5 Questions on Craig Paquette on new solo album Back Together

You may recognize Craig Paquette from Thunderheads, he has a new solo album out Back Together. I say solo but as you can learn below, he had an impressive group with him on this journey through time led by the poetry  of his grandfather. Mark your calendar for the Back Together release show July 8 at the Parkway Theater.

Many folks will know you as a member of the Thunderheads, what prompted you do start doing solo work?

Whenever I was asked to play at one of Jim Walsh’s Mad Ripple Hootenannies, I wanted to have a new song to try out. Over time, I had lots of new songs that I’d only played solo. In 2018 I was invited to Rich Mattson’s Sparta Sound Studio where a Dave Rave and The Governors album was being recorded. It was a very collaborative session and I liked everything about it. I decided it would be the perfect place to record my first solo album, Won’t Last Forever. I put together a band to record with that we soon started calling the Spartones. It included Thunderheads members Steve Blexrud and Bill Boyce along with Rich Mattson, Keely Lane, Al Oikari, Colleen Martin Oake, Bruce Paquette and Terry Isachsen. Besides Rich and Keely, they were all musicians we had played with at Thunderheads & Friends shows through the years.

When I was unable to play live shows during most of 2020 and 2021, I spent a lot of time playing by myself, writing and learning new songs. By the end of 2021 I had enough new original material to start recording Back Together. I enjoyed the process and results of recording my first album at Sparta Sound and decided to record my new one there with the same musicians.

I think of 2019’s Won’t Last Forever and my new album Back Together as both solo projects and collaborations. On my two albums, I gave the musicians the freedom to come up with their own parts. I always told them, “the reason you’re here is because I love the way you play and know what you come up with will be a real good fit.” This became even more evident when we started recording Back Together. We’d all recorded with each other before and almost immediately started doing more experimenting, with everyone contributing new ideas. I think it made for a more interesting album and feel the collaborative vibe comes through in the recordings.

Tell us about the connection to your music and your grandfather’s poetry.

My grandfather was not a part of my dad’s life and the subject was taboo and hardly ever discussed when I was growing up. I knew he was a poet and besides having many poems published in various poetry magazines, he also had a complete book of poetry called Detour To Destiny published in 1940. It had long been out of print but in the summer of 2020, my daughter found it in a book store in Los Angeles. As I read the poems, there was a connection with the words like I had never experienced before. I felt a kind of rhythm as I read them and started taking notes and turning some of them into songs. There are four songs on Back Together that were inspired directly by poems from Detour To Destiny. The title track is written about getting to further know my grandfather and what I was feeling as I was turning his poetry into songs.

What are some of the themes in the work traverse both modern day world and your grandfather’s world of the 1930s? It seems likeCan’t Go On Like This might be a bridge between eras.

The poems in Detour to Destiny were written during a decade that saw The Great Depression, the rise of Fascism and the return to war in Europe. I first discovered Detour to Destiny  in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic and the protests and violence that followed the murder of George Floyd. On January 6th 2021, we watched the attack on the United States Capital. A year later, as I was about to finish writing songs for this album, Russia invaded Ukraine. As I read the poems, the images I saw were not the images of the 1930’s, but the images I was seeing on the nightly news and experiencing in my own city and neighborhood. The opening verse on Can’t Go On Like This begins with these lines –

Living in a boiling bubble, hungry faces haunt the avenue
Tyrant shouting traitors, bringing shadows over you
Awful drums beat loud, getting heavier in your ears
In this dark and terrible hour, angry voices fill the air

The lyrics in Can’t Go On Like This could have been describing the first years of the 2020’s, just as easily as they were used to describe the 1930’s. I also saw a connection to the 1960’s in many lines written by my grandfather. His words and phrases sound much like those Bob Dylan would write years later during another turbulent time.

There’s such a rich sound of tradition inTo a Friend, makes me wonder if you write songs for specific people, memories or ideals. Your grandfather’s poetry was clearly an inspiration – do you write for him or maybe for the next generation?

Some of my songs are inspired by memories of real moments and events. Other songs are written about imaginary moments and situations that could have become real, had different choices and decisions been made.

To A Friend was inspired by the poem To A Friend Departed (To Thomas Wolfe, October, 1939). My grandfather writes to Thomas Wolfe, paying tribute and telling how the world has changed and stayed the same in the year since his passing. In the song To A Friend, I tried to capture the spirit of the poem with music that evokes feelings of heightened senses, while continually moving towards eternity and the vast unknown. I never met my grandfather, but through his poetry, I’m able to get a partial look at how he viewed history and the way he saw the world he lived in. Adding to my grandfather’s legacy was certainly not my initial intent or something I thought about as I was writing songs for Back Together. I now realize the songs have added a modern day bridge to his legacy and someday, may give others a bit of insight into my thoughts and a view of the times the songs were written in.

Tell us about upcoming opportunities to see you play or maybe about the release show for the album.

You can find all the upcoming Thunderheads shows along with Steve Blexrud’s and my solo shows listed on the website.

The Back Together release show is at the Parkway Theater on Saturday, July 8th. It will feature Craig Paquette & The Spartones playing the complete new album along with songs from Won’t Last Forever.

There will also be sets by Thunderheads & Friends and Caitlin Nicol-Thomas from Nashville TN.

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