If Paul DeHaven’s first solo album, King of Gold, was a question, then his newest release, Echoes and Overtones, is an answer… of a sort.
It’s been a little over two years since Denver’s indie darlings Paper Bird disbanded — amicably on all six sides by all accounts — sending DeHaven and his five bandmates on their separate ways after eight albums and more than a decade of heavy touring.
In the days since, DeHaven has stayed busy, making psych rock with Eye and the Arrow, ambient chillwave instrumentals with Saskatoon, all-American folk rock with Heavy Diamond Ring and lo-fi folk under his own name.
But a decade-long relationship takes up sizable real estate in a person’s psyche, and in the echo of Paper Bird’s swan song DeHaven found himself sad, jaded… questioning.
“I felt let down,” DeHaven says from his home in Evergreen, “not necessarily by other people but by myself and the expectations I placed on myself and by the music industry and the expectations that I thought that the music industry was offering me.
“It’s like waking up from a dream,” he says of the dissolution of Paper Bird. “I definitely had a lot of my identity wrapped up in being a part of [Paper Bird]. King of Gold was like, ‘What is my identity?’ And Echoes and Overtones is like, ‘Here’s what my identity is now… or here’s what it could be.’”
DeHaven’s second full-length release takes a step back from the existential crises of his debut and focuses on the bigger picture; sure, he’s still questioning his place in the world — how to carve out a sustainable life as a professional musician, what it means to be a 30-something in the hellscape of late-stage capitalism — but he stopped trying to trust himself and learned to trust the people around him.
“My wife and some friends have been encouraging me to do something more on the folky-acoustic side and not shy away from the singer-songwriter-guy-with-a-guitar thing, which I’ve always kind of been like, well, that’s going to be so boring; I really wanted to do it right.”
“Who knows if I did it right, but I did it.”
By his account, DeHaven had spent too much time hiding behind “ideas,” whether that was clever production tricks or the fleshier weight of a full band arrangement. Echoes and Overtones was a product of self-acceptance, proof of DeHaven’s ability to let his songs dictate their own destiny. The collection is raw, “B-A-R-E.”
“The songs themselves have a lot more to do with the people that are around and the people that help make my life happen.”
Lead single “Easy On My Mind” creates a sturdy bridge between the themes in DeHaven’s debut and his newest offering, finding poetry in humanity’s desperate need to always understand “why.”
Wind is blowin’ in paradise / And it howls across the garden / Pulling the petals right off the petunias / And we can’t ascertain how it started / If we knew how it started / Then we might knew where it came from / If we knew where it came from / Then we might figure out … how to stop it / After days like this / Spent picking up the pieces / Of the world you thought you belonged in / Gonna need something easy / Something easy on my mind
In turns throughout the album, DeHaven conjures the laidback spirituality of George Harrison, the blue-collar honesty of Bruce Springsteen and the earthy appeal of Little Feat without ever tipping over into blatant pastiche.
Echoes and Overtones is also much more than a “singer-songwriter-guy-with-a-guitar thing,” featuring vocals from Sarah Anderson (another former member of Paper Bird who now co-creates with DeHaven in Heavy Diamond Ring) and soundscapes his wife created during an artist residency outside of Tokyo.
But there’s something to be said for the guy-with-a-guitar model. Dylan and Mitchell proved rock ‘n’ roll was a place for intellectual discourse, and they did it with little more than six strings and a voice. The singer-songwriter template is a conduit for humanity’s most powerful tool: words. DeHaven’s stripped-down tracks on Echoes and Overtones recognize the strength of not only his own voice, but of the human voice. As we hear DeHaven find self-acceptance across the album, we can ask ourselves where in our own lives we need to let go, to forgive, to move forward.
“Innocent Row” explores the murky waters of guilt and innocence through the story of a person on their final day on death row. We don’t know if they’re guilty or not, but we know they’re facing the final hours of their life and in this way the listener is charged with facing the finite nature of their own life. The song has a reversible nature, in one form reading like a missive on justice in this country, in another form translating as an aide-memoire to take responsibility for our lives and, more accurately, our own happiness.
The streets are poison / I was trying to belong / Trying for good but it all goes wrong / When darkness gets a hold / It seems to explode / Can break me down but I won’t let go
Echoes and Overtones isn’t a definitive answer about Paul DeHaven’s identity, but that’s because there is no definitive answer about who any of us are. We are works in progress right up until the moment we die. The best we can hope to do in any given moment is be unflinchingly authentic. Every moment of our lives is just a snapshot of who we are right now, colored slightly by who we want to be. What DeHaven finds on Echoes and Overtones is better than answers — it’s the realization there are none.
As for his next musical snapshot, expect something “completely different.”
“It’s going to be more of a spaghetti Western, highlife, Talking Heads kind of thing.”
Who could question that?
ON THE BILL: Paul DeHaven album release — with Lake Mary. March 5, The Ubisububi Room (under The Thin Man), 2015 E. 17th Ave., Denver.
OTHER SHOWS: April 1 at Lost Lake with The Senators, Lillian; April 24 at Broadway Roxy with David Birchfield, Erin Peet Lukes.