Interview: Paul David Stanko

How are you today?

Good day! You know, I am doing really well, thank you for asking. I have new music coming out soon, the day is gorgeous here in Minnesota…spring, while technically here, is around the corner still… but it is an amazing day to be here on this blue-green space ball hurting through the universe.

For those who may not yet be acquainted with your work, could you elaborate on the essence of your sound and elucidate upon the prominent influencers that have shaped your artistic journey thus far?

Allow me to educate: My sound is pop rooted in lush vocals and multi-layered goodness. It’s technology mixed with a band. It’s

Being the oldest child, I really wasn’t exposed to what we now consider to be, classic rock when I was growing up—I got exposed to that much later in life. My dad was a huge fan of big band music, so we had a LOT of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman going on around the house.

My Dad’s Mom and Dad were both into organ music, and members of their « organ club » so my sister and I got dragged to quite a few organ concerts when they were watching us. My grandmother was an excellent organist in her own right—she could play by ear. They had a Wurlitzer electric organ in their living room. This was my first exposure to electronic drum loops! I would click the cheesy rhumba beat and make up my own parts (or play Star Trek with the organ as my control console… to be fair, the organ console could EASILY have been on the bridge of the Enterprise).

My grandparents also had saved my dad’s old box of ‘45’s which housed musical treasures,. My sister and I would dance around the basement to the sound of Bill Haley and his Comets singing “Shake Rattle and Roll”, and “R-O-C-K”, Elvis Presley’s single “Hound Dog” and one of my personal favorites, “Tennessee” Ernie Ford’s singing, “Sixteen Tons” which still finds a home in my music library to this day.

My mom listened to more standard popular music like The Carpenters and Helen Reddy. BOTH my parents got on the easy listening vibe and had a few of the ‘The New Christy Minstrels albums. In fact, I think that was officially my first ever concert–the New Christy Minstrels. That explains SO very much…

My first purchase of a “non-child” album was Mac Davis « The Song Painter ». My favorite track was « A Little Less Conversation » with that funky acoustic guitar and stripped-down mix. I wasn’t a big Elvis fan, so other than “Hound Dog” from my dad’s 45 collection, I wasn’t familiar with his music. I didn’t know « A Little Less Conversation » was covered by Elvis until the remix came out in the 2000’s. The original Mac Davis version of the song is STILL on my iPhone mix today.

I told my mom I liked John Denver when I was in elementary school. So for Christmas one year, I wanted John Denver’s Greatest Hits. –on a side note, I recently found out John Denver spent many years in the 1960’s living in a Minneapolis suburb! Who knows, we may have passed each other in the grocery store!

Anyway, when I opened my « John Denver » record for Christmas, there was someone else on the cover holding a bag with a chicken in it. It was C.W. McCall’s « Wolf Creek Pass » album (this is pre-« Convoy »). When I asked my mom why she got me this album, she said, « Well, he looks like John Denver. » So I became a unwitting fan of C.W. McCall. Did you know Convoy was how Chip Davis was able to create and produce Mannheim Steamroller? Without Convoy, there would be no Mannheim Steamroller in your Christmas music catalog!

Through my cousins I was introduced to Carol King’s “Tapestry” LP, and Simon and Garfunkel.

In High School, I began to branch into pop music and vocal jazz. The Manhattan Transfer, Queen and Styx topped my album purchases until I discovered local hometown hero, Prince. Once I discovered Prince, his influence in music strongly shaped mine.
I am also inspired by innovators outside of the mainstream music industry. One of my biggest influences was my jazz professor at Coe College, Dr. Paul Smoker. He was an avant-garde jazz trumpeter who taught me to learn the rules, then break the rules. He helped open my mind to finding music in all things. There are generally sounds in my work generated from unique sources.
While recording “We Can B Free”, my dog London smelled a rabbit, heard a leaf rustle, simply wanted to go outside. The point is, while recording the vocals, she barked. I took that sound recording and layered it with claps and put it in my song.
During the pandemic, I did a virtual overdub for the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus small group, OutLoud and their recording of a song called “You Are Enough”. I used a large dildo as the snare drum sound (processed, of course) because what could be funnier than a group of gay men singing “You are Enough” to the sound of a dildo being played?
In my song, “Karen Wants A Reservation” I use found audio of a disgruntled customer who wanted a reservation but couldn’t use to make one. She makes another appearance in “Sunshine (after the Rain)” with “God Bless America” from that same phone call after every one of my “funny” quips.
On my newest single, “Persistent Motion of Water”, while on a recent weekend trip to Laguna Beach, I captured the call of the Song Sparrow and worked it into the single mix.
The journey is all about trying new things. While there is a similarity in my sound and my music, every piece is different. I listen to a variety of music on my iPhone, why would I not create the same variety? I write in the pop, spiritual, classical, jazz and new age genres. I love the variety.

In what ways has your geographical surroundings served as a muse for your creative endeavors? Have you observed any discernible impact of your locale on the evolution of your musical expression?
Being from Minneapolis, and a child of the 1980’s, Prince was an enormous influence on me as I mentioned. He meant so much to me on my journey both musically and in regard to sex and sexuality. Through him. this shy kid from the suburbs found a way to express himself and begin to get out of his shell. I never met him personally, but I have had the privilege of working with and getting to know several of his side musicians.
His approach to music, was groove driven. As a drummer, it’s always about the groove. Be it layers loops with live percussion over it or be it as simple as a bass drum and a finger snap, the groove is everything.
You’re releasing a new single soon, and the anticipation of it has garnered attention. Could you provide insight into the genesis of this record and expound upon the narrative that informs its creation?

After writing and premiering “Stardust Once Again” for RAV Vast and choir with the Twin Cities based event choir imPulse, I was in a handpan mood. So, I took one of the RAV Vast tongue drums I own, but didn’t use on “Stardust Once Again”, and began playing around.

I had recently rediscovered “Rhythm Song” by Paul Smadbeck—a piece a friend and I played at one of our college recitals. Like its name implies, it’s very rhythmic—a constant ostinato pattern (repeated pattern) from which the melody emerges, giving it an almost hypnotic vibe. It takes and pulls the melody from notes you are already playing, which is rather indicative of the RAV, which only has 7 different notes (10 total pitches) to play with.

I wanted a rhythmic piece where the melody emerged like that. When you listen to it, unless you’re really concentrating on it, you’ll not really notice there are only 7 different notes being played because you are so swept up in the rhythm of the piece.

I also wanted a dialogue between electronic sound and acoustic sound. As I said earlier, technology mixed with a band! I am performing several MIDI patches which give a cool sonic depth and electronic vibe juxtaposed against an udu, shaker, rain stick and handmade sacred drum (which I made a few years back). I love the “thum” of the udu and the deep resonance of the sacred drum.

And then there is the Song Sparrow I recorded in Laguna Beach, California…I mean, how could I not include that? They make an appearance at the beginning and end of the piece.

It’s a haunting, rhythmic-yet-relaxing feel overall. In the second evolution of the melody, I manipulate the sound so it feels like you are in the middle of the drum underwater. I really like that effect!

How does your latest single distinguish itself within the context of your discography? Furthermore, could you delve into the significance it holds for you personally?

“Show Me the Sizzle” started as an idea at my day job: how can you improve the customer experience. The powers that be were toying around with “Show me the money!” from Jerry McGuire, and the owner (or his son) came up with “Show me the sizzle!”. I loved the idea of that—it’s the je ne sais quoi—that thing you bring that you can’t quite put your finger on but separates you from the crowd. It’s that unique thing that each of us has that makes the ordinary extraordinary.
I loved the idea of walking into a club and this groove making everyone want to dance. “If y’all don’t know, I’m gonna tear it down” felt like a Beyonce thing to say, so I wrote it! Then it struck me to kill the groove there and “Build it back up right from the ground”.

The chorus came next. I needed to define what “sizzle” meant. I really liked “takin’ hold the ordinary making it extraordinary”, which I think is really the essence of it—it’s adding something special to the ordinary to make it pop. But what to continue with? I knew it was making things better—elevating them—not settling for less than. It was probably on a rhyming dictionary where I stumbled across the word potentate, which is a ruler, and I liked the idea of elevating the cream of the crop. Then finding a word to rhyme with elevate brought me obfuscate—which means to make something less clear. So taking things that are second-rate and classing them up—or hiding their flaws and making them sparkle in SPITE of their imperfections—worked of me. And I have put obscure words in my works before—“Superhuman” has soporific and sudorific in it, so it’s not a first for me.

I then went back for verses two and three. Still thinking in the Beyonce mode, I though a little shady sass would be fun for verse two and it sets up the chorus well.

Then for verse three, I thought I should teach you steps to bring the sizzle yourself—basically, dig deep and just do it.

It’s just a nice confection. The theme is powerful—taking your gifts and making the everyday extraordinary. It fits with my over-all theme of writing music from the positive perspective. The very last thing the world needs is another silly, self-indulgent, co-dependent love song. I want to write music that is positive and inspirational. This fits with that.

What vibe do you want “Persistence of Water” to leave upon its audience?

I am a level two Rieke practitioner, and before I did the recording, I put Rieke energy into my drum. My hope is the vibe is healing and restorative. I hope my listeners can feel the love radiating from the sound.

The sacred drum was built with the same intention, and houses Lapis Lazuli in its handle. My hope is the vibe of power, creativity, wisdom and universal truth make their way into the hears of those who hear the song.

Can we anticipate the emergence of a new EP or, perhaps, an album from your artistic repertoire in the foreseeable future?

Well, I have a bunch of unfinished tracks in my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), so perhaps an EP is on the horizon.

This past winter was interesting here in Minnesota. During the Christmas seasons there was no snow. In fact, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day it rained. All our Christmas plans cancelled on us last minute. And this is the fifth Christmas without my family around, and I was missing them. While my husband and I had a lovely time together, it just didn’t feel like Christmas. So, I wrote my first Christmas song, “It Doesn’t Feel like Christmas (without you)”. It has a little Latin vibe to not make it a total downer, but I think a lot of people can relate to the sentiment of lost love or loved ones not being where they used to be at the holidays.

My plan is to release that late October or early November. In time for the holidays.

Another song I am super excited about is the most positive song in the world, “Affirmation.” This song has been 99% complete for over a year, but the time isn’t quite right to release it (there is a draft on my SoundCloud page). It is written in the style of Glee meets Rent (the movie version of the music). It relies heavily on my musical theater experience and my work in church ending with a two-minute chant of “I am beautiful, I am powerful, I am loved. Nothing you say can take that away from me” that starts with one voice and ends with 75 of me and some friends singing that powerful affirmation.

I am also finishing up the writing of this very cool big band influenced track, “Gotta Un-F*$% Myself” which I am hoping to collaborate with Matt Fink (Dr. Fink of Prince and the Revolution) again (we worked together on “Superhuman”) and Michael Bland from Soul Asylum.

It’s a track about how when I was younger, I was more in touch with myself and my gifts and how I need to unlearn the things that made me feel shame about those things and bury those things down deep to appear “cool”.

It’s a high energy, up tempo, romp with killer horn parts and the vocals done Andrew Sisters style… should be a BLAST! (clean version will be called “Gotta Unwind Myself”)

Looking ahead, what milestones do you envision accomplishing within the forthcoming five years, both artistically and personally?

Mostly being not dead. I think that applies to both artistically and personally.

But in all seriousness, my hope is to continue to release new and inspiring music that adds to the positive vibe of the planet.

On August 31, 1986, I wrote in a journal I started in college, “I love to make people feel. Let that be my goal: to make as many people moved through contact with me as possible.” I actually went and dug that journal out to make sure I had it right.

I have never forgot that statement. Through my music and through my spiritual business I endeavor to help people—either by entertaining them or by showing them pathways froward from where they are.
I think that is a noble accomplishment: to touch as many people as possible through contact with my me and my music. I believe I have hope to give. I believe I have inspiration to provide. I believe I can get your butts shaking and your feet moving. I want people to hear, listen and be inspired by what I offer the world. That is the kind of career I want.
Look, when I was younger, I wanted to be a rock star. I am a little old for THAT dream… and I really don’t want to sell out my vision of who I am and what art I want to create to do that. I simply want to heal the world.

Where can our readers find additional information about you and your work?

While available on all your streaming platforms, the best place to connect with me and keep track of new music coming out is on my website,

I am on all socials (linked in my website) as well.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to sit and chat! I look forward to connecting with your readers soon!