Benjamin Doerr and St. Paul de Vence are Seattle’s musical renaissance. Their uniquely organic folksy sound is an ear worm that will make you want to listen over and over again. Not to mention the episodic stories told through the music. It is always extra special when that something is from your hometown too.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Benjamin Doerr a bit and we finally got a chance to chat about his music and his upcoming tour. So enough of my rambling and let’s get to the interview!
Aaron Mannari: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Some of our fans know a little bit about St. Paul de Vence, but could you give us a little history of its origins and meaning?
Benjamin Doerr: Definitely. So, the name comes from a small, medieval village in the south of France. My grandfather grew up in Nice, France and came of age under the Nazi Occupation of WWII. He had quite the adventure during the war, trying to dodge Italian and Nazi youth camps and towards the end of the war joined the Free French Forces, when they liberated Nice. He was first stationed at St. Paul de Vence.
In 2009, I’d started writing all these songs inspired by his story, and then we went to France together. He had lived in the US since the end of the war. He’d been back a bunch, but this was his first time back in about 17 years. I made the first EP for the project and shared it with him. He liked it and as we toured around the south of France he was adamant that we go to St. Paul de Vence. When we got there he showed me around an old house at the gate to the walled city…it’s now a gift shop…but he showed me where he slept. It was really moving to see his experience of the war this close and personal. Then we climbed the stairs and hills to the top of St. Paul and looked out over the the valley. It was so gorgeous and I just remember thinking. This village…this will be the name of the project.
AM: That is such a heartwarming and amazing story. So earlier this year, we caught you and your band in Ballard, WA. It was the first time with an actual horn section. What prompted the addition of the horns?
BD: You know, it’s something I’ve been dreaming of since the Farther Than Light record came out. It just takes me a while to get organized. Also, we don’t have keys in the band at the moment and I was wanting to explore how to pad some of the sections that I felt needed something. But, I wanted to do it in a different way.
I’m really into exploring different and subtle sonic landscapes. So for me, it’s like, “Okay, there’s this place where piano or organ used to do this thing, what if we did something there with horns…or electric guitar?” Whatever it may be. I just want to have fun exploring. Horns are super fun. They have such a varied range of intensity and tone. You can get super brassy, like on “Spring” or you can pad softly and with great tenderness, like on “Farther Than Light”…the way we just did it at Conor Byrne. And with amazing players like Michael Porter and Haley Freelund, it’s really unlimited. It’s super fun.
AM: It is always a journey going to a St. Paul concert. Always fluid and changing which is the beauty of live music. Now you are embarking on your first Midwestern tour. Tell us a little bit about it and how it came about.
BD: Yeah! It’s really a Mississippi Delta Tour. St. Louis to New Orleans! I was born in New Orleans and grew up in St. Louis. I’ve been wanting to do a Mississippi River Delta tour for a long time. It’s just appealing to me. To travel from this place I grew up, to the place I was born and explore the sweet southern places in between. It just seemed like a cool idea.
So, I started building this thing through connections that I had and ended up leaning on some connections that Lydia [Ramsey] had. We were able to put together a really great tour that I’m proud of and can’t wait to get to! There’s a lot of emotion surrounding a hometown that you’ve left, definitively. And also, my birth place – this amazing city that I’ve always deeply identified with, but hadn’t been back to in 20 years. My wife and I went just this last November and I was totally convinced that I had to get the band there. The musical energy there is unreal. Havana, Cuba is the only place that’s ever been similar in all my travels. The place is just oozing music all the time. It can’t even help it. And in between there is Nashville and Memphis, which are to hugely historic and current music towns. So, it’s going to be quite the trip for us.
AM: That is going to be awesome! When going to cities you have never performed in, what type of things do you during your free time?
BD: Haha! This can be really hit or miss. It’s nice to know people where your going. That way there is some reason for being there. I think with our band, I really love being with these mates. They are superb humans. You could plop me in Borningsville, Anywhere and I’d be so happy just to be with them, playing music and just hanging out.
But, for this tour, I don’t think we’ll have any trouble finding fun. I mean, there are some stellar stops on this run. Many of these towns will have heaps of other music to check out, and there are also a lot of old friends to catch up with. But, like with any of my travels, one of my favorite things to do is get up before anyone else and go exploring a bit. I’m going to attempt to do that through a bit of morning running on this tour. We’ll see how that goes. Haha.
AM: Good luck! It’s been a little over 2 years since the release of your sophomore album, Further Than Light, can we expect any new music soon?
BD: Making records independently is hard. It’s expensive and time-consuming. I’m not sure when the next full-length will drop, but there are some smaller projects in the works. I’ve written some in the last two years, but there is a lot of work to do, yet. A lot of started songs that need attention. This last year had some pretty large challenges personally, and family-wise, that needed attention – and I was more than willing to take that time for that. But, it did mean setting some musical goals aside for a the better part of the year. So, I do apologize to our friends and fans who are patiently awaiting new stuff! There’s new stuff in the live show, but I do hope to get some recordings out in the very new future. We’re planning on recording in Nashville for a day on this tour. So that will be good. There are also some great collaborations in discussion. So, in short, yes. There will be new music!
AM: Excellent! And yes, family first! Beyond this Mississippi Delta Tour, what else can we expect from St. Paul de Vence in 2017?
BD: After this relatively slow last year, I’m kind of just getting my head back in the game. This tour is a big deal for me, and for us. It’s emotional for me – coming off this kind of break, to be back at it, full force, and have this really great thing ahead of us here. So, it’s kind of one step at a time. There are some great shows at home in the works, as well. We will be making new music, as mentioned. But, it’s hard to say definitively what 2017 will bring. It’s always a bit of a mystery. And I embrace that. We’ve been really blessed to be able to make music and have people want to listen to it. It’s a dream, really. It IS what I dreamed of as a kid. And it’s real. So, I’m just so grateful.
I will say that it feels good. I can say that this time last year felt challenging. It feels good now and that’s an important thing. Those feelings matter. The good energy begets good energy. We put one foot in front of the other and carry on, making the music we love and hoping that we wake up tomorrow to someone who cares to listen. And we’ve felt so much continuous love from the people around us that we just feel inspired to keep at it.
I’ll say this, too. We need art more than ever right now. This is the time to stand up, to create and to share. These can seem like pretty dark times, but the love and the creativity can carry us through. And will!
Thanks, Aaron. Y’all have been such a sweet support to us. We are eternally grateful.
AM: Thank you, Ben! We appreciate the support as well!
Supporting local artist, and art in general, is important. You can purchase Further Than Light and the debut self-titled LP by St. Paul de Vence on iTunes now.