HomeA Cappella Origins: An Interview With Paul and Storm

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Evan Feist: I know that many people are quite familiar with your work with Da Vinci’s Notebook, can you quickly tell us about Paul and Storm (Paul Sabourin and Greg "Storm" DiCostanzo)?

Storm: We’ve basically been writing the same type of humorous songs that we did with DVN, but use whatever instruments (or a cappella style in some cases) we feel will be best for the particular song. In live performance, we use guitar and keyboards, as well as the occasional penny whistle and bit of hand percussion.

EF: How is being in a musical duo (with instruments) different from a cappella singing in terms of rehearsals, showmanship, portability, etc?  What are your pros and cons of each?
Paul: Beyond the obvious differences (2 voices vs. 4, the use of instruments, etc.), there are some things we hadn't expected when starting work as a duo.
For example, when there's 2 fewer people on stage, you feel a bit more "naked;" that is, there's fewer people to fall back on to pick up the slack if you're having an off night. Both acts rely/relied heavily on spontaneity and audience interaction, and in a larger group, there's more people to carry the weight, so to speak. But in a duo, if one person just isn't "on" on a given night, there's that much more pressure on the other to "make it work." That was something we hadn't anticipated.
Also, staging changed; while DVN was never about "choreography" per se, we did use wireless mics and worked the stage quite a bit. Suddenly, as a duo, Storm was essentially locked behind a microphone stand (and me behind a keyboard for the songs where I play it), which was a little unnerving at the start, when we were so used to being able to prowl around wherever and whenever we wanted. It felt like the show became much more uninteresting--which it may have been to a degree, but it probably felt worse than it actually was--until we gradually got used to the situation and learned new ways of feeding off the audience and "making things interesting" for ourselves. (Lots more verbal interplay, etc.)

EF: Why/when did you go from the Band That Will Not Be Named to Paul and Storm?

S: No need to be shy about about naming DVN—we’re very proud of what the four of us did with Da Vinci’s. But it just got to the point where the band had “topped out” in 2003-2004, and the pressures and dynamics of four guys constantly traveling here and there in a van got to the point where it seemed like it was time to let it go.

We hadn’t planned on starting a band right away, and were not prepared to do so, but decided we’d give it a shot rather than picking up conventional jobs. This required us to actually learn to play instruments, and write an entire set’s worth all-new material, but you can achieve a lot of remarkable things out of desperation.

Intellectual property and copyright is a very contentious issue these days, what is a “creative commons license”?  How and why is it applicable to you?  Who it is advantageous for and how?
P: The link that can explain it all is http://creativecommons.org/about/. But the short version is that CC is a sort of "looser copyright." You can choose to allow people to legally redistribute your work and/or make derivative works using yours without penalty. There are various options, but we use the license that only requires people to give proper attribution, and they cannot make profit from their sharing or derivative work. In other words, once you've bought a song of ours, you can copy it and give it to as many people as you like.
As independent artists, we see much greater value in the expanded word-of-mouth/publicity gained from people sharing our music with other people that the potential "lost revenue" from what might have otherwise been a sale. (Emphasis on "might") Because probably at least

3 of the people who get the song for free will be interested enough to visit the site and buy other music, and/or come to a live show and buy merch there. So we see it as a win-win, not to mention that the plain reality is that people are going to share music whether you want them to or not; you might as well embrace the changing economic model that drive yourself nuts trying (unsuccessfully) to fight it.
EF: I noticed that Jonathan Coulton seems to have a hand in most of your affairs, and yours in his.  How did such synchronized collaboration come about?
S: Basically we stalked him early on when he was just starting “Thing A Week”, having discovered him through his musical accompaniment of John Hodgman’s “700 Hobos” recitation. We were always looking for compatible acts to gig with, and we thought his music would have a lot of crossover appeal with our own.
Jonathan also has an a cappella background (Yale Wiffenpoofs, no less), so it was quite natural for us to work up harmonies with him to fill out the sound during his live set. And the more shows we did together, the more songs we’d build out, arrangement-wise.
EF: What is the likelihood that Paul and Storm might be seen on a bill with They Might Be Giants?
S: We’d be thrilled to be on a bill with TMBG some day, as they’re musical heroes of ours, and would jump at the chance. Hopefully our latest project (a series of TMBG-style holiday songs we’re calling “It Might Be Christmas”) won’t put us in their bad graces (that is, if we weren’t already there).
EF: Please tell me a smidgen about your podcast “Paul and Storm Talk About Some Stuff for Five to Ten Minutes (On Average)”. How did you get into this?  Is it purely comedic commentary or is there an occasional song?
S: It just seemed like it would be fun to do a podcast, and to do it in a more “compact” way than what most folks were doing at the time.   It’s pretty much what the title might indicate, though the typical podcast is more like 30-35 minutes. Mostly we talk about whatever seems amusing to us at the moment, and sometimes we put a song at the end of the podcast.
EF: What are the 25 days of Newman? 

S: The 25 Days of Newman was last year’s December project, in which we did a different Randy Newman-styled movie theme song every day from Dec 1 until Christmas (Randy Newman is another of our music/songwriting heroes.) Except for the last song, every song used the same piano template, so it became a sort of exercise in musical haiku as we tried to find different ways of getting a laugh using the same melody and changes—and Randy Newman vocal style.

EF: How likely is it that there is a special effects technician in Hollywood impersonating you? http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0754892/

P: Yeah, I keep meaning to get in touch with that guy. More likely, he thinks I'm impersonating him. We'll have to have a Thunderdome battle or something.
EF: I really enjoy the “Galleries of Crap” from your website. Are these pages you find and enjoy or are they sent in by fans?
S: A little of both. We have a lot of ideas that aren’t musical per se, so we’d just plop them all down on a page for when people are feeling especially bored.
EF: What was it like to meet Strong Bad?
P: Quite surreal. We actually met those guys through stalking, much like with Coulton; we discovered www.homestarrunner.com via a site called www.memepool.com (a sort of links-collection predecessor to fark.com) when it was about a year old, and loved it immediately. Through a bit of internet research, we found they were based in the Atlanta area, where DV used to tour regularly. A little more internet research got us their phone number, and we just cold-called them. Luckily, it was early enough in their career that they were more flattered than creeped out by this, and we met up the next time we were in town, forming a friendship that lasts until today.
Of course, they've graduated beyond us to more famous people (i.e., They Might Be Giants, whom they have collaborated with numerous times over the years). But we're not bitter.
EF: So what can we expect from your current/upcoming tour?
S: As long as people keep showing up, we’ll continue to come up with new crap.


About the author:
Evan Feist has been composing, arranging, teaching, and singing a cappella music and vocal percussion for over eight years and has his Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Composition and Arts Management from SUNY Purchase's Conservatory of Music and is working towards his Master' Degree in Music Education at Columbia University, Teacher's College.  He has created and managed many successful groups, such as the A Cappella Innovations’ honored Choral Pleasure, SUNY Purchase Soul Voices, and the Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK Honors Choir.  Evan is the founder and president of Oven Feast Productions, and the business manager of Stacks of Wax Records, currently based out of Jersville Studios. He dabbles in all things musical and plays the piano, drums, percussion, trumpet, shofar, bass, and guitar.  Evan is currently building a collegiate mixed a cappella group in NYC (open to ALL students in the area)