In this installment of “One Song” I talk to Paleface about his song “I Wanna Travel.” The musician Paleface fronts the three-piece indie-folk band Paleface, which includes drummer Monica (Mo) Samalot and guitarist Soren Mattson. Paleface is playing in a Common Chord house concert in Salisbury August 10, 2013.
“I Wanna Travel” is on the 2010 album “One Big Party,” on Ramseur Records, but the song’s roots go back twenty years.
“The funny thing about that song is the melody is an old melody,” Paleface says. “Like from the beginning when I was playing open mics. I always had that melody. It was always very folky. I always think of kind of like Tom Joad. Like Grapes of Wrath or something. So that melody was there and I never forgot it for some reason. Even though I got into all kinds of other music and had a lot of life experience.”
I ask Paleface if there’s a recording of the original song.
“There’s nothing. And I don’t even remember. I just remember every once in a while we’d play it on harmonica and embellish it. You’re just messing around and G,C,D. The most basic song there can be. So I always remembered the melody but the words I don’t remember.”
The lyrics in “I Wanna Travel” express a longing to get out on the road and see the world.
The teachers I had growing up told me things about people and places to go.
But a lot of that talk was them repeating things about things that they didn’t even know.
I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna thank them for all of their help.
I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna find out those things for myself.
I’m from the East Coast. I’ve been here and there. But I still haven’t seen very much.
I know as I go and as old as I get there’s places I’ll never forget.
I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna go forth from cities and towns.
I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna travel. Even if I have to bum around.
The world’s getting smaller and smaller they say. Pretty soon it’ll all be the same.
But I hope that’s not true. There’s too much to do and a world like that just seems so lame.
I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna find what there is to find out.
I wanna travel. I wanna travel. I wanna travel. It’s about time I was busting out.
Paleface talks about the opening lyrics in the song. “Because it was an old melody that I’d come up with when I was really just a kid, that’s where I started. Like teachers that taught me and some were more, you know, full of shit. Because maybe they were just saying stuff and hadn’t really experienced it. So that’s where I started.”
Paleface wrote this song during a time that he and Mo were at home and going a little stir crazy, wanting to get back out on the road. They tour extensively through the whole year, just taking short breaks. I ask what memorable things they’ve seen while traveling and Paleface talks about a trip he and Mo took to Europe.
“It was just the two of us. There were amazing sights to see. Spain, Switzerland, France, you know? You’d get off at Switzerland and it was just like a postcard or something. You see these mountains in the background and people are just walking around like it’s everyday stuff. And I’m just looking at these vistas, you know, and it was beautiful.
“See, in Oviedo, Spain it was like all stone. It was kind of like it was one organism ‘cause everything was built out of stone. And if you’re walking it wasn’t delineated between buildings, sidewalks and streets. It was just all stone. It’s all just like one thing. And the streets are all like weird and windy…”
“Like a labyrinth,” Mo says.
The song expresses a yearning for travel, but in reality travel can be exhausting. Paleface and Mo talk about the difficulties of being on the road so much.
Paleface says, “You get tired. And you’re not through yet. You still have more shows to go. That can be hard. Bad shows. That’s hard. That’s hard to deal with. Everybody has them. And it doesn’t matter who you are. You have a bad show, and that period from that bad show to the next show is difficult. The next show usually is a good show. Because your awareness is heightened.”
Mo adds, “Also I think a lot of it has to do with there’s a lot of driving involved. Hours inside a small, confined space. Hours and hours. So even if you’re not driving you’re tired because your legs are cramped. Even if you’re not driving you’re not doing anything but traveling.”
“You’re traveling but you’re not moving, you’re not exercising,” Paleface says.
I ask Paleface if when he was on the road he ever wrote a song about wanting to be home.
“I’ve heard a bunch of them and they’re better than the ones I could do. And there’s always that temptation to write that song but so many people have written that song. ‘Homeward Bound,’ the Paul Simon one. That’s probably one of the biggest. I tried to, sort of, with ‘New York, New York.’ But I didn’t couch it in that…that wasn’t the tone of it. But it was about leaving home, cause I kind of finished it when we left.”
Paleface and Mo moved from New York to Concord, North Carolina in 2007. Here’s a video of the Paleface song “New York, New York,” sung with Scott and Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers.
The music of “I Wanna Travel” is straightforward up until the end, when the song closes with an unexpected minor chord and then segues into a dream-like passage. It starts with guitar arpeggios and then is joined by a flute-like tone which voices an ethereal melody floating above the guitar. That melody was recorded on a piano and then reversed, with added effects. The backwards piano, as well as a bass with effects, creates an off-kilter feeling as the song drifts off, a strange, uneasy finish to a song that, up to that point, was so straightforward.
Paleface explains that the ending expresses his feeling about people who want to travel but can’t.
“I found a lot of places we go a lot of people say ‘I wish I could travel.’ Some of them, maybe it just seems like a good idea because they don’t have to do it. Others really want to do it. But they can’t. Like they can’t break away, or their spouse doesn’t want to travel, or they can’t get their head around that they should just do it. Or they don’t know what to do or how to make it happen. So there’s a lot of that. Especially in music you see a lot of that too. In New York there’s tons of that. Musicians wanted to get on the road. We couldn’t do it because the rents were so high. There was no way to make it work. We had to leave. We totally had to leave.
“That ending piece of the song where there’s this weird chord, it’s like a strange chord, and then it goes into this backwards piano, and that’s kind of that feeling. I’ve heard that, and I’ve heard people and they’re trapped by whatever, maybe it’s their job, they can’t leave their job, kids or whatever it is. So that is in there too. ‘I want to travel but I don’t know if I can. Maybe I can’t.’ Without using words that’s what that means.”
Listen to the album version of “I Wanna Travel,” which includes the ending Paleface talked about.