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Welcome to the Visiting Artists section of WildesArt. This is a gathering place of artists, songwriters, musicians, prose writers, and poets, who are creating for the love of creating and touching lives. I am a curious sort of person, so I always wonder what makes such talented folks who they are. What experiences and beliefs have led them to what they are doing at this point in time?
Visiting Artist – Paleface by Barbara Hengstenberg
“It’s about the music and how it moves people.”
My First Introduction to Paleface
“What? You don’t know Paleface? Only the best indie, anti-folk singer/songwriter around!”
Two years ago, I was listening to The Avett Brothers’ album, Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions. I noticed the harmonies of the brothers were punctuated with a raw, gravelly voice. So, I posed the question online: Who is this voice, singing with The Avett Brothers? I was quickly put in my place by a few, with “What? You don’t know Paleface? Only the best indie, anti-folk singer/songwriter around!” I realized I had some investigating and listening to do.
Now, two years later, I have been moved by such Paleface songs as Pondering the Night Sky, Rock N Roll, I Wanna Travel, See You When the Sun Goes Down, and many, many more. Moved to such a point that it affected my art. I began collaborating with Paleface and girlfriend/drummer Monica Samalot (Mo) for a year now, to create art inspired by his lyrics. Kindly, Paleface chose the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm and Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics to receive all profits from our collaborative pieces.
These songs are available for free stream and download purchase through their website: www.PalefaceOnline.com
Paleface and Mo are a hard-working, dynamic duo. Touring year-round, constantly writing and creating new music, they live for the road. They live to perform, to get their music heard. And they perform to capture hearts and share their joie de vivre. Once you understand where they came from, you will realize that they are also performing to spread their message: It’s all gonna work out.
In early November, I met Paleface and Mo for lunch in Concord, North Carolina. I wanted to talk about his new music, as they are currently writing and preparing to record a new album. However, once we began talking, I realized we couldn’t get to the present and future until we discussed the past.
Paleface grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. During the doldrums of his job pumping gas, he was tuned in to classic rock radio stations, drumming out rhythms and making videos in his head. Watching MTV, he dreamed of getting out of his dead-end job. At this point in his life, he began to realize that he was creative. He began writing songs, dashing off lyrics faster than he could write. He knew he had to get out of Connecticut and into New York.
In the early 1990’s, Paleface became well known throughout NYC’s underground, acoustic-punk “anti-folk” scene. He soon became the first artist out of that scene to get signed to major record labels (Polygram, Sire) with Danny Fields as manager (Danny Fields had managed folks such as The Ramones, Iggy Pop & The Stooges, Jim Morrison). Paleface was on the rise!
Paleface’s health crashed in the late 90’s, when he was hospitalized with alcoholic hepatitis. He recalls years of Danny Fields “screaming in my face” that he was killing himself. “It was my wake-up call,” he tells me, rather matter-of-factly. “I nearly died.”
But Paleface didn’t die. He learned. He learned that he needed to pull himself up by his bootstraps, ignore what those around him were spewing, and rise up. So, he began playing clubs again. After recovery, it was difficult getting back into the music scene. Peers saw him as the guy who couldn’t hack it.
“Even though I was rejected by the record biz — and as far as success and gaining an audience, wealth, accolades, etc., and I haven’t really progressed past the stage of underground or cult artist — I never gave up or let it get me too depressed. Show biz is a tough thing to deal with. You got to eat a lot of shit when you’re not “successful” and it can make some people bitter. A lot of people will turn their back on you or look down on you because you’re not the hot thing anymore. If you see someone playing the showbiz game and playing it hard, just expect that will be a part of the deal. You just got to figure out why you’re doing it. I figured out it’s what I like to do and I still think my best music is ahead of me. So I didn’t let the culture of it roll over me. There is a great song old Neil Young wrote about it called “For the Turnstiles”! I’m proud that the weight of that didn’t crush me, considering where I started out!”
Early in his recovery, Paleface tried performing under another pseudonym, but his voice and performance were just too recognizable as Paleface. His raw talent caught the eye of a young Puerto Rican girl who had just graduated from Architecture school and working at the Chrysler Building. While Mo, like Paleface, had no musical training, she found that she needed a creative outlet from her highly-focused and detailed job in an architectural firm. Mo often attended open mic nights in the East Village during a “fertile, explosive time” with acts such as Regina Spektor and Paleface’s roommate, Langhorne Slim, as well as Paleface himself. Impressed by watching other drummers, Mo began playing on a friend’s drumset (in fact, she still uses the cymbals), and began playing in her first band a few months later.
Although at first intimidated by his stage persona, Mo approached Paleface in 2003, and offered a free rehearsal space in her apartment…and offered to be his drummer. By December of that year, she performed on Just About to Burn, and soon the duo found themselves touring the UK. In the summer of 2004, they began playing with The Avett Brothers, and took a cue from the band that it was time to take their show on the road. They quit their jobs in New York City and moved to North Carolina to focus on their music.
Fast forward to 2015, and our lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Concord. Sitting across from Paleface and Mo, I was struck by the fact that they exude balance. I asked Paleface how they keep balance in their hectic lives.
“I don’t know about balance. All I can say is we both try to stay healthy and do healthy things. having the discipline to eat food as often as we can that is not damaging (in spite of the food we were raised with and how it may be comforting), and to exercise and breathe when we can. Also trying not to get too caught up in the mainstream manipulation machine. The more you live, the more you see…you can’t really run away from it ‘cause it’s always there…telling you what do, what to think, who you should love, who you should hate. If you get too caught up in that, I think you can become a really bad person without even knowing it. We all use denial to some degree because the most difficult thing to do is to admit you were wrong about something. It’s too much for some people, and the older they get the faster they have to run to get away from it. I’ve seen it up close and try really hard not to tell myself I know everything about everything! Because I’ve made mistakes and gained wisdom does not mean I’ve figured it out! I still make plenty of errors in spite of that. Thinking you’re beyond it is, to me, the fast track to senility. It’s the death of learning!”
To me, Paleface epitomizes the Phoenix rising. Fans are anxiously awaiting a new record. Paleface shared with me that this new music is about “struggle and art.” He calls it “folk art infused with the history of rock ‘n roll,” of which Mo interjected, “He is an expert!”
Asked about what he would like the world to know about him, he put it simply: “It’s about the music and how it moves people.” He is pleased when listeners peel back the layers of his songs and listen deeply. He encourages us to apply our own interpretations to his music…the hope of any true artist.
Balance and Respect
As I mentioned, there is a balance between Paleface and Mo. As we discussed drummer Sheila E and her work with Prince, Mo sweetly hugged Paleface and cooed, “I have my prince.”
During our afternoon, I realized that there is an aura of love and respect surrounding this duo. Both are highly intelligent, gifted artists. Listening to Paleface’s music and watching their highly energetic stage personae, one might expect an anxious, abrupt conversation. Quite the opposite! When I first sat down, I asked them to tell me their story, so they did…graciously allowing my interjections and embracing a deep conversation about art, music, and struggle. My hope is that this interview captures the essence of Paleface and Mo’s intriguing story of two very creative souls.
“I don’t really have a process. I just paint when the spirit moves me.
The less I think, the better!”
Luckily, Paleface often expresses his creativity also through painting. For many of his paintings, Mo provides the drumheads as Paleface’s canvas. Others are painted on boards or canvas. Many may be purchased as prints. To view more of Paleface’s art and to purchase, visit www.PalefaceOnline.com
I began collaborating with Paleface and Mo in 2014, to create art inspired by Paleface’s lyrics. The pieces below are available at WildesArt, with all profits benefitting either the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm or Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics.
- Official Website: www.PalefaceOnline.com
- Tour Dates
- Music (listen / buy)
- Paintings & Prints (for sale)
- Video Playlist
- Youtube Channel
- Pandora Station
- Paleface’s featured collaboration with The Avett Brothers – Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsnville Sessions
- Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm
- Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics