U.K. keyboardist, composer and recording artist Paul K. turned the New Age Rock music scene on its collective ear with two of his recent compact disc releases Omerta (2017) and The Fermi Paradox (2018), while also reconsidering his 2016 work with the contemporary glam-rock band Glitch Code that was also critically acclaimed. Paul’s 2019 album Reconstructed Memories, released digitally at first, was recorded partly in honor of his Father’s passing. That said, there’s a whole different, completely renewed sonic focus on the 2020 Paul K CD Anandamide. The music of Paul K. has always been haunting within a progressive framework, sometimes bordering on fantasy, sometimes historically significant as in The Fermi Paradox. More personal in scope, yet combining the sonic drive of his best signature music, Anandamide finds Paul K in a reflective mood, and of all the crazy things writing, recording and releasing an album of electronic keyboard-based music during the historic pandemic of 2020, which is ongoing and now in its tenth month. Paul admits that Anandamide was inspired by the life-changing events of the Covid 19 lockdown period, while infusing ideas inspired by spirituality, the human condition, coexistence and the fragility of life. The challenges involved in writing and recording music during a life-changing pandemic notwithstanding, Anandamide is Paul K music, marked by his signature arrangements and production skills, all performed on piano and synth keyboards by Paul K. With so many sonic elements swirling in the mix, Anandamide is a noteworthy spin for progressive rock fans that might tune in a different kind of instrumental music concept album. A spooky soundtrack for the crazy pandemic era will that will be with us at least until the end of 2020 and into 2021 too, Anandamide further pushes the digital envelope with several eye-popping video clips released during the Fall of 2020. Both Omerta and The Fermi Paradox featured large scale instrumental prog-rock arrangements with Paul backed up by a number of musicians and—while Anandamide paints a more intimate, close-up and detailed picture of Paul K. as a true solo artist, it is just as valid and sonically appealing as both Omerta and The Fermi Paradox. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the plague and challenges of 2020 will be extinguished to history and the human race will learn something from this episode. But, providing it all goes the right way, I’m certain that the music of Paul K’s Anandamide will have a much longer shelf life than this pandemic. An audio documentary based on previously inconceivable, yet totally true-life experiences, Paul K’s Anandamide is a chilling sonic journey into the seething underbelly of modern-day electronica.
mwe3.com presents the 2020 interview with Paul K
mwe3: You have said that your 2020 solo album Anandamide was written, recorded and influenced or shaped by the Pandemic of 2020. What was your frame of mind when you were writing and recording the music on Anandamide and did the lock down time increase your focus on your musical concepts, composing and recording?
Paul K: Well, ironically, the album was conceived, written, performed and recorded during the first UK lockdown and has been released during the second lockdown period which runs until the 2nd of December 2020. The lockdown itself was entering the unknown and a period of intense anxiety for many which was palpable across all areas of my life from family, friends, the news media and practically everywhere you could think of. From a personal perspective this got me thinking about life, death, spirituality, nature, psychology, family and what is important and unimportant to me. It was a period of prolific writing from a musical perspective driven by what was going on in the world around me. Throw issues like global warming, black lives matter, the US election and fake news into the mix and the concepts behind the album began to take shape. I did a lot of reading and research on the topics I wanted to cover and, although I had all the time in the world to compose and record the thirteen pieces on this album, it was actually a very quick process once I had sketched out all the subjects and ideas I wanted to include. The main goal was to create something that captured the pensive mood of 2020 and hopefully I’ve achieved that with this album.
mwe3: It’s been said, taken off the concert stage, at least in the conventional way we know it, a lot of musicians are recording alone or by themselves this year. Putting bands on hold, and releasing solo albums seems to be the norm this year. How has 2020 influenced your lifestyle as a recording artist? I kind of miss at least having the option to go out although it’s interesting how the internet has stepped up to the plate so to speak and has more or less saved us all this year. In an ongoing court case, I had to appear via Zoom, man what a nightmare. I had ten lawyers on the screen at one time. Even my cat jumped up and was on my Zoom trial web page. lol
Paul K: The internet has indeed been a lifeline for many during this pandemic. As a source of entertainment, retail, information and a means for people to continue working it has been a lifesaver. From a creative point of view though the pandemic has not really affected my lifestyle as a composer/artist as I usually work alone during the writing process anyway. I am very self-sufficient in that respect and only involve other musicians when the ideas are formed, and I can give them a good direction on what I am trying to achieve. On the last album, Reconstructed Memories, and this one, the only other musician involved is my cellist/vocalist, Rachel Dawson. Unfortunately, we couldn’t record any cello for this album due to Covid restrictions, so I’ve used Spitfire Audio strings and the Arturia Mellotron plug-in to create the pseudo string parts. Sounds like you’ve had some fun on Zoom this year Robert, but I’ve not had to deal with anything like a virtual court case!
mwe3: I didn’t realize the word itself Anandamide derives from a chemical secretion in the brain, so is that a dual edged meaning as in music and cannabis receptors meeting. At first, I thought it something crazy like insect genocide, or a complication of Covid but it’s actually a chemical found in both chocolate and cannabis. What made you hit on Anandamide for the title of your album? Also, it is related to another Sanskrit term.
Paul K: Anandamide… the “bliss” molecule. A messenger molecule that plays a role in many bodily activities, including appetite, memory, pain, depression, and fertility - hence its name, which is derived from the word 'ananda' which means 'extreme delight' or 'bliss' in the Sanskrit language. But why rely on drugs when nature is all around us and can give us so much freedom, energy and joy. Colours and forms all over the place. Thoughts come and go and just as one arrives it disappears and the next one follows. Don’t try to stop it, just watch and consume. I chose “Anandamide” as kind of a counter to everything that is going on in the world and to show that “bliss” can be found anywhere when the circumstances call for it. Music is my drug and so is my “ananda” and creativity has given me focus during one of the most trying times in human history. There are several Sanskrit references on the album, and I like them for both the phonetics and the conveyance of several words and possible meanings contained within each phrase.
mwe3: Is Anandamide a kind of extension of your Reconstructed Memories album in that, from the death of your father to music inspired by a global plague. From depressed to locked down it’s not that far apart! Can I ask you if you know someone that had this Covid virus or that died from it?
Paul K: I know several people who have had the virus with varying degrees of severity, and have luckily all recovered well. I don’t personally know anyone who has died from it but know people who do. I don’t see Anandamide as an extension to Reconstructed Memories but as a piece of work which reflects on a traumatic period of human history and tries to sum it up in a series of pieces about the world and humanity in 2020. It was an unexpected album as, before the pandemic struck, I was planning to tour with The Fermi Paradox and Reconstructed Memories in a new show following on from the concepts we started exploring with the Omertà audio/visual experience. Hopefully in 2021 we can perform all the albums!
mwe3: The title song “Anandamide” is pleasurable sounding with those sequencers bouncing those synth sounds into outer space. What keyboards are you playing on that track and how much did you vary the keyboard sounds track-by-track throughout the new album? Does every track on Anandamide have a different keyboard sound or recording setup / approach?
Paul K: For each album I try and freshen up the sounds by using new synths or plug-ins and on Anandamide I’ve used quite a few new sonic tools. My main keyboard at the moment is a Roland Fantom 7 that is coupled up to a few of the Roland Boutique modules. I’m also using a lot of Native Instrument soft synths and the main piano sound is a Yamaha LA Custom C7 from Spectrasonics Keyscape that I’ve tweaked and layered with Noire from NI. I’m also using a lot of the Output plugs-ins and Cycles and Auras from Slate and Ash.
Most tracks start on piano and build from there. The main sequencer on “Anandamide” the song, is a Roland SE-02 but each track on the album uses mainly a selection of the tools I’ve mentioned. There is also some heavily processed guitar on the album for which I use a Fractal Audio Axe FXII.
mwe3: What about the track “Paralysis” with Rachel Dawson? Is that you saying “yes” to her spoken word vocals? Sounds like a fuzz guitar in the mix too. Is “Paralysis” a kind of positive song for the pandemic? Slightly humorous? Do you have the lyrics?
Paul K: When you dream, one part of your brain is making up the story, and another part is experiencing those events and is genuinely surprised by all the twists in the plot.
This track is about reports of changing sleep patterns during the lockdown as people adjust to the new normal. Reports of deeper sleeps with more lucid dreams aligned with anxiety related to the pandemic made me think about one of the outputs of lucid dreaming which is often referred to as sleep paralysis. The track represents the space between being asleep and being awake when the body is paralysed but the mind is somewhere between dreams and reality. I first explored this concept on the Omertà album on the track “Gui Ya Shen”. On this album I use a real distorted lo-fi vibe with voices and whispers representing the internal thought process of being in a state of sleep paralysis. I am the person in the state of paralysis answering “yes”, “no” or “I don’t know” and Rachel is the person in my dream asking the questions in various tones and inflections. The lyrics are a list of questions:
“Paralysis” featuring Rachel Dawson
What is it?
mwe3: “Dharma” is a great way to start Anandamide. How is “Dharma” related to the lockdown? Dharma a kind of “tapas” or penance?
Paul K: In Buddhism, dharma means "cosmic law and order", as applied to the teachings of Buddha and can be applied to mental constructs or what is cognised by the mind. In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for "phenomena" (featured on another album track). It can also mean the “universal truth” and on this track it represents what we are living through today as a universal truth we all must face. If we continue to abuse nature and the planet we will eventually disappear, and nature will restore the natural order of the universe. As well as being about the pandemic the album also looks at events such as the huge fires in Australia and the US and the effects of global warming.
mwe3: Some of the piano-based tracks are very austere sounding. What does track 13 “Coexist” signify and what are those sonic punctuations in the first half of the song?
Paul K: With the exception of one track, I’ve tried to keep the piano on this album as “simple” as possible. It’s actually not that simple in its construct but from a melodic perspective it’s quite straightforward. If we are to survive as a race, we need to learn how to coexist with each other as humans and how to coexist with nature and the planet. Black and white, rich and poor, nature and commercialisation, man and beast, religion and spirituality, language and tradition, the pause in the world could be used to reassess everything but will power and greed just see this as a momentary blip and normal service will be resumed when a vaccine is found.
This track and the accompanying video show we are all on a journey through life and compares and contrasts that journey. We are all here for a purpose, but we all need to learn tolerance and compassion and to coexist for the benefit of the whole of the Earth. The sonic punctuations are a reversing effect on top of the sequencer which fills in a gap in the sequence with a reversed motif. For no other reason than it sounded cool!
mwe3: How about track 6 “Kama”? I think it could be a New Age music hit of sorts. Maybe you would consider a remix single with different effects or eq’s. “Kama” as in Kamala our new leader? Did you approach this track somewhat differently? There seems to be an air of hopefulness around this track, considering some of the other tracks are more pensive.
Paul K: Nothing to do with Kamala Harris although that would have been a good prediction from when this track was written in May this year.
Kama means "desire, wish or longing". In contemporary literature, kama refers usually to sexual desire. However, the term also refers to any sensory enjoyment, emotional attraction and aesthetic pleasure such as from the arts, dance, music, painting, sculpture and nature.
Lockdown has given rise to an appreciation of the arts that already existed, and people are drawn to safe and familiar music, films, books etc. as they provide comfort and memories associated with more normal times.
Although the arts are suffering from the Covid restrictions the appreciation of arts has increased and kama represents a desire to get back to a more “normal” way of life.
I don’t intend to revisit any of the tracks as remixes however when we eventually get to play them live, I’m sure they will evolve in the same way the tracks on Omertà did when performed by a ten-piece band.
Paul K: Yes indeed. Pranayama means “Suspending the Breath” in Sanskrit. Breathe with the music and let it transport you and calm your thoughts. When the breath stops, peace descends. So many people needing help to breathe.
There are many layers of sound on this track with a mass choir eventually dominating the whole soundscape. The choir was built up using the excellent Mysteria and Pharlight plug-ins from NI and spread across the whole audio spectrum.
There is also an interesting sample of an old lady which I saw in a news clip on the BBC from a mask wearing debate in Palm Beach (Go to 1:08). Before holding a vote to mandate the wearing of masks in public places to stop the spread of coronavirus, Palm Beach County commissioners were harangued by residents who accused them of obeying the devil, imposing a communist dictatorship and dishonouring the American flag.
'They want to throw God's wonderful breathing system out the door' was the comment from an elderly lady that I built into the end of the track. So bizarre and mis-judged when so many people are dying that I felt it was worth highlighting in a track about the breath.
mwe3: “Ephemera” is jarring and hypnotic. How did you choose the title for that track? Is it related to time or some momentary transition during the lockdown period? So, do you think one day, the pandemic of 2020 will just be looked at as a blip in the big picture of time? Some tragic event like 9/11?
Paul K: Exactly that. Ephemeral events are short lived things. Even in the depth of the pandemic the world will still move on and this will be recorded in history as just a brief moment in time. The Spanish Flu is just history, as is the plague etc and the same will be true of Covid 19. The difference today is we live in a connected world and can see and hear about events in other parts of the world instantaneously. But today’s news is tomorrows history. Trends and fashion, music and art, life and death, things are constantly moving, and our time here is a blink of an eye in the lifetime of the universe.
mwe3: Why do you call “Ghostwriter” the focus track on Anandamide? You were inspired to write music about escaping the bombardment of misinformation everywhere. Did you escape into a better place while writing and recording this track?
Paul K: So many stories written by people who weren’t there. So many opinions and armchair experts. So much disinformation. Manipulation of the mind by the media. Hidden agendas etc. When lies become “alternative facts” fuelled by the likes of Trump.
Music and writing are a better place and that’s where I escaped to during the lockdown to write the album and just enjoy the process of creating.
“Ghostwriter” was the first track I wrote for this album and it inspired me to write the rest, so it was my go-to focus for the creative template for this album.
mwe3: First I thought “Phänomen” was a Swedish word but is it related to the word phenomenon? Is it also related to design and how does the Aurora Borealis fit into it?
Paul K: “Phänomen” is German for phenomenon but I preferred the phonetics of the German word. It’s about the phenomenon of nature, the Aurora you mention and the phenomenon of human achievement through science, art, music, dance etc.
I was also interested in the spiritual meaning of the word and use of supernatural phenomena. The world is like an illusion.
All things in Samsara are contaminated with illusion. It is also the concept of rebirth and cyclicality of all life, matter, existence. Samsara is a Sanskrit word that means " wandering" or "world".
“Phänomens” depend on mind labelling. When we become more familiar with these ‘illusions’ the world becomes more flexible for us.
For example, “A” is not an A but just 3 lines. It becomes an A when we label it accordingly.
mwe3: “The God Plan” is the first single from Anandamide. Do you think it’s God’s will to lock us down to sort out what we’re doing in 2020, not only to ourselves but to everything man touches? Seems like of all the things you said - fires, floods, plagues, shooting, rioting… you left out the utter confusion of 2020. Seems like that’s the thing that has freaked me out the most, the sheer confusion of it all. I guess when you get older fighting back isn’t really an option.
Paul K: You are right again Robert. Is everything predestined? Is it part of a grand plan? 2020 has given us fire, flood, swarms of locusts, the pandemic, war, rioting, death and destruction. Is this man destroying nature and nature fighting back? When man is locked down nature returns. The land recovers, wildlife thrives and the oceans turn blue again. Is man a parasite on the earth? Should we even be here? Are we an anomaly in the universe and eventually through either war, disease or the abuse of the earth’s resources will we become ephemeral?
The gentle piano melody gives way to moments of distortion to represent man distorting the harmony of nature and the universe.
I’m referring to nature as the “God” in this track and like you mention we must stop treating it with disrespect or one day soon we won’t be able to fight back because we will be too old or too ill to!
mwe3: Does “Coexist” close the album with an air of hopefulness? Do you mean to coexist with these lethal viruses or coexist with the sick and infirmed? In the track, it sounds like you’re sending an SOS out with those punctuated keyboard sounds, kind of like the way you closed out the Fermi Paradox with “Arecibo” which transmitted, as you said, the first messages into outer space. By the way, I heard the Arecibo telescope in the observatory in Puerto Rico was being closed down due to damages from the 2019.
Paul K: Yes, I read about the Arecibo array needing a lot of work to bring it up to modern safety standards and I hope they do as it has a great place in modern history and, who knows, if we eventually get a response to the message, it will have even greater significance!
It is not so much an air of hopefulness but a plea that if mankind is to survive, we need to learn to coexist with each other and nature and treat each other and the planet with respect. We will always have to coexist with disease so let’s spend more money on health than war. The random bells represent peace and harmony and are again lifted from Buddhism.
mwe3: Can you give an update your next album? I suppose you’re itching to get your band, with all those great musicians, back together and start planning concerts with a wider scope than those tracks on Anandamide. Where do you think Earth and us Earthlings will be this time in 2021? I’m still somewhat skeptical about humans making it through this crazy time in history.
Paul K: I’m sure we will make it through this period in our history, but we do have to change, or we will go the way of all the previous civilizations and perish through war, disease or man-made disasters such as global warming. There isn’t much we can do to stop natural disasters occurring, but we can do a lot to influence not just 2021, but the next one hundred years with how we come together after this pandemic.
For me I’ve been using the time to create a new piece of work called The Space Between which will be my album release for 2021 and, hopefully, we can perform live again either with the full band or maybe a reduced core of musicians that I can keep safe and socially distanced!