Reviews & Opinions

Paul Holmes: Creating New Musical Spaces
JazzErie Scholarship recipient pursues career in Brooklyn

Interview by Dick Thompson

Paul Holmes spent his early years in Macclesfield, England, outside of Manchester, his father’s home.  He came to Erie, the home of his mother, Paula Grak Holmes, to attend high school at McDowell.  His parents now divide their time between Erie and Florida.  Paul was the recipient of a JazzErie Scholarship in 2000.  His experience illuminates the complex variety of activities a working musician may pursue in these rapidly changing times.

Editor's Note: In appreciation for his JazzErie scholarship, Paul played a solo jazz guitar rendition of Summertime for JazzErie, accompanied by his mother, vocalist Paula Holmes.

Pity SingStarting Out

“I used my JazzErie Scholarship to attend Berklee in Boston.  What I got there, in addition to classes in music theory and performance, was connections.  I started a group with some classmates and met a lawyer from Epic Records, which was becoming an independent label with SONY distribution.  We eventually made a CD, “Pity Sing” (Epic Records, 2005).  Pity Sing was also the name of the band.  We toured in the U.S., opened for some bigger acts, and toured twice to England.”  Band members, in addition to Paul, were Dave Greenwald, Jeremy Johnson and Andrew Puricelli.

Shifting Sands

This was about the period when record sales were seriously declining.  Then BMG bought out SONY and all of our production people were no longer around.  So we folded up the band. I had moved to Brooklyn.  I started another group, did some NYC area gigs and got into licensing music.”

Pity SingI didn’t know what that meant, and Paul explained: marketing original compositions/songs through an agent, or buddies, or “music houses,” that is, corporations which develop and market tunes from a stable of freelance composers.  Tunes are marketed for radio, TV and web commercials, and whoever else is buying.

“I had some success doing songs for TV ads – I did one for Target and some for Macy’s.  I’m working on some other accounts.”

Current Activities

Are you still playing out?  "Oh yes.  Well, I have a couple of projects. Actually, at least three."

Project 1:  “With three like-minded friends, I’m working on an original album of older, organic rock – more like the Beatles than contemporary, super-production pop.  Ballads will hint at jazz.  I bring the songs and we work out the arrangements together.  We’re working with a new, local label and expect to finish recording in three months, then will be planning a tour, which should be fun, because the music is just us – without saturated production ‘streamlining.’  We haven’t settled on a name.

“We’ve all gotten past the expectation of being glamorous and earning tons of money.  We want to make something we can enjoy and be proud of.

Project 2: “ I’ve gotten in touch with my old band, Pity Sing, and we’re talking about doing a second album, using material we’d developed before we broke up.  We still have something of a fan base and we’re trying to get our former producer involved.  We live in different places now, so we’ll have to use the internet to piece together our tracks.

Adrienne DrakeProject 3:  “A fun thing I’m doing is working on an electronic soundscape thing.  I’ve written some songs, darker things that I wouldn’t put in other records: dark, emotional, lonely – developing different characters, almost like an opera.  The website has a libretto page and you can stream the music.  I’ve played a few shows; I have some fellows who help me out with a live performance.

Parts of the first album are on the website as “Adrienne Drake.”  Visit   The website says “…uses samples and mouth sounds to produce trip hop in Brooklyn,”  and includes three tracks from Paul’s album “Dullabies.

The Music Business

“It’s an uphill battle and things are changing so rapidly.  I don’t know if there is any way of predicting where it’s going.  It certainly tests whether people who are trying to do this are driven by an artistic compulsion to make music that satisfies them, or are just seeking glamor or quick rewards.”

His implication is that, with the exception of a few big names, there’s not much of the latter to sustain one anymore.  We discussed the explosion of electronic outlets for music, with rapidly expanding opportunities to be heard, but not necessarily to be paid.   “In the U.S. it’s pretty acceptable to view music as something that’s just there – without any expectation of having to pay for it.”

Sample Music

One of Pity Sing's most successful songs was "Radio".



Here is a sample soundtrack by Paul's group, Paul and the Patients, used in a Fall 2010 national Target television campaign.

By Dick Thompson
December 30, 2011