Reid Paley

Though I often shun the company of others while seeking solace in a bottle, I always listen to music. Not only can records express the specific sentiments you wish to hear at a given moment better than any flesh-and-blood drinking buddy, they don’t slur their speech (certain Dean Martin LPs excepted) or pass out after one too many. Everyone has a favorite drinking album, be it Sinatra’s Only the Lonely or the Old 97’s’ Too Far to Care. Right now, mine is Revival (on emusic), the second full-length by Reid Paley.

The gruff Brooklyn bourbon-drinker sounds far from shocked by this disclosure. “That was the aim,” he guffaws down the phone line, like I’m the last man alive to get the joke. Evidence aplenty surfaces via lyrics like “Pour me another drink and pass the ammunition,” and song titles including “Never Drink Alone,” “Sal’s Last Round,” and “The Anesthetist’s Song (Something for the Pain).” Revival is intentionally filled with tunes “to drink to, drive to, and fuck to.”

Reid Paley opens for Frank Black at the Fenix on Friday, March 3.

I can verify the disc’s suitability for the first two activities, but I’ll probably never road test the third. That’s because Reid lived around the corner from me last summer in Brooklyn, and I’ve been drunk with him in the flesh many a time, too. So although most veteran New Yorkers are used to hearing their neighbors while having sex, I’d find making the beast with two backs with Reid in the room just too unnerving.

Regardless, if I ever meet a good lookin’ guy who appreciates Revival like I do, the next music you hear may be wedding bells. Just how does Paley’s glorious din sound? Hard to say. For all his simplicity, Reid is like nobody else. He’s one man (though on Revival, he’s backed by Robert Lee Oliver on bass and James Murray on trap kit) with one guitar—which he admittedly “bangs the fuck out of”—plugged into a lone tube amp. Even in his tender moments, Paley’s guttural voice sounds like smoke belched up from Hell’s basement. Elliott Smith he ain’t.

In the words of the old nursery song, “the cheese stands alone.” Not that this prevents idiots from pigeonholing him. “Going through Europe, the only male singers with any crap in their voice that anybody knew were Springsteen and Tom Waits,” he recalls. “Fine people to be compared to, but who the hell likes to be compared? What am I like? I’m like me.”

Revival boasts a 30-minute running time, ideally suited for repeated beginning-to-end listens. “I don’t have much faith in people’s attention spans,” admits the singer. “My instinct is to keep things short, because I figure people are only going to like one or two songs on anything.” His songwriting style is just as to-the-point as his overall attitude: “I’m hyperactive. I want to bang on things and make noise and be in complete darkness or bright sunlight. . . . I just want to feel like shit’s going on.”

“Music is not television,” he continues. “Music is not just something to sit in the dark in your parents’ basement rec room smoking pot and finger-fucking your little high school girlfriend to. Music is to dance to, to go to work to, to drink to. Active things! As opposed to background noise for people who don’t like music.”

This self-described “grizzled old gunslinger” started his career in Pittsburgh in the early ’80s. He relocated to Boston, where his old band the Five shared bills with the Pixies; it was his buddy Frank Black who finally kicked Paley’s ass back into the saddle after a long sabbatical. But surprisingly, Reid knows when it’s germane to play his industry’s silly little games. He even went to Sundance this year to promote his LA-based label.

How was that experience? “What do I have in common with a ski town full of people standing around watching celebrities?” he grumbles. “I live in New York, I don’t care about celebrities! I don’t care that Bill Hurt is eating eggs at the next booth in the diner or Sandra Bullock is walking around in a little knit hat with a pom-pom on it. My drummer ran out and handed a CD to Michael Stipe. That was the high point.”

Reid couldn’t even find Wild Turkey to offer him solace. “The state of Utah is your mother: ‘No, you may not have a double. Finish that one, and when you’re done I’ll bring you another. I will sell you liquor and a glass with ice, but you must pour the liquor over the ice yourself.’ I’m so much happier in a city where somebody who’s going to kill me is a bad guy and is OK with that, as opposed to out there, where the bad guys think they’re going to Heaven and run the world.” Amen.

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