Daniel Pujol on the United States of Being

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click to enlarge Daniel Pujol on the United States of Being
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Daniel Pujol is a man of many talents. Whether he's completing his degree, playing ragers at SXSW, putting out records or writing poetry in an online series with his girlfriend, Pujol remains a vital voice for the hustling world of evolutionary rock & roll. Checked by tastemaker Jack White and his Third Man Records imprint, Pujol continues to propel forward with his latest release, United States of Being on Saddle Creek. After years of playing with a rotating cast of talented musicians, he has landed on a line-up consisting of bassist Daniel Severs and former St. Louisan Stewart Copeland. Both on record and in life, Pujol offers a unique view into the life of contemporary America, always on point and never at a loss for words. We caught up with Pujol about finishing his degree in global affairs, his new record, and the trials and tribulations of life as a twentysomething.

Pujol will be performing Saturday night at El Lenador with King Arthur, Doom Town, Bricklayer, and Black For A Second.

Josh Levi: You've said in other interviews that you write at a pretty quick pace, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Was it the same with this record?

Daniel Pujol: Yeah, kinda. In May, I've been working on three... There's three records that I know that I'm doing right now and one more that I've kind of started working on, but what happened was a couple of songs that were going to be on that one moved over to the one that I'm about to put out now, which is better for the narrative. A much more cohesive narrative. I write pretty fast, and most of the time stuff will come pretty quick.

What I do is if I have to write a song about a cat, and a song about a dog, and a child to be able to write a song about a man - then I'll do that. And I won't just be frustrated and not write. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the song about the cat actually turns into the song about a man and then I have three other song structures that I can tweak on. I usually do a cycle. X File On Main St, that's an example of all of the songs that I had to write to be able to write Nasty, Brutish, and Short and United States of Being. The one that I'm getting together now, which is more of a home recordings kind of record, it's all of the songs that are going to be in between all of the bigger works that I do.

So they all kind of bleed into each other in a way?

Yeah. I'm not necessarily conscious of it until after the fact. I have intent going into it, but I don't limit myself to what I want right now because who you are right now is already done and what you need, you might not have known what you wanted. I don't really go into this being like, "I'm this version of Daniel and I'm going to make this kind of record because I definitely know who I am and what gets me off." It's just an ongoing narrative.

Are you still pursuing your degree in global affairs?

I finished it in March. I finished it and immediately went to SXSW!

How did that turn out?

It turned out good. I graduated with an A, 3.84. I have just been working like a crazy animal between all this shit for about two and a half years. Basically having to do one thing to feed the other thing and now it's good to have the same people and they're my friends and we can do it together and there's stability to it.

Did your studies play into the writing of United States of Being?

Definitely. A lot of market relations and vocabulary kind of taking place of social relations and interpersonal vocabulary. Kind of maybe an artistic existential take on neo-liberalism and also thinking about...you have the Internet, you have a media access to everything that you want.

But you know, I wanted to write some songs about relationships and interpersonal situations that didn't really present the end of it. It wasn't like, you know, this narrative and this character is in this situation and now he or she has arrived here, and they're justified because they ended up there. It's just in the middle of it. It's taking the idea of consumer choice and saying, "I'm not going to be a typical punk and say consumerism is bad." Regardless if it's good or bad or not, it's fucking real so let's split that into maybe a model of social interaction that we're not aware of. Because it's so prevalent in our culture, that maybe we interact with each other the same way we interact with all that stuff. And maybe that this language that hasn't been articulated yet -- this market language may be perverting or overly defining what we view is possible through language and how we interact with one another. Yeah, school fed right into it.

We're the last generation to have been born before the Internet had existed. How do you feel about social media and the internet being positive or negative?

I think it has to be positive because it's real. And I think that if you write it off as negative, you're kind of being like, "Oh I just want to go run away in the desert and live in my monastery," but we've got fucking GPS and predator drones and high fructose corn syrup. It's like there's no place to go anymore. It's good that you said we're the last generation to be born before the Internet. It's like the generation before us, people that are like ten or fifteen years older than us, a lot of guys are into analog recording and they're like, "Life used to be more material!" and they show the virtue of that. We remember being in second grade and having to cram a floppy disk into some weird computer to play Oregon Trail and then we graduated from college, and it's like "Oh, I can't work at McDonalds without my iPhone."

I don't think it's bad. I think it's something that everyone's going to have to deal with. I do think that it kind of blows open identity in a way. The possibilities are endless and it's very easy to make yourself to appear as a certain type of person, perhaps in a way where you believe you are that type of person or vice versa. It's very easy to assemble who your idealized self [is] and possibly act it out in the real world. In that turn, how important is Twitter and Facebook as an artist? How do you feel that plays into your role?

Well it lets me interact with other humans. I think that there's a bunch of talk about the music industry and all of this kind of stuff and about how all of these things are changing. I think for me it does a couple of things. If you're intimidated by it, it'd be like hustling yourself all the time. Kind of the way when a fly is when you're trying to eat a sandwich, you know? It kind of demystifies the artist, which I don't think is a bad thing. There's all this sort of vicarious washed out shit, and I think an interesting challenge for artists.

Are you going to perpetuate the VH1 corporate history and be like, "We're like this all the time! Don't you wish you were like us? Blaaah!" or be like, "I'm playing a show. I pressed this record."

The presale on my record went up and someone posted the link to where it was for sale on the band's Facebook page. And it was cool because you were watching people who were like, "I'm enthusiastic about this art" and they helped each other find it. And it's the same thing with the Record Store Day 7". Some of my friends were like, "They didn't have it in my city" and then I would just get on the Internet and go, "Does anyone know where they are?" and people would go, "Oh, there's some in Oakland. There's some in Boston." I'm not like fucking "punk rock, every man of the people" guy but it is fucking cool if someone wants to find something that you made and provide a service to help your customers find it. And that's what I was saying about "demystifies the artist" - when it comes down to it, if I were a painter, I'd be doing paintings for a pope or a fucking king a couple hundred years ago. But now I help people find what website to buy my record on on Twitter and there's fucking popes and kings everywhere. I'm lucky enough that it just so happens to be my art.

What's home like for you? In regards to the quality of Southern living, does that kind of slow you down when you're all over the place?

Yeah. I grew up in the middle of nowhere. Even going back to all the stuff about the Internet. Really all of that is just based off of my experience as a person. I'm in the middle of nowhere, and you grow up in a place like that, you have to go find other people to be able to make sure that you're real a little bit. You have to maybe do things to meet those people and develop relationships with those people and then you're not alone. The Southern thing probably does affect a lot of that, because to me it's very small. It's just something that I do and I do it with other people and if I'm lucky other people show up and I made this piece of art about this crazy feeling I had. And when I go into town, I go to my girlfriend's house and we play with the rabbit and we watch Celebrity Ghost Stories. And that's awesome! I like travelling though.

Is this about to be a tour that you're going on or is it just a few shows?

There's going to be some shorter runs that are going to escalate and build up into a "tour" tour. I like them [the band] enough that... even for a band now you can just go, "There's nothing coming out, but we should go on tour!" Stew, he makes movies. Daniel plays baseball. He's a carpenter. He builds bicycles. I really like playing music with them.

So this tour, you're playing everything from DIY venues to bars to bigger shows with Lee Renaldo - do you have a preference for one or the other?

Yeah. I think I do. I like to keep my band happy. I like to be in the best environment to keep them comfortable and that people will want to go to. I personally don't really have that much of a preference. I'm very allergic to mold. If it ain't moldy, I am down with it. Also, it's important to be able to do all of them and that's another reason why we practice so much because it is crazy. Where it will be like "You're going to play a basement, and then the next night you're going to open for Dr. Dog at the War Memorial and then you're going to go play in some bars and then you're going to go to SXSW and then you're going to play the Third Man Showcase!" You know what I mean? The environment's always changing, so we have to be prepared for it to change. It's very different. The outside festival stage is totally different from playing a basement.

You've been heralded as a spokesman for the current state of being a twentysomething. How do you feel about the world around you?

Well that's interesting, because I jut had kind of a bop-on-the-head experience with that last week. You know because I was in school... Okay, fuck it. I graduated from college in 2008, and I graduated and I didn't take out any loans and I was fucking broke and my band was doing really good and then we decided to do our own projects and so I'm like "Oh well, I'm fucking 23, 24."

So I started going to graduate school and I found a correspondence way I could do it and bought a phone, talking and writing papers, and working on a twelve-page paper in a fucking Starbucks in Baltimore or something. But I was also able to live and have access to financial aid that I could buy guitar strings with or put gas in my van with and that was easier than finding a job. And it's kind of becoming a job. So then by the time I graduated in March, I went to SXSW and I got back and I had been dedicating so much of my time to school, you know five or six hours a day working on a thesis and stuff since about January - Which I had to record this record and do my thesis at the same fucking time and that was insane.

It was just like everything that you want happens NOW - "I'm your shadow dream world!" So anyway, I got back and I had all this free time and I don't like not doing anything in the daytime and so I was like, "Oh well fuck, I'll get me a part time job. I want to learn how to do this or whatever," and I go and interview for these part-time jobs and it's just like the craziest shit on the planet. It's like, "So, uh, you got a masters and you want to work part-time? I think you're a little too busy to fucking work in my restaurant part-time" - like it's a fucking career opportunity to work in a fucking restaurant. So then I'm hanging out with people that I grew up with that I respect and one of them got a degree in psychology and was working in a fucking grocery that went bankrupt. And now he wants to work in the VA but they got a six-month hiring freeze going on. One of my friends drives from Murfreesboro to Nashville to deliver pizza in a rich neighborhood because the tips are good.

The problems are real. There are parts of me sometimes where I get feeling funky and I fucking play guitar, you know? I think maybe there's lots of "Well I was told if I just did good in school I could do whatever I wanted to do, and I don't think that was making french fries at McDonalds but I guess that's what I'm going to have to do. Or I'm gonna have to go back to school and get even smarter and never be able to articulate how fucked this is."

I have a group of people in town here. We all care about each other. We all try to find work for each other and that's the closest thing to adapting to it that I know about. Even going back to reinvestigating the language of interpersonal relationships and what their social possibilities are. It's people. It's all people. Reality is people.

I guess the thing that's weird and that maybe I've kind of noticed and that I have a fear of and I empathize with people - they're having to work in jobs that neuter them of their ability to closely interact socially and turn that into a means of individual and collective survival. You're not necessarily able to do that working at a McDonalds. There's only so many possibilities existentially and economically at Kroger. One of the reasons I do music is so I don't end up isolated in a job like that. I can't survive without that social thing of being able to talk.

It seems really great that you have this platform and you can make your own reality. It seems like you're really appreciative of that fact.

Well I think it's a pretty human thing to be interested in making your own reality and I think what a lot of people walk into is the "just 'cause I said so" reality and they have no choice but to survive in that reality and people get frustrated but you know we could talk about it. We don't have to just go home and stick our weenie in the pool jet. We can interact with each other. And as humans, even going back to identity, you could either interact as a human being and not just as a type of person too.

It's kind of like you go and you bag those groceries with your masters degree, but then you're free because you get to wear whatever you want. [sarcastically] You know what I mean? And it's all of these lame fucking concessions, these pacifiers, that are turning these human animals into these type of people. That's what I got on that.

That actually ties into my last question - If there was one album or song that you would use to communicate with beings from another world, what would it be?

Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - 'The Modern Lovers' because he's not angry. He's not angry, he doesn't hate his parents and he just wants a girlfriend. And he loves art.

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