Aposel Paul = Paul Kwon

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Our mutual friend Ray Barbee introduced me to Paul Kwon way back in 2008. It was at the Montalban Theatre in Hollywood where Nike SB was celebrating the release of a new shoe. I’m pretty sure Paul had just moved to Long Beach from Detroit, and he was living the dream–hanging out and skating with pros like Ray and going on to design footwear for brands such as Element, Vans, and Dekline. He was a loyal Giant Robot reader who helped me line up stories with some of his friends who skated, and our friendship has outlasted the magazine’s existence.

Now and then, my friend would tell me about jamming with Ray or playing parties and celebrations with friends. And then, Pow! Paul recorded and released his own CD, Prosperity Gospel. How badass is that? And it isn’t raw demos or unfinished ideas; the songs are totally polished and produced with help from friends and accomplished musicians Tess Shapiro, Brian Andrews, Derek Poulsen, Nate Burkhardt, and, of course, Ray. It’s simply lovely. A gorgeous listen that makes good on the promise to “lift the burdens of a heavy heart.” How could I not ask Paul some questions about it?

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MW: You have been making music with friends since I met you. What inspired you to go for it and record an album?
PK: I had one of the worst years of my life. I got fired from a very cushy corporate job. (I’d never been let go before. However, I deserved it.. It’s a long story.) A friend of mine who was very influential in my youth took his own life. And several people close to me were also going through a lot of rough times. I had always played music and written songs since I was in middle school but for the first time I felt like I had something to say–I guess to encourage others who were going through hard times, as well as a form of therapy for myself. No one is immune to our daily struggles, and it was an interesting subject matter to explore. You can only write so many songs about girls and unrequited love before it starts to get redundant.

MW: The subject matter of love of family and friends rather than typical romantic stuff is rarely addressed in popular music. Was it difficult to go in that direction?
PK: A lot of it stems from my own personal struggle with my faith. I wanted to present a very honest portrayal of what it means to go through the triumphs and failures of life while adhering to some kind of belief system. Spirituality can be a very polarizing subject matter but pain and struggle are universal languages.

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MW: The record’s tone is very polished but quite intimate. What was it like for a private guy like you, who doesn’t enjoy attention, to step into the spotlight?
PK: Of course, it’s difficult to put one’s self out there. But a wise man once said, “If you can’t get hurt, then it’s not worth doing.”  A lot of these songs got me through some dark times and in some weird, naive, idealistic way, I thought they might be of some comfort to others, as well.

MW: You’ve got some really accomplished friends helping out with everything from playing, to recording, to providing artwork. When did all of the pieces come together?
PK: The minute I realized I suck and wouldn’t be able to pull this off without the help of my friends. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are way more talented than I am. It was just a matter of conning them into contributing. Collaboration is paramount in any artistic endeavor; nobody gets anywhere on their own.

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MW: You just worked on a skate video for Dekline. Will we ever be hearing one of your songs in a skate segment?
PK: You will most definitely not be hearing any of these songs in skate videos. I don’t think they fit the vibe for skateboarding–or at least what I’d like to hear in a skate video. That being said, I’m stoked when people from the skate community give me positive feedback or actually listen to my songs. It means a lot more to me coming from them than anyone else.

MW: Most of the CDs you pressed have already been distributed among friends and family. Any plans for another run? Shows?
PK: I’m planning on ordering another batch of CDs. Kinda stoked on the fact that in this day and age people still appreciate hard copies. I also plan on releasing the album on iTunes, as well. I’d love to release it on vinyl but I’m still figuring out how to do that financially. As for shows, I’d like to plan a small release party or something, but it’s been difficult with my schedule and coordinating all my bandmates. I’ll keep you informed if anything happens!

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MW: Are you going to keep making and recording music now that you have made your first CD? Do you have the fever?
PK: The thirst has been quenched for the moment. It was nice to go through the process and learn what it takes to record a big project like this one. That being said, I’d like to do some more stripped down, lo-fi acoustic recordings. No big plans, just make stuff whenever I feel like it. I’m thinking about releasing some of the raw demos I recorded in my living room for the album, as well.

Give Paul’s music a listen at aposelpaul.bandcamp.com. I dig it and maybe you will, too.

Rich Jacobs art show at Proper LBC

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To celebrate the release of new Vans that feature his artwork, my friend and DIY artist Rich Jacobs had an art show at Proper LBC last Monday. I thought the pieces, which were Rich’s largest yet, deserved to be appreciated for more than one evening for a handful of friends. So I took some pictures and asked the Oakland-based painter, doodler, and zinemaker some questions.

Our mutual pal Erik Caruso, who was around for the painting, was describing the process to me and it sounds like it was painful.
Well, normally my process is to paint with the canvas or wood on a wall vertically. In this case, the pieces were so tall (15 feet) that I had to paint them on the ground in a parking lot behind my friend’s warehouse. Imagine bending over constantly for a week while you make seven pieces that are like 15 feet by 12 feet or 4 feet by 15 feet. It was kinda insane, but I am almost recovered now after a few days.Sometimes, you gotta sacrifice comfort for your art. Usually, actually. Anyhow, it was worth it. I think. At the end, we had to hoist one or two of the large pieces on top of huge tumbleweeds that had blown in to the parking lot. I used them almost like a table since I couldn’t bend anymore. Luckily, that worked out.

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I love how the pieces were huge and ambitious yet retained a real DIY vibe with a spontaneous feel and rough edges. You used Home Depot drop cloths as canvasses and we can even see your footprints on them. Am I far off?
You are not far off. They were very large but very loose. I wanted to make to them kinda feel like massive drawings, and I think it worked. My style is quick and kinda gestural, and keeps the spirit of the original line or sketch without too much revision. Whatever comes out is what you see, generally. I like to keep it raw and do very little touch up very rarely.

Did you know exactly what you were going to paint or was it totally freestyle? A mix?
I never really plan out large work, and I had no idea what I was doing. I like to surprise myself and get something new or something that I didn’t expect to happen or be there. Every time it is different.

Were the pieces up just for one day? Will they be seen again?
They were up for a few hours that night for the launch. Maybe they will see the light of day again. I am not sure where–somewhere with very tall walls, that is a given.

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The prints, the zines, the CD of music you made with Tim Kerr–all of those touches were so nice. Please tell me why you did so much when a lot of us would have been happy just to see the art.
I wanted to make the shoe release fun and less of a commercial thing. I wanted to surprise folks with a few takeaways that were homemade to inspire them to make stuff. Rather than just be about me or my shoe designs, I wanted to give some hope or inspiration to make things yourself.

I think those items were unexpected, like the sculptures I made for the event. It was really the first time I had ever made or shown those, and I like to put new energy out there each time, if possible, and give those who follow my work some new information or things to consider. Not to assume there are lots of people caring about that, but I definitely do. I personally like it when an artist mixes it up. It makes him or her more interesting and last longer in terms of scope, etc.

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You told me you visited some local record stores during your stay. Any scores?
I usually go to too many record shops, but this trip was kinda all about the work. I did manage to make it to one or two, though, and didn’t really come up on anything. But I have too many records as it is, and just like looking at the sleeves. That’s more than half of it for me; seeing new art or designs is just as fun as buying new records.I love it when bands go all-out with their graphics and art. The whole package matters. I am a weirdo, and I can’t stand bad computer and two-second layouts. In my opinion, designs always look better when they are made by humans instead of machines. Or at least it helps if the designer is aware of life or humans. Are computers there yet?

Anything else?
I hope these answers answer the mysteries and puzzles of life. Just kidding. Go easy, and remember to take the time to take time.

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Left to right: Skater/musician/photographer Ray Barbee, me, Rich Jacobs, Jordan Cooper of Revelation Records, Tristan Caruso of Proper LBC, photographer/musician Ben Clark, artist/musician Sandy Yang.

Follow Rich at mywebsiteisinyourmind.com and dig the shoes at vans.com.