The word's the thing

Chinese Stars’ Eric Paul gets poetic
By BOB GULLA  |  March 26, 2008
Eric Paul

Eric Paul, singer and lyricist for Chinese Stars, just released his second collection of poetry, I Offered Myself As the Sea (Heartworm Press). Paul is a raw and tactile bard who speaks his mind and his heart in accessible, general terms. Occasionally, his poems hit pay dirt with gratifying punch lines, like in “My Love Is an Alarm Clock”: “I’m sorry/My love is only an alarm clock/that I shut off each morning/when I roll out of your bed,” or the somewhat kinky title poem. On “A Guy They Know That Can Get Some,” Eric talks with black humor about his nights on the town, “I keep finding myself/out late at night/in the backseat of fast-swerving cars/Drunk, desperate/With horrible music screaming into my ear.” Some of Eric’s work has been co-opted from lyrics he wrote for his bands Arab On Radar and Chinese Stars. Fresh off a successful tour with the latter to support their new album, Listen To Your Left Brain, he took some time to talk with me about his writing.

Can you tell me a little about your history as a writer and poet?
Ever since I started playing music I was drawn to being a vocalist so I could be the one to write the words. I think this is where it began. I joined Arab On Radar to be the lyricist. Singing was secondary. The guys were patient with my writing, so it was the perfect environment to mature as a writer. I have to admit that when I started I had no clue about how to write or articulate anything. But I kept at it and developed it over the years.

How is writing poetry different from writing lyrics? Do you put your poems to music, or are they two different things?
I think for me they’re both challenging in their own ways. With lyrics you’re limited by melody, rhythms, and choice of words. Not all words are easy to sing, so with lyrics there are a lot of factors that have to perfectly align. On the other hand, I think you can get away with a little more in lyrics because you have the safety net of music behind you — the lyric isn’t the only thing being judged. When I write poems the most challenging thing is you don’t have that safety net. The words stand all alone. So each line has to be solid and strong. You do have more freedom with word choice and form, but the words are still the only thing being judged. I guess I enjoy writing both and feel they’re equal in importance, which is why I include both in my books.

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