When Dave Paulson was asked to join punk outlaws The Pink Spiders last year on second guitar for a Los Angeles showcase, it was a no-brainer. It was, after all, a free trip to California in the dead of winter. But by the end of the week, the Spiders had deals on the table, buzz from the industry and a chance to tour the way most local bands only dream about—with guarantees and real promotion. What began as one showcase soon became an offer to fill out the band’s sound live on the road, and soon Paulson, also guitarist and frontman of boisterous rockers The Privates, would see the country, as well as the world of major-labels, per diems and road warriors.
The Privates weren’t a side project for Paulson, but with members culled from other local bands such as The Features, Lambchop and De Novo Dahl, it was unlikely the band would move front and center, much less coordinate a tour schedule. They soon became one of the best local bands that practically never played out, and never ventured out of town—effortlessly tight and effortlessly popular despite their scarcity and low output. After three years together, the band are finally finishing up their first full-length, Barricades, out Dec. 19, recorded at Jason Bullock’s Lake Fever Productions. We caught up with Paulson on the road—he talked about everything from how touring influenced material for the current record to finding a way to match the Spiders’ color scheme.
Scene: I’m sure you never expected to tour this way when you’ve fronted your own bands for years.
Dave Paulson: I’d be lying if I said I saw it coming, but I’ve always planned on trying lots of different things musically, not just being a frontman. And I’ve always been interested in seeing how the major-label world works. All of a sudden this opportunity just dropped out of the sky. It was too good to pass up. I wanted to have the experience.
Scene: What was it like being the second-hand man, playing songs you hadn’t written?
Paulson: I’ve always had fun backing up others, and I enjoy just running around the stage and not having to worry about leading. You do start to miss singing your own songs. For me it has less to do with recognition or attention than just feeling fulfilled.
Scene: What was the experience like on the road with the Spiders? They seem to have a reputation for partying and livin’ the rock-star life.
Paulson: They can certainly bring the party, but it’s hard for me to think of them that way. They’re the guys I sleep next to, do laundry and go through airport security with. Partying became part of the scenery. I’d tend to be the guy on his laptop in the corner.
Scene: I heard you were initially resistant to the notion of donning pink-and-black clothing when playing Spiders gigs. What changed your mind?
Paulson: It just took a while to find something I liked wearing that worked with their aesthetic. I was really picky. I got away with wearing more black-and-white than pink.
Scene: Did playing with them affect or influence the songs you were working on for the new Privates record? It must be different playing songs that follow one kind of trajectory for months vs. the more complicated arrangements you worked up on the road for The Privates.
Paulson: I was really inspired by seeing the way they operate as a band. In songwriting and recording, they’re constantly moving forward and rarely second guess themselves—basically the opposite of the way I work. Being around that helped me get over some of my hang-ups. Barricades ended up being a much more spontaneous album as a result.
Most of the songs were influenced by the state of limbo I felt like I was in while on the road. I had a lot of great, unique experiences, but a big part of my life was put on hold. It got frustrating sometimes. I also noticed the other day that there’s very little fast material on this album compared to earlier stuff we did. That probably is a result of the set the Spiders have played for the last year—it’s almost all fast stuff. I was able to get my aggression out on a daily basis, so when I wrote I was interested in other approaches.
Scene: Is it true you’re getting off the tour at the end of November?
Paulson: I just wanted to have complete freedom to focus on The Privates’ CD release and whatever plans may follow that. Everything about touring with them has been great, but I’ve reached the point where I need to move on.
Scene: What have you learned seeing a major-label tour first hand that you’d apply if you hit the road with The Privates?
Paulson: Playing at all these venues and touring with different levels of productions, seeing all the different jobs involved and how the pieces fit together, that was something I honestly had no concept of. It was actually the less major-label-y moments of tour that were most valuable to me. I had no road experience and needed to be broken in. You learn not to get too comfortable. We went back and forth from bus to van a few times. One night you’re at some gawdy Hollywood party and the next you’re sleeping in the van at the peak of the Rockies, stuck in the snow.
Scene: The Privates seem to be content playing shows when they can and just making music rather than hustling for the big time. This is probably as much about the availability of the band members as it is about ambition. But does seeing how the other half lives change your goals for The Privates?
Paulson: I think we’ve gotten over the whole “who cares” mentality we’ve been known for. The Pink Spiders experience has made me realize that there are endless possibilities. We’re all taking this album’s release very seriously, but we’ll still have to wait and see how much we’ll be able to do. If circumstances make us inoperable for a while, I’m planning on pressing on by myself, but we’ll still be a band. The fact that this album was completed gives me encouragement that we’ll be able to carry on, in some fashion, for years to come.
Scene: What should Privates fans expect from the new record?
Paulson: I’m really excited for people to hear it, but I’m trying not to say too much. You read these Rolling Stone “In the Studio” columns with guys like Linkin Park or whoever saying that they “don’t think the world’s ready” for their new album, or that people won’t believe it’s the same band, and you roll your eyes. I do feel like this is vastly better and more personal than anything we’ve done before, and we put 10 times the effort into making it. The other releases were basically documents of our songs, but this album aims to be much more than that. Hopefully everyone will stop calling us slackers.