He was born in the Great White North, and he’s put his mark on a number of the Midwest’s signature acts from Soul Asylum, Arcwelder and Jesus Lizard to Wilco, Son Volt and Golden Smog. Brian Paulson has avoided easy categorization; though he definitely has a sound, it just doesn’t remain in one place.
“I was known as Mr. Organic, live in the studio guy, but after doing that for six years it gets very tiresome. I had such a knee-jerk reaction to that. I got so tired of being strapped to that that I did an about-face for a long time. People don’t suspect you can do anything else,” says Paulson. “If I had my druthers, I would do one insane, glitzy digital production a year, one very organic live-to-two track thing, a glossy rock record. I love to be able to approach different ways to make a record. Music is pretty broad and I like to be able to dabble in all of it.”
After growing up in Bemidji, Minn., he moved 200 miles south to Minneapolis the minute he got out of high school and soon started playing in Man Sized Action, the first band on Bob Mould’s Reflex Records label. Paulson developed friendships with many in the Minneapolis-Chicago musical pipeline and toured with Steve Albini, through whom he made friends with David Grubbs, and eventually worked with him on an album for his band, Bastro. It was Paulson’s work with Grubbs’ next post-Squirrel Bait project that made his name in the business–recording Slint’s seminal album, Spiderland.
“It was weird while I was doing that record because I remember sitting there, and I just knew there was something about it. I’ve never heard anything like this. I’m really digging this but it’s really fucking weird. Though not so weird I don’t get it,” Paulson recalls. “We knocked that record out in four days. It was a stay-up-all-night-until-you-can’t-see-anymore. And then the phone started ringing after I did that.”
“[My head] didn’t get big, but it did get weird. It was a puzzling thing for me. It just happened so quickly. I remember the first time I got flown to England. I was like, ‘What the hell is going on? Yikes! I don’t feel ready.’ I was working with the Wedding Present,” he continues. “At that point in time I was pretty limited in my knowledge of recording. But they liked something I’d done, so I just kind of did what I knew how to do.”
Since then, Paulson’s worked with Beck, Archers of Loaf, Dinosaur Jr., Squirrel Nut Zippers, Royal Trux, Superchunk, Rosebuds and Mark Eitzel, evidence of his eclectic tastes.
“There’s so much to listen to now. I’ve kind of got lost in the vast range of production. It’s equally exhilarating and mind-numbing at the same time. My attention span for it is so small,” he says.
“Every job that I’ve had I had figured out in about two months. I’d be happy with it for about six months by telling myself I still liked it. There are so many different directions you can go in learning about it, like this year I’m going to learn piano; this year I’ll learn guitar; this year I’ll learn how to arrange strings. I still don’t feel like I entirely have it.”
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