"The algorithm knows that I bought Fritos, so now I'm looking at an advertisement for Chili Cheese Fritos — I guess I can only choose between not eating Fritos, eating normal Fritos, or trying these Chili Cheese Fritos," says Daniel Pujol, the brains and the name behind local rock 'n' roll outfit PUJOL. He's speaking to the Scene amid thousands and thousands of boxes of records in United Record Pressing's massive storage facility on Oceanside Drive. "You're being provided possibilities and choices that you're not allowed to create."
Pujol thinks about this sort of thing regularly. The songwriter and frontman — who's working at the URP warehouse during the daytime before he sets out on tour, hoping to put the money he makes toward a cargo rack for his touring van — isn't your garden-variety songwriter and frontman. He has a master's degree in global affairs, and at the moment, he's talking about how we humans sculpt our identities using things like social media, and how corporations market to us based on these identities.
As a matter of fact, this all has a lot to do with what his new record, KLUDGE — PUJOL's second full-length for Saddle Creek Records — is about. Pujol defines the word "kludge" as an "improvised solution" that can be applied to a number of things, from politics to civil engineering and human brain theory. And he defines the record as a "black comedy."
"The record is about dealing with you and your identity and how it is separate from you," says Pujol. "Culturally, we're encouraged right now to manicure our own identity, to value our own identity, to maybe fetishize our own identity, and to try to present this manicured identity like it's real. ... When you get on Facebook or you get on Gmail, people try to sell you things they think you like — that an algorithm thinks you like — based off of who you were yesterday."
KLUDGE opens with "Judas Booth." Like a lot of the record, it's sort of a deconstructed and reverse-engineered power-pop or garage-rock song. The songs on KLUDGE are catchy in the way a Nerves or a Kinks song might be, but assembled from layers of smart lead guitar parts, effects-laden background vocals and bursts of percussion that all wind around a sturdy rhythm section. At first blush, "Judas Booth" — with its deceptively beguiling vocals about a guy convincing himself not to "blow [his] brains out" — sounds like a song about someone dealing with depression. But in characteristically Pujolian fashion, it's much more nuanced than that.
"The album starts off with this hyperbolic, mafia-hit-style scenario where this person's like, 'The problem is my identity,' " says Pujol. " 'And I'm about to, like, take it out back and blow its brains out. I'm not going to blow my brains out.' "
Tracks like this mark Pujol's return to writing what he calls "I/You songs" — "first-person narratives that address another party." He says he's been reluctant to write these sorts of songs for some time because of their tendency to subjugate one party — the "wrong" or the "lesser" party. So with KLUDGE he's toyed with the format, changing who the "I" and the "You" might be, or even making them the same person.
"I tried to figure out how to do 'I/You' songwriting that wasn't like, 'I'm me, and I'm right about everything, and you, I'm so done with you because you are stupid.' "
Pujol recorded KLUDGE at a strip mall in nearby Mt. Juliet, in a nonprofit teen outreach center known as The Place. Aided by producer Doni Shroader (who also played many of the drum parts), assistant engineer Travis Atkinson, bassist Clayton Parker and lead guitarist Brett Rosenberg, Pujol would set up at 5 p.m., record all night, and tear down at 7 a.m., allowing the facility to return to its daily functions. With 2012's United States of Being, Pujol was forced to record around people's work schedules and bring in different players during the day to create what he calls his "sessiony" record. Here, he wanted to create something different.
"The big thing that I wanted on this record was, 'I want my live band to be the fucking band that's on the record,' " says Pujol. "I've chosen these guys. I want to tour with these guys. I'm friends with these guys. I respect these guys as individual artists and as musicians and as people, and I want to make something with this group of people.' ... It was really important to me that I got to make it with a select group of people that I felt like I had a real creative and personal connection with."
The result is among the most ambitious, cerebral and gratifying sets of songs to come out of Nashville or anywhere so far this year, rock 'n' roll or otherwise. That's due to Pujol's knack for writing earworm-y punk-pop melodies, but also the way he infuses each song with powerfully refreshing commentary on the modern human condition. After all, shouldn't that be what we expect from our art?
"I'm interested in making art," says Pujol. " 'Do you make records, or do you make art?' I'd say I make art. I wanna make art."
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