Artist Interview – Benjamin Doerr of St. Paul de Vence – Seattle folk music

It was a pretty surreal experience for me getting a chance to talk to the lead singer and mastermind of one of the Pacific Northwest’s most talented bands, St. Paul de Vence. I was blown away by Benjamin Doerr’s writing on the SPDV self titled release. As soon as I heard about their new album Farther Than Light I had to get in touch. Not only did I get a chance to review the new album, Benjamin answered a few of my questions about his work.

The first thing I needed to know was about the makeup of the band now. They’ve manifested themselves as everything from a traveling acoustic duo to a full six-piece band. Right now they are somewhere in between, usually between three and four. The addition of Lydia Ramsey has been significant in the sound of the band, allowing for a new folk sound that leaves the (pretty freaking phenomenal) debut album behind. The new sound, especially on the title track “Farther Than Light,” satisfies in incredible ways. Doerr commented that Lydia’s gifts both with instrumentation and vocals has been transformative. In fact, he wrote “Farther Than Light” with their duet in mind. It shows.

I asked every artist’s least favorite question about genre. For whatever reason blogger types love categorizing music. Benjamin was quick to point out that the new sound is about “movement” and “doesn’t mind” me calling it Americana. His emphasis was much more about the sound rather than the category. They have an idea to convey – or often several ideas – and they use a variety of sounds to deliver that message. The standbys of guitar-heavy tracks and tight harmonies are necessary, but the instruments and structure around that is subject to change.

Benjamin does the majority of the writing for the group. Their first album was almost mind-blowingly personal as it described the personal experiences of his grandfather in World War II. Picking up where that album left off, Farther Than Light has several captivating songs as well. Doerr’s songwriting process is varied. Some songs felt easier to write than others. I asked specifically about the title track “Farther than light,” which Doerr wrote about his grandmother and her brother who was a soldier. The song encapsulates a beautiful intimacy that didn’t quite feel romantic, but was visceral. Once he told me the story of his grandmother longing to see her brother again, it completely clicked. Fabulous songwriting defines the art.

I couldn’t help but inquire about the Great Northwest. Doerr laughed at my inquiry because he thought it was only Seattle folks who thought so highly of themselves. I compared the art coming out of Seattle right now to being something like Greenwich Village in the 1960s and Doerr laughed again. He described a tangible shift in himself when he moved to Seattle. Not specifically genre oriented, he found it inspiring to be around so many bands that he enjoyed. Sharing venues with the Gundersens, Brian John Appleby, the Head and the Heart, and Ivan and Alyosha (to name a few) really helped to fuel his creative fire. Having a background in bluegrass and old time music, the move to Seattle ushered in a new love for the newer folk music and that inspiration continues to produce music of his own.

Doerr is not content to rest on his laurels. In fact, he’s taking his show on the road. Right now St. Paul de Vence are in the process of completing a west coast house show tour. What’s that, you’re not on the west coast? Well fear not. Doerr and company are putting together an east coast swing of house shows for the fall, so contact him for information on booking the band. Get yourself (and 29 friends) into a cozy space and listen to this phenomenal artist. His love for music is evident and his passion for life is contagious. Give St. Paul de Vence a spin and check them out live as soon as you can.


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