Singer-songwriter and sometimes member of 80s iconic band Icehouse, Michael Paynter releases his debut album Weary Stars and tells AM’s Greg Phillips how it all came about.
With his celebrated, soaring falsetto voice and severely vertical hair, Michael Paynter delivers a debut album full of driving rock verses, which give way to a wave of chorus overflow. He’s thrown the kitchen sink into the production and most of it has stuck. Weary Stars is tailor made for virile FM rock radio (and/or TV motorsport promos), yet the heartfelt lyrical content and Paynter’s chiselled movie star dial will no doubt increase his already impressive female following too.
Apart from a couple of ballads, there’s not a great deal of breathing space in Weary Stars’ production but that’s the way Paynter likes it. “There’s always a lot of production involved with me,” he states proudly. “I think I have always admired the more grandiose, more complex type producers. They’ve immediately pricked my ears up. I am a big fan of people like Iva Davies from Icehouse, who I have had the privilege of working with. He’s the king of the layered sound. There’s a place and time for really stripped back production as well but sometimes it’s great to produce a song, where every time you listen to it, hopefully you hear something different.”
Despite production taking a front seat on the album, Paynter’s first priority however, was working the songs up to be strong, stand alone entities. “Before we do any tricks or any basics, we’ll get the song done,” he emphasises. “The song is nothing if you can’t play it on the acoustic guitar or piano and have it sound great. It doesn’t matter how many tricks you put on afterwards, if the song is not good, you are pushing shit up hill. So that’s the first thing we get sorted. The song is king, melody is king, lyric is king. Every production decision we make is complimenting the vocal and lyric. If you put a production element on that takes away from the vocal, then it’s the wrong element.”
Weary Stars is an album Paynter “made three times,” he claims but despite being signed to Sony at one point and being a prominent contestant on the TV talent show The Voice, he couldn’t get a release. In the end, he created it independently in his home studio. The album is the story of his musical odyssey thus far. “The album is a collection of songs that represents the last two or three years of my journey,” he says. “The ups and downs, successes and the cut-backs and all that sort of thing. For me, the album is just kind of an insight into my head I guess and what was going on while I was leaving the record company and getting on the road. Hopefully when people have finished the album they have a little bit of an insight on what has gone on in my head.”
The multi-talented Paynter plays all of the instruments on the album apart from drums. Not that he can’t play drums too. “I like to hit things with sticks within a certain rhythmic boundary,” is his assessment of of his percussive limitations. The writing of the songs for the album was achieved on a variety of instruments. “It changes every time I write,” he says. “Lately it’s been on the other instrument I play, which is the iMac! I’m really enjoying beats and fresh electronic things, which hopefully will become part of the next EP. But sometimes I’ll write on acoustic guitar, sometimes piano and sometimes it’s just putting some beats together with some crazy sounds and see where the inspiration takes you.”
In regard to Michael’s guitars, on most of the album tracks he used a limited edition ’62 reissue Fender Telecaster. “I think there’s only 100 of them,” he explains. “It’s black with white binding. It’s hands down the best Telecaster I have ever put my hands on … apart from the time I played Ray Davies’ and Carl Perkins ’51 Nocaster … so apart from that guitar, the ’62 is the best I’ve played. It all goes through my Ulbrick Arena 50, which is like a custom-modded Arena with a couple of cabs. I used my Maton MS T-Byrd for a mid range spankier sound. Sometimes we used a 13 amp. We had a Dr Z and there’s also a whole lot of POD in there as well for the more experimental sounds.” Keyboard-wise, for the recording Paynter used digital synths such as Reason, Massive, and Kontact, all triggered through MIDI.
Debut albums are not only the result of a life’s worth of material to write about but also the product of the sounds you grew up listening to. The album which immediately came to mind for Paynter when I asked about teen influences, was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. “That album is pretty much a collection of songwriting demos that were mixed and released,” he says. “For me, there is such rawness in that and imperfections in the production to match the imperfections in her voice. It’s very powerful. I have always loved Five Star Laundry by Melbourne band Motorace too, there’s so much raw power in that. I remember listening to Tapestry by Carole King, which really highlighted to me the importance of a great song and how you don’t really need anything else around it to be great.”
Paynter’s route to fame in the greater public’s eyes came through The Voice, one of those television talent shows which polarises music fans. “Yep, many pros and cons,” he says of the experience. “I think I went into it wanting to be challenged and to learn new things. I wanted a way that I hadn’t tried, to get this album out. I’d made it three times and couldn’t get it released. This was my last attempt to do it and even that didn’t end up working. I had to go and do it myself in the end. It was great though, I learned a whole bunch of stuff. There’s a bunch of things I am much better at than when I started. I think any experience like that makes you a better musician.”
For the remainder of the year, Paynter will not only be gigging in support of the Weary Stars album and working on a new EP, but also helping out on the production of other artists including fellow-voice contestant Imogen Brough’s album.
“There will be a lot of releases coming out that don’t have my name as the artist but I am involved with,” he says. “Plus a couple more tours and recording on my own terms.”