Local Current Blog

From tragedies to traffic jams, Paul Spring keeps folk music contemporary

Courtesy Paul Spring

Paul Spring, 24, is a contemporary folk musician based in St. Cloud. In true folk style, Spring is a prolific songwriter: since May 2012, he’s released no fewer than three full-length albums. After dropping his eponymous debut last May, Spring followed with two discs this year: State of the Union and a children’s music collection, Home of Song. In true folk tradition, Spring engages with contemporary concerns and social issues—ranging from tragic catastrophes like the Newtown shooting to everyday annoyances like St. Cloud traffic.

In addition to earning attention from local publications such as the Duluth News Tribune, Spring’s music has been featured in USA Today and on NPR MusicHome of Song, featuring musicians including the Okee Dokee Brothers’ Justin Lansing, was recently honored with a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. “This reviewer’s mind was blown,” wrote Lynne Heffley for Parents’ Choice. “Spring’s voice—a little rough, a little plaintive, hugely expressive—melds perfectly with his muscular, tuneful folk-rock-pop harmonies and instrumentation.”

Last month, Spring joined Sims and Mayda for a Caravan du Nord performance in Duluth. “His performance was delightful,” said the Current’s Barb Abney, who hosted the event, adding that in conversation with the audience, Spring “shared a lot of insight about the D.I.Y. aspect of being an independent musician.”

On December 21, Spring will be at the 7th Street Entry along with Filthy Animals and American Revival. In approach for the show, Spring took a break from songwriting to speak with me, sporting a bright red union suit to match his bright red hair. We talked about his approach to songwriting; and about folk and Americana music in Minnesota.

“Folk and hip-hop are the two genres that really focus on the lyrics,” Spring said. “Folk is a very honest genre. What I like is when people take traditional folk and approach contemporary ideas. I try to give myself subjects so that I write about things other than relationships. [In my songs] I can form ideas about politics and religion; using a song as a battleground for ideas.

“I like learning the craft” of songwriting, Spring continued. He told podcaster Charlie McCarron that “my favorite way to start a song is with a joke. Maybe a pun or a ridiculous phrase to catch people’s ears and bring them in. It’s a cheap trick for sure, but it’s fun to search for that phrase and search for that syntax and that rhythm and that melody that’ll do something to someone’s eardrums where they’ll have to turn and look and say, ‘What did he just say?'”

Among Spring’s favorite artists, he said, are those who speak authentically to contemporary concerns—for example, Bob Dylan; Joni Mitchell; and Koerner, Ray and Glover. Spring said he considers himself lucky to play and work in a region with such a rich history and currently thriving folk scene. In praising Minnesota’s folk and roots scene, Spring cites artists like the Okee Dokee Brothers and Trampled by Turtles as well as labels like Red House Records.

At the entry, Spring will be joined by Filthy Animals, who meld folk and pop. Their mixture of heavy basslines and catchy acoustic melodies creates a sound you can’t help but bob your head to. Also on the bill are American Revival, who are currently writing and recording a new album. American Revival have a clean electric sound with a beautifully modernized blend of country and Americana.

Spring emphasizes the importance of using folk music to tackle social issues of today, rather than just continuing to sing about bootleggers and dust bowls. “That’s where my songs about diabetes and traffic come from,” Spring told me. “I’m a real guy, talking about real things, and I want people to identify with that.”

Cody Lynch is a senior at Saint John’s University. He is majoring in communication with focuses in film and creative writing.