Photo by DE Angle
Posted June, 2014
As I write for Boomerocity, it’s not an unusual occurrence to receive unsolicited CDs in the mail for me to review. Since I only write positive reviews, if I don’t like what I hear in those CDs, I just won’t write about them. I figure there’s enough negativity in the world that I don’t need to add to it.
In November, 2012, I received a CD from a publicist. When I opened it, I almost didn’t listen to it but decided to give it a whirl while doing some other work. As it began to play, I stopped what I was doing and listened Paul Ludenia’s “Right Where He Wants To Be”. I was completely blown away.
I reviewed the CD (here) and dropped Mr. Ludenia a note telling him of my review and how impressed I was with his work. It didn’t hurt, either, that he lived in my adopted home town area of Phoenix, Arizona.
Since that time, we’ve become good friends. He’s even been a tremendous help in the new look of the Boomerocity website through his business, Imagine Images. I also take every chance I get to plug his appearances in the Phoenix area, hopefully making friends and readers aware of the amazing talent he possess.
Paul lives, eats and breathes music. He started his music career in Minnesota because, by his own admission, to attract girls. When I called him up for this interview, I asked him how that worked out for him.
“I think it worked out a little too well because I just celebrated my twentieth anniversary. Sure enough, that’s where I met Kristi – playing music! I guess it worked out perfect! We met at a party type of thing and that was pretty much it. We got married in ’94 and then, just this last week we celebrated twenty years which blew both of our minds. We can’t even believe that it’s been that long. So I guess the ‘girl’ part was a total success.”
As Ludenia’s musical skills improved, he and his bands opened for ever more popular artists and performing before ever larger crowds.
“We had a bunch of great shows as far as out of town things go. For about eight years of my first twelve years in music I was pretty much on the road 200 to 250 days a year doing week long stays all over the upper Midwest – maybe to as far as Montana and as far down as Nebraska. That’s what we would do. We’d hit every town in a van and our production truck would follow us. We’d get there on a Sunday or Monday and then play Tuesday through Saturday.
“Sometimes a weekend would come and a big act would play so we would open for them. I remember opening for Jackyl in Minneapolis at the Mirage. There had to be two thousand people stuffed in this place. Just how big it was and amazing it was to stand in front of that crowd. I played through the bass players bass rig and this thing was like a wall. It was ten feet tall. Ten feet wide. Every time I hit a bass note – I was playing bass back then – my pant legs would move! I was, like, ‘This is the coolest thing!’
“So, I remember little things like that but, of course, looking out at a sea of people was always a pretty amazing thing to be able to touch that many people at once. Always amazing!”
As for the stars he saw up close and personal, Paul said, “I got to see Ace Frehley do his thing. He was a childhood hero. ‘Destroyer’ was one of the first rock albums that my father actually bought, and I stumbled on. I listened to it and they (KISS) scared the living daylights out of me but that’s what I would end up loving quite a bit and to get to see Ace Frehley up close like that was pretty special. He’s a total rock star.
Paul paid his dues by playing in lots of different bands and in lots of different kinds of venues. He ultimately took a detour in order to provide for his lovely bride and pursued entrepreneurship. I asked Paul if he thought he was out of music for good when he made that decision.
‘Yeah, that was a big thing because I guess that I hit a wall of no respect. There was just no money. I was getting, maybe, five bucks a week to eat. I know how hard we work as musicians to do what we do. But I also don’t believe that, just because we work hard that we’re entitled to anything. We do this for the love and it’ll happen or it won’t. It wasn’t happening – at least financially. There was just a point where something’s gotta give here.
“So, yes, I did stop music, planning not to play anymore. That was it. I was going to go down this graphics design path which I had already done for the band for years – all my bands. I made the logos and did all the things that graphic design was and I’m, like, ‘Oh! That’s a career! Okay!’ So I fell into that and it came so easy and financially fruitful that it was just an easy choice. I’m, like, ‘Okay. I’m done with that (music). We’re going to move on and do this (graphic design).
“One thing I’ll say, though, is that I think I gained more respect for music when I walked away because I wasn’t playing it any more but I was listening. I think I listened even better because that was at the point I stopped caring about genre. When I stopped playing music, all of a sudden I listened to the heaviest metal like Lamb of God and the next CD that I would put in would be Brittany Spears. I found that I actually enjoyed them both equally – for different reasons but I loved them. That really opened me up so much more musically because I was sort of a hard rock/metal type of guy. Once I got out of that, I realized how much great music is out there and I started hearing songs and how you piece them together – the creativity within the lyrics. Once I started hearing that, I enjoyed music a lot more again because it was all new to me.
“I remember going to Best Buy every week to buy the latest CDs – as much as I could afford, I would buy. I always dreamed of having a job like yours, Randy, where people would send me music and I would get to peruse it and enjoy it. I just want everything. I want to hear everything.
“So, those years went that route. It was all about listening. Then I picked up a guitar one night and could barely remember how to play but it kinda came back to me. I thought it was so fun, being back here in Arizona and doing that thing with the guitar, for me it was a baby step and I said, ‘I can do this. I can make a little money on the side and I can play for my friends. I’ll be acoustic and do my own thing – a little show at little restaurants, whatever. That was kind of the deal. That was as far as I was going to go with that.
“Then, I got into this duo and then we wanted to have a band and that started. Now, six or eight years later I’m playing all the time. I’ve got my own band. Just put out my third album - in addition to my EP. Who knew? I really had no clue.”
No that the small venue scene can be very inconsistent, I have observed that Paul is always booked on prime nights in very good venues in the Phoenix area and enjoys a loyal following. I asked him how that was working out for him.
“I think that I can harken back to my quitting music and doing my business for ten years. I got to learn business – true business. Music can be a real hot mess as far as business goes. It can get kinda lawless out there. People sayin’ just whatever. Being in business, you’ve gotta put up or get out of the way. Just like with you and everyone else, people want their stuff done. It’s going to cost a certain amount. You’ve got to keep a good reputation. If you don’t, it’s going to spiral down and you’re not going to have a business and then what do you have?
“I took that same philosophy to music. I knew in my first years of acoustic, if I were to sit here and listen to what I played in those first few times I got on stage, I was nowhere near the quality that I am now. But I knew that I wasn’t bad. I knew that if I came in there and I was professional and I was kind and good to people and make them happy, I would at least have that. That’s how I looked at it. At the very least, I was professional. You’d be surprised how easy and how quickly you climb when you’re professional in this business because of unprofessional people saying, ‘I can’t make it tonight. We won’t be there’ or they play there and they get wasted and can’t even stand up. Those kinds of things. I stay away from that stuff because I know what they’re doing. It’s there their business and I’m a guest in it.
“So, I started there and I thought, ‘Well, at least they can’t fire me because I’m being late or anything like that.’ Then, I just kept doing my thing. What I would do is listen to the people. When they told me this is the cover they want me to play or, ‘this is the original song I want you to play’, they go on my list of songs and that would be my song list for guests to choose from – like a human jukebox. I didn’t pick my list of now over two hundred songs – everything from rap to country to metal to rock – anything - they picked them. I think that’s a big thing.
“Again, many bands are so interested in their genre – I just don’t have a genre. People will want to say that I’m country - listen to ‘Makin’ Bacon Naked’ off of BOOM! - but I’m more than that. They want to say that I’m hard rock - listen to ‘I Don’t Deserve It’ - but I’m more than that, too. I write songs and use the genres based on the feeling of that song or of what I’m trying to say. So if I’m writing something angry, it’s going to come out in one of two ways – metal or a gangsta rap because those sound mean and mad to me, as opposed to me writing a country song where I’m mad - it doesn’t seem to fit as well to me.
“So, I’m kind of different that way, in that, I like all of the different genres. I like to play them all. I like to shock people when I play Michael Jackson right after playing Stone Temple Pilots. You’d be surprised how many people like that variety – that sort of, ‘Let’s celebrate music’ instead of, ‘Let’s celebrate seventies hard rock’ or something like that. It’s too small of an audience. That’s what I do. I let it all out there, let them decide the songs. I play for them and I tend to get a following because of it and I hope one of the reasons people come out to my shows, whether solo, duo, trios or full rock band, that we’re so positive, trying to be nice to each other and create an environment of no stress. We’re just entertaining, getting your mind off of the craziness out there. We don’t want to add to that. We want to take that away.”
I asked Paul if he found that, when he goes from Phoenix area venues like Murphy’s Law or Sages, that he does have a following that he sees at all of the places he plays.
“You betcha! There’s a definite core of people who follow me and who try to come out as much as they can. I’ll have weekends where the same people will come to three shows in a row. I’m just blown away by that kind of stuff. But, at the same time, they get to see three different shows. I’ve got the solo gig. I have a duo where just me and the incredible Tony Olivas, playing guitars. Today, I have a trio. I’m adding my drummer, Dave Gary, and that’s really special because he adds so much and he plays with a bunch of different brushes and mallets. It’s another neat show that takes the same songs to a different level. Then, on Friday, we’re going to play with the full band (The Paul Ludenia Project) which will add my bass player (Danger Dave LeGassey) and my sound guy (John Wallace) and we’re gonna crank it up. That’s a whole different show. So, I think you can come see me sometime and you’re just not going to get the same show and I think that helps.”
When I asked Paul just how well does music and his business, Imagine Images Design Studios, coexists for him, personally, he said, “I’m not sure there are many other avenues I could take to have that sort of double business. I’ve heard some guys do real estate sales because of the flex hours and that kind of thing. But the one thing that I get that helps so much is everything I do in my business transposes over to my band and my music.
“I do logos and print pieces, direct mail pieces. That all can be done – and I do it – for my music stuff. I do videos and photography for Imagine Images. I make all of my videos and being that it’s a computer based business, that is where I stumbled on – many years ago – Garage Band on a Macintosh. When I made my first EP called “Styles For Miles”, my only goal was getting down songs I’d written in the past. I didn’t want to forget them. Some were on a crummy cassette tape. I just wanted to get them moved over digitally. I really thought I was just getting them down for me to have – posterity for the rest of my life. “Then, sarcastically, Paul adds, “I would NEVER record full albums for myself! Never!
“That was the goal. I got those songs recorded and all it did was fuel me to want to do the next thing and keep writing. One thing led to another to where I am today. I still take lessons and try to get better. I’m never happy with the final output. I want better. How can I make it my best? I don’t even know if I’m going at it for people’s approval or just my own, to be honest, because I feel that I’m definitely my own worst critic. But, then, this album has been interesting in that I’ve been able to – with “Karma Come”.
“So, with “Karma Come” I feel that my music is finally is helping and healing more than I ever thought one of my songs would. Like I’ve said, I just want to write love songs if I can do it. I’m in love and I think love is the answer and I don’t see enough of it in this world, so I want to spread that as much as possible. But, as you know, once you start writing, events in your life take you to different places – how you’re feeling, different circumstances and those kinds of things.
“So, with “Karma Come”, it’s been eye-opening as to how powerful music is and what you can actually do to get people behind a good cause. In this case, making folks aware, in hopes of reducing, Intimate Partner Violence.
Another instance of this is when a local musician, Russell Howe, who wrote “Amber Light”, a song about his niece that had been shot and killed when she got her purse taken from her. She fought back and they just shot her for, like, eight dollars. He brought this song to me that he’d wrote and he just wanted it recorded professionally. I rerecorded everything and put my spin on it, trying to keep with his emotions. Both Russell and I are super happy with the outcome of that song, and we are giving 100 percent of the profits to the family to help them with their grieving and expenses. Wow! I was super proud to be able to that and that he picked me to do it because he’d heard my other songs.
“So, just to go from a guy who’s out of music – doesn’t play anymore and is just doing graphic design and to think how that has morphed to become what it is today. I just could’ve never imagined it. I really couldn’t. Even talking about it right now I’m like, ‘Wow!’ It blows me away!”
I shifted our conversation over to Paul’s latest CD, “BOOM!” and asked him how this album was different for him than the others.
“It reminded of the first one in the sense that it is just me, for the most part. By now, I kinda ‘got it’. I’m less worried about how I manipulate the tools and more about the focus on the song and writing itself. It felt easier, this time, to be able to accomplish what I’m thinking. I think it has a lot to do with doing it myself. The second album, “Twenty Ten Again”, I spent three months with a guy – he was doing all the tracking. He had the computer and the software and knew how to use it. I gave him a bunch of money and we got about three months in and he stopped. I didn’t get any of the files. I didn’t get my money back. I had to start all over. I ended up doing that one by myself but it was the third time I had recorded that album. It was the worst experience but it’s led me to do things on my own. I don’t need that kind of help anymore and that’s pretty powerful!
“’Making Bacon Naked’, I was standing in front of my stove, making it (bacon) and I was singing that song to myself, thinking, ‘Boy, this would make a funny country song’. When I got done eatin’ that pound of bacon, I walked upstairs and I cranked out that song in four hours because it was totally written in my head already. Then I come down after recording it, did a fifteen minute photo shoot by myself (that you see online), and that was it!”
In response to my question as to how long BOOM! took for him to record, he said, “I’m going to say about six months. You can listen to, ‘Life Got In The Way’, for an explanation about that because I could’ve definitely done it sooner but life gets in the way and I physically don’t have time to go into my studio and write/record sometimes. Again, it was easy. I had a bunch of songs to pull from and it was just a matter of picking which ones I wanted to finish up. But six months was about it.”
I encourage you, the reader, to watch the video, “Karma Come”, at the end of this interview. When I first watched it, it left me speechless. I asked Ludenia for the back story of this song.
“Maggie is the lady’s name. She is a fifty year old, super kind-hearted lady and successful in business but she always struggled – as many do – with love. From what Maggie tells me, she just hasn’t had it true love before. When you’re out in the bars as much as I am, you see a lot of that and how people are so desperate for love. I’m very lucky that I’ve had that my whole life but I can imagine how tough it could be.
“So, Maggie met this guy when she was fifty years old and brings him out to the shows. The way it works is, if you’re a friend of mine, I love you - so if you’re in love with some guy, I love him. It’s that simple. So, I got to meet the guy and was so happy that she had found someone because you hope everyone finds their person and that they live happily ever after. Boy, they were super in love and so happy every time I saw them. Then they went off to Costa Rica with their family, to get married. I was playing on the north side of Phoenix at Seventh Street Sports Bar. In between sets, I went through my Facebook and I saw pictures of Maggie and her face black and blue – just beat up! I assumed that it was a car accident or something. But I’m reading further and it said something to the affect that he did this the day of their wedding to her. He beat her and tried to throw her over the balcony – tried to kill her!
“I can’t even tell you now the pain that I felt immediately. I texted my wife, ‘Can you go on Facebook and make sure that I’m reading this right? Is this what really happened?’ Sure enough, it did! She (Maggie) came back with some broken bones and a bruised face and body but was thankful to be alive. She didn’t think that she was going to make it. He ran off and she came back to town with the kids right away and they were trying to find him. While that was going on, I wrote a song to him. That’s what the song is about. It was my feelings of ‘How could you do this? How could you be in love and do this?’ But also, ‘How could you shake my hand and then use that hand to beat her?’ I just wanted to take back all that love I had given him because he didn’t deserve it. Anyone who would do that is not worthy. This song is really about my feelings and about how I feel towards him. I think “Who cares about what I feel towards him?” because that’s not the point at all but that was my emotion coming out and is why I wrote the song. She tells me that she looks to this song for guidance and strength. I could’ve never imagined that that song would’ve affected anyone that way, much less my friend, Maggie.”
As our chat wrapped up, I asked Ludenia what was on his radar, musically, for the next year as well as for the years to come.
“I’m going to keep pressing and doing what I do. I like the old days when the bands would pump out an album about every year, if they can do it. I want to be that guy. I would also like to get a little more into helping others write. I’ve helped some others and it’s really gratifying. But I’m just going to keep pressing, doing what I do. I would like to make enough waves that maybe someday a label would come calling but, at the same time, be strong enough to say, ‘You know, I don’t know if I need you guys’. That might be the best route. It might not be the most fruitful but it might be. I don’t know.”