“We’re going to use our powers of rock ’n’ roll for good tonight, instead of complicit, negligent, self-hating evil!” proclaims Daniel Pujol halfway through his new album, Kludge. It’s not that he’s above a little self-loathing: his new songs are, by turn, wistful, frustrated, and tragicomic. But when it comes to Pujol, self-awareness and rueful positivity rise to the surface.
How does he survive as the all-caps garage rock version of himself without looking like an arrogant jerk? A quick wit and a sharp vocabulary don’t hurt, but the key is his willingness to appear candid and unvarnished. I didn’t go through a publicist to get to Daniel Pujol. I found his personal email address in the liner notes. It felt like unlocking the Easter egg.
So, that’s PUJOL, musician. He’s also Pujol, Inc., a one-man business that consumes most of his time, all of his money, and a good bit of ingenuity, too. There’s not supposed to be anything glamorous about financing studio sessions as an independent artist. Pujol found a way to support a personal cause, score a bargain, and make the album he wanted at the same time. CoS sat down with Nashville’s lowest-fidelity poet to talk about recording at midnight, Gary Oldman as Dracula, and how conspiracy theory represents the universal struggle of self-doubt.
You recorded Kludge at The Place, a support center for teens in crisis in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. What drew you there?
Well, I wanted a place that I had nighttime access to and could afford. I worked in a teen center and music venue in Nashville for a long time called Rocketown. I sort of still do, but haven’t recently. I am used to the environment. My first band, MEEMAW, recorded and practiced at Rocketown. So, The Place was a familiar setting for PUJOL recording and rehearsal.
I wanted a place where I could pursue recording ideas without the time pressure of a really expensive day-rate. You can get decent sounds in an acoustically treated music venue just like you can in a real, home, or warehouse studio, but not pay $300 or $500 a day. I would rather support a non-profit with a monthly rental fee than pay a bunch of money to blow through basic tracking in a week. I was able to record this record like I was at home, but use real gear and work with Doni [Shroader] as the producer. I figured it was time to combine the two, and it will stay that way for the records to come.
Every evening you set up after the center closed, recorded overnight, and broke down in the morning. How does that kind of schedule affect the process? Did you have much interaction with the people who went there during the day?
It was educational. I had a better knowledge of the gear and how it all worked together. Doni is a gear wizard, and he taught me a lot. Also, I felt more at home because Doni and I repeatedly rebuilt the environment together. The owners would stop by with their kids before we started working, so we had a good dose of real human contact. I think that helped ground the process in human reality.
Were you also trying to work another job at the same time?
I’ll work at Rocketown or help with packing and shipping for a few Nashville record labels when I’m not touring or recording. I try to work as much as possible when not doing PUJOL and save enough money to be able to not work a lot when I am. I pay for everything in PUJOL because I’m the business owner. I pay my band, rent the room, pay the gas, etc. So, if I’m not doing PUJOL, I’m trying to work for reserve PUJOL dough or some “me money.”
There are a lot of movie references on this record, and I don’t just mean “Pitch Black”, the song about going to the movies alone. King Kong, The Wizard of Oz, The Jungle Book. How do they all fit into a theme?
I like messing with the idea of popular culture redefining archetypes. I use that idea loosely. If I find something that I can use as a symbol in popular culture, I go for it even if my interpretation of it is off the wall. Like the Gary Oldman shadow person, from Dracula. His shadow shows his intentions, or maybe the projected fear of those in front of him. Or maybe it’s just his reputation acting autonomously, fed by the fear of others.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen lately?
A movie called Celine and Julie Go Boating.
Tell me about lizards. Have you been reading David Icke or what?
Sure have. I got really into the idea of the “underbelly of the internet” for this record. The popularization of conspiracy theory seems like a good folklore-esque way to personify the fear of human incompetence. In yourself, others, or all civilization. “Factlore.”
In some perverse way, it might be more comforting to believe the Illuminati is selling local PDs extra MRAP vehicles to initiate a police state than just some dudes trying to sell off army surplus. You can stop or expose a conspiracy, but you can’t control human incompetence or unintended consequences. Same thing goes for your personal life.
I love your work for the album cover. Are you a lifelong Lego enthusiast?
You know it. I love Legos.
This is the first time we’ve heard you play acoustic on record. “Spooky Scary” almost has a Dylan vibe. How’d that happen?
I wrote it really quick and liked the progression, so we tracked it the day I wrote it. The roads were so quiet in Mt. Juliet, aside from one or two semis blowing by in the middle of the night. I loved that sound. I also wanted to capture the sound of morning traffic from people coming home from a night shift in a recording.
If I could just pick one line: “It’s a neo-noir bummer wave world.” That seems like the quintessential PUJOL outlook.
I can see that. I mean, I love Mulder. I love Blade Runner. I love David Lynch. If I had to frame “the struggle,” it would be in that world. So, I do. It makes it all more bearable.
What’s landed in your inbox since you put your email address out there?
Mostly Chinese drywall and fake United Nations emails.
Oasis or Blur?
Oasis for socioeconomic reasons. Only the first two albums.
David Tennant or Matt Smith?
Oh no! Maybe David Tennant. That’s hard.
Best version of Godzilla?
The very first one.