Connect with us
April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

Featured Stories

WE ARE ALL PAUL: A Fun Conversation with Please Ask for Paul

by Lauren LeighApril 2024

Narlo Smith & Joshua McCleskey of Please Ask for Paul. Photo by Darci Fontenot.

In a FaceTime interview, Please Ask for Paul’s founding members ,Marlo J. Smith and Joshua McCleskey, are DIYing T-shirt merch for an upcoming show in their magical forest of a backyard in Fallbrook. They rocketed onto the scene with their dreamy EP, New Runes, last year and caught the attention of the San Diego Music Awards, earning a nomination for Best New Artist. Marlo and Josh have opposite demeanors. Josh is more eccentric, quirky, and off-the-cuff. Marlo has clearly lived hundreds of past lives, as evidenced by her calm, fairy-queen energy. Having heard a podcast interview with Music Makers San Diego host Gary Lee, I knew asking about the unique name was a dead end. I wouldn’t get a direct answer to “Who’s Paul?” or “What’s with the name?” I knew they’d just tell me, “We are all Paul.”

San Diego Troubadour: Thanks for meeting with me, you two. You’ve been doing lots of interviews and podcasts lately, so what’s one question you wish you were asked more?

Josh: Each member of any given group has been asked about our influences before, but that is such a formative thing about our musical identity, which is very interesting to hear. Often, they are very different, but sometimes they’re the same. For me, when I started smoking pot I got really into Sgt. Pepper, I love Led Zeppelin, obsessed with Jimmy Page. And I have old punk roots, too. When I was in high school, I loved NOFX, Operation Ivy, Rancid… that rock side of things has always been there.

Marlo: I have a lot of ’80s pop music influences.

Josh: Also totally offbeat questions. Like, what’s your favorite color and why? What did you have for dinner last night?

Given the other-worldly sound of your music—if aliens from outer space were to hear your music, what impression would it give them about the human race?

Marlo: They would be like, “oh, we’re home.” They would be like, “Oh shit, how’d they escape and get here?”

Josh: I agree. We always joke about how we often feel alienated from our fellow humans.

Marlo: We don’t belong here.

Josh: There’s this space thing with our fans, called the “Paulonauts”

Marlo: Another one we like is “Hey Paulty People!” like party people but Paulty. You get it.

Does your mind ever wander when you are onstage? If so, what’s the last thing you thought about instead of what you were playing?

Josh: That is a good question. I had this internal thought while I was performing. I’ve never had an erection when performing. It’s the one time in my life where sex is not a part of it. Also, the only time I ever sneezed during a performance. I don’t know if you guys remember this phase where people were getting hurt at concerts because people would let off pepper spray in the audience. This was around 2003; I was performing in Oklahoma City and the whole band was having difficulty breathing and sneezing. It’s the only time I’ve ever sneezed on stage- and to this day I haven’t had a boner on stage. I don’t know. Honestly, I’m always just so worried about my tone and my mind usually doesn’t slip.

Marlo: I’m pretty focused and in it. I don’t know if it ever wanders besides what’s happening in the moment.

Josh: Watch, tonight I’ll be sneezing with a boner. My first time and I’m gonna blame you, Lauren.

That’s fair. If you could pick one of your songs to represent your sound and get people hooked, which one would it be?

Marlo: I think my choice would be “Books.” I really love that song. It’s really fun for me.

Josh: I love that one too. It sounded awesome whenever Marlo brought it to the table with just acoustic guitar and vocals. We started this whole guitar legacy where we started layering and doing “guitarmonies.” We weren’t sure how our sound was gonna be.

Marlo: That was the first song we recorded.

“Books” by Please Ask for Paul.

Josh: Scott Seadar is the guy that engineered, played, and produced the record. We kind of created this vibe from that song, so in a way the whole genesis of Paul came from that record, so I’ll agree with you, “Books,” so far. We got some bangers coming out soon, though.

What is the biggest sacrifice you make as a musician?

Marlo: Money, probably.

Josh: I think for a lot of people, you sacrifice yourself and your music DNA to make other people happy. Luckily, it’s not the case for us. Maybe it’s a financial thing. We pay our band members out of pocket. We paid for our first EP ourselves. Sanity, sleep, and monetary elements.

What changes would you like to see in the music industry for independent musicians right now?

Marlo: I think we should get government subsidies and backing, ya know? No one survives without art. Every rich person you know listens to jazz, classical, or has a favorite rock band, like box seats to see Taylor Swift. They have money to fund small independent artists. I would love to see artists get paid a living wage.

Josh: To me, it’s like—what was that term we used during Covid?—to stay open, you had to be a necessity.

Marlo: An essential worker? It is essential. Everything can be destroyed, but art will never die. It’s the one thing that survives the apocalypse.

We are like cockroaches.

Josh: Dazzling cockroaches.

Marlo: I would also love to see more equity and representation. It’s so lacking.

Josh: More fairness to women in each genre.

How do you come up with your merch ideas? You have such unique and fun merch options.

Marlo: I would say Josh is the visionary as far as certain visual stuff goes. He’s a really great artist and has a really weird imagination. I handle the logistic side of things and just getting it done.

Josh: Often in other projects, I don’t think I’ve ever had an idea, musical or artistic that Marlo’s ever received in a negative way. In so many other collaborative groups, often having all these ideas has been met with resistance. Maybe it’s because in our group, Marlo and I are the blood of the group, but Marlo is so encouraging and makes it so easy., behind the scenes and in front of the camera.

Marlo: It’s a good flow, yeah. And even with our band, they are such pros. The first time we ever played a show, we rehearsed once. They just showed up and were ready to go.

Are you more collaborative with the band when writing new songs? Is your process changing?

Josh: It’s definitely evolving. We weren’t sure what these songs were gonna sound like. We are just making up the rules as we go along. We played a run of shows in the new year and things were starting to come together. They became more a part of the process. In fact, there’s a new song that Marlo wrote called “The Dove.” She’s played it with a few groups, but it takes on its own life with whomever she plays it with. The band were strangers when we started playing together, but as we become better friends it changes the dynamics of writing and music. All of them have been very receptive and positive.

Marlo: What’s cool is with our first batch of songs, Jules [Stewart] brought her flavor with “Books,” and we were like “Whoa!” That just changed the song completely, and then Sean [Cox Briar] brought his flavor and it just tied it all together. So, it’s really nice because there’s a lot of freedom in their own creations. We are trying to collaborate more. They both have such great ideas and are really creative. It all flows so well and they don’t really have a lot of ego with it.

Josh: I think they appreciate that we do a lot of the initial work and mapping out. Marlo is great about charting everything out and sending it in advance. They have other projects, so this makes it easy for them. The whole template of the group has been easy-peasy.

Marlo: We are busy people. We are all working; we are all trying to make music work. We don’t have time.

Josh: I have my cobbling side gig that I’m trying to break into. [Marlo laughs] We have the newspaper we huck in the mornings.

I mean, you guys are hustling right now, screen printing during the interview. It’s admirable but necessary isn’t it?

Marlo: Welcome to America.

Tell me about all your bandmates by assigning them a nickname.

Marlo: Jules [Stewart, drums], maybe like Cyborg.

Josh: Really? Okay yeah.

Marlo: Sean [Cox Briar, bass] is Faux Hawk Dazzle Pants. Josh would be Wild Booberry. That’s Booberry with two o’s.

Josh: Marlo is Feline Draculator.

Do you ever feel an identity change going from off stage to on stage? Talk to me about the mindset that allows you to be performers.

Josh: That’s a good question. It’s such a unique question for each performer. Everyone has their own routine or way of dealing with it. For me, I was always a ham onstage, putting on plays for my mom and being theatrical in that way. I find it easier to perform for 300-3,000 people on stage than having a one-on-one conversation sometimes. Even if I’m having a hard time, often when I’m on stage it feels more natural than it ever could. It’s where I shine. You know those gigs where there’s only eight to 11 people and you’re really forcing it because we are the conduit to this energy exchange. When there’s not a lot of that coming back and you’re only giving, it’s harder. Marlo, you kind of have your own persona on stage.

Marlo: Yeah, I have this kind of wicked anxiety before performing. I’m always I’m like, “Don’t overdo it, just be chill.” And once I’m up there I can’t help but be myself. I can’t help but play the music however I’m feeling it in that moment. So, it’s not like I’m adopting a character or a persona. I’m playing the songs from my gut.

Describe the San Diego music scene in five words or less.

Josh: Bitch, don’t kill my vibe.

Love it. I’ll be using that.

Josh: I guess I could come up with something that talks about how there can be unhealthy competition and stuff like that. But in playing with you guys [Stucky Leigh] and with this stage of being involved in the local scene with Marlo and Paul, I’ve met really uplifting artists in various different genres. Maybe my perception is always changing, but with this group we love supporting our friends and we feel the love back. And it’s not about obligation.

Marlo: There’s really cool stuff happening all the time. If we didn’t live so far away we would be out everywhere. So, five words, there you go.

“Into the Darkness” by Please Ask for Paul.

You guys are nominated for Best New Artist for the San Diego Music Awards this year. What’s your initial reaction to being nominated?

Josh: What?! That’s amazing. [Marlo laughs]. No, on the record we would love to see more women and non-binary folks represented in the categories.

Marlo: In our category there are seven bands and of those 29 band members, three are women and two of those are in our band. In that sense, I feel very proud that our band represents the queer community and women in that category. I feel proud that we are recognized. Those are things that are in the DNA of our band. I see the value in it, and I see that there’s community to be built from it.

Josh: I’m excited to go represent.

Marlo: We will never qualify for this category’s award again. So, that felt kind of special, too. This is kind of a cool one.

Very cool and very well deserved. A win for you is a win for all Paulonauts. Do you have any exciting shows or releases upcoming you’d like to talk about?

Josh: We have a June first show at the Soda Bar with Moon Panda, a great band. Also, we are going to play the North Park Music Fest, which is actually on the same day. But those two are definitely on the books.

Marlo: We are aiming for an Earth Day release of “The Dove.” We are mixing stuff. It is the first song I wrote during Covid. I would sit in this special spot in my yard and write. I’ve played it in various iterations and never really got it right and, finally, I feel like we got it right. I think we are almost there. We are hoping to release it on Earth Day because it is kind of about how we destroyed this beautiful place. We are really excited. We have four other songs we are aiming for a summertime release.

We will keep our eyes out for that. Thanks for your time. Now I’ll let you get back to the merch hustle.

Please Ask for Paul is:
Marlo J. Smith, vocals, acoustic guitar
Joshua McCleskey, lead guitar
Sean Cox Briar, bass
Jules Stewart, drums, BVs

Their album New Runes is available everywhere for download.

Continue Reading