San Francisco musician Paul Desjarlais, aka, Pseudonym, sort of lives in an imaginary world, and has done so for at least two decades, according to his own autobiographical details. Desjarlais, and the “other imaginary band members that pretty much live in my head,” has made some of the best indie pop most people have never heard.
Even though his newest album, Revolving Door, is his first release of new material in 17 years, Pseudonym has already created a small, but substantial, discography of whimsical, experimental and thoroughly enjoyable indie songs. We’ve spun Revolving Door more than a dozen times, and will again and again for a long time to come.
A good sign of a truly great album is one that you like a lot on the first spin, and that you come to love with each subsequent spin. And what makes Revolving Door even more magical and thrilling is the fact that it came out of nowhere – it was, at first, just another submission in our email box from a total stranger. Tracks like “Art School Lady” and “Better” are just a couple of examples that Desjarlais’ talent and creativity have not faded with time.
Art School Lady – Pseudonym from Revolving Door
Better – Pseudonym from Revolving Door
As a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist, he decided two decades ago to go solo and write, record, mix, master and distribute his own music under the Pseudonym moniker after years of playing bass in Boston bands like The Uncalled Four and Haberland while attending Boston University. Within a three-year period in the mid to late 1990’s, Desjarlais wrote and recorded some of the best under-the-radar indie pop songs we’ve heard in a long time.
In 1995, he dropped his debut LP, Pabz, an exciting and multi-faceted album that was a harbinger of things to come. Not long after releasing his debut, Desjarlais began writing and recording new demos. By 1998, he decided to leave the faster-paced northeast behind to make the trek out to the sunnier, warmer side of the continent, following Horace Greeley’s famous advice penned back in 1871: “Go west, young man.”
Shortly after arriving in San Francisco at the dawn of a new century, Desjarlais began to mix and master a new collection of magnificent indie pop, rock, lo-fi, psych, shoegaze and experimental tracks that would become his masterpiece sophomore album, Pig Tail World, an album that remains obscure even though it received enthusiastic reviews from the underground press at the time (before there were bloggers).
The Underground Music Monthly wrote that Pseudonym’s “unique and upbeat songs burst forth happily from your speakers with the same elation a young child leaps forth from bed on Christmas morning to open brightly wrapped gifts.” The zine Mommy and I Are One hailed Pig Tail World, writing that “the vocals are absolutely astounding and, you would never guess that this record was made in an attic and a basement. This is a big album with big sounds and songs that really give weight to the word ‘catchy.'”
Not surprisingly, Desjarlais lists his biggest musical influences as The Beatles, Big Star, Elvis Costello, Matthew Sweet, The Beach Boys, XTC, Magnetic Fields and The Pixies. There’s a little bit of each of these artists in his work. He maintains, however, that “the actual music is whatever comes out on the way there.” There, we surmise, is the journey that he travels from his imagination, musical influences, and his own whimsical admiration of, and exceptional talent for, catchy pop tunes.
“I shoot for a unique sound, but I’m still a sucker for a good pop hook,” he said. And yet Desjarlais still manages to masterfully weave other genres, like psychedelic, lo-fi, rock and shoe gaze, throughout his discography with stunning results and originality.
That is pretty much the mantra of the majority of his songs, whether on Pabz – which was recently re-mastered as a MP3 album – Pig Tail World or Revolving Door .
Two years ago, he released a six-song EP, Stupid Star, featuring songs that did not make it onto Pig Tail World for one reason or another. The EP boosts the significance of Pig Tail World recording sessions even more so as an important moment in the best of ‘underground music’ history.
The Pig Tail World–Stupid Star recordings are bursting at the seams with Beach Boys-like harmonies, Guided By Voices guitars, Pixies quirkiness, Beatles-influenced hooks, lush melodies, hazy summer reverb, typewriters, sound effects, percussions and rhythms created by banging on cardboard boxes, bottles, pots and pans (“Throw Some Love My Way”), and an occasional melancholy song (“Kill Me in The Rain”) as well.
“I tried to keep things pretty organic; there’s no midi, SMTE, or any computer stuff really at all, except…traces of drum machine on a few songs. For rhythm, I mostly hit objects with drum sticks.”
Pig Tail World leaps right out from the beginning with the opening track, “Crashing,” on which you can hear the battered bottles, pots and pans in the background. (Considering he originally recorded these songs in 1998, it is not a stretch to proclaim that Desjarlais was an original DIY one-man band – the real ‘real deal’)
“Crashing” – Pseudonym from Pig Tail World
“Kill Me In The Rain” – Pseudonym from Pig Tail World
On track after track, it’s all there for everyone to hear: lo-fi indie (“Pig Tail World” and “Blow Up”), dreamy Brian Wilson-channeling tracks (“Live Angel Wire” and “Broccoli Blues”), pure power pop indulgence (“Ice & Snow“), psych pop (“Disappearing” and “Over My Head”), and tracks ( like “Ray Gun”) that Apples in Stereo fans will surely dig, with varying influences from musical periods like “mid-60’s Top 40, late-60’s psychedelia, early 70’s pop, and late-70’s punk rock,” he added.
“Disappearing” – Pseudonym from Pig Tail World
“Ray Gun” – Pseudonym from Pig Tail World
It’s curious, of course, that Revolving Door, released on February 12th, is only Pseudonym’s fourth release in nearly two decades; he strikes us as much more of a prolific artist even though he wrote on his Bandcamp page that he “record new songs once in a while if I get a chance.”
Perhaps he is much more intent on making each release a deliberate and worthy endeavor rather than dropping albums for the sake of satisfying a small, but loyal, army of music critics and indie fans that Desjarlais has acquired, and even reacquired, over all of that time. That said, because he writes and records such amazing music, it would be a treat to all lo-fi, indie, power pop, shoegaze and rock music lovers if Desjarlais recorded more frequently.
The important thing is that he is no longer under the radar with the publication of this Artist of the Week feature, an honor well deserved, a number of times over. Let’s just hope it’s not another 17 years before he releases another album of new songs.