(Not So) "Average Dude" Henning Pauly speaks on the Absence of Empathy

Interview by Davide Guidone

Musician and composer Henning Pauly, known from both his work with Chain - his band who have so far released two albums, Reconstruct and Chain.exe - and Frameshift, his project that has featured vocalists James LaBrie - on the first album, Unweaving The Rainbow - and Sebastian Bach - on the newly released second album An Absence Of Empathy - , as well as lyricist Matt Cash, drummer Eddie Marvin and (on the first release only) Nik Guadagnoli on bass, guitar and Chapman Stick. Davide Guidone spoke with Pauly recently about the new album and future projects.

Davide Guidone: Henning, please introduce to everyone the topic and the idea behind the second Frameshift chapter.

Henning Pauly: An Absence Of Empathy is the story of a man who wants to know why we as a species are so violent, and bombarded by the news and other media he begins research the topic. One night, he has a long, vivid dream in which he experiences violence from the point of view of the killer, the rapist, the warrior... After he wakes up, he asks himself what he has learned and what the solution to our nature is. He looks over to the cradle of his new born son and realizes that the solution lies in how we raise out kids and that we can avoid a lot of problems if we just pay attention to our kids.

DG: How did you get in touch with Sebastian Bach and why did you choose him?

HP: James LaBrie and I talked about who would be the right vocalist for this project. We both agreed that we needed someone with a powerful voice that has a lot of character and can get very, very aggressive, but also deliver very quiet and vulnerable performances. James asked me who I would pick if I could get anyone in the world to do this and I said immediately: "Sebastian Bach, but I could never get him." Then James said: "OK, let me give him a call." I had no idea the two of them were friends.

DG: In my opinion this second Frameshift is something you never did before. It has a fresh and classic sound at the same time. I mean, there is a lot of programming and experimentation, but we can find classic hard rock, progressive and metal, too. Do you agree?

HP: Well, with Sebastian Bach on the album I knew I had to please an audience that likes the music of Skid Row, but I also had to make it progressive enough for the Dream Theater and prog rock audience, and I also wanted to continue the production elements I had already introduced with the first album. Also, I tried to be influenced by very modern bands and lean on their sound a little bit. What I hope I accomplished is to create an album with the melodies and hooks from classic rock and metal with a sound that's modern enough to draw in new fans that have never heard of Skid Row or progressive rock. I just like to play around and find new ways to write and produce rock music.

DG: I liked this will of changing style and approach, even if according to me your mark is evident throughout the whole album. But maybe someone won't appreciate this fact, expecting an Unweaving The Rainbow part 2. What do you think?

HP: If you liked UTR because of James and because it wasn't too heavy all the way through, then you probably won't like the new album. But if you just like good songs and catchy hooklines sung by a very competent vocalist on top of a thick production, you'll also like this disc. I think in the end the fact that it's the same writing team and it has my handwriting on it should make sure that whoever liked the first album should get something out of this one.

DG: During the album, I believe that it can be possible to discover all your influences that are apart from progressive music. Would you tell our readers which ones they can distinguish listening to An Absence Of Empathy.

HP: I don't know... this thing has a lot of metal on it. I listened to Linkin' Park a bit to get new ideas, especially for guitar sounds. Production-wise there are definite elements of something Nine Inch Nails would have done. "Blade" is very much influenced by Hans Zimmer's film scores. Then there are the ballads... I love Disney music, especially the new stuff that Phil Collins has written for them. "In An Empty Room" is a lullaby not dissimilar to "You'll Be In My Heart." I listen to a lot of music... a capella, pop, rock, jazz, classical...

DG: The first name you gave to this album was Human Grain. Why did you change it?

HP: Sebastian didn't like it, so we changed the album title and the name of the first song around and he was pleased.

DG: I read somewhere that there won't be another Frameshift release. Why?

HP: There have just been a lot of things connected in my personal life with the production and release of the two albums. It has nothing to do with the music. I just feel that I don't want to be reminded of those things by calling another album "Frameshift". I mean... there were fires when we mixed the first one and I lived at the studio for over a month... with the dogs and a couple of guys... With this one there were mudslides... two of my dogs died... my girlfriend hurt her back badly... it was just too much. I just don't want to be reminded. So I think we just call the next one FS3 and we'll be good.

DG: Looking at the credits of every work of yours, Matt Cash always appears in them. It seems that you can't work without him. Are his ideas so important for you?

HP: I can write lyrics and melodies and sometimes they turn out OK, like "Cultural Genetics" and "Above The Grass Pt 2" I wrote all by myself. I also wrote "Last Chance To See" by myself and I am very proud of that one. It's on Chain.exe. BUT, if I want to take the lyrics and the melodies to the next level, I just need Matt. His pop-sensibility is what makes this stuff so catchy and his lyrics are very memorable and meaningful at the same time. He has a way of saying something without saying it and you can experience the songs over and over and get deeper into the meaning of them. I think the two of us together make a great team. We are currently working on Matt's modern country album and it's some killer stuff.

DG: And speaking of credits, I have to ask you about your discussion with Sebastian about them, even if I know you're exhausted about it.

HP: It's simple. This is NOT Sebastian's solo album like he stated it. If it were, he would have paid me to write and produce it, but we paid him to sing on my album, that's the reality. I wanted him to give me some ideas for melodies, but he just never had time and he could only do it in January, So I said that I would write the stuff with Matt and Adam. So, when he came in it was all written, rough vocals were recorded, etc. He wanted to make some minor changes to the lyrics, some of them against my will. Later, he wanted co-writing credits and publishing and more... he just didn't do enough to warrant the co-writes. He did enough on two songs, which is why he got credit for them. Anyone who would like to know what we are actually talking about can go to my website and check out the forum (www.henningpauly.com) where you can see the lyrics before and after and you can decide for yourself.

DG: As almost on every album of yours, we can find an a cappella section. Maybe this one was very difficult to release. Which one do you consider the most challenging among your opuses?

HP: The most complex a cappella section I have written is definitely the one in "Cities" on Chain.exe. I don't know which album was more challenging, they are all very different and have different challenges. The deadlines on the new one were brutal, so I think in this respect the new album was definitely tough to finish.

DG: A band that writes sections like that is Spock's Beard; it seems to me you like them, don't you? What are your opinions about the works that the Beard and Neal Morse are doing?

HP: I love Spock's Beard. Neal Morse is brilliant. I don't think the band is on the same level after he left and frankly I don't think his stuff is on the same level anymore. He is repeating himself musically. The Spock's Beard albums before the split are definitely among the best CDs I own.

DG: Did you listen to the recent James Labrie album?

HP: Yes, but just once so far. It's much heavier than I though it would be. The guitar player is killer [Marco Sfogli, whom we interviewed in April -ed.]. I think it's too close to what he just did with Dream Theater and for me the vocals are too low in the mix, but overall he released a strong record for Dream Theater fans.

DG: Will you work with him again in the next future?

HP: That's the plan, but we don't know when.

DG: You know that a lot of musicians in progressive music can't live only with music, but they have to get another job. Can you instead live only thanks to writing and playing music?

HP: At the moment I get a monthly salary to write my own music, so I am VERY lucky in that way. I could never work during the day and write that much music during the evenings. I have released an average of three albums a year in the last three years and I need time for that. I hope that this album does well for the label [ProgRock Records] so that I can continue to produce like I have been.

DG: What kind of feedback do you expect from the press about Frameshift 2?

HP: So far the feedback has been amazing and of course I hope it continues like that.

DG: I know you will be at the next Calprog with Matt Cash for an acoustic set. When do you think you'll start to do a real tour?

HP: No... it would require a whole bunch of musicians and rehearsal time and all of that... who would pay for that? I'd love to do that stuff live but I just don't think it would work out financially.

DG: Plans for the future?

HP: After Matt's album I am going to finish my double CD rock opera Babysteps... it'll be around 140 minutes of music featuring...

Matt Cash - Chain / Frameshift
Jody Ashworth - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Jill Gioia - TSO
Michael Sadler - Saga
James LaBrie - Dream Theater
Maya Haddi

Guest Musicians:
Al Pitrelli - Savatage / TSO
Ian Chrichton - Saga
Jim Gilmour - Saga
Alan Morse - Spock's Beard
David Ragsdale - Kansas
John Zahnder - John Oliva's Pain

DG: That's all I have, Henning. If you would like to say something to all readers you can do it!

HP: Thanks for buying my music, it is an honor to write music for you. Please join my message board at www.henningpauly.com, I am on there every day and answer questions and we chat about lots of stuff; it's a fun place... If I ever stop talking to the fans directly, please shoot me, because in the end I am working for you... you pay my bills, so please don't let me become some kind of arrogant rock star snob... I'd like to just stay the average dude who just happens to have a slightly different job.