Interview With Paul Loren: Bartending, The Beatles, and New Music
Paul Loren is an entertainer of all kinds, be it singing, songwriting, performing, or even stirring up classic cocktails.
Having grown up listening to the rich sounds of the Great American Songbook, Loren blends classic pop and soul influences with his own contemporary twist. His upbeat, feel-good tunes will have you bopping, swinging, and shimmying from start to finish. Loren's soulful, inviting vocal tone is unlike any other.
When he's not stirring up something great in the music studio, Loren finds himself mixing cocktails on his Instagram series, Cocktailin'. Much like his music, Loren's unique takes on classic cocktail favorites are timeless and refreshing.
Loren's latest single, "Marlena," is sweeter than sugar on the rim of a cocktail glass. The song opens with piano and vocals before the driving drum groove comes in. Loren's ingenious melodies and emotive vocal performance are highlighted by thoughtful instrumentation and backing vocals. The bridge section makes the already-catchy song soar sky-high, giving the following chorus section new strength and energy. "Marlena" will appear on Loren's upcoming album, Betwixt, which was written and recorded during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
We spoke to Paul Loren about his favorite cocktails, new music, influences, and more. Read the full interview below, and check out "Marlena." Let us know what you think.
Where are you based? What is the music scene like there?
I’m based in New York City–in Brooklyn. The music community here is really insular and tight-knit. It’s a way of making New York into a small town, even though that seems impossible. The artist community that we have makes the city feel more approachable, so I’m super grateful for the music scene in the city.
At what age did you start playing music?
I started singing and playing the piano at around four or five years old; my earliest memories are of my mom playing me music on vinyl records, so it’s always been a part of my life. I wanted to have the power that the artists I watched had; they put me into a trance, and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. I wanted to tap into that power and be a part of it. Maybe I didn’t know it at the time, but I loved being a part of something bigger than me.
How would you describe your sound?
My sound is influenced by the classic records that I grew up with: the great American songs of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The lyrics that I write speak more to my contemporary life. Musically, I’m inspired by classic American pop music, but I really come at it from a more modern point of view.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
I’ll hear an Elvis record one day, and remember that it had a profound impact on me when I was younger, or something else, but it’s really across the board. Growing up, the singers that influenced me a lot were artists like Ray Charles, Frankie Vallie, Sam Cooke, and Frank Sinatra. At around eight or nine, I dug into The Beatles and my mind exploded; my world changed.
What is your favorite Beatles album?
I love Rubber Soul. That record is the bridge between the early “Beatlemania” Beatles and the more progressive music that came later. You can hear the young Beatles making way for something bigger and grander, which is really special.
Tell us about your latest single, “Marlena.”
The melody of “Marlena” came to me while I was driving. I was coming back to NYC from a very long road trip last year (in 2020), and I decided not to break up the driving. The trip was about 14 hours long, at least, and I just got a little bit delirious along the way. In that delirium, the melody came to me. I was lucky enough to record about 25 songs (about two records worth of material) last summer, and “Marlena” was a very last minute addition for those songs. It’s one of my favorites among those tunes, so I’m really glad we were able to record it. We shot the music video for the song in the desert in California last month during a crazy heat wave.
Who or what inspired the song’s lyrics?
I could tell you that it was inspired by an ex, but I’ve been listening to it, and I think it’s more than that. The last line of the chorus asks Marlena “will you ever pass this way again?” In addition to asking this to Marlena, it’s also asking if love will ever come my way again. Will we ever recapture that spark in life? I’d say that the answer is most certainly yes.
"Will we ever recapture that spark in life? I’d say that the answer is most certainly yes."
How do you usually write your songs?
A lot of songs will start with a melody that I can’t get out of my head. Sometimes that melody works at me for weeks–or months–until it’s fully developed, or sometimes it comes together very quickly. I write the music first about 90% of the time, and the other 10% of the time I’ll start with the title or a verse of lyrics. There’s a new song on my upcoming record called “An Evening Such As This,” which started as a poem and a title. I wrote it as an exercise, and the music came to me later.
Share a little bit more about your upcoming album, Betwixt.
It’s one of two records that I recorded in the middle of the pandemic last year. It’s a look at my life as it was last year in 11 songs. I don’t use the word “pandemic” specifically, but the record explores the idea that we find ourselves firmly in a transition of these strange couple of years. I ask myself this all the time: when is life not in transition? We’re always in flux in some way or another.
"I ask myself this all the time: when is life not in transition?"
Share a little bit about your Instagram series “Cocktailin’.”
I grew up in an Italian household, and Campari and Italian liqueurs were as much of a birthright as pasta. I went to Italy for the first time as a young adult, and my mind was blown when I had my first Negroni in Florence, by the Arno River. Life changed for me in the same way that The Beatles’ Rubber Soul changed me. The “Cocktailin’” series explores the idea that making things, whether in the bar or in the recording studio, comes from the same creative space for me. If I can enjoy a drink, I hope other people can, too. It’s the same with my songs; if something really resonates with me, I hope it can resonate with other people.
What kinds of music do you usually listen to when mixing drinks?
I’m truly all over the board. Sometimes I listen to Brazilian bossa nova, other times it’s classic 70s funk and soul music. These days, I’ve been loving classic 60s country music: Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Patsy Cline,... but it could be anything.
What are your favorite drinks to make?
For me, the Negroni is a classic–a staple– and I love to riff on it. For me, it’s the OG G.O.A.T (*original; greatest of all time), but don’t tempt me with a good time when it comes to a Martini, a Manhattan, or even a Sazerac. My drinks are like a little holiday in a glass, so I try to savor every sip.
Tell us more about your partnerships with liqueur companies.
I’ve done some work in the past with Campari–I did a launch for their brand, Frangelico. I hosted the music with Giada De Laurentiis, and I remember serenading her and her daughter with some classic Italian-American songs that they love. I’m working on something right now with a local Brooklyn spirit company, but I don’t want to give out too much information on that yet. I’m also developing my own Italian bitter liqueur. I’m still refining my recipe, but I’m excited to add it to some of my “Cocktailin’” drinks in the future.
What has your process in developing your own liqueur recipe been like?
I just put myself in the headspace of an Italian grandma. What tastes good? What makes me happy? What kind of spaghetti could I throw at the wall with this recipe to see if it sticks? I’m in version eight or nine of the recipe right now; it’s a lot of herbs, botanicals, and old-world roots and barks. I’m following an old recipe that has been passed down through generations, but I’m tweaking it to make it more personal.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?
I try to bridge the music and cocktail worlds, because it’s all an act of creation. No matter the artform, it all comes from a place of love–of enjoying something, and offering it up for other people to enjoy. I think that food, drink, and song are some of the most powerful ways to bridge gaps and make connections.
"No matter the artform, it all comes from a place of love–of enjoying something, and offering it up for other people to enjoy."