Not a Piece of My Heart
Photo by Larry McAdamsHot-shit indie duo the Postal Service taught Paul Layton how to spoon. When filming the video for their single "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," they enlisted Layton, who's not an actor but a musician, for the role of a holographic love interest (yeah, just go with it). Footage was shot with the lead actress on a bed, and then footage was shot with Layton on the bed, and then both footage were spliced together to create the hologram effect.
"I'm on the bed, and they're like, 'Okay, pretend you're spooning her,' and I was like, 'What's spooning?'" he says. He worried that it was some kind of obscene gesture. We sit on the Hot Carl remarks and wonder: Is he fucking kidding?
No, he's not: while the rest of us were out spooning like rabbits, Paul Layton was locked in his basement for days at a time, creating music and growing increasingly paranoid that he was losing his younger sister/muse Lara, with whom he'd been collaborating since childhood. The result of his paranoid delusion is the expertly crafted, fizzy, '80s new wave dance explosion titled Grand Design and recorded under the name Layton. And to be honest, we're surprised.
We've followed his musical career for about eight years now, so we assumed that everything he touched would sound like everything he previously touched. But Grand Design is a departure. A reinvention. A rebirth. Paul McAdams had to die so Paul Layton could live. Allow us to explain.
Paul McAdams, singer of and benevolent despot behind such bands as Paullara, Paul and Lara, Friends of Desire, and Antenna Force, was an incredibly talented local musician/producer/songwriter/arranger who folded infinite melodies into slightly cheesy canned beats that resulted in awesomely retro-futuristic pop masterpieces. These were self- recorded and performed with Lara and a backing band who were informed from the outset that this was Paul and Lara's project and if they didn't like it they could go to heck. Good and devout Christians, Paul and Lara, with their model-perfect good looks, were interested in timeless themes like chastity (good), love in the Platonic sense (good), love in the earthly sense (bad), avoiding fat and sugar (avoiding, good; fat and sugar; bad), and listening to classic pop from bygone eras that didn't inundate them with negative messages.
Paul, no stranger to sweaters, wore his hair in a comely bowl cut and was referred to as "cute Paul" behind his back. Lara, too, was a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Once this was discovered, the term "genetically correct" was bandied about. Okay, fine, we kind of started that. But then Lara got married, and Paul changed his name and discovered mousse.
Paul Layton, which is the name Paul took not only because Layton is his middle name but also because Layton was his father's real last name—his father was adopted by a McAdams—is an exaggerated '80s foppish version of Paul McAdams who wears structured clothing with a wild spray of zippers and languishes a lot and sighs a lot. If Paul McAdams sat for Nagel, Paul Layton would come out.
"I was in a really neon mood," says the man Layton, explaining his new CD. He blames the bright-yellow keyboard he saw at Guitar Center and "had to have." "There's some flamboyance and dandyism that works its way into the music, but it's all very heartfelt and not done in a joking manner."
But at the same time: "These songs aren't about me and my specific outlooks," he says. "I'm not giving a piece of my heart. That stuff is hidden in the details."
Which is to say it took a lot of heart to make music this austere. And here's the thing: Paul Layton is a character dreamed up by Paul McAdams because it's liberating and whatnot, but Paul Layton is also the name Paul McAdams now goes by, so essentially Paul Layton is a character dreamed up by Paul Layton.
"The idea was to do something extremely autobiographical," he says.
When Lara started dating her future husband and it was clear the two were heading toward marriage, Paul Layton started panicking, worried he was going to lose his best gal and collaborator. As a result, he simply took over the lead-vocal duties himself. But in a much messier and manic way.
"The madness was really one-sided," he admits. "I thought things were going to be a certain way. I thought I was losing my music partner and that everything would change and fall apart, and as a direct result of that, I controlled reality and made it that way. My outlook shaped what happened. I don't know if I had a tangible thought like, 'Okay, it's time to take this whole thing upon my shoulders, I'm all that's left,' but that was largely the spirit."
Layton has been interested in the notion of self-fulfilling prophecy for quite some time now. Turns out this time his perception was off.
"Lara's very available and very committed. In hindsight, doing it all myself was a mistake because I wish she was on it more."
And so he feels bad for all the times he called her up and made her cry. And he feels really lucky that her husband doesn't hate him. He just wanted to "create fantastic easy-listening opuses with [his] sister," but things got out of hand. "I think I do okay on the writing-and-producing-songs front but as far as strategy for success? I'm pretty self-defeating," he admits.
Which is an odd statement for a young pop genius poised suddenly on the brink of success.
But see, aside from everything else, there's this simple belief, held by both Paul McAdams and Paul Layton, reaffirmed by listeners, and clung to so tightly it could incinerate: "Our voices blend really well together."
LAYTON WITH JESSICA DOBSON AND SMILING FACE DOWN AT DETROIT BAR, 843 W. 19TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 642-0600; WWW.DETROITBAR.COM. THURS., SEPT. 30. Call for time. $5. 21+.
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