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Paul K. & the Weathermen perform at 9 p.m. Sunday, July 11 at Bluegrass Catastrophe at the North Stage, part of the ninth annual Forecastle Festival.

July 7, 2010

The wind blows (or whatever)

Paul K. gives up his quest for acceptance

During the ’90s, Paul Kopasz was a self-described media whore, trying to get ink anywhere he could. He’d talk to anybody if it might further his efforts to reach an audience. But it didn’t work.

As many times as he got written up, it seemed like his efforts were useless. And then a friend shared a story about a different attitude toward this business of music.

“It was Brett Ralph that told me about a conversation he’d had with Ronnie Hawkins one night in a bar,” he says during a recent phone interview. “Beyonce, or somebody like that, was on television accepting an award for some multi-million-selling album, or something, and Ronnie Hawkins says to Brett, ‘Where’s my award? I’ve sold one copy of 1 million different records. That should be worth something!’”

Since then, Paul has more or less given up on reaching the mainstream, preferring to embrace his curmudgeonly muse in a death grip that leaves no room for compromise or a sideways glance.

Over the last decade, after the 1999 release of Saratoga, his last album for Alias, he went to ground. With Leigh Farnsley, his girlfriend and business partner, he started Farnsley Records and began recording his songs at home. He’s released a couple albums, like the recent Gavage Vol. 1, but you aren’t likely to run across a copy unless you are making a concerted effort. Distribution has been handled almost exclusively by the artist himself. There may be copies in the bins of some of the local record stores but not in the listening stations.

“It’s like it’s 1983 all over again,” he says, referring to the do-it-yourself aesthetic that dominated in the Reagan era. That was also about the time Paul came to Lexington from Detroit, on a debate scholarship to the University of Kentucky. Back then, the live music scene was characterized by coffee shops and hole-in-the-wall bars, places where a solo singer could make a few bucks here and there, but nobody was paying to see bands.

In the later part of the decade, Paul started to branch out, making fairly frequent trips to Louisville with his band, the Weathermen. There for a while, he became something of a local fixture, drawing from a seemingly limitless pool of original compositions and brilliantly selected covers, working an expressive territory that has often been compared with Townes Van Zandt, Lou Reed and Merle Haggard.

And if most of the last decade had passed somewhat quietly, a series of events that began last fall have pushed Paul’s creativity into high gear. A serious health scare put him in the hospital for a month, and upon his release, his girlfriend was involved in a minor fender-bender that triggered a seizure. She currently requires around-the-clock medical attention in a residential facility.

Far from being discouraged by these events, Paul dug into his creative processes. He’s written and recorded more than 50 songs since last November, in addition to a constant stream of prose pieces. Meanwhile, he’s been showing up in the clubs, and again, it seems like his bag of songs is overflowing with variety, gravity and passion.

Now, as in the early ’80s, Paul has found plenty of work, playing solo shows with little or no notice to fans or anybody else, and sometimes he finds extremely lucrative gigs playing private parties. At one recent show, he played a new song written for a female meteorologist, recognizing how similar his role is to hers. And at another appearance, he played Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” as a tribute to Farnsley, Carmichael’s great-niece.

Longtime fans will want to watch out for Paul’s upcoming performances. In particular, his appearance at Forecastle, which will feature his final billing as Paul K. and the Weathermen. Stalwart collaborators Smith Donaldson (bass) and Tim Welch (drums) will back him for this special event.