Itinerant songsmith Paleo makes his life and music on the road
Chico, CA 95928
The archetype of the traveling musician is as old as history. The guy who invented humming probably left his cave to wander forever the second he made up his first pretty-sounding ditty. It’s a tradition singer/songwriter Paleo (aka David Strackany) understands intimately.
Paleo ended up on National Public Radio—and received a letter of commendation from then-Vice President Dick Cheney—in 2007 upon completing his song diary, the goal of which was to write, record and publish a new song a day on the web for 365 days straight. It’d be a major accomplishment were he sitting in his bedroom with Pro Tools and a roomful of instruments, but instead he was traveling the country playing shows and living in a van.
Four years later, and Paleo is still in the van and still writing songs, albeit at a different pace, as he explained by phone from a motel room in Bedford, Texas. He’s on tour in support of his just-released album Fruit of the Spirit. Then again, as he explained, he’s pretty much always on tour.
CNR: You seem to be a fan of challenging yourself. Any new personal challenges?
Paleo: [a brief pause while he finds a lighter] I’m trying to quit smoking. That’s a challenge, but I’m not trying that hard at the moment.
I’m always trying to push myself on the individual songs. The songs that I’m writing are getting more and more well-thought-out. Not necessarily complicated, but I’m just trying to write better and better songs. The song diary was super helpful in helping me to hone that craft. I might still be interested in being super-prolific at other stages, but right now I’m really enjoying spending lots and lots of time on individual songs, and really just kind of trying to perfect one object—like, to carve it really ornately rather than just whipping something together really quickly, which might be brilliant and inspired, but you can’t get that same kind of detail work when you work quickly as you can when you meditate on something.
But life is full of challenges, man. We’re not all just what we do. There are all kinds of personal challenges that sometimes take the front seat. Finding a place to live can be a personal challenge.
So you’re still homeless?
Pretty much ever since college. My parents moved away from where I grew up right when I graduated college, so it sort of made me not have any roots down at that point. So I started touring, and it became less and less feasible—economically or creatively—to slow down, to stop. I didn’t have anywhere to go that felt terribly comfortable for any long period of time. I didn’t really wanna get a job. I mean, I worked some jobs after college while I was getting the whole music thing figured out. But it was important to keep touring.
Slowly but surely I stopped having friends in places, I stopped having connections in places. I stopped having anything that actually made me feel like any place was where I should be or belonged. No place was easier than any another. Eventually there was just nothing drawing me anywhere. I feel like that now. I really feel totally homeless. Not in a destitute way, but in a sense that I don’t feel drawn to any particular place in this country much more than any other.
Is that something you’re looking for?
Oh yeah, I definitely want that. But it’s a lot easier when all your friends live in one place, but everything’s so even for me now it makes it tough to choose. I moved to Iowa City for three months. I spent the winter there and that was fun. It’s where I went to college, so it was kind of nostalgic a little bit, but it didn’t quite feel right. I couldn’t find anyone to play music.
But there are lots of things you can’t do when you live on the road. I want to have my own recording facilities. I really want a desk I can write at. It just makes making things easier.