As he told Boise Weekly, Paul reached a point where he asked himself, "Why art? Why, you know? Why do that when you've got a bill to pay or a chore to do or there are other people whose voices need to be heard more? [I was in] just kind of a lot of doubt and getting caught up in working and debt. When I had spare hundreds of dollars, I didn't think that putting it towards making art might've been the best use at that time."
Paul's issues weren't just financial.
"I had some medical issues—physical health, emotional health," he said. "Also, two other albums came up and happened and got finished and done in that time. And a lot of that was circumstantial, but clearly, I wasn't done. I wasn't retired."
Finally released on Jan. 5, No Air Anywhere bears no trace of the struggle to make it. With its crooned vocals, smooth grooves and skillful blend of jazz, soul and rock, the album sounds as assured and lyrical as anything Paul has done. It's sure to be one of the best local releases of 2019.
The seeds of No Air Anywhere were first planted when Paul recorded the song "Martha Street" with Steve Fulton for the BOISE 150 compilation In Our Town (Longbridge Entertainment, LLC; 2013).
"They needed a song for that and Steve was on board, so we did that," Paul said. "And then we got chosen for a Radio Boise compilation. ... So, we had those two songs started. Then we did a batch of three more, and then we did a batch of four more."
The songs on the album emerged from an intense period in Paul's life. He recalled playing more than 200 nights a year around that time. His personal life underwent major changes, as well.
"Some of these songs were written in the immediate aftermath of the death of my stepfather," he said, "which was a big thing for me, but it's six years ago now. ... It's just crazy how much things change in life. But I genuinely love all these songs regardless of when and where they came from."
Paul had recorded the basic tracks for the album with bassist Bob Nagel, drummer Louis McFarland and multi-instrumentalist Eric Dewitt by spring 2013.
"The drums and bass and basic guitars were all done then," Paul said. "And then I would get these manic flourishes of productivity. I was working with my friend Jeffrey Barker, who's a member of the [Boise] Philharmonic. We'd write a bunch of parts for cellos, and we'd go in and record them."
Looking back, Paul sees that he started losing control at this point.
"I'd be in there getting all amped up on it, and I'd be like, 'Well, what if we put cellos on this, and that, and this, and that?' The next thing you know, what could've taken an hour takes a little bit [of] extra time because you're trying stuff."
If someone had been there to watch over Paul, that could've helped him stay on track.
"I needed a producer," he admitted. "I love Steve like a brother, but I hired him to be the engineer and I was producing. I couldn't rein myself in when I was being productive. And then the rest of the time, I wasn't being productive because I was adding art."
While he labored over No Air Anywhere, Paul began feeling stymied outside the studio as well.
"It was affecting my forward movement," he said. "I couldn't write anything because I'm like, 'Why would I write something new? I still got this other awesome stuff sitting there that isn't finished.'"
Paul still managed to get some work done, releasing the mostly live EP Interference (self-released, 2015) and the ironically titled instrumental album Singalongs (self-released, 2016). He also produced Tracy Morrison's sophomore album, Heirloom (self-released, 2018), which was one of last year's noteworthy local releases. As Morrison described it, Paul did for her album what he couldn't always do for No Air Anywhere.
"He likes a lot of the same stuff that I like," she said. "And he has an incredible ear. When we went in [to record], we did the rhythm and the vocals first, and then he came in and just laid it down. That's what I wanted—I didn't want it over-rehearsed, I didn't want it over-thought. I like the musicians to do what they're feeling because once they overthink it, it's too complicated."
With No Air Anywhere finally completed, Paul looks forward to bringing a more balanced perspective to his music.
"I'm just in a lot better space now in my life," he said, "both in terms of art and work and personal issues. So I'm able to more objectively look at it and go, 'No, this is good.' I'm glad I finished it, and I'm stoked to share it."