Recording Paula's Norfolk
By David Keller
Paula Wolfe - the singer, songwriter, producer and label owner relocated to Norfolk to record her second album. She spoke to BBC Norfolk Introducing about Norfolk's music scene and the trials and tribulations of making 'Lemon'.
Paula Wolfe has been on the music scene for around 20 years under many different guises. Born in Dublin, raised in London, educated in Hull and Manchester before moving to Norfolk, she certainly has a lot of life experience to draw upon.
Her second LP 'Lemon' was released in November 2008 to fantastic critical acclaim, with popular music magazine MOJO awarding the acoustic 'songstress' a respectable four-star rating. However, it has not been without its difficulties.
BBC Norfolk Introducing managed to catch up with the up-and-coming star about her career so far, what made her move to Norfolk and about finding the inspiration for that all important second album.
Making a platform
Music has taken over Paula's life. She began performing at a very young age and it has stayed in her blood ever since.
Paula has been performing for 20 years
"I've been performing forever. I've been working as a singer-songwriter for about 20 years, but in my current format I've been going for about six or seven years," said Paula.
Paula made her first leap onto the musical bandwagon during her University years.
"I've been singing since a young child, but it was when I first went to University that I discovered songwriting through friends that I made there. I taught myself to play the guitar and from that point on, that was it," said Paula.
"From early adulthood I was determined to steer a career not just as a performer, but as a writer as well, and music production has been a natural follow on from that," she added.
Unlike most artists, Paula produces her own records in her own recording studios.
"I was looking for a postgraduate degree that allowed me to practice as well as theorise about what I was doing. That's when I invested in my first studio and taught myself how to use everything. The next step was producing my first EP," said Paula.
"From very early on, it was the recording process that excited me," she added.
Time for a change
Norfolk is not necessarily the first place people think of when relocating on the musical map of Great Britain. Paula moved to the outskirts of Norwich from Manchester in the early 00's and she felt it was the right move to develop her career.
Paula reached a time for change
"I reached a point where it was time for a change. I had an opportunity to move down here and it fitted in because I wanted to be nearer to London for the music and closer to my family. I grasped that opportunity and I'm still here," said Paula.
"It's worked out really well because I have the best of both worlds. Norwich has everything you need and London is just around the corner," she added.
Her second album 'Lemon' was intended to be solely recorded in a self-built studio, which was made as an extension to her cottage.
"When I moved here I initially moved to a village called Shotesham, which is just south of Norwich, and the idea was to build an extension on the cottage for a studio. However, it all ended up turning into a bit of a nightmare," said Paula.
The end result wasn't exactly what Paula expected.
"The builders that we got to build it turned out to be cowboys. In fact, there's a song about them on the new album. It put 'Lemon' back a couple of years. I had to record the album in three different venues in Shotesham, Norwich and in the current house where I live," said Paula.
Recording the Norfolk album
'Lemon' is quite an odd name to call an album, but Paula believes that the title just seemed to fit.
"It's part of the lyric that's taken from the song of the same name and that song sums up a lot of the feelings behind the album. I was originally going to call the album 'Cowboys', but Lemon seemed to fit," said Paula.
The title track proved to be the defining moment that captured the sound of the Norfolk recording process.
"That song was the hardest of the whole album to record, because there were so many variations. For the start, the storm you hear is a real storm where I stuck the microphone out of the window in the summer of 2006. You can hear real Norfolk rain and real Norfolk birds from my garden," said Paula.
"I initially threw everything at it, including the kitchen sink. I had drum kits and strings, but in the end I stripped everything off and all that was left was the rain, the birds, my guitars, my voice and some keyboards. It just seemed to work.
"The original vocal I did really quickly and that never changed. The track as a whole took forever and it was the last one I completed, so it seemed justified to call the album Lemon," she added.
Paula has been on a production journey
A musical voyage
Paula's Irish upbringing draws some Folk inspiration to her music, but her music has been on a production journey rather than a geographical voyage.
"In terms of music, Lemon hasn't really been influenced by location, but I think I've been on a production journey that started from my first EP," said Paula.
"When I'm producing and recording, I can hear sounds in my head. I'm self taught - I can't read music or anything! I do it all by ear, so I strive for a sound and that's the sound that has developed over a long period of time. It would probably have happened if I was in Norfolk or Timbuktu.
"The manner in which location does affect the songs is that you can definitely draw a line between the two sorts of songs that I write. One is very much based on observations where something will catch my imagination. In fact, my debut album is called 'Staring' for that very reason - I just stare when I'm making music. It's as though I'm trying to take a photograph of my inspiration.
"This album equally has a lot of songs that are based on people I've met travelling and others contain a strong autobiographical element. In terms of music theory, that would be called the 'confessional song'," said Paula.
Meeting classically trained colleagues on her journeys does have many benefits.
"I've got a wonderful woman whose now playing with me live and is classically trained. She has the ability for me to sing a melody line to her and she can just play it! It's just so liberating, it's wonderful!" said Paula.
The emerging Norwich sound
Although not necessarily agreeing that place has a major influence in her music, Paula believes their is an "emerging Norwich sound".
Paula is friends with The Neutrinos
"It's innovative and what I hear of the acoustic acts from Norwich is that although there are acoustic instruments, there's very modern sounds coming out. From my untrained ears, I hear a combination of the acoustic and the electronic, which is very interesting," said Paula.
"I'm a member of AIM (the Association of Independent Music) and there are two other labels in Norwich that are also AIM members. It is lovely to see bands such as The Neutrinos at training events in London," said Paula.
Starting out in the Norfolk scene
Paula has some strong words of advice for people who are starting out in the Norfolk music scene.
"Learn the business!" emphasises Paula.
"It's so much easier to learn it now, but know what you're doing. Don't believe the myths. Get educated, and ultimately, if you want to do it, you will. You won't be able to stop yourself anyway because it's part of you. It certainly wont make you rich, but you'll just do it anyway!" she added.
After an unsuccessful start to 'Lemon', she will be working hard to make things work out.
Ultimately, is the new album going to based in Norfolk?
"I think so," she laughed.
last updated: 09/03/2009 at 15:57