The Dubai singer-songwriter prepares for the big time and talks to Time Out about his career to date and his hopes for the future.
When compared to the scenes in London and New York, Dubai is not – how shall we put this? – incredibly fertile ground for the budding musician hoping to flower. That said, there are success stories if you know where to look. Want an example? Take England-born Paul Nolan, whose move to the city has given him an opportunity he’d be hard pushed to find in the UK. That being the chance to record an EP with Josh Williams, a former LA-based producer now living in Dubai, whose credits include work for The Black Eyed Peas and Bruce Springsteen.
It’s pretty impressive, really, especially when you consider that until the start of this year Paul was living out of suitcases: after an eight-month flirtation with Dubai last year, he returned to Britain for a further four months, and only came out here again in January. ‘I’m like The Littlest Hobo,’ he laughs. But now it looks like he’s here for good, playing regular covers gigs at Alpha on Fridays and doing his own thing at open mic nights and occasional appearances on 92FM. Appropriate, given that Dubai is the place that gave him the courage to make a go of his own material. ‘I was in a three-piece band back home doing covers. It was like a safety net – I never had to worry about doing my own thing, and I didn’t want to, because playing your songs is like putting your babies out into the world.
‘It was [local community website and frequent open mic hosts] Dubai Lime that really got me to do it properly. I did a bunch of downbeat songs about awful relationships and they went down really well. Kind of. I even got some girls crying. And then I did some radio shows on 92FM and that’s really what got my name out there – I kept getting invited back and people were requesting my songs, so that was amazing.’
However, it wasn’t until Paul’s manager pushed him on that he actually decided to look into making a professional EP. A friend pointed them in the direction of Creative Kingdom Studios, where Paul was introduced to Josh. And, much to his relief, the pair hit it off immediately.
‘The meeting was brilliant, because he basically told me what he wanted it to sound like and I thought he’d got it spot-on, straight away. I said that I wanted to have full input on the sound and he agreed, and then he played us a few acoustic tracks that he’d done and they were exactly what I was looking for.’ For his part, Josh was also pleased with the collaboration. ‘He noticed that there were a lot of hip hop artists over here who wanted to record their tunes,’ explains Paul. ‘But he’d produced a lot of hip hop in the past and hated it, so he was grateful that he found [an acoustic rock musician] like me, because this is the sort of music that he enjoys.’
After settling on an EP rather than an album – all the better to test the waters with the big record execs – the pair went to work on his sound, beefing it up from Paul’s original vocal/acoustic arrangements to something a little more suited to an EP. ‘Josh wasn’t changing the structure, but just suggesting things to polish it off really well. Rather than the intro for a song being two bars, for example, he would make it one bar, so that it would go right into the vocals, or he’d extend a bridge to make a longer instrumental, and the results sounded really good. But he was always very open and would ask what I thought of his suggestions.’
The fruits of their labours are now with Josh in California, being mixed into a CD, Suitcase Sessions – named after Paul’s recent nomadic lifestyle – that they expect will be released in early September. And Paul says that Josh plans to use contacts from his time in Hollywood to get it passed around producers there. So big things seem to be in the pipeline for Paul, but he won’t forget which city gave him his big opportunity. ‘The thing about Dubai is that it’s a brilliant place to start. I’ve met so many people that have helped me get gigs and put together the money to record this. It’s fantastic out here.’
In the case Paul talks about three tracks from Suitcase Sessions.
Song: ‘Creak’ Why: ‘This one’s about when you know you should end a relationship but you don’t want to, even if it’s a bad idea to keep going. This line is probably my favourite: ‘You’ve got your box, I’ve got mine too/Let’s keep them miles apart and tell them not to move.’
Song: ‘Curly Fries’ Why: ‘There was this café in the UK that me and this girl used to go to called Curly Fries, and before I came out here the first time, I wrote this. It has the line: ‘I’ll see you in the café, but not until next year.’ That said, I went back last year and didn’t go back there!’
Song: ‘Locked Doors’ Why: ‘Sometimes I write songs and I don’t know what I mean when I’m writing them, but at the end they mean something to me, which is pretty strange. This is like that.’