Nashville-based Daniel Pujol, the man behind his eponymous band, PUJOL, makes and records his “Southern fried country punk” at an average of five albums a year. His bristly songs and scruffy work ethic earned him attention from JEFF the Brotherhood, Jack White, and Conor Oberst’s Saddle Creek Records. Despite his hardcore sound and perpetually sunglasses-clad appearance, Daniel Pujol is a Southern gentleman who says “ma’am,” works at the Nashville YMCA, and studies global affairs in graduate school. Recently, Consequence of Sound chatted with Pujol, who is currently at work in the studio recording his full-length debut. The songwriter set the record straight on cloggers, Stewart Copeland’s real identity, and why he wasn’t intimidated by Jack White.
I read that the reason you started playing music is because you read an essay on the Situationist International and the Sex Pistols. Would you say that your music still examines how performance art politicizes consumption?
Yes and no. Yes—this is such a great question, and it sucks that I’m driving right now—but in an after-the-fact sense. The initial putting out of that idea in the late ‘70s was the idea of politicizing consumption, but creating this thing where to be associated with it was almost making a statement that negated a lot of aspects of society at the time. Yes and no in the sense that I’m not trying to be divisive about it. There’s absolutely no utility anymore in putting a safety pin in my nose and telling people that I’m smarter than them because of some esoteric notion of freedom through negating everything. But in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, that was very necessary, in a rudimentary way, to articulate that idea. In the 21st century, merely in a rudimentary fashion, trying to politicize consumption is some kind of lifestyle association or some kind of niche dream or something. It’s inherently divisive. It supports the system of consumerism. It’s kind of like, I’m free because I get to wear whatever I want.
That’s interesting, because, you know, people buying vinyl and putting music on vinyl is a form of consumption, but it makes the music better, and it’s a way to get music to people who might not otherwise listen to it.
Analogue is a form of consumption. You’re not going to get away from it. On top of the notion of politicizing consumption, you’ve got to do that to stay alive. You’ve got to do that to adapt to the terrain we’re living in right now. And, going back to the yes and no—more along the lines of the no—saying that consumption is bad and blah blah blah is just being as ideologically consistent and relatively ignorant as saying that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry. It’s inherently divisive. Any kind of ideological exclusivity—regardless of whether you’re talking life or you’re talking religion or you’re talking economics or politics. Anything that’s being sidelined into any kind of one-dimensional thing that you can put on a T-shirt can be associated with an idea, because you politicize consumption. I’m not trying to do that. That’s no longer productive in society because it’s inherently divisive.
Speaking of divisive things, I read that you started recording under PUJOL so you could record without the hassle of bands breaking up and taking a break. I’m curious as to how you go about finding people to play with and how long you play with the same group of people?
That’s a good question. I find people obviously based on their musical ability, but also based on their personality. Then, when recording, I try to get a certain group of people based on their personality, and then playing around the song to be able to synthesize what that kind of interpersonal chemistry sounds like. And then, in a live performance or touring situation, obviously, based on musical skills and personality. And we’ll play music together as long as it’s constructive for them. I don’t try to keep anyone in longer than they want to do it. I don’t like to encourage people to make more sacrifices for their own livelihood than I believe I’m compensating them for their time.
How did you meet and/or get in contact with Jack White and Stewart Copeland?
Oh, well, it’s not Stewart Copeland from The Police… Sorry, my friend is eating Pringles and watching Gossip Girl on his iPhone with headphones on… It’s not Stewart Copeland from The Police. It’s the Stewart Copeland that I grew up with. But he’s named after that Stewart Copeland, and he’s blond, and he’s also a badass guitarist.
That’s awesome. I thought—I guess another writer from Consequence of Sound thought that and was like, “Man! Daniel’s so hooked up!” I mean, you still are, but that’s funny.
Yeah, I don’t like playing basketball with famous people. But I sent—two years ago, with the Jack White thing—a mass email to Nashville, and I was like, “I’m looking for a drummer who can tour for the summer in 2009.” And they just responded, “When we hear about anyone looking to play for someone, we’ll let you know.” And that just kind of led to us talking to each other and agreeing to work together.
Did you just work through email and phones? Or did you ever actually sit down in a studio with him?
I recorded with him and stuff. Most of the interaction was between me and the guy who’s running the label, but I did record some of the mixing with Jack.
Were you really intimidated?
No. I was more paying attention to him. I wanted to learn. I’d never seen someone working in that sort of environment before, and I’d never worked in a situation where I was being produced before. So I went into it trying to absorb as much experience as I could.
How did it come to be that “Too Safe” and “Black Rabbit” were picked up by Third Man? Why not “Mayday”, for example?
They sounded the best live at the time. I’m going to do a studio version of that in a couple months—not a couple of months, I’m sorry, a couple of weeks. I’m trying to merge, hold on a sec, let me put this down… Heeere we go! Yeah, you know, you go in there, and you hit it, and you make the single, and then that’s it. About four or five hours. Those were the two that, you know, were the grooviest at the time.
Were you pleased with the music videos that were made for them?
I was very pleased with the music video that Stewart Copeland made for “Black Rabbit”.
Yeah, that was a sweet video.
I know, I know. He is so easy to work with. I was like, “Hey, Stewart, want to do this video?” And he wrote up a treatment. I’ve never worked with someone who’s conducted themselves like a grown-up in that regard before. It was really interesting to watch the way that his mind works, because he’s always been a mystery wrapped in an enigma since our early childhood, in a navy blue polo shirt tucked into khakis at the Catholic school. He’s just a great filmmaker.
So you went to Catholic school?
No, I didn’t go to Catholic school. My sister went to Catholic school, his mom taught my sister, and he went to Catholic school.
It was very professionally done. I was pretty impressed.
He wanted to have cloggers. Instead of the band playing, he originally wanted cloggers. But the cloggers bailed because they found out that it was rock and roll music. They said it was too fast for clogging. That’s a very fast version of that song, but it’s not too fast for clogging.
Another question: Why did you switch labels so frequently?
This is going to be the most dude answer, okay? Whenever you make a record, you make a piece of art, and you want to put that piece of art out. And sometimes labels have release schedules, very long release schedules. In my case, I, one, couldn’t afford to not have merch in order to tour, and two, I couldn’t afford to put out the record that I just put out at wholesale after I sold the initial pressing. So, I just kept on making records. Let’s say I make a record in January, and then they print 1,000 of them. I get 100 of the seven-inches, I go on tour, I sell those 100 seven-inches in a month or two, and then I don’t have enough money to go buy $300 worth of seven-inches at $2.50 a pop. It was just easier for me to go out and make more records.
So, it was a financial decision, mostly.
Well, definitely, and an artistic one! I don’t want to tour on the same record for a year. I don’t want to tour on the same record for two years. Other kinds of music, mixtape culture and things like that, they’re able to make art at the speed that they want it to be put out, and that speed just so happens to be relevant to the speed that people live at. They’re not listening to the same song for two years. I’m not trying to cram this triangle peg into this circle hole. So, basically, it was a pragmatic decision. It was a mixture of economic necessity, and it also enabled me to make art at the speed that I wanted to, at the speed of my life, and the speed of other people’s lives that I’m sharing my art with.
Do you think that you’ll stay on Saddle Creek for a while, or do you think you’ll move on after this record?
I don’t know. I mean, one thing at a time. I’m having a really good time with Saddle Creek. I’m really happy with them. And they’re great guys who have invested in their local economy and business, and I really respect that. That’s why I decided to work with them.
Do you ever get writer’s block? Have you ever gotten writer’s block? Are you worried that you’ll sort of burn out going at the rate that you’re going making records?
I write a lot, and I do different kinds of recordings. Different kinds of thoughts can be recorded in different ways. When you think about writing, there’s always what you want to write about, and what you’re gonna write about. I like to do the home recording stuff for what I’m gonna write about. Like that record X File on Main Street? That was the record of what I had to write about in order to write more. In terms of making these relevant to life, it’s like a hamburger at McDonald’s. You’re not going to get the same size patty every time you get hungry. And, for me, that’s why I do the poems with the Nashville Cream and editorials, and writing for school. If you sit around, like, “I need to write the most eponymous, greatest song of right now, ever,” it’s like, yeah, you’re not going to do that. You just have to keep on working. Writer’s block is just not an option. You can pout about it, but you’re going to have to work through it anyway. You may as well figure out how you’re going to make a dignified work.
Do you use what you study in grad school in your songs? Is there any crossover?
Yeah, that’s another thing, too. I’m taking in a lot of information all the time. I’m exposed to a lot of great new ideas and attempting to continually put myself in a position where I grow as a person and be exposed to new ideas. The more you’re taking in, the more you have to process, the more you’re going to be able to put out. Maybe to a certain extent, making things is learning at the same time. It’s better than TV, but just as entertaining.
What are you going to do when you graduate?
Still do music. I’m interested in doing some doctorate stuff. Eventually, when I’m an old man and I’ve burned all of the fire and I don’t do anything except eat the same thing every day at the same time and—I don’t know, polish my shoes in the morning or something. I’d like to teach. I work at a youth center in Nashville, too. I’d like to be a little more involved in that, too.