(Possessed just released his latest album “Feed the Family” through Hillgrass Bluebilly Records, and it will be released worldwide Sep. 21st.)
After recently reviewing the underground film The Folk Singer, I wanted to get more information about the “main character” (so to speak), the artist Possessed by Paul James, and luckily a check of his tour schedule put him just north of me last Saturday, which allowed me to check out his live show for the first time, and get to know the man beyond the semi-fictitious portrayal from the movie.
What I found was one of the most unique music experiences I’ve ever witnessed, performed by a truly unique individual.
Technically, Possessed (aka Konrad Wert) is a One Man Band. He has all the OMB staples: the stomp box, the bluesy style. But I don’t think it is completely fair to fit him in that niche. Instead of watching one man put out a band’s worth of energy, you’re really witnessing multiple shows at the same time, at a high energy level. When Konrad references the stage show, he talks about it by saying “we,” referencing the “Paul” and the “James”; names pulled from his father and grandfather. “They” pull off what can only be described as a poetry reading set to addicting, living music that on the soul level pegs the meter at 10.
Possessed makes any venue he’s working in into a living room. Unlike many OMB’s that command attention from the rawness of the experience, he is tantrically personable, engaging the crowd, pulling back the curtain as he explains how the show must crescendo in energy, toying with the melody or the chords as he narrates to the crowd how he must feel the song before he gets deep into it, lest he perform it disingenuously.
Every song is an experience, a moment in time that must be cherished, and it is a shame for it to be rushed or wantonly regarded. Possessed plays the banjo, guitar, and violin, and before each song, he’ll carefully consider each instrument, wondering what song will be just right for the upcoming moments. He gazes at his tools like one might into the refrigerator right before an important meal, perusing the options, wanting with a pure heart for the meal to be memorable, and worth the dedication and energy that must be consumed in its preparation.
Konrad Wert the person is just as magnanimous. His full-time profession is a school teacher. If you’re anything like me, you probably thought that half your school teachers should have been fired on the spot, but every grade you had that one teacher that “got it.” Konrad hit me as that one: the 10%’er that teaches to live, and lives to play music.
When I first began talking to him, be immediately began to make excuses for his voice, which was ruptured a year before in the same town I saw him in. I found Possessed’s voice to be noting less than superb, and I let him know in no uncertain terms after the show that I thought he was bullshitting me about his voice problems.
Yeah, at a Rubber Gloves show (another Denton, TX venue). It went by the third song. And when we went home to Burney (TX) the doctor said you ruptured your vocal chord. And I was like “What does that mean?” He’s like “Well, its the fleshy part of the chord tearing.” And I said “What do you do about that? Do you do arthroscopic surgery or something?” And he said “No, you just have to rest it and let it heal.” And I asked “Will we have full range of the voice again?” And he said “No, no. You’ll just have to watch it.
And that’s partly why. Actually two parts: We had our first baby in 2008, and now we have our second one coming in October this year. So we opted to be grounded and raise family. So we’ve really pulled back from playing, a lot. And the other part is, sometimes the shows will be wonderful, and its like a crap shoot, and other times the voice just won’t have it. The nice thing about that is it keeps me close to home. And the recordings are still really nice. We go in one day and record two songs, because the voice is shot for trying to make it real pretty.
Triggerman: I just watched the movie The Folk Singer of which you’re kind of the star of.
Possessed: Mark Littler, who does Slowboat Films, we met on our first tour in 2006 in Europe, and we hit it off. He proposed the idea, but its fictional in so many ways. Because there was actually a script that he brought and wanted us all to read. He asked Scott (Scott Biram), and when we tried to sit down and actually do it, it was horrible because none of us are actors. It was ridiculously bad. So he said why don’t you kinda make it up as we go. So it wasn’t really a tour. We had a friend out in Louisiana, and he wanted to give the appearance that we were on a tour and all of that.
Triggerman: That’s interesting because when I saw it and I was trying to tell people about it, I said you can’t go into this thing saying “I’m watching a documentary,” and you can’t look at it and say “I’m watching a fictitious thing” because it’s somewhere in the middle.
Possessed: One thing I always like to point out is the one scene where Scott and I and this young fella from California are at a bar in Lockhart. That was completely staged. Mark wanted us to get, kinda present a confrontation, and he said “You’re gonna have to be really rude. You’re gonna have to be aggressive.” That’s not really my nature. I’m generally one to say “Hey if you got good music let’s all sit around and listen.” This was really a story about Mark, the director guy. He struggled with his drinking. He wanted alcoholism to be an undertone. I’m a Pabst Blue Ribbon guy.
But I think the premise of that film was really good because it talked about the struggles of how you’re going to make the choices as you grow older, if you decide to have a family. What’s going to be the path you take? I feel like we’ve taken the right path for our family, by looking at the other passions we have. I’ve been a social worker and a school teacher since ’98-’99. I’ve never been a working musician. I’ve never supported our family with music. Music was always a way where I could work within my schedules as a case manager, as a mentor who worked with men and women with multiple disabilities. Working with the School for the Blind in Austin, the School for the Deaf. I’ve been a social worker since we moved to Austin in 2003. And since 2008 I’ve been a school teacher.
Triggerman: So you’re a certified teacher?
Possessed: Oh yes sir. My background was always focused on social services, community development because my father was a pastor (Mennonite).
We recently just finished the third album called Feed The Family. The first record got picked up by Shake Your Ass out of Italy. The second record got picked up by Voodoo Rhythm out of Switzerland. And we hadn’t really done anything in The States, in terms of a production group. And Hillgrass Bluebilly, these guys out of Austin,picked this record up. I think the premise of the music is to say, there’s so much wonderful music out there, but you got to be willing to look and research. Too many times people are so quick to say there’s just shit that they hear. I don’t agree with that. There’s such a wide, wonderful independent variety of music, but you have to be willing to look under the rock.
Triggerman: Why does Europe support this kind of music more than The States?
Possessed: Because there’s not as much. It’s a numbers game. That’s my opinion. If we wanted to make a living solely playing music in The States, I think we could. I could probably make more income as a musician than as a school teacher. When we crunch the numbers, we know it’s marketable. I think Europe appreciates it a little bit more also because of the culture. The culture really recognizes musicians and artists as representing something that’s very valuable.