IT SERIOUSLY
Paul Chesne: I wrote my first song as a three or four-year-old: “4-Wheel Drive, Stop!” I started playing live secretly at open mic nights in 1999. I didn’t tell anyone. But I would go to three or four per week. I actually met some great friends including my guitarist/bass player Dutch Suoninen during those early days.
I was recording on a little four-track for years, and then I met Dwight Yoakam’s drummer, Mitch Marine, in 2004. He joined the band and shortly thereafter, he said we were going to Radio Recorders studios to make a proper recording. All I could say was “Ok!” That became my first professionally recorded album “Wet Dog Man.”
WHO ARE YOUR MAIN INFLUENCES?
Musically, I of course grew up with Dylan and the Beatles. Paul Simon. Hank Williams. Johnny Cash. Lately my main influences have been Rodney Dangerfield and Don Rickles.
DESCRIBE YOUR OWN STYLE…
I like to call my tunes post-modern country music. Real live rock and roll with skeletal, vague, evocative, bluesy lyrics. Dr. Dre meets Johnny Cash. People compare me to the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg, but I never really listened to them. Perhaps we had the same influences and reached a similar place in our songwriting. I recently learned one of his songs on the geetar and it’s really good. So I’ll take that as a high compliment.
WHERE ARE YOU BASED? WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE LOCAL SCENE?
I live in Venice. The local scene is fantastic. Some of my favorite artists are ones that may never break through to main stream success, but I am lucky enough to call them my friends. Folks like Kip Boardman, Ramsay Midwood, Mike Stinson, etc. They all played at the Cinema Bar a lot. Lucinda Williams would come through sometimes and sit in. The roof would lift a few inches off its foundations when she really let loose in that little place. We played with our friends Gospelbeach last Monday in Downtown LA. They are curating Mondays all this month at the Zebulon. Some of the best and my favorites of the local scene are coming through there.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST GIG TO DATE? AND WORST?
I have played about 1800 shows. There have been many ups and downs over the years. I have been paid to not play a couple times – either because people wanted to talk and we were interrupting, or we were too loud and the restaurant just paid us to go home. I don’t know if those are the best or worst shows. But I will take getting paid to do nothing. We did play a show a few months ago at a place out in the wilderness that shall remain nameless and there was only about 10-12 people there. And they kept bringing us drinks. Perhaps out of pity. Perhaps also because they didn’t want us to stop. Toward the end of the show, the guitar player for that night all of the sudden packed up his gear and angrily left the stage. I had no idea what was going on. At that point one of our friends was videoing the show. I went back through the footage and the bass player had vomited across me and all over the guitar player’s pedal board. I didn’t notice and he didn’t even remember.
Another time, we were in Prescott, Arizona with another bass player. He was complaining to the drummer that the drummer was taking too long and we were supposed to start already. The drummer slowly walked to the bathroom and then came back to the stage and methodically grabbed the bass player by the neck shook him around like a rag doll. The bouncer kicked the drummer out of the bar. We had a 3 hour show to do. And another show the next night. And we were 10 hours drive from LA. The keyboard player started playing drums for an hour or so. Eventually the drummer came back and we had already forgiven him. And the people watching the whole ordeal were like “What the hell is going on here?!” I bought everyone a round of shots. We got back to the show and tour. At first It was the most horrible, but turned out to be one of the more triumphant, pure rock and roll moments I have ever been a part of.
We’ve had some amazing musical experiences as well. Mick Taylor from the Rolling Stones showed up at one of our shows at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown and played with us for three hours. Hearing him play the opening notes of “Honky Tonk Woman,” the band kicked in and all I could do was hold on to my guitar for dear life because from there we were off to the races!
There have been a lot of great shows and great times with a revolving cast of stellar musicians in beautiful places. So many it’s hard to count. I have been compiling a book of anecdotes on my website and Facebook page for several years of some of these events.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ALBUMS / SINGLES AVAILABLE?
We have 5 professionally recorded albums of 10-14 songs each. And a fove-song EP. And several singles. These are all available for free or pay what you want via music.paulchesne.com, and also all your favorite music streaming services and at our shows!
HAVE YOU PLAYED CULVER CITY BEFORE?
I have been playing in and around Culver City for about 15 years. We play the Cinema Bar about once a month. It’s one of the greatest tiny but mighty honky-tonks I’ve been exposed to. I really learned how to play for hours at a time there from watching other bands, but also just getting in there and doing it. We’ve also played at Rush Street a couple times. I love that place. Excellent food!
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE SET?
I never know what to expect. Last time we played there it was four days after Tom Petty died. So we played 12 Tom Petty songs. The 30-40 people in that little room were all singing at the top of their lungs. It was a very cathartic and emotional experience to let loose and be around people after all the emotion of that week. Typically we do a nice blend of our original tunes with some intriguing, off beat covers. Everything from Prince to Van Morrison to James Brown to Neil Young and maybe a country version of an Eminem song.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED GOING FORWARD, AFTER THIS SHOW?
I’ve written about 15 new songs this year. Some of my favorite tunes I’ve ever done wrote. So we’re going to be recording a new album. We’ll be back out at Pappy & Harriet’s on December 30th. And back at the Cinema Bar on the regular. Hope to see you out there!
Paul Chesne plays at 9:30 p.m. on November 24 at the Cinema Bar; 3967 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City 90230; 21+, free.