has etched out a long and prolific career as one of the earliest purveyors of
anti-folk, so named for its ramshackle sound and antipodal stance to oft-staid
really, he didn't have much choice. It's not like he could do much else.
could never see him in an office job or something like that," said Monica "Mo"
Samalot, his drummer and girlfriend for the last three and a half years.
got his start as a protégé of the brilliant but troubled artist Daniel
Johnston, who he's long pointed to as his biggest influence. Before Paleface
met Johnston in New York City in 1989, he was basically "plunking around on
guitar and not really writing." He didn't think he could write songs anywhere
as good as those by his favorite artists at the time, Neil Young and Tom Waits,
among other traditional singer-songwriters.
Daniel was this guy who wrote songs and recorded them onto cassette tapes,"
Paleface said. "You could hear his mom walk into the room on the recordings. It
was a revelation because it was really powerful. It was effective; it really
got to me. It was accessible, something anybody could do."
passed along such epiphanies to his roommate at the time, the soon-to-be-huge
Beck, who later cited him as a major influence on his early work. By 1990
Paleface was being managed by Danny Fields — who guided such artists as
The Ramones, MC5 and The Doors — and was well on his way, opening tours
for Billy Bragg and The Breeders.
by 1998, his second major-label deal had collapsed and Paleface was drinking
himself to the point of liver failure.
was not good for me," he said frankly. "I wasn't really able to make good
decisions, and that led to a lot of unhappiness."
for money, a friend got him a job at a PBS affiliate burning CDs (this was the
'90s). Paleface recalls getting in trouble for smoking in the elevator, but
throws in some obfuscating details. He tendered his resignation after one day.
"It just wasn't going to work," Paleface
he found his way back to New York and a burgeoning music scene. It was at the
Sidewalk Café, considered ground zero for the anti-folk movement, where he met
up-and-comers like The Moldy Peaches, Langhorne Slim and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
He remembers sitting in the back of the Sidewalk Café with Kimya Dawson of the
Moldy Peaches the first time he saw and heard Regina Spektor perform.
"She hadn't really figured out how to
write yet, but her playing was like oh my God, listen to this," Paleface said.
"It was obvious she had a huge amount of talent. It was great for me to just
kind of fall back into that scene. There were so many people in it who were
obviously future stars."
also where he ultimately met Samalot. She was just a fan back then, attending
Lower East Side open mic nights Paleface played while he was making his
"I was introduced to this new raw, real
kind of music," Samalot said.
learning how to play drums, Samalot joined a band. A couple of years went by
before she up the nerve to ask Paleface if he wanted to collaborate musically.
"I eventually became confident enough to
ask him if I could play on one of his projects," she said.
had a lot of balls because at the time I had one of the best drummers in the
city," he said.
alliance yielded a beatifically austere sound on the last two Paleface records,
The Show is on the Road and last year's One Big Party.
able to tour with the relatively low profile that we have," Paleface said. "It
works as a two-piece. I have a lot of musical ideas that I'd like to expand at
some point. But for now this works."
continues to embrace the idea of performing with minimal instrumentation.
"It challenges you when you write as
well," he said. "You don't have all these instruments to rely on to fill up
that he hasn't filled some space in the past, using instruments like bass,
Dobro and lap steel. There's one lesson Paleface learned from Justin Townes
Earle during a songwriters circle.
"The record doesn't have to be exactly
like the live show," he said. "That made a lot of sense to me. On my last
record it's very simple, but we have room for other instrumentation."
Samalot, "The songs have a framework where we can pull them off live with just
drums and a guitar."
can't easily articulate his ideas for future projects. There are so many, like
adding strings to some of his best songs or recording and touring with a big
band complete with a horn section.
"I could go all the way with it," he
said. "It's just one of those things where I don't know where the music would