Americana Highways presents this premiere of Jonathan Paull Gertler’s song “Time and Place” from his forthcoming album No Fear (Rock Ridge Music) due to be released later this year. The song will be available on July 9. No Fear was produced by Jonathan Paull Gertler and Jon Chase; recorded at Chase Studio in Methuen, MA; and recorded, mixed and mastered by Jon Chase.
“Time and Place” is Jonathan Paull Gertler on guitar and vocals, Joe Santerre on bass, Sal DiFusco on guitar,
Jon Chase on percussion and backing vocals, Corinne Chase on backing vocals and Catherine Bent on cello.
We chatted with Jonathan Paull Gertler about this project. The premiere is beneath the interview.
AH: Every song has something that brings it into being. What inspired you to write this song? What is the story behind it? What is it about?
JPG: As an experiment, I often try regular chord formations in open tuning which sometimes brings surprising tonality. I was playing with a E9 formation in open C tuning (which turns out to be C sus 4) and an AMajor7 formation to follow (which turns into G7sus4), and the line, “The first time today that I thought of you,” came to me. I was thinking about separation and loss, remembering that I was on the same remote island where I had drafted my sister’s eulogy — she died young a few years before — and the song rapidly evolved. I thought about desire and fear, especially when facing illness but also facing any of life’s challenges in not delivering what we expect when we want it. I thought about how we aren’t guaranteed anything in life, though as a society we tend to just expect that all good things will come to us and give too little thought to the vagaries of life and chance, thinking that we can control, or, worse, deserve, all good things. And then the song declared itself.
Very quickly, I ended up playing it exclusively on my sister’s guitar, which is a vintage 1969 12-string Martin, and found the cello to be a perfect addition to the tone. When all is said and done, the song is about the connections that love brings regardless of circumstance – anyone who connects with a dear friend or family after decades and it is as though nothing has changed will recognize the emotions in this song. Just knowing.
AH: What made you want this to be the first single from your forthcoming album?
JPG: I love the melody and the lyrics, I love the gentility of the production, and it just seemed to me, of all the songs, the most reflective of the musical sensibilities and life sensibilities that I have more and more come to embrace. It is not a lively song, but I am writing and choosing the first release based on what speaks to me most.
AH: Your songs in general feel quite personal in nature, even if they aren’t always that way. Do you tend to write from a very personal place all of the time?
JPG: All my songs derive from a personal wellspring of emotions and experience, but my writing is more observational than experiential. Another way of saying that there is really nothing that is autobiographical in the songs, but they, of course, reflect the life I have lived. And “the unexamined life” is not what I am about. I usually will come up with a phrase both musically and lyrically and build the song around that simultaneously. Though recently I did that with an odd outcome. I finished a song entirely, felt that the completed lyrics didn’t match the completed music, rewrote the musical portion, and ended up with a totally different complete song and now have a musical progression to which I am trying to fit lyrics.
To detail a little – “Low lying sun” was an observation by a friend of fall light on the Massachusetts coast, and it occurred to me that as we get older, and the sun goes lower and long shadows are cast, that the wealth of accumulated experience – even if discounted by youth-oriented marketing machines – is a huge positive. And the song emerged. “Sleep,” from the previous album, Heart and Mind, was just a reflection on the intimacy of my years as a physician seeing stages of life but also the beauty of being close to children and loved ones, with sleep as the metaphor for closeness. “Grasp the Moon” (the opening song of No Fear) was entirely inspired by a giant of the civil rights movement speaking at a small meeting I attended. He spoke to the need for all people to have high aspirations and for us to support them and nurture them. As is often the case, it turned into a love song. “Bended Knee” (also from Heart and Mind) is a diatribe on religious and political hypocrisy. “Just Another Day” (third track on No Fear) is a heartfelt song about all my friends and loved ones who have faced illness – whether they were young or old – but was specifically inspired by a terribly sad illness in the young son of a dear friend in Sweden. The winter solstice festival in Stockholm is a great event – hence the first verse. So yes, very personal but crafted, reflective of the human condition and often with a love song as the metaphor for greater things. My early songs (in my teens and twenties) were experiential and autobiographical, but that changed as I have come to know my value system and life much better.
AH: Who are your biggest musical inspirations in general? And which artists informed the music on the album the most as far as influences go? How about with this particular song… what sort of vibe were you going for on it?
JPG: I love good writers – especially those who craft lyrics and music with equal care. And the list goes way back – Dylan, Stills, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Chris Smither, Jason Isbell, Jesse Colin Young, Karla Bonoff, Lyle Lovett, Grateful Dead, Steely Dan, Tom Petty, and I have to also acknowledge jazz influences in chord formation and progression.
For “Time and Place,” I was going for clarity of emotions, simplicity of chord progressions, and a clear organic tone with richness but not excessive production. I just love what Catherine did on the cello.
Enjoy the peace that Jonathan Paull Gertler bestows through his songwriting. Pre-save link for Jonathan Paull Gertler’s music: https://ffm.to/nmyw5eb