Christopher Paul Stelling Interview: New Album ‘Best of Luck’ Is a ‘Mission Accomplished’
“I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be sitting here. I wouldn't have this record, and I wouldn't have this tour coming up. I wouldn't have any of that. Because I would've blown it.”
Christopher Paul Stelling’s candor is the key ingredient to his art. The guitarist’s previous four albums have straddled the lands between blues, folk and country, tied together by his scorching jeremiads that call to mind Old Testament prophets.
But on his new album, Best of Luck, out Friday (Feb. 7) on ANTI- Records, Stelling took time away from his intense touring schedule. Instead of casting his gaze upon the world, Stelling found it was a moment to reflect -- and to get sober; in fact, he credits that process to the completion of this record.
Best of Luck follows Stelling's journey to a place of newfound confidence and contentment, and breaks from his previous work. Where a wall of sound brought an edge to Stelling’s older albums, these tracks sound more like self-soothing exercises. For the most part, the songs are gentle meditations, lullabies and instrumentals, unified by Stelling’s trademark masterful fingerpicking.
Of course, with Ben Harper in the producer’s chair, there has to be some blues and rock in the mix. “When I Die,” for example, represents what Stelling calls “relapse moments.” “On the path towards any sort of self-development or getting to this next phase," he explains, "there's inevitably going to be setbacks.”
On "Hear Me Calling," meanwhile, premiering exclusively on The Boot, Stelling digs deep to summon the ghosts of his past. "There's always a place for the lower self in rock 'n' roll,” he says with a chuckle. However, that lower self is vital to human expression: “I don't think we should get to the point where music is all virtue signaling and coming from some pure, perfect point of view," Stelling adds.
That said, Best of Luck's origins do have some important moments of alignment -- one might even call them perfection. For one, Stelling wasn’t sure there would be an album at all.
“I was a week sober. I was down in Florida over New Year’s in 2018 seeing my parents, and I spent my last bit of money getting new tires for my van. I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’” he recounts. Then, Stelling got an e-mail from Harper, with whom he had toured in 2016. The singer-songwriter produces one record each year with a different artist (his most recent is Mavis Staples' 2019 release We Get By) and extended the offer to Stelling.
“I was, like, a week sober, and he had just gotten sober," Stelling recalls. "And I was like, all right, well, this is a sign. Maybe I'll just kind of keep this going until we're done with the record.”
Stelling sent Harper songs via his iPhone during the year that led up to the album's creation. The relationship was important to Stelling on both a personal and artistic level.
“It's just nice to have somebody like that believe in you, you know?" Stelling explains. "He's a man of his word. He said, 'Let's do it,' and we did it, you know? That means a lot in a world of people that don't always follow through.”
On the eve of his 90-plus city 2020 tour, which begins on Wednesday (Feb. 5) and will take the artist throughout the United States and Europe, Stelling takes stock of what’s most important.
“I've just kind of tried to quantify success on personal terms. If you're always looking at either what other artists or people are doing or the numbers, you drive yourself crazy," he reflects. "But I was able to make a record with somebody I wanted to further my relationship with, and I was able to get to the personal level that I wanted to get to with it. Mission accomplished.
“That's all -- that's the only success I think that can be or should be quantified," Stelling adds.
Fans can find a full list of Stelling's 2020 tour dates, as well as more information about Best of Luck, at ChristopherPaulStelling.com.
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