Paul J Bolger - Interview

  by Nicky Crewe

published: 27 / 5 / 2020

Paul J Bolger - Interview

Irish singer-songwriter, musician and animator Paul J Bolger speaks to Nicky Crewe about his eponymous first new album in almost twenty-five years, film career and forthcoming graphic novel trilogy.


Paul J Bolger has worked as a successful animator, graphic artist, songwriter and musician since the late 1980s. He has recently released a new album of songs, 'Paul J Bolger', after a long break from the music world. The process has brought together friends and influences across the Atlantic, from Ireland to Canada and back. Celtic Rock legends Horslips describe his style as ‘Bog Gothic’ and Pennyblackmusic was keen to find out more when the opportunity to interview Paul came up. PB: 'Paul J Bolger' is produced by Hugh Christopher Brown of Wolfe Island Records. You have described him as a "brother from another mother." Can you say more about why you hit it off so well – was it shared musical tastes? Encouragement? Being in the right place at the right time for you both? PAUL J BOLGER: A combination of all-of-the-above if I am honest. I met Chris when he came to Ireland with David Corley in 2015 and then again over the following few years when he returned with some of the Wolfe Island Records team and we all hung out. Chris and I share an interest in ancient “Celtic” history and culture and the links between Irish, British and North American music. When I went to Montreal for some meetings on a film project I visited Chris on Wolfe Island and the seeds for what is affectionately being called my “Canadian” album, by some, were sown. I loved what Chris had done producing Corley and the other Wolfe Island Records artists so I played him the EP I had done in Ireland with another producer friend of mine, Dave Molloy. Chris liked what he heard and when I played him a few other songs I had that needed a different feel than what I was doing with Dave he asked to hear more and then offered to record and release them via Wolfe Island Records. I have a lot of Canadian friends from the film side of what I do and I think there is a great affinity between Irish and Canadian people and a shared cultural past so it didn't surprise me that Chris and I became buddies. As someone said, “I never met a Canadian I didn’t like.” And Mr. Brown and his gang of Wolfe Islanders are some of the best people I know. PB: Following on from that, what are your plans for bringing out the second collection of songs recorded at the same time and with the same team? PAUL J BOLGER: I had actually been working on that second set with Dave in Ireland before beginning the record with Chris so the second collection wasn’t recorded with the Wolfe Island team. This meant I ended up having two albums on the go in 2019 completely by accident. Myself, Dave and Chris were all busy with other projects so the various recording sessions were done in and around that work (in my case the upcoming animated 'Riverdance' feature film which I designed). I am looking at releasing the second album, now nicknamed ‘The Irish Album’, at the end of 2020 or early 2021. PB: Whatever plans there are for the release of both collections, they must have been affected by recent events and the global Covid 19 pandemic. Many artists work in a kind of self-isolation for long periods during the course of any creative process. What are you missing out on in terms of promotion and touring with this new album now it is released? PAUL J BOLGER: Like everyone else out there making music, gigs and personal appearances are the main things I am missing out on. We have turned our focus to getting word out about the ‘Canadian’ record via old school media like press and radio alongside social media. I don’t have much of a profile, if any, in the music world so I am focusing on writing, recording and releasing as much music as I can in the next year or two. I figure the more music I have out there the more I will have to play live when the pandemic ends. Until gigs come back on the horizon I’ll do my best to get as many of my songs as I can out there by producing videos and more. I might tap into my art and film network to help get the word around too. PB: Are there any silver linings for you in this lockdown period? PAUL J BOLGER: My yard and garden shed have never looked so tidy and I found things I didn’t even know I had in my studio. Seriously though, the one silver lining I have found is time. Time to recharge and finish up old projects that have been lying around for way too long. My life hasn’t changed that much as I pretty much worked in isolation before the pandemic but the lockdown has just stopped others visiting me. It is all a bit strange, as it must be for everyone in all walks of life, but I am making the most of it. I don’t see any major opus being completed during lockdown as I seem to thrive in busy times but the sprouts of new songs are appearing and the branches of old and unfinished ones are being pruned and prepped for fresh airings so it’s not all bad. PB: You have had a really successful career as an artist, writer, animator, song writer and teacher. What were your original ambitions when you first became part of the entertainment business and do you feel you have fulfilled them? PAUL J BOLGER: I don't know much about success as such, but I have been making a living off drawing, talking, writing and singing since I was eighteen. I use one art form to fund the others I enjoy trying, so if success can be measured in doing what I want, not always to the liking of my accountant and bank manager by the way, then I guess I am super successful. I made a movie in Berlin in the first half the 2000s and did so much travelling on that I decided to move back to my hometown and concentrate on realising my projects in one place instead of other people’s all over the world. Best thing I ever did. The landscape, sounds and coast around Waterford, Ireland are like a muse to me. It's where I get things done. Plus I get to hang out with my old mates and family. So all good. PB: Can you tell us something about your favourite achievements, whether music or film related? PAUL J BOLGER: There are so many but I guess the highlights are studying animation under ex-Disney legend Don Bluth on the classic kids movies 'The Land Before Time' and 'All Dogs Go to Heaven'; animating the bulk of the desert sequence in 'The Thief and the Cobbler for Richard Williams (Oscar-winning director of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?'), opening one of Ireland’s first indigenous animation studios Dagda Film with my old animation buddy Greg Tiernan (now also making music with his band The Wheelgrinders). Releasing my first album 'The Moss House' in 1995 was something I was very proud of at the time - still am. And the time I worked with Sigourney Weaver, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Patrick Warburton ('Joe' from 'Family Guy') when they did the voices for the kids' movie, 'Happily N'Ever After', I directed. That was pretty special. PB: Following on from that, could you tell us something about your 2018 project, The Start of It, with David Molloy, which combined music and videos. Was that the start of you getting back into music, after such a long break? PAUL J BOLGER: Yes. That came about after I met Chris Brown ironically. I played a support slot before David Corley when Chris was in his band on their first Irish tour in 2015 and I was bitten by the music bug again big time. I started playing a few open mics after that and when my songs seemed to get a good reaction I thought I might record a few to see how they might turn out. I’ve known Dave for years and asked him if he might be up for helping me record a few tunes in his studio on the border in Northern Ireland. He did and here we are. PB: You were performing what are described as informal music shows with different guest musicians, planned through to March 2020. Were you able to complete this tour? PAUL J BOLGER: Unfortunately no. I did a few with Waterford based singer-songwriters Robert Power and Aidan O’Callaghan, and they were fun, but the pandemic has put paid to that idea – for now. PB: Have you got plans for returning to touring when the lockdown lifts? PAUL J BOLGER: Yes. We were also looking at setting up gigs in the UK, Canada and New York so once the lockdown lifts I will be all over that and hopefully winging my way to pastures new to take my ‘Bog Gothic’ sounds to audiences beyond this island. PB: After the release of 'Moss House', to critical acclaim, in the late 1990s, you went on the road in Ireland for a decade. What circumstances made you stop and shelve your music career for so long? PAUL J BOLGER: After 'The Moss House' we did tour Ireland for a few years but as with many bands things fizzled out when the gigs dried up, the money ran out and what I jokingly call "lives and wives" took priority for the guys. I went back to work on a couple of movies directed by Deane Taylor (Art Director of Tim Burton’s 'Nightmare Before Christmas') and I got caught up in that world again. I always had a guitar with me on my travels though and never stopped writing songs and jamming with people in the various studios. You'd be amazed at how many musicians work in film and animation. Another reason for stepping back from the music business was I felt a bit lost and didn't have the confidence needed to continue with the music full time. I went back to the drawing board, literally. I kept my hand and voice in the songwriting and kept making demos at home and when David Corley came to town I was inspired by his efforts. Here was a guy around my own age releasing his first album in his fifties – and what an album it is and a gent he is with it. I thought it really is never too late. So I upped the ante and went for it. PB: You are quoting as saying "I am doing what I want to do at an age some might say I should know better" about going back to your music career. Does it feel like an indulgence or irresponsible in some way? PAUL J BOLGER: Not at all. My quip was firmly tongue in cheek. I had the songs in my back pocket and I was used to working in studios – I just needed to find the right catalyst and drum up the nerve to get stuck back in. And I am glad I did. PB: Do you have any other ‘Never Too Late’ dreams or ambitions you’d like to fulfill? PAUL J BOLGER: I recently completed a graphic novel trilogy retelling the legend of Cú Chulainn (an Irish Lancelot style character) called 'HOUND', which was a personal triumph of sorts. I wanted to draw comics for a living when I was a kid but balancing that against my other afflictions (music and movies) I never found the time, so getting 'HOUND' done was a joy. With that book series I kicked off what I think might be something I'll attempt down the road – a series of books or paintings retelling the various Cycles of Irish Mythology for international audiences. I’d also like to make a few more music albums watch this space… PB: Who and what are your musical influences? Is there anything you are listening to at the moment that you’d like to share, old or new? PAUL J BOLGER: I like a lot of different music. I was in metal and punk bands when I was a kid but my voice suited more rootsy sounds so I soon found myself singing more country and bluesy style stuff. It’s hard to say what are my influences but I suppose everything from Black Sabbath to John Lee Hooker, Thin Lizzy, Horslips, Rory Gallagher, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Public Enemy, Lee Dorsey, Free, The Band, the Neville Brothers to Irish traditional music and most anything in between and/or played on string instruments with some Hammond Organ has grabbed me at some point or other. As for what I am listening to now, well Robert Plant’s recent output is amazing, Jason Isbell is pretty fantastic and Lucinda Williams' new album sounds great too. Jake Xerxes Fussell is also on my radar. Tom Petty, Metallica’s last album, a run of old hard rock albums from the likes of UFO and more are getting spins on my turntable these days. So it's a mixed bag for sure and I’m loving it. PB: Finally, what do you hope to be doing this time next year? PAUL J BOLGER: Playing to people who want to hear my ‘Canadian’ and ‘Irish’ albums, and anything else I come up with in the meantime, across the world wherever and whenever I can. PB: Thank you.

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Paul J Bolger - Interview

Paul J Bolger - Interview

Paul J Bolger - Interview

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Paul J Bolger (2020)
First-rate return to making music for film maker Paul J Bolger, who last released an album twenty five years ago

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