On August 6th, Paul Thorn will release Never Too Late To Call, the follow-up to 2018’s Don’t Let The Devil Ride and the Tupelo, Mississippian’s first collection of wholly original material in seven years. In some ways, the album recalls classic sounds, reverberations of the records that influenced a young Thorn amid the gospel and street philosophy preached by his father and uncle respectively. The title track warbles sweetly with Santo & Johnny-esque flourishes that fit neatly beside the ’60s Laurel Canyon echoes of “Here We Go” and the airy, almost psychedelic pitch of “Sapphire Dream”. Laced throughout the album is the signature blend of humor, wisdom, and soul that have hallmarked Paul’s journey from boxer to songwriter and a career that’s joyfully spanned 25 years with no signs of throwing in the towel.
AI- You started teasin’ Never Too Late To Call, I’d say early 2020, somewhere at the beginning of the spring before the bottom fell out of everything. Is this the album that you had planned to release or has it undergone any post-2020 reflections?
No, I cut this record at the end of 2019, and we were gonna release it in ’20, but the pandemic hit! There was no productive way to put out a record because the whole world had come to a stop. We just held on to it ’cause we felt good about it and we wanted it to have its best shot at being heard, and so we’re putting it out, I believe, August 6th. We’ve just been sittin’ on this one ’cause we feel good about it!
You were back at a Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis with Matt Ross-Spang. I read where you’d said you wanted the album to sound like it was from another time and I’ll tell you if it had come out on its original timeline, I think you would have certainly succeeded with that. But after the last 16 months, from song selection on down, I’d say it sounds like it’s right on time!
Well, I appreciate you sayin’ that, man! I can write a song every day, but I can’t write a good one every day, you know? You have to live a little bit and catch a little snippet of something that somebody says or somethin’ that you learn and something that’s got some meanin’ to it. And then you can make a song out of it! I feel like we accomplished that on this one. There’s so many personal things about it. I’m thinkin’ that other people that hear it, they will be goin’ through the same things and they’ll get the same encouragement that I was given.
That’s what makes it stand out. After the last 16 months that everyone has endured, hearing those personal stories that come across so lived in and so immediate, songs like “Two Tears Of Joy”— that appreciation of the small things– and then “Here We Go”— that triumph, that feeling of having someone in your corner to meet all challenges– those are things I can attest to. Having gone through the year 2020 and enduring what we’re enduring now and being able to look around and appreciate just the very small victories every day.
Amen to that! You might need to get you a new job and be a preacher!
(Laughs) Well, I don’t know that I ever felt the call! But let me segue from that statement, saying that with your last record, Don’t Let The Devil Ride, it was a lot different than what you might call a regular Paul Thorn effort because you were diggin’ into those old classic songs. And then you had the Mission Temple Fireworks Revival that went along with that. The song “Sapalo” that’s on the album– was that about gettin’ back into the original Paul Thorn band formula? Gettin’ back into the clubs and the theaters and doing the rock n’ roll thing?
No, it was about a video I saw on YouTube of James Brown. He had just gotten out of jail for assaultin’ his wife and he was gettin’ ready to go to Sao Paulo, Brazil to do a tour. The news anchor that was talkin’ to him, she said, “So how are things now that you’re out Mr. Brown?” And he goes, “I feel good! I look good! It’s all good!” He started just sayin’ all this right off the top of his head stuff while he was high on PCP! But that whole song came from that little clip of James Brown on drugs tryin’ to do an interview. I call it “Sapalo” ’cause that’s where he was goin’– and whether he did good or not after that, he was proclaimin’ that he had a fresh start. That’s what really appealed to me about that whole idea for a song. Sapalo to me represents a fresh start. In the song, they’re gettin’ out of jail. They’re free, but they’re broke! That describes a lot of people just livin’ life! It’s about redemption and gettin’ your mojo back and gettin’ your life back!
Tell me about that part. You have been back out or you’re gettin’ ready to go back out? How’s that mojo feelin’?
Yeah, I been goin’ out. It’s not been as frequent, but yeah, it’s fixin’ to really pick up. I’ve got a three-week run comin’ up where it’s shows every night except for like three nights. It’s pickin’ up– but it ain’t what it was! And I don’t know that it will be for a long time ’cause a lot of the venues across the country went out of business! And they’re not coming back! That’s a problem for them! It creates problems. But it will come back. Something will come back and that’s all we can do is work towards that.
The song “What I Could Do”. Goin’ back to what we were talkin’ about earlier, having a sound from another era, that one actually does sound like something that could have been released on a Hi Records or Stax or even Motown. To be honest, I could hear the Jackson 5 covering that song. It’s got that powerful, sad soul to it.
It’s written kinda like an old traditional country song, but I like that description. It is kinda soul in a way. I never thought about it like that, but I guess it could be. It’s just a song that’s tellin’ the listener you can’t find somethin’ new until you let go of something old.
In many ways, Never Too Late To Call is a family affair. The song “Breaking Up For Good Again”, the duet you perform with your wife Heather… I’ve always assumed that the Thorn household was a singing household, but is this the first time that she’s appeared on an album with you in this capacity?
Yeah, it’s the first time she’s ever sang in the studio in her entire life!
Yeah! When I was writin’ the song in the house, she heard me writin’ it, and she started singing along with me– and it really sounded good! So I just had a knee-jerk thought, “Why don’t you just sing the song with me on the record?” And she did! The song was about lovin’ someone, but you have struggles and you get into arguments sometimes and you need a break from each other– but that don’t mean you don’t love ’em. You just need a break. That’s what the song’s about. What made it magic for me is the people that are singin’ the song have lived it, you know? I think anybody that’s been married or in a long relationship with anybody will relate to that song. In fact, September the 21st, me and my wife are singin’ that song on the Grand Ole Opry!
Oh, man! Congratulations on that. That’s gonna be awesome!
Yeah, I’m lookin’ forward to it!
She gets her first studio performance and then she gets to go do the Opry!
That’s a perty big jump, idn’t it (laughs)!
Another what I would have to guess milestone moment for the album is “Sapphire Dream”, a song you perform and as I understand wrote with your daughter. What was that like writin’ with your daughter Kitty?
It was good. This song is really old. I think she might’ve been 14 when we wrote this song. I’m guessing, but I think she might’ve been 14. She liked the Beatles. She was really into the Beatles. She discovered them and one day she said, “Hey, let’s write a song that sounds like the Beatles.” And I said, “Well, that’s askin’ a lot!” (Laughs) We just did it for fun, but I think it turned out really good. We recorded it, and she came down to the studio and sang on the choruses with me. It was a great experience and it’s something that will always exist. And that’s a good thing!
The title track, you wrote for your sister Deborah. You said that song is about having somebody. In this instance, you being able to call your sister no matter the time of night. After her passing and in the course of your life, have you found yourself stepping into the roles of those you have lost in regards for other people?
Well, I can only hope I get that opportunity. I’m not really one to go around sayin’ what I’m doin’ for somebody else. But if I can give somebody some comfort, yeah sure, I want to be that for somebody when I can and every chance I get.
The last time you and I spoke, you were on your way back from the beach and you were lookin’ forward to getting home and havin’ a glass of wine on the front porch with your wife and listenin’ to your Chipmunks a Go-Go vinyl. I confess that I bought way too much vinyl myself during the quarantine. What about you? What oldies but goodies did you rediscover for your collection?
I had two things! One of them was, I found a good clean copy of the very first KISS Alive! love that album! When I was a kid, I just loved that album! And strangely enough, today is my birthday…
Happy Birthday, Paul!
Thank you! But for my birthday, my wife got me a 1977 KISS comic book! The one that had their blood in the ink! Do you remember that?
Oh, that thing is legendary! It’s mythical!
Yeah, well, I’ve got one! It’s in perfect condition! She got it for me for my birthday! I remember when I was a kid, you know, being a minister’s son, KISS was considered demonic. They said it stood for Knights In Satan’s Service, and we weren’t allowed to have KISS records. And we weren’t allowed to have the KISS comic book! But now that I can do what I want to do, by God, I got the KISS Alive! album and I got the other thing too! I’m not gonna let nobody steal my joy anymore!