With his southern drawl, dry humor and easy-going demeanor, it’d be easy to think singer-songwriter Paul Thorn doesn’t take things too seriously.
But you don’t become a furniture factory worker-turned-professional boxer-turned professional musician without putting in a little work. With 13 records and more than 20 years as a full-time musician, Thorn recently released a feel-good album of positive anthems that tend to get new audiences singing along.
Thorn headlines the Saturday concert at Rendezvous in the Park in Moscow. We caught up with him on the phone to find out a bit more about him and his work:
Inland360: You grew up as the son of a pentecostal preacher in Tupelo, Miss. That had a significant influence on you as a musician, didn’t it?
Thorn: Completely. Growing up singing in church, that’s where I learned how to do it. I’ve been singing in front of congregations since I was 3-years-old. So I’m very comfortable singing in front of a crowd.
360: Did churches play a role in your exposure to various music styles?
Thorn: The white churches, back in the day, had kind of a country western gospel and in the black churches it was more of a rhythm and blues gospel, so it was a good place for me to learn music. You know, I’m from Tupelo, which is the birthplace of Elvis, so a lot of churches I went to were the same churches he went to.
360: Storytelling is also a significant part of your shows. How did that develop?
Thorn: Watching my dad be a preacher, part of his thing was not just ministering, it was also entertaining — if you want people to come back and hear you next Sunday, you better entertain them a bit as well. I picked up a lot of that stuff from my dad.
360: A lot of your previous work has been more personal stories, but your most recent album has been different. Tell us about that.
Thorn: The last record I did, it was more positive anthems. Most of my other albums are singer-songwriter, just me talking about what’s going on in my life, but this last one I did — “Too Blessed to be Stressed,” is what it’s called — is just something to make people feel better.
360: Why did you choose to focus on that?
Thorn: Because of the sad shape of the world. It just seemed like it was time, like it was needed, you know. There’s plenty of sad songs out there, I wanted to put out some happy ones.
360: How have audiences responded to the album?
Thorn: There’s one that’s become a crowd favorite. It’s real simple, it’s just called “Everything Is Gonna Be Alright.” It’s kinda got — like that Queen song “We Will Rock You” — a lot of stomping and clapping and everybody’s chanting “everything’s gonna be alright.” When you get a whole bunch of people chanting that at one time, it’s a pretty powerful moment.
360: Besides the feel good lyrics, you’ve focused on big vocal hooks on this album that draw people in and make it easy to sing along. Tell us about that.
Thorn: The hook in any good song is just something you keep coming back to, you can’t get it out of your head, and hopefully its something positive. I intentionally try to find hooks. I want people to sing along and feel it. I like my songs to be like a “Dick and Jane” book, anybody can understand it.
360: Now, you were a professional boxer before you were a full-time musician. What’s different about the two experiences?
Thorn: For me, when I go on stage, I’m not afraid, I feel comfortable. But when I was boxing, that’s a whole different animal. When you’re walking through the ring and you know you’re fixing to fight somebody, you’re super scared. It’s a scary thing knowing that someone’s going to punch you in the nose, you know.
360: How you’d make the transition from boxing to music?
Thorn: Boxing is like the music business in that the only ones who get paid a lot of money are the stars. As a boxer, I wasn’t a star, I wasn’t a household name like Mohammad Ali. So I had to keep my day job and pursue my other things in my spare time.
360: You worked in a furniture factory while pursuing these other careers. Why was that?
Thorn: That’s the same thing I tell my kids, you can pursue anything, but when you become an adult your first thing is that you have to be able to support yourself. Don’t ever be a financial burden on anybody once you become an adult, or try not to be, anyway. Chasing your dreams does not mean, “Mama, send me a check, they’re gonna turn my lights off.” Take care of yourself and then after that, if you want to pursue something, go for it.
360: What made you decide on music?
Thorn: I did the boxing thing as long as I could. I was fairly good, but I wasn’t good enough to become a world champion, so once I figured that out, I just focused my energies back on my music and it worked out.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Rendezvous in the Park
WHEN: Gates open 4:30 p.m., music begins at 5:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday
WHERE: East City Park, Moscow
COST: $50/three-day festival pass or $25/single-day general admission, $15/single-day admission for ages 13-18 or with valid college ID, free/children 12 years and younger with paid adult admission. Tickets online at www.rendezvousinthepark.com/tickets or at the gate. Festival passes also are available at Bookpeople of Moscow.
OF NOTE: All seating is on the lawn; bring blankets or chairs, if desired. Beer and wine will be available for purchase; valid ID required.
Rendezvous in the Park Lineup
The Lack Family — In 2009, the Lack family sold everything they had and have been touring the U.S. and internationally ever since. Whimsical and full of hope, the father-mother-and-three-daughter group combines energy, harmonies and driving rhythms in its music.
Shiloh & the Young Guns — With a couple hundred songs in her repertoire, Shiloh Sharrard and her band perform classic country and western, modern country and classic rock.
Joseph Hein Band — Influenced by yesteryear’s AM country and R&B gold and backed by a variety of instruments in his band, Palouse musician Joseph Hein songs blend harmonies and up-tempo rhythms.
JJ Grey & Mofro — A rock and blues jam band out of Florida, JJ Grey is known for his storytelling and ability to deliver messages that are profound, yet accessible. His song, “The Sun Is Shining Down” was included in the Season 3 Finale of “House of Cards.”
Diego’s Umbrella — “Celebrated as San Francisco’s Ambassadors of Gypsy Rock,” according to its website, this six-member group blends eastern European gypsy music styles with Spanish flamenco and punk rock.
Landrace — With a passion for high-energy entertainment, this ska/reggae band is comprised of Washington State University music students.
Paul Thorn — This Mississippi-raised singer-songwriter delivers Southern rock, country and blues feel-good anthems. See accompanying story for details.
The Bellrays — Hailing from California, The Bellrays combine rock, punk, blues and R&B with soul vocal styles.
Mister Handshake — This “garage band” from Moscow creates an organic sound through open collaboration.