Paul & Storm with Jonathan Coulton (center) Photo by Aaron Haley
Together Paul Sabourin and Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo are professional singing persons Paul & Storm, who comprised ½ of comedic a capella group Da Vinci’s Notebook. Da Vinci’s Notebook has been on hiatus since 2004 but still occasionally reunite for corporate events. Paul & Storm are currently touring with noted troubadour and TSOYA guest Jonathan Coulton. Their latest album, Gumbo Pants, was released online on August 26. I corresponded with Paul and Greg via email and asked them some questions about making a career of music & comedy.
Aaron: What made you want to get into the lucrative genre of musical comedy?
PAUL: The short answer: it was the only thing we were really good at.
The somewhat longer answer: we started out in 1994 in an a cappella group called Da Vinci's Notebook, which started as a little hobby group that only did covers. The songs that seemed to be the most fun and get the best audience response were songs by another a cappella group called the Bobs, who did a lot of funny originals. So we drifted towards that, and Storm and I fell into a writing partnership, as we have similar backgrounds (children of the '80s and lovers of all pop culture) and compatible senses of humor; so we started writing songs in a similar vein. Before we knew it, we were the main writers for what had evolved into a full-time comedy a cappella group.
When that group stopped performing in 2004, Storm and I desperately wanted to avoid getting real jobs, so we tried performing as a duo, and with a good degree of adjustment (like getting comfortable with playing an instrument and singing at the same time), it worked pretty well.
What's your writing process like?
STORM: We don't have a single set process. Sometimes an idea will strike one of us out of the blue and the other will have just a few tweaks, or add what Lennon and McCartney called "the middle eight". But more often it's comparable to two people working a potter's wheel together.
Generally one of us will drop the initial lump of clay (usually a comic hook, song style, and/or a few lines), the brain wheels spin, and we shape it until it's just right, adding more clay as necessary. Sometimes both of our hands are on the clay, sometimes we alternate, and a lot of the time the pot doesn't make it to glazing (chord structure/melody) or the kiln (recording phase) at all.
P: Sometimes it's demand-side-based ("We gotta write a song this week"); and sometimes it's supply-side ("Wow, we should totally write a song about this awesome topic/idea/thing I just thought of/had/saw"). And sometimes they can feed off each other. For example, we were going to be on the [nationally syndicated morning radio program] "The Bob and Tom Show" a couple months back, and wanted to come up with one more new song the night before. While noodling, Storm started doing his awesome James Taylor impression; so we tried to find a way to make a relatively lame thing (impressions in general) somewhat more interesting, so we thought, "well, what if he were...I dunno, on fire?" Which led to our song "If James Taylor Were on Fire", which in turn led to a bunch of other "If" songs ("If Bob Dylan Were Hiding at the Bottom of a Well", "If They Might Be Giants Were the Ice Cream Man", etc.).
So the demand side ("We need a new song for radio tomorrow") dovetailed nicely with the supply side ("We do some impressions; how can we use them in a not-crappy way?").
What would you say are the benefits of distributing your music independently through online stores? Have either of you been approached by labels since DVN or considered signing to one?
S: We haven't been approached by any labels (yet) as Paul and Storm, but in DVN we were, and it just didn't make much sense for us.
The upside [of signing with a label] is that more people will know who you are so that you can draw large numbers of people to your shows, be on the cover of magazines, and otherwise live the rock 'n' roll dream.
That's all fine, but you give up making money on your actual music, and it means that to really make a living you have to be on the road all the time. And while we're by no means geezers, we like being home and not waking up every morning in a hotel room wondering what city we're in.
P: Labels have been historically good at three things: advancing you cash to get a recording done, putting your record in stores, and coordinating PR. But a) recording technology, home studios and such have made getting a quality recording far more affordable than in decades past; b) retail may not have been made completely obsolete by the Internet, but it's getting damn close; and c) you can hire a PR person independently (since you'd be paying for the PR at a label anyway). So it's far less necessary to be "signed" to achieve a reasonable degree of success. We don't have an unquenchable ambition to be ridiculously famous, so for us, the trade-off is worth it.
Special thanks to Ian Brill for help editing the interview.
You can learn more about Paul & Storm and purchase their music here.
To read an unedited version of this interview, visit Aaron's blog here.