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“Unreal.” That’s the word local musician Paul Pfau chose to describe his experience on NBC’s The Voice. Although Paul said his farewell on The Voice last night, it surely won’t be the last time you hear him sing. The Middletown native holds a prominent presence in the DC area music scene with an award-winning debut album “Happy To Be” on iTunes and Spotify. His soulful rendition of Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me To the Moon wow’ed judges on the hit TV show, but Pfau won’t stop at just the moon when he knows the sky holds no limits.
I remember meeting Paul a few years ago and I can still recall his passion for music radiating throughout the room. He is a man on a mission with the tools for success, from his stunning guitar skills to his elegantly simple, yet soulful, vocals. I was ecstatic to get the chance to talk with Paul and discuss all things music, The Voice, moonwalking, and his go-to pizza place.
What was that defining moment when you knew you wanted to pursue a future in music?
I can remember- I was riding in my dad’s car going to the grocery store when While My Guitar Softly Weeps by the Beetles came on the radio and it hit me- I want to do this! Back then I listened to all sorts of music. When I was that age [around 14 years old], I knew I needed outlets to express myself, and that outlet turned out to be music. I started experimenting with music in high school, but I was in college when I started writing songs and playing guitar. There were those days when career fairs came to campus and all of my friends were going, but I thought to myself- “I don’t want to do that. I want to make music.” I started going to local shows and open mics and I was able to gain a lot of support. People liked what I was playing and it was incredible. I graduated and started touring and playing at different colleges. And now here I am on The Voice! It’s been quite the journey!
You have been on tour across the country and also in the studio as you compiled your album “Happy To Be” in 2013. Which do you prefer- studio sessions or live shows?
They are very different, but I love them both! They are similar because they allow you to go off of other people’s energy in both environments. When you’re live, you have fans coming in and they are excited. They bring a lot of energy. This pulls something out of you that you didn’t know you had. That’s what I love about music across the board. Staying open in the moment. You never know where the inspiration is coming from. In the studio, you create a different energy on your own. There’s energy in the studio that is so different and allows you to get lost in just creating. There is no audience in front of you so you can always go back and work on things, too. There is that time delay from when you create a record in the studio to when you release it months later and then you just hope people dig what you’re doing. When you’re live, you can see how people react to you in the moment. I guess it’s just like with your children, you can’t pick a favorite.
You have met some pretty big names during your music career including The Lumineers and the Beach Boys. What was that like?
I met the members of the Beach Boys in Virginia at a pre-show party. I met musicians Bruce Johnston and Mike Love [members of The Beach Boys] and asked them for their advice. They told me to stay in school and don’t do music in this crazy industry… But I guess I didn’t listen. A few years back, I had a four song EP out and I put together an east coast tour by myself. I did one show- Puck Live in Doylestown, Pennsylvania- and I was 1 of 3 acts. The Lumineers played then, and that was when their one song [Hey-Ho] was featured on TV. We went record shopping before the show. It just goes to show you that you never know what is going to happen- you just have to stay open to possibilities.
Your presence is growing on iTunes- What’s that like knowing that people are living their lives and having your music be a part of it day to day?
It’s wild. People tweet their pics with my album saying things like, “waking up with Paul’s music”. It’s so cool. It’s every artist’s dream to write music and have people simply enjoy it. Being the soundtrack to someone’s day or week… It’s just super humbling and extremely gratifying.
You were a contestant on “The Voice”. With a number of different shows out there for aspiring musicians, why did you choose to audition for “The Voice”?
Last May, I got a phone call from a California number. I didn’t recognize it so I let it go to voicemail. They left me a message and asked me to come out to LA for a private audition. And then I made it into the blind auditions on that stage. Crazy! Honestly, I never thought I could make it out to this kind of show because I am a very simple singer. My range isn’t over the top, but that is what makes me, me.
You auditioned with “Fly Me To The Moon” by music icon- Frank Sinatra. Do you find Sinatra to be a great inspiration for you? What music icons do you look up to when creating your own music?
I look up to Sinatra for the fact that [his music] is not about range. He sings and there are no bells or whistles. It’s focused on how he can convey the message of the sound. The classic tone of voice and motion of a song are important to me. I never want to do anything other than “me”.
I also look up to The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Maroon 5, Gavin Degraw, and Jason Mraz. Shooter Jennings is also an influence- he’s in Country music. My experience on the show has opened many windows and doors to different kinds of music. All contestants on the show are different and it’s great. Working on my next record, I want to focus on mixing genres and creating a sound that’s never been done…. Kind of like ambient folk. Think Bob Dylan mixed with Explosions in the Sky. It’s such a cool thing to grow as a musician- John Mayer once said something like, as you grow, you listen to different styles of music, so why can’t my own music grow too? Working with Pharrell was great because he’s genre-less and focuses on making music from the heart. Another thing is that some people try to plan too much. It’s when life is so planned out that people don’t open up for spontaneity. I am so pumped for the unknown. Enjoy not knowing what’s coming. I mean… that’s how this [The Voice] started!
What did it feel like the minute you saw Blake Shelton and Pharrell, two huge names in music, turn their chairs and beg to be your vocal coach?
Well, first off, I never thought I’d be on that stage. Once I got on the stage, I never thought anyone would turn around. After both chairs turned around, I couldn’t believe it. Not in a depreciating way, I just never thought my voice was for this kind of show. I remember heading home after the auditions and just giggling on the airplane. I just couldn’t believe it! Now it has happened. Now people know about me. The first time I talked to Pharrell, he approached me when we were getting ready for the show and I heard him say, “Mr. Pfau”. I mean, just for them to know who I am and support me, there’s nothing more I could ask for.
Coming back towards home, what do you like most about playing in and around the DC and Maryland area?
There is so much talent in this area. The Voice band that plays the songs for the contestants in LA is actually made up of many people from Maryland and Virginia. The amount of talent that comes out of this area is crazy. The local music scene is supportive and all of that talent makes you want to be better everyday. In LA, Nashville, and New York, you can talk to musicians and many way say they originated from around the DC area. There must be something in the water.
You grew up and have family around the Middletown area. When you get a chance to come home, are there any local spots you like to visit when you come back to the area?
Every Friday is pizza night in the Pfau household and when I’m home we head to Il Forno’s. I grew up with two younger brothers and two older sisters, and so for our big family it was always so important to share this time together. That’s our spot.
And finally, any exciting or unusual facts about yourself you think people would love to know about you?
Hm… You know, I have always wondered what I would say if someone asked me this question. Oh, I’m an awesome Moon Walker… like Michael Jackson!
All Photo Rights of NBC Universal Media, LLC. Photo Credit: NBC Universal Media (www.nbcumv.com)
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