There is a fearless quality to the music of Christopher Paul Stelling. A voice that sounds both old and young, an effortless yet intricate finger-picking guitar style and lyrics that are both dramatic, and intensely confessional. It’s a sound that channels the restless spirit of a young man who left home to travel the country, haunting and impassioned songs formed by endless nights alone on stage with a guitar, playing to packed houses, other times to nearly empty rooms. Stelling estimates that he’s played over four hundred shows in just the past three years. It places him within a longstanding tradition that serves to nurture ones character and art.
“It takes a lot of work to stay on the road,” he says. “You learn to rely on your songs as a sort of resting place amidst all of the unfamiliarity. You fill your head full of places, and sounds, and ideas — and it all comes spilling out. When the things around you change constantly, you change too. And the things that stay the same become who you are. It’s nurtured my songwriting, knowing that the inspiration is all around you. If you aren’t seeing it, then look harder, and if you still don't see it, then turn the corner, and if you still don't see it then look at things differently, because it's right there in front of you.”
Stelling grew up in Florida. “It’s a strange place to grow up,” he offers. “It’s a beach when you're at the beach, but it’s a swamp when you’re everywhere else.” He says he left at an early age, dropping out of college and embarking on a search for identity, living for abbreviated stints in Colorado, Boston, Seattle and North Carolina before settling in New York City. “Every six months I would just pick up and leave because I didn’t want people to get to know me,” Stelling says. “I was still figuring out who I was. I think I was running from my fate because I always knew I would be right here.”
During his years moving around, Stelling worked in a used book store soaking up the great works, and for a time, played guitar for ten hours a day, eventually perfecting a melodic finger-picking style influenced in large part by blues legends such as Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt, masters like John Fahey, and banjo greats Dock Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb.
Stelling's self released 2012 debut recording, Songs of Praise and Scorn, was recorded in five days at a functioning Kentucky funeral home. In their review American Songwriter magazine’s proclaimed Stelling, “what a real self-contained, modern-day troubadour looks and sounds like.” His follow up was 2013’s False Cities which also met with acclaim. Spin Magazine wrote that the record “finds Stelling owning his particular pulpit with the strength of a dozen Southern Baptist preachers… so electric, in fact, that it’s easy to forget that False Cities is an acoustic affair — just guitar, fiddle, voice and the occasional rattle of chain.”
Christopher Paul Stelling will release his Anti- debut Labor Against Waste on June 16th. The songs “Warm Enemy and “Scarecrow” have already caused a stir and there is a buzz building for the album. Rolling Stone remarked “the record delights at the threshold of polished folk-pop and rustic old folk; and he seems bound to make converts on both sides of that divide.” Bob Boilen, co host of NPR’s All Songs Considered, said “It's really hard to be a singer and a guitarist and make a mark - this guy does it though. He's a great finger picker, a strong songwriter, listen to his words - you'll love what you hear."
While Stelling’s virtuosic fingerpicking guitar work is unquestionably masterful, it never intrudes. The melodies remain perfectly integrated, his songs focused and urgent. It is folk music, and it is much more. There are hints of Waylon Jennings’ country blues, a healthy dose of early seventies rock like Van Morrison and The Band, and poetry and art reminiscent of Dylan and Waits. But in the end it is completely honest and personal, in intent and form.
“You make your art and you put it out there,” Stelling says. “When people listen I hope they get that I care and that I'm trying. That it's ok to be afraid, because fear is necessary for developing courage, and courage is necessary to face what we are up against.”