Paul Cauthen doesn’t care if you think he’s country or not.
After first gaining attention as part of the roots-rock duo Sons of Fathers, he released his solo debut, My Gospel, in 2016 to a fair bit of acclaim. My Gospel established Cauthen as a throwback act, with comparisons to Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings abound. Yet its follow up, the tortured Room 41, complicated that reputation - offering an anarchic mix of country, blues, jazz, funk, gospel and hip hop.
On his third album, Country Coming Down, Cauthen follows his exploratory instincts even further. This time around he’s influenced by a diverse array of artists from different genres; Funkadelic, the Bee Gees, John Anderson and Anderson.Paak among them.
Brash and unfiltered (“I’m country as fuck”, says the lead single), Country Coming Down culminates in a surprisingly tender trio of songs, including the bounding title track - a reminder that Cauthen can perform twangy sincerity as well as anyone.
You seem to be grappling with what country music is, or should be, on this album. How are you currently defining “country”?
A lot of my songs are country, and a lot of them are just good pop songs that have a country twang because that’s how I talk and where I come from. By God, I don't wake up every single morning and go dig into my Folgers can, get a worm and catch my breakfast. But I do like mutton, four-wheelers and going hunting and fishing; all the things that people talk about in country music.
I don’t think anyone’s Merle Haggard nowadays, or Loretta Lynn, or Dolly, or anything like that. There’s Leah Blevins though - she’s talking from the old cloth.
The album also explores funk, disco and other influences. How do you bring those different elements together?
I let the song evolve. I became a member of this golf course here in East Texas during covid, when I had nothing else to do before I went crazy. I just played a lot of golf and wrote ‘Country Clubbin’’ with my buddy Aaron Raitiere right here. With ‘Country as Fuck’, I wanted to list off all of the blue-collar, beautiful things in life.
Everybody, whether they’re rich or poor, can still love the culture of things like “NASCAR, dive bar, fireworks and guitar.” I’m not claiming this to be the new country music. I don’t like to be called a particular genre at all. The most country song on the whole entire album is the title track. It’s just about the deep roots of deep and hard work. “All I really want is a cabin in the country / far away from city lights”. That’s pretty country.
Am I right in thinking there’s an element of satire in these songs?
A lot of it is poking fun, but it’s all honest. And it’s all me. I like the fact that I get to put on a cape before I get out on stage and I write songs. I get to be Ziggy Stardust. 'Big Velvet' is its own Ziggy Stardust, you know?
I want to be a little bit satirical with it and kind of poke fun. All the funny things that people make fun of when they're there in the moment, but never really talk about publicly, I’d love to touch base with that. I think it makes for good content.
The verse-chorus-refrain-bridge-outro, “do it in this box, with this many hooks” mathematical equation is getting old. If you fall into a hook naturally, and then write around it with some witty charm and thoughtful content, you've got a good song.
It's a little satire vibe, where maybe I'll be putting on my Rodney Dangerfield outfit - you know Dangerfield and Caddyshack? I thought about him a lot when I was writing the songs. It's like, “be bigger than life” and don't let the song overwork your head. Just let it be and be as wild, fun and grooving as you can.
That's what I wanted to go for on this album. I wasn’t looking to talk about sadness: “Let’s write songs about masks and quarantine.” Nobody wants to hear that shit.
‘Fuck You Money’ is interesting because the message is the opposite of what we normally get in country music, which is “money and fame hasn’t changed me”.
That one’s throwing the bird at the people who didn't have faith in you in the beginning and now they all want to be friends because you're worth something. ‘Fuck You Money’ is not the fact that I’m spending it everywhere and throwing it up in strip clubs and burning it or whatever.
It's the fact that now I have this power to be able to say, “Fuck you. I don't need to be your friend because obviously, you're in it for the wrong reasons.” That’s what that song is.
It seems like your first album made you popular with the more traditional-leaning crowd. Did that at all impact your decision to experiment with other styles, on this and Room 41?
I want to cast the net further than just those people. My true fans will stick with me, and those are the ones I want at my shows. The people that I haven't touched are the ones that I'm always after. I want every record to add another element to it. It keeps me from being bored.
One sound, one thing, one square box, one job - it’s boring. I want to push the boundaries and try new things. You get one little speck of sand in the desert of this earth. That’s all any of us really matter anyway, so you might as well do the best you can by changing, evolving and trying to reach more than just your one little target market.
The “saving country music” crowd can be a bit exhausting.
Yeah. I think the whole saving country music thing is just like, “come on”. Why do you have to have a campaign for that? Country music is going to be country music. You can hear about eight bars in, if you know what the hell music is.
If you want to get involved and think that Jelly Roll and Morgan Wallen are the end-all-be-all country music artists now, I think you're kind of crazy. Tyler Childers would hold that flag better than any of ‘em, because he's actually a country boy from Kentucky.
You talk to Merle Haggard when he was alive, sumbitch was country. He liked whiskey, he liked his trucker hats, he liked trucks, he liked guns, he was just a country boy. Evan Felker from the Turnpike Troubadours, that sumbitch is a country boy. He’d much rather be around animals than humans.
There are real country musicians, but I don’t know if Luke Bryan is the most country guy we could ever meet. Does he do country shit? Yes. Is he a nice guy? Yes. Does he help people out? Yes.
Do I love his music? No. Does that mean I have to hate him personally for it because his music isn’t what I listen to? Hell no. I’d drink a beer with him.
I’m not here to point fingers at anybody. It’s a hard business and anybody who can cut through and have people buy a ticket to come out and see ‘em, job well done. The beauty for us all is that we can agree to like it or not. That’s music.
Paul Cauthen's third album, Country Coming Down, is released April 1st via Thirty Tigers. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below: