Frameshift’s Absence of Empathy is a hard driving, in-your-face CD about violence. It is a concept CD whose protagonist experiences different aspects of violence through a series of dreams. They let him see through the eyes of both perpetrators and victims. This is not the blood and guts that defines some musical genres, however, but a thoughtful look at terrible crimes, their consequences, and their prevention. Pauly enters the world’s aggression as an artist, trying to make sense of and deal with the real-world brutality that must be struggled with continually.
Frameshift is one of many wide-ranging projects of Henning Pauly. Pauly’s creativity does not let him stand still, as he constantly balances a number of musical, production, and film endeavors, including a rock opera currently in progress. For vocals on this album, he brought in Sebastian Bach, formerly of Skid Row, to add his unique sound. While the business side of the pairing didn’t work out, the music doesn’t betray the conflict that would later split the two performers.
Henning Pauly is not violent; in fact, he was friendly and low-key while speaking via telephone from his home in Twin Peaks, California, about his second CD under the Frameshift name. Pauly played all the instruments on this release, creating a disc that functions as a solo album, even given the appearance of a noteworthy singer. Although born and raised in Germany, Pauly speaks excellent English and spoke easily on an array of topics, even when dealing with troubling issues.
|Henning Pauly won’t beat you up, but he doesn’t pull any punches when he comes to defending himself.|
PopMatters: Did you personally identify with any of the violence in the CD?
Henning Pauly: No. I’m a very, very nice guy. I don’t hurt people. I don’t have any violent tendencies.
PM: How did the idea for Absence of Empathy come about?
HP: It was originally an idea for a concept album by Shawn Gordon [president of ProgRock Records, the company that released the CD] when he played keyboards in a band called Zircadian. There is someone jumping from person to person to experience violent things. We are bombarded by violence. The CD asks what makes us be that way.
Maya Haddi, who was a singer on the CD, asked me, “Are you going to give some kind of answer?” All the violence left a bad aftertaste. I was saying, “You bastards are evil—bye bye,” without giving an answer. So the last song asks if educating our children against violence can make things right
PM: Sebastian Bach has claimed on his website and in interviews that he was cheated out of songwriting credits on the CD.
HP: For the lyrics he changed a word or two, or changed the order around. Sebastian was a hired gun on the project. He was hired to sing what was already written. I’ve read the contract ten or so times. There is nothing about Sebastian getting approval of the songs. It was a courtesy to let him listen to it. If we were trying to rip him off, why is his picture in the CD sleeve so many times? He has seven pictures—I only have two. On the phone he was yelling and insulting. He has made a public threat to beat me up. I’m kind of speechless. It is highly disappointing, and sad.
PM: At least he said that he liked the CD
HP: He likes it so much that he wants more credit. He hasn’t done anything in about ten years. His biggest thing was recording some Skid Row covers.
PM: Do you have any plans to do live Frameshift shows?
HP: I enjoy playing live a lot, but I don’t have a band. I would need really good musicians and we would have to practice for three or four weeks straight. And how many people would come to see us? And while I was doing it, who’s going to write new stuff?
PM: Would you call your music prog-rock?
HP: I don’t want to get stuck in a rut, or just be known as the prog metal guy. I’ve done this now, the very heavy, metal, dark stuff. Why do it again? I like to challenge myself. I am passionate about music in general. Right now I am listening to the Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox 20. The second Hanson album is my favorite.
I switch around so much, some people might say about my stuff that “I love this CD, and everything else is crap.” The next Frameshift CD will be completely opposite. I have plans for singer/songwriter material, like James Taylor or Cat Stevens.
PM: What are some of the problems playing all the instruments yourself?
HP: People always tend to think it is less good if one guy plays the instruments. Like a good guitar player cannot be a good keyboard player. Even I tend to think less of those kinds of projects—it’s unfair. The drummer on Absence of Empathy is fictional. People like to identify with the drummer on a CD. We made up a fake name.
PM: How do you work out tracks in the studio?
HP: It depends on what it is. A song written on an acoustic guitar is much different than one on piano. First I might program a short drum loop, then get a good riff on guitar, add a bridge and chorus, and add some ear-candy [lead] guitar. Sometimes I get ideas when I play the wrong chords. There is a lot of magic when you don’t know what you’re doing.
PM: How old are you, when did you move to the United States, and how did you get started in music?
HP: I’m 29 and 11/12. I moved in 1997 to the US to go to the Berklee School of Music. I got a double major and did five years’ worth in three. It would have been too expensive otherwise. After I graduated, one of my teachers said that I should go to L.A. to see what I can do. I never wanted to be “the artist”. I wanted to be the guy to help the artist make the product, to write arrangements. I worked in the Guitar Center for a few months, and then helped an ad agency write jingles. I still run their recording studio.
On the side I did the first Chain album, which was the name of a group in Germany that I was in. I gave it to the band members as a Christmas present. It was played by ProgRock’s radio station. They teamed me up with one of their artists, James LaBrie, for the first Frameshift CD.
PM: The first Frameshift CD, Unweaving the Rainbow, was based on the writings of [evolutionary biologist] Richard Dawkins. Did they have a personal meaning to you?
HP: They were very inspirational to me. They let me see the world from a different point of view, a different way of seeing the same thing. An example of that is when I moved to the U.S. The first couple of days in a foreign country, you don’t know where the milk is in the store when you go to buy it, and it is packaged differently. It is not better or worse, just a different way of doing things.
PM: What is your project “Babycakes” about?
HP: “Babycakes” is two CDs, a rock opera. It is about five people in a rehab center. Their family members have a hard time dealing with their problems. They think their lives are over. But when they sit around in the cafeteria, they find that they can be a family themselves. They are a very tight group of people, who kick each other’s asses to get better. There is also a doctor who is brilliant, but does not know how to deal with his patients’ emotional problems.
It is a true story. I worked in a hospital in Germany for my National Service when I was 19. What I wrote was passed around from room to room. People would give me thumbs up, and I think it gave them some hope.