Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

New Album is Available for Streaming/Purchase

The Great Divide by Heinz and Wrobel is complete!  To stream or purchase this ten-song album, check out the following locations: 

The album will be added to several other streaming sites shortly.

Heinz & Wrobel are:

Julian Wrobel – Bass
Sam Heinz – Drums
Paul Heinz-  Keys and Vocals

Tracking by Brad Showalter at Kiwi Studios, Batavia, Illinois
Overdubs engineered by Paul Heinz
Orchestration on “Cold” and “End Game” by Jim Gaynor
Mixed by Paul Heinz with the help of Julian, Sam and Anthony Calderisi
Mastering by Collin Jordan of The Boiler Room, Chicago, Illinois

All songs written by Paul Heinz, except “The Unexamined Road,” music by Sam Heinz and Paul Heinz, lyrics by Paul Heinz

Cover art by Sarah Heinz, based on a concept by Sam Heinz
Photograph by Sam Heinz

We’d like to thank Brad for his easy-going nature and diligence, Collin for his expertise Anthony for his objective listening skills, and Jim for giving two songs the lift they required.  We think “End Game” is the best song on the album thanks to you.

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After completing The Palisades in August of 2016 I wrote the following on my website: “I’m toying with the idea of doing my next project in about two days – all in the studio with a live band. A guy can dream, can’t he?”

Well, The Great Divide didn’t exactly take two days, but it was a hell of a lot faster this time around, for which I’m grateful.

In Spring of 2017, I began to ponder the next project, and Sam and I decided that we should record together in the studio and pound out the entire album in a day or two.  The issue was I didn’t really have any songs – only half-written melodies or a refrain or a verse that didn’t go anywhere.  It wasn’t until the summer when Sam was at camp for seven weeks that I began to diligently evaluate which half-written pieces of music were worth pursuing and which should be scrapped.  It took a while. 

That summer, I initially decided to create a thematic album called “Confessions and Confrontations,” with several instrumental interludes and a few musical themes that would repeat throughout the album, a pretty bold idea for someone who didn’t really even have any songs completed.  I worked hard on songs called “Eat Crow,” “Shouldn’t I Get Some Credit,” “Stretched Too Thin,” “I Once Fell in Love with a Girl,” “The Line,” and “Something Lost.”  Alas, none of these made the cut. 

Instead, a few other songs with working titles of “What Are You Going to Do” and “I Don’t Want to Talk About It Now” began to take shape, along with some very old ideas, such as one called “Same Old Shit,” which originated in the summer of 2013.  I also resurrected two song that I had, in fact, completed: one called “Cold,” which I’d written in 2001 and even recorded a demo of in maybe 2006; and “Put You Away,” composed sometime around 2009, but it never felt right with previous projects.  This time, it fit perfectly with the minimal instrumentation we were providing. 

One of the pieces I worked on in July of 2017 was a little chord intro that Sam had composed prior to leaving for Wisconsin.  This eventually evolved into a rather intricate little ditty called “The Unexamined Road,” a song that was known as “Untitled” up until November because I wasn’t happy with the lyrics.  Eventually this song sounded so darn good that it became the album’s opener.

I wrote most of the music for what became “Lies of the Damned” in April of 2006, but there it sat until 2017.  I needed an idea to help drive what I knew was an angry song.  Eventually, I came up with a sketch of a type of person I’ve met over the years: an odd combination of extreme self-centeredness, yet monstrously insecure.  I’ve known three or four people who fit this mold to a “t,” and once I knew the object of my angst, I was able to pound out the song very quickly!

“What is True” developed from a tune that came to me in a dream in December of 2016.  I was meeting my friend Scott Baldwin at an outdoor bar tended by none other than Rufus Wainwright, who was suffering badly of a cold.  He said that recently the “juices were flowing,” meaning he was composing a lot lately.  I asked him to fix me a sandwich, and he began singing his latest creation, “You say, I don’t want to talk about it now…”  I woke up and wrote it down and eventually developed it into a tale inspired by a friend of mine.  Similar to “I Can’t Take You Back” from Warts and All, it’s the heartbreaker on the album.

“Are You Gonna Fight For Her,” was nothing more than a verse and unfinished chorus in April of 2016, but in the summer I managed to write the bridge and instrumental sections that really made the song work.  I was the least confident that this song would work on the album, but once drums and bass were added, it all came together beautifully.

“Your Mother’s House” started once again with just a verse in May of 2014, and in April of 2015, as I was trying to write a chorus for the song “The Palisades,” I came up with a chord progression that eventually fit perfectly as the second half of the chorus for the former.  But I still had to write the first half of the chorus, which I finally completed at the end of August, along with the middle bridge.

I wrote the first several verses of “End Game” in September of 2016, just after completing The Palisades, but I didn’t finish this tune until over a year later, when I composed the build-up leading to the end of the song.  The “bombastic” section of the tune came in July, written originally as an instrumental theme to insert between songs, but then I recognized it would fit in the actual tune with a lyric.  How this all came together is a bit miraculous, and I’m grateful that it came off as well as it did.  By October I had to come up with a title, and “End Game” came to me in a flash. 

Little by little, songs were completed, while others were discarded.  Sometime in the summer, Sam asked if Julian would be up for recording with us, and he was excited to join the project.  On August 21 I drove Sam and Julian and a friend of theirs to Missouri to watch the total eclipse, and along the way I mentioned the name of the upcoming album and the concept.  They were both rather unenamored with the idea of “Confessions and Confrontations,” so I took this under advisement until I finished the song “Diverge,” a tune I’d written the first verse for back in 2012 but didn’t complete until October of 2017, the last tune written for the album.  I was so happy with this song that I was certain it would lead it off and that it should spawn the title for the album.  Eventually, “Diverge” gave way to “The Unexamined Road” as the opening track, a song which remained untitled and which I struggled mightily to come up with a different refrain, but none fit as well (An Energizing Trail?  A Uninspired Path?)  This is one of those instances where the lyrics don’t quite reach the same level as the music.

I liked the idea of The Great Divide as a concept and considered viewing the new album as a collection of songs about conflict.  I remember that the band Big Country had a song with this title off their Steeltown album, and after scouring through the lyrics of this song I came up with a list of possible titles for the album: “Sighs and Youth,” “Fire Away,” and “The Token Door.”  Eventually I thought, “Screw it.  Just call it The Great Divide.”  So there you are.

Once we knew the title of the album, Sam came to me with a concept for an album cover and I shared it with my daughter Sarah on January 8th at 3:38PM.  I wrote: “The drawing would be in the simplistic style of The Far Side comics and the Duke album by Genesis, and it would be a close-up of a inexpressive guy holding a baggy at eye level filled with water and containing a gold fish, and the gold fish staring back at him.  Hence, ‘the Great Divide.’  Get it?”  At 4:29PM she sent me the cover of the album.  Tell me she wasn’t looking for a reason to procrastinate finding an internship!  Sam and I looked at the cover after his drum lesson and immediately fell in love with it.

On October 26, I met with Sam and Julian and went through the whole album and how I wanted to approach things.  We discussed recording in February or March and decided not to record vocals at that time; it would be difficult enough to get the instrumental parts down.  We began rehearsing in November, and I was amazed at the parts that Sam and Julian created, producing a much better product than I ever could have managed on my own, and because we had so much time to rehearse, it ended up sounding better than if I had outsourced things to professionals.  Sam and Julian created “parts” for the songs; they didn’t just play along to a chord chart.

On February 17 we spent thirteen hours at Kiwi Studios in Batavia, Illinois, where I had recorded basic tracks for The Palisades, and finished piano, bass and drums for all ten songs.  Pretty impressive.  Brad Showalter engineered this time, and he was laid back, unhurried and flexible, making the whole experience very enjoyable.  Once again, Sam and Julian played like pros, punching in seamlessly, playing to click tracks for some songs and others on the fly.  The most difficult tune to record by far was “Lies of the Damned.”  By some minor miracle, “End Game,” which we recorded without a click track, we achieved on just the second take.  It is our favorite on the album.

I recorded vocals over the next few weeks into March, and then added a few backup vocals, percussion and synthetic strings, but what I really wanted was for composer Jim Gaynor to record orchestration for “Cold” and “End Game.”  In late March he was ready to add some tracks, and the results are superb. 

After several grueling rounds of mixing (an art form I still struggle with mightily on every album), I finished things up and set a date to master the product at The Boiler Room in Chicago, where Collin Jordan put the finishing touches on the album.  It helped that we had set an album-release concert for May 5th, which required me to wrap up the album quickly, whereas I’d normally spend another few months mixing everything to perfection (but never achieving it). 

We sent things off to Diskmakers and made physical CDs for the first time since my album in 2003, The Dragon Breathes on Bleecker Street.

All in all, a very satisfying and enjoyable project, made all the more meaningful by having my son and his friend, along with my artist daughter, involved.  And my vocalist daughter is able to join us on stage for the record release concert, so all three of my kids were involved in some meaningful way.  Now, if I could only get my wife involved somehow on the next project!

Join us on May 5th at 7PM, as Heinz & Wrobel host a record release party to celebrate the completion of our new album.  Email me for details. 

The New Album is Complete!

Album number ten is in the books! After six months of composing, four months of rehearsing and six weeks of recording, mixing, deleting, rerecording, gating, fading and compressing, I have completed mixing my new album, The Great Divide, a collaborative project with Sam Heinz on drums and Julian Wrobel on bass. I suspect that in six months when I listen to the record I will be very pleased with it. At present, I’m too lost in the weeds to objectively evaluate things, but this has been the case with every project I’ve completed. A little distance is required to realize what you’ve accomplished.

On Friday I will take my project to a profession mastering studio in Chicago called The Boiler Room, where Collin Jordan will put the finishing touches on the record. This is only the second time I’ve mastered an album with a professional studio, and I’m looking forward to the process and the results. Once this is complete I’m going to make physical copies on CD for the first time since my album in 2003. Oddly enough, the two 15 year-olds involved with the project wanted a physical product of some kind, which delighted me as much as it surprised me. This bodes well for the future, especially since I'm up to about 850 vinyl records that will one day need a new home!

I will be posting songs in the upcoming weeks, and on May 5th, the band is hosting a show at Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard at 7PM.  Come on out and join us for a short concert followed by food, drinks and socializing. For details, email me at paul@paulheinz.com.

2018 Brewers Prediction

The short version of this essay:  if you think the Brewers are – at present – a playoff caliber team, you are high.

Now, to elaborate.

General Manager David Stearns had Brewer Nation all abuzz in late January when he traded for outfielder Christian Yelich and signed free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain within a twenty-four-hour period.  I thought signing Cain for a large sum of money was a mistake then, but I was willing to concede the decision if Stearns had the next trade up his sleeve, offering some combination of Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips or first basemen Eric Thames for a starting pitcher.  If this was the case, picking up Cain would make sense, and I spent nearly every day in February checking the headlines for the next big name to don a Brewer uniform.  A trade never transpired, leaving the Brew Crew with a gluttony of outfielders and a dearth of starting pitching.  I’m sure Stearns tried, but to me, picking up Cain should only have been done if the next trade was already in the pocket.  If not, the money would have been better-spent on pitching.

And it isn’t as if pitching couldn’t have been found for a reasonable cost. Yes, the likes of Arrieta or Darvish may have been too rich for a small-market team, but Minnesota snagged Jake Odorizzi from the Tampa Bay Rays for a minor-league infielder.  Surely, the Brewers could have managed something along those lines.

Instead, the rotation is set – sort of – with Zach Davies, Chase Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin and Brent Suter, with Jimmy Nelson expected to return sometime midway through the year.  Wade Miley, who starts the season on the disabled list, is a potential fifth before Nelson returns, but either way, this is likely not a rotation that’s going to beat the Cubs or even the Cardinals. 

The Brewers are going to hit and hit well, but players are going to need to have career years if the Crew expects to be in the hunt for a playoff spot.  My guess is that before it’s all said and done, a deal will be made for pitching, but this can only happen if the Brewers play well enough during the first half to make a mid-season trade viable.  Can they hang in there long enough?  If they do, how much more will they have to trade for a mid-season pitching rental than they would have for an off-season pitcher with a few years left on his contract?

Stearns has received accolades for many of his personnel moves since joining the Brewers in 2015, but he isn’t above making dumb decisions – perhaps not Doug Melvin dumb, but dumb all the same, most notably cutting second baseman Scooter Gennett last spring, who went on to tear up the league for Cincinnati, and trading first-baseman Garrett Cooper to the Yankees for Tyler Webb, who lasted all of two outings before being sent down to the minors.  Unless Stearns finds a way to get some needed pitching, the signing of Cain may be added to the list.

In the meantime, my prediction: a disappointing 84 wins for the Crew this year, several games back from the wild card hunt.

I’ll still be there on opening day and hoping that come October I look like a fool.

The Florida Project

A month ago, I lamented about this year’s best picture Oscar nominees and listed the few movies I saw in 2017 that I thought deserved recognition, only one of which made the Oscar cut: Get Out.  I’d like to add one more movie released in 2017 that should have been recognized for more than just a best supporting actor nomination for Willem Dafoe: The Florida Project, a low-budget film released last fall to rave reviews, though if you blinked, you might have missed its theatrical release.

The Florida Project is one of those rare films that I gravitate toward – short on plot, long on characters and realistic slices of life.  It brings to mind some other films like Beginners, Nebraska, Lovely and Amazing, The Squid and the Whale, Boyhood and the Joe Swanberg films (Drinking Buddies, Digging for Fire, All the Light in the Sky, and the like), though its portrayal of the American poor through children’s eyes has almost nothing in common with those films.  In that sense, it’s like no other film I’ve seen.

Director Sean Baker’s portrait of poor families living in a rundown motel outside of Disney World is captivating, largely due to the amazing talents of child actors Brooklynn Prince, Christopher Rivera, Aiden Malik and Valeria Cotto.  Much of the film is shown through their perspective, as they stroll from motel to ice cream stand to waffle house to cow pasture to abandoned homes.  I marveled at some of the dialogue between the children and am curious about how much was scripted and how much was simply kids being kids, as they express wonderment of a fallen tree that’s kept growing or take delight in sharing an ice cream cone.

The adults are worthy of note too, and not just the incomparable Willem Dafoe – wonderful as the motel manager who, without sentiment, protects the lives of his poor tenants in ways large and small, a more important figure in their lives than the mobile food pantry volunteers who hand out bread in the motel parking lot.  Bria Vinaite, who plays mom to Prince’s Halley, is also a standout as an aimless adult doing whatever she needs to do to pay next week’s rent, including using her daughter to hawk wholesale perfume in a country club parking lot.  Yes, she’s a neglectful parent, but I found her also to be sympathetic, as her love for Halley shines through at times, though not always in the most conventional way.

The film shows a side of life that we don’t often get to see – the American poor, eking out a living, relying on each other for basic niceties, not having the luxury of caring about politics or the environment or the economy.  Surviving is all they have time for.  Like my experience watching the film Boyhood, I kept waiting for the Hollywood dramatic turn: a car crash, a molestation or a murder.  There were times when the kids were running through a parking lot or crossing a street, and I winced, expecting one of the children to land on the hood of a car.  But like Boyhood, The Florida Project doesn’t take the easy way out.  Many lives are crushingly difficult, not because of life-altering events, but because of the harsh, daily grind, when one day bleeds into the next, never exercising the difficulties of the day preceding it.

Often, I value a movie on how much I’d like to see it again, and I was taken with something Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times wrote about the movie.  He was more harsh in his assessment of the characters the film portrays, but he still loved the film.  He writes: ”…you’ll most likely not want to see (it) twice, but seeing it once is an experience you’ll not soon forget.”

I think he and I agree on this point.  I’m not sure I’ll be eager to rent this movie again, even for all it’s attributes.  But if you haven’t seen it once, you’re missing out.

Cheap Kiss Records

Note: I recently wrote this article as part of a neighborhood magazine and thought I'd include it as a blog entry on my website.  These guys are class acts working for a great record store.

If you spot a Toyota Venza with the license plate “I BY VYNL” whizzing around the west suburbs of Chicago, consider introducing yourself to Chris (Grey) Ellensohn, who – along with business partner Pete Kuehl – owns Cheap Kiss Records, a store that’s dedicated to buying and selling vinyl and cultivating a love for music for the next generation.  Ellensohn and Kuehl want the world to know: records are still a thing. 

Yes, records, as in those black twelve-inch platters whose grooves contain the stuff of magic.  You may not be one yourself, but chances are you know someone who’s into albums or who laments the collection he traded away for a couple of cases of beer back in the late 80s.  Vinyl is making a serious comeback these days, and now accounts for about twenty percent of revenue for physical recorded music formats, and Cheap Kiss is part of the reason.

Chris, who by day works at Northwestern Mutual, started the business with Kuehl ten years ago after winning an eBay auction to purchase Platterpus Records out of Louisville, KY.  They changed names to Cheap Kiss Records in 2012 and now have two stores: one at Cornerstone Books in Villa Park and another in Glenview at the Rock House, along with a regular inventory at a Schaumburg warehouse where they conduct on-line business and frequent warehouse sales.

What does a normal day look like in the glamorous world of buying and selling vinyl?  Today, Chris is going to meet with an elderly man who purports to own somewhere around 5000 LPs, all in mint condition.  Will it pan out?  You never know.  Chris’s favorite moment is knocking on a would-be seller’s door, because at that point all things are possible.  Sorting through a few boxes of musty LPs might just lead to something amazing, like the time Chris found a copy of an album by the local metal band Amethyst, the most expensive record either Chris or Pete has ever sold.

When approaching a would-be seller, Ellensohn is quick to empathize.  “We understand that albums can be emotional.”  Sometimes a seller can’t pull the trigger, and that’s okay.  “They know that when the time comes, I’ll be here.”

Chris claims he can spot a vinyl collector in just a few seconds.  What are the qualifications?  “Typically a male, age forty to sixty, sporting a concert t-shirt and no females within fifteen feet.”  All joking aside, there’s a certain air that vinyl collectors share, and it’s one that Ellensohn knows well he says because he’s “one of them.”   

“You meet all sort of cool people, actually,” and he meets them in all sort of places.  Chris isn’t a shy guy, and he’s happily approached people at gas stations or concerts to inquire about their interest in vinyl.  At a pop-up sale at the Arcada Theatre last month, Pete and Chris met a woman in her sixties who regaled them with stories about her concert-going days, when she witnessed The Beatles at Comiskey Park and a double bill featuring The Who and The Kinks. 

Chris and Pete don’t have a goal of amassing copious amounts of records – their aim is more virtuous than that.  They view buying and selling vinyl as a way of repurposing LPs and keeping them out of landfills and on people’s turntables.  “We want records to be listened to,” says Chris.  “Vinyl is meant to be played.  It does no good sitting in an attic somewhere.” 

And what about vinyl as a medium in a world in which streaming services can provide almost any song at the touch of a button?  Chris is reminded of something a young woman once told him: “You should have to work for something this good.”  Just as sharing a playlist isn’t nearly as meaningful as creating the mixtapes you once compiled for old flames, vinyl helps the listener connect to the music in ways that streaming can’t.

On April 21st Cheap Kiss Records will host Record Store Day at their Cornerstone Books location.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved