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Local Rocker Paul Fournier Drives the Proud Highway of Independent Musicianship


BRADENTON – Paul Fournier is a good musician. During high school, I knew him as a drummer—he was one of the drumline heavies at Manatee High (and if you know anything about the Hurricanes’ Drum Corps, the first thing you’ll know is that they are better than everyone else). Years later, at some point during college, I was at a semi-formal party on the north end of Anna Maria Island, where Paul happened to be playing guitar. He’d been hired by the hosts to fill the space between chatter with perfect subtle blues.


Fournier sat on a stool in the corner and picked his sunburst Fender Stratocaster for no less than four hours that evening; and in those days, Paul probably played to himself more than to the crowd. But these days, he's a full-time pro. Between solo performances and gigs with his band, Wild Root, Fournier performs his funky blend of blues-driven indie rock three to four nights a week at popular bars like McCabe’s Irish Pub and the Lost Kangaroo downtown, as well as Evie’s Tavern in Ellenton and Dcoy Ducks out on the island. 

Like most serious musicians, Fournier intends to take his music as far as it will take him. In the coming weeks, he and his bandmates will be heading to a private home studio in Sarasota to record their first batch of originals. There is no doubt that this endeavor will push them further along the proud highway of independent musicianship—a road that takes much, forgives little and gives less, and on which every day counts. 

I caught up with Paul this weekend on Anna Maria Island where he lives, and we talked about music:


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(Mike Tokars): How long have you been playing with Wild Root?

(Paul Fournier): About 6 months now.


(MT): You were mainly solo before that?

(PF): Yeah, I started playing around coffee shops, did the small bistro stuff; and actually, the Lost Kangaroo gave me one of my first starts too—I had to torment Sean Fetzer to give me a gig in there, and he finally did and was pretty happy about it. I still do acoustic there every first Thursday of the month. 


(MT): Didn’t you go play in New York City for a bit?

(PF): I did.


(MT): When was that?

(PF): That was December 2011—I’d gotten my Associates Degree from S.C.F. and decided to go to New York City instead. I did the underground scene there; I drummed for this punk band called Brother K and did the acoustic thing for a while, playing places in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn like Arlene’s Grocery and Pete’s Candy Store, and Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village.


(MT): Pete’s Candy Store is Williamsburg, right?

(PF): I think so.


(MT): Williamsburg is good.

(PF): It’s so good—Hipster central.


(MT): Indeed. OK. So who are your influences?

(PF): Oh man......


(MT): Well, who are your influences for what you do with Wild Root?

(PF): OK, for that project, in general, we’ve taken on a sort of indie/soul/and funk kind of style with definite highlights of rock-n-roll and blues. Our rock-n-roll and blues influences are Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin—you know, obviously. And for our soul influences, a lot of the contemporary stuff is really catching my ear, I like what people are doing—John Legend is good. I like a band called the Nth Power. For indie influences, definitely MGMT, M83. And I’ve always been, personally, into electronic stuff, so I think that really pulls into what I do with electric guitar.


(MT): What ‘electronic stuff?’

(PF): When I first found electronic music I was a really huge fan of The Crystal Method.


(MT): Oh! They're from the Nineties, right?

(PF): -laughs-Yeah, they did the theme song for the movie Natural Born Killers, and it plays for like the first four minutes of the film. They do a lot of Detroit City electronic stuff—not with a lot of changes, but it’s cool, very simple, very catchy music.


(MT): What do you think of EDM [Electronic Dance Music] now?

(PF): I like it all. There’s two types of EDM that’s going on now—both very creative: one has to do with simplifying things. It involves more captivating sounds but at a very edible pace; and on the opposite side of the spectrum is a style that’s a part of what I like to call the ADHD Nation—because the culture is getting so fast paced that if you can’t capture someone’s attention with every second of what’s going on, then you’ve already lost them. Look at Skrillex for example—He does repetitive phrasings that are crazy at the same time. 


(MT): Then, stylistically speaking, do you think Wild Root might find it’s niche within the Electronic-Folk sound that’s gaining popularity?

(P.F.): Our current slogan is “Music To Reach A Higher Place”—The higher place looking over everything that is going on right now. For instance, Mumford and Sons is killing it, and Daft Punk is killing it, and those sounds are on opposite ends of the spectrum but to fusion them is totally feasible, and I think people would really dig it. What we’re working on now—when somebody hears the end of our album, I think they’re gonna say, “What the hell’s the next one gonna sound like?”


(MT): Right on. So who’s in your band?

(PF): We’ve got Luke Wright—who is one of our songwriters—on acoustic, bass, and keys; he and I have been playing together for 12 or 13 years now. Andrew Waltrip is our steady bass player, for the most part. James Hershey on drum set and Justin Green on saxophone. 


(MT): Are these all local dudes?

(PF): Justin Green and Andrew Waltrip were both born and raised in Sarasota; and Luke Wright and James Hershey actually knew each other back in Coudersport, Pennsylvania—and that’s how James Hershey, our drummer, came into the mix. Luke introduced him back in 2001 or 2002, so I guess you could say this has been a long time in the making. 


(MT): At a Wild Root show, what’s the ratio of original songs to covers?

(PF): I’d say about 75/25—25% covers and 75% originals and renditions of songs that we make our own. 


(MT): Y’all are playing McCabe’s tonight, right?

(PF): Yeah


(MT): What time’s the show?

(PF): We’ll go on around 8:30.


(MT): What time is it now?

(PF): 6.


(MT): Jesus, do you gotta get going?

(PF): We’ve got a minute.


(MT): Good. OK. You support yourself entirely as a musician—Do you feel as though you’ve made it? And, if not, at what point is that distinction made?

(PF): You know, I think a lot of people see musicians differently; they’ll see one musician as playing locally and the other musician playing the big stage, and there’s no in between. I would say I’ve ‘made it’ as far as paying the bills with music goes; but, on the other hand, it’s hard to connect with certain people when you stay around a local area for a long time. But I really do believe you have to be in a certain place, for a certain music—whatever that may be—to find your niche, to where people are really going to appreciate what goes on, whether it’s on a big stage or a small stage. 


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