Wyane Bledsoe – knoxville.com
KNOXVILLE — Paul Edelman can point to the time that he knew how powerful music can be:
“I’m maybe 4, 5, everyone’s gathered in the living room, just hanging out and at some point everyone takes off to do something and I remember being left on the couch sitting by myself and (Bob Dylan’s) ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ was on the turntable. I had a visceral awareness that this song was much more involved than I could understand and there was stuff out there that was bigger than me and it was scary and creepy and exciting.”
Maybe it’s no surprise that Edelman, both as a solo artist and in his band Pick Your Switch, works hard at creating songs that affect audiences.
In a call from Asheville, N.C., where he is “living out of boxes” and house-sitting while he waits to move into a house with his fiancée, Edelman says the song is what’s most important.
“Everything I do is songwriter driven, I write it all the same way. I’m sitting on the couch with an acoustic guitar and sometimes I know I can perform it solo and people will have a complete picture of it. Other times I think, ‘No, this needs to be ferocious.'”
Edelman grew up in Philadelphia, where he worked in a series of groups. “There’s an amazing core of songwriters and performers there,” he says. While he says he had problems with the music scene as a whole, Edelman says the artists working there are “unbelievable.”
“Folk and bluegrass are actually huge up there. Down here, people grew up around it and I’ve noticed a lot of people who grew up in traditionally bluegrass towns make a point of breaking away from it. In Philly, everybody grew up with punk rock and classic rock and are now getting back to roots music.”
Edelman, in fact, played banjo in a bluegrass band in Philadelphia for four years. “My biggest strength was always in surrounding myself with the right people — good songwriters, people who knew how to get out there and get shows,” says Edelman. “I did well. I was (opening for) Neko Case and Robert Earl Keen and James McMurtry and Big Sandy and lots of super acts. It was cool because they’d call me. They’d say, ‘Hey, Scott Miller is coming to town. Do you want to open?'”
Still, he says, he always came back to roots rock for his musical comfort zone.
In 2005, Edelman started his own band, The Jangling Sparrows. Eventually, though, Edelman decided he’d done all he could do in Philadelphia and chose to move to Asheville, where he both worked solo and with the trio Pick Your Switch.
Edelman says he really feels like he’s just getting started with touring and developing a regional fan base, but he’s learned a lot about how to treat people in the business. “Sound guys have such a reputation for being grumpy, but I tip them whenever possible — $5, $10, sometimes $20 depending on how big the show is … You know what? They remember you.”
He also says perfection is not as important as other things — especially real emotion and making an effort. That’s something he appreciates in the music he listens to and it’s what he strives to make. Part of that quality is what he couldn’t quite his finger one when he heard Bob Dylan sing “It’s Alright Ma.”
“It comes down to ‘Do I believe you?’ That’s not genre specific.’ I actually kind of like Eminem. I believe he cares about what he’s writing about and it means something to him. And that’s kind of rare these days.”