Paul & The Tall Trees
Paul Schalda–one part of a crazily talented musical family from Staten Island, NY–seems to embody the unexpected overlap of Buffalo Springfield’s rock, The Band’s Americana, John Lennon’s appeal and activism, and Otis Redding’s raw, warm soul. Going back two decades, Schalda has been a part of projects like the ’90s Staten Island hardcore group, Three Steps Up, and Awek–his early-2000s, Brooklyn-based rock band. By 2005 he had Pablo, an acoustic-folk-rock affair that nodded more toward Neil Young than the alternative music scene that was king at the time.
To the uninitiated, this progression of not-long-lasting groups and musical approaches may come across as scattered, or maybe even semi-typical of singer/songwriters like Schalda. But listening to his music, you don’t hear a man of many parts. You hear a sum of his experiences. This singular sound is helped by the fact that his doo-wop crooning father, Will Schalda, Sr., and brother, Will Schalda, have brought energy and inspiration to each record. In Pablo, his brother Will played keyboards and his father provided backing vocals in the studio.
What you can hear in Schalda’s music, no matter which song you hear, is that the road hasn’t been easy. His voice can be hauntingly harsh, yet hopeful and tender, raucous and gravelly one moment, smooth and intimate the next. In his cadences you can feel elation and life–performing on the road, tours funded out of his own pocket, and the hardships it all brought to family and loved ones.
After the second Pablo album in 2009, Schalda decided it was time to step away. He went back to school, got a desk job, and began to think that this is what life would be. Naturally, a new opportunity came calling. Tom Brenneck, of Daptone and Dunham fame, contacted Schalda about playing backing guitar for soul-man Charles Bradley’s tour. Once again, he hit the road. But this time, things were different.
Schalda had left music, only to have it come back. This brought new perspective and approach. And it takes the name of Paul and The Tall Trees. This is all shown in a new LP, being released on Brooklyn’s Big Crown Records. There is a renewed comfort, and an appreciation for even being able to write and perform his music. Yet some things remain: Schalda’s father plays a soulful harmonica on the record, and his brother presses out lyrical chords on the piano and organ. Both contribute to the vocal harmonies you hear. And still Schalda, even being compared to the famous groups and musicians mentioned above, can only call it Rock and Roll and be humbled. “I’m very lucky to be able to do this,” Schalda says. “And I’m extremely happy. Especially for my father. He worked hard for his sons and this record.”