An Exclusive Interview With Paul David Stanko

Could you share the story behind your latest song and what inspired its creation?

“Show Me the Sizzle” started as an idea at my day job: how can you improve the customer experience.  The powers that be were toying around with “Show me the money!” from Jerry McGuire, and the owner (or his son) came up with “Show me the sizzle!”.  I loved the idea of that—it’s the je ne sais quoi—that thing you bring that you can’t quite put your finger on but separates you from the crowd.  It’s that unique thing that each of us has that makes the ordinary extraordinary. 

I had a couple of different ideas in mind when I started, but recently had listed to Beyonce’s “Get Me Bodied” in my car.  I liked how the claps were the division of the beat and her chant-like delivery of the opening lines drove the story forward. So I laid down an electronic kit beat similar, but not the same, then recorded acoustic claps.

I then laid down some finger snaps on the 2 & 4 and I liked the acoustic feel on top of the electronic drums.  I dropped in the 808-kick drum and augmented the electronic snare with a sample to give it a better high end.  

I then set out to get into the song… and that’s always an adventure: how do you start?  What story drives the song and sets up what follows?  I loved the idea of walking into a club and this groove making everyone want to dance. “If y’all don’t know, I’m gonna tear it down” felt like a Beyonce thing to say, so I wrote it! Then it struck me to kill the groove there and “Build it back up right from the ground”.

But the vocals felt thin, so I went back and layered the harmony underneath the lead… it sort of felt Andrews Sisters like, and I grew up in swing choir, so that felt natural (and layered vocals have become part of my sound).  I loved the feel… however, it was no longer a Beyonce feel, but I liked it. 

The chorus came next.  I needed to define what “sizzle” meant. I really liked “takin’ hold the ordinary making it extraordinary”, which I think is really the essence of it—it’s adding something special to the ordinary to make it pop.  But what to continue with?  I knew it was making things better—elevating them—not settling for less than. It was probably on a rhyming dictionary where I stumbled across the word potentate, which is a ruler, and I liked the idea of elevating the cream of the crop.  Then finding a word to rhyme with elevate brought me obfuscate—which means to make something less clear.  So taking things that are second-rate and classing them up—or hiding their flaws and making them sparkle in SPITE of their imperfections—worked of me.  And I have put obscure words in my works before—“Superhuman” has soporific and sudorific in it, so it’s not a first for me. 

I then went back for verses two and three.  Still thinking in the Beyonce mode, I though a little shady sass would be fun for verse two and it sets up the chorus well.

Then for verse three, I thought I should teach you steps to bring the sizzle yourself—basically, dig deep and just do it. 

The bridge/chant section I had early on.  The idea to do the BG vocals all relaxed and laid back came at the moment I was recording them.  I liked the effect then stacked it in layers.  Some are processed, some are dry to give it texture. 

How do you approach the process of songwriting, and are there any specific themes or emotions you tend to explore in your music?

I made the decision well after producing “Evolutions” to only write music with a positive message.  My songs are about empowerment and have deep spiritual roots.  My connection to Source Energy is very important to me and my musical journey has been strongly tied to that—a lot of that had to do with the majority of my musical output being performed in churches I worked for.  But even my pop stuff has that sense of wonder and “what if”. 

I want people to leave my songs and compositions with hope—with a sense of inspiration.  “We Can B Free” is about realizing things aren’t what we’ve been told.  If we all get along and stop giving power to “the man” we can change the world.  “Superhuman” is a fun confection about embracing your cocky, wonderful self and just having fun. “Artist’s Prayer” is about knowing inspiration comes from Source Energy and getting yourself in a space for that.  “Stardust Once Again” is about the “what if” after we die. 

Each of these compositions are meant to be fun, but inspire the listener. 

As an indie musician, how do you navigate the balance between creative freedom and commercial appeal?

Well, I truly don’t worry about commercial appeal.  I write what I hear.  I know there are people out there who will resonate with what I write.  I know not EVERYONE will resonate with what I write, and I had to learn to be OK with that. 

Would I like to write a commercially successful hit?  Of COURSE!  But if I focus too much on that at this point, I risk the things I am writing about that I feel are important and from my perspective.

And let’s be real: a lot of the commercially successful music out there now is nothing but a tasty confection.  Musical Fruit Stripe gum.  If you’ve ever HAD Fruit Stripe gum, you know the flavor is tasty and fun for the first two minutes, then it is like chewing cardboard.  

I write my music for me.  If others dig it: cool. If they don’t: cool. 

What do you find most challenging about being an independent artist in today’s music industry?

Getting people to hear your music!  For an independent artist to compete in the commercial marketplace is tough. You are not only the creator, but the packager and the marketer.  It is a lot to do, most specifically if you still have a day job so you can eat and pay rent.

Now, add to that a niche market, and well, it becomes more of an adventure. 

Can you talk about your experiences collaborating with other artists or musicians? How does it influence your creative process?

Working with Matt Fink (Dr. Fink of Prince and the Revolution) was probably my most mind-blowing collaboration to date.  Growing up a Prince fan, to connect with Matt, to create with him—to hear the STORIES right from the guy who was there—that was amazing.  

Additionally, he’s a great musician to work with. He believed in what I was doing and went above and beyond.  That is what a true collaboration is. 

I mostly collaborate with the phenomenal guitarist, Alex Maiers (  I generally give him free reign to create what he hears within the context of what I hear.  “We Can B Free”, “Sunshine (after the Rain)”, and “Artist’s Prayer” shine with his impressive skills. He always elevates what I do. 

Each of these artists (along with all the musicians I work with) inform what I do.  I take an idea or way of looking at music from one person, a chord voicing from another, a layering option from another… all of it goes into the filter of me and what comes out—well, just listen!

What role does technology and social media play in promoting your music and connecting with your audience?

It’s really the only way I connect with my audience currently.  When the pandemic ground everything to a halt, I took to creating music and releasing it online.  Though interviews like this, I am able to introduce people to who I am.  I release my stuff to go and do its work in the world.

Are there any particular artists or genres that have had a significant impact on your musical style?

A lot of my music is reminiscent of the styles I grew up listening to. My dad was really into 1940’s swing—Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman—so I have a strong influence of that swing band horn sound. My mom was really into The Carpenter’s and the “Easy Listening” sounds of the 1970’s, so that finds its way in. I RARELY heard what we call “classic rock” when I was growing up—that didn’t happen until later, but you’ll find a heavy influence of that rock guitar in what I do. I DID get into STYX and QUEEN in high school, so you hear that influence for sure.

Also while in high school I spent a lot of time with musicals.  I, as a general rule, am not a HUGE fan of musical theater so to speak (so the irony that I play in a LOT of pit bands is not lost on me), but it definitely influenced me more than I might care to admit. I like the story in the song… so almost all of my music takes you on a lyrical journey. 

While attending Coe college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I got to work with Dr. Paul Smoker.  He was an Avant-Garde jazz trumpet player who was also the director of our jazz band.  He taught me the importance of knowing the rules before you break them… but by GOD, break them!  I learned the importance of improvisation… the freedom in form. The beauty found in chaos.  

Being from Minneapolis, Prince played an ENORMOUS roll in influencing me as a writer, arranger, producer, etc. That Minneapolis Sound is not always top of mind when I write, but the work ethic and desire to experiment with sound and ideas is there. 

But I do get influenced by what I hear today—Robyn, The Teddybears, Walk the Moon, Lizzo—all find their way into what I am writing.

Indie musicians often have a close relationship with their fanbase. How do you engage with your fans and build a dedicated community around your music?

I am responsive to them quickly on social media.  I try to answer all comments on my posts and keep engaging them. I think that kind of connection builds great relationships. 

In an era of streaming platforms, how do you feel about the changing landscape of music consumption and its impact on independent musicians?

I see us moving away from record labels and big corporately driven music into a more grass roots, independent music scene.  

With the ease of creating really good music in a home studio, musicians can create at their own pace at a fraction of the cost.  They can then market that music through Spotify, Apple Music, You Tube, etc.  There does need to be significant restructuring of the streaming pay outs, but it is a great way to spread your music out.  

This does make music easier to consume but makes it harder for artists to get out there and make a living from their online streaming.  It is still the best option to go to an artist’s personal website or bandcamp and buy directly from them.  The artist gets most of the proceeds from the sale, not some corporation paying fractions of a penny per stream.

Where can the fans check out for your music?

While I am on all social media platforms, the best way to stay abreast of the new music coming out is via my website, or really, just follow my linktree: