Jon Paul was 9 years old when he first started playing guitar, instigated by an obsession with Kurt Cobain. By the age of 10, he had written his first song with the help of his cousin. At 11, he decided to drop the guitar and start playing the drums. Five years and a high school band break-up later, the drumsticks were packed up and the guitar was picked back up. From there, he would enroll at the prestigious Berklee College of Music and the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, no. Not exactly.
You see, long before the world became enamored with the story in “The King’s Speech,” there was a young man in Connecticut who simply wanted to find a mellifluous voice through a discordant stammer. Struggling with the disorder would all but define his childhood and adolescence, leaving him almost silent to the world. Luckily for the world, and much like scenes with King George VI in “The King’s Speech,” the young man found vocal freedom through song.
That very young man in Connecticut was Jon Paul. That very story was the other driving force of his growth.
“I started stuttering ever since I started talking. In middle school, I would stay up all night crying because I had a presentation the next day. But when I sing, I can use any vocabulary. It’s total, utter freedom. [And] people always find it interesting that I don’t stutter when I sing,” admits Jon Paul.
When you watch him perform, you’re not surprised that he’s a Berklee grad who studied Blues Guitar. Listening to his songs, you might be thrown off by how such wise and clever lyrics could come from a 20-something, despite him also studying Songwriting at Berklee. Hearing his full story, however, you’re amazed that he’s performing to begin with.
Now, at age 25, Jon Paul has not only broken free of his stammer when he sings, but has broken out of his shell altogether. He’s currently living in Astoria, finishing up work on an EP (which is due out in July), playing gigs regularly with other notable talents, including sharing the bill with Amos Lee, and has started making waves in the music world. It sounds like the perfect ending to your regular “overcoming adversity” story; a feel-good tale to tell and inspire anyone with a disorder. Normally, that would be the case and this article would come to a close.
The difference is that Jon Paul’s story isn’t just something to warm the cockles of your heart. His music is actually good. Really, really good.
Although you can pinpoint the strumming of James Taylor, lyrics of Van Morrison and voice of Jack Johnson, Jon Paul is somehow very original. When asked to describe his style, Jon Paul says, “I’m lyric-driven folk-music. When I got to Berklee, I started getting into blues guitar. But then I’ve got this whole other side which is more of a Paul Simon-y type of thing that’s more geared toward my songwriting,” crediting Paul Simon’s storytelling style as a major inspiration. “I try to blend the two together.” He does it all quite seamlessly.
Jon Paul already understands the formula for growing his audience. “One thing about the stuff that I write, that people connect to, is that there’s more real-life stuff going on as opposed to every song being like, ‘you broke my heart…blah blah blah.’ I’m not into that.”
Then again, when you’ve been through what he has, there’s a whole lot more “real” in the term “real-life.”
With that in mind, Jon Paul gives his highest praise to the power of music because, despite the stranglehold of lifelong stuttering, he found freedom through song. “It’s just proof of how powerful art is. It’s a completely different part of the brain [for me]. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The perfect culmination of Jon Paul’s story and music can be found in the thing he cherishes most: his lyrics. In the song “Dig Down Deep,” he professes:
“Still, there were moments of rolling and tumbling through my mind, you know
Like a caged bird whose days are blurred ’cause he has no means to fly – but anyways
Though my strength was drained, I broke that metal door
‘Cause I dug down deep and found me some more”
Whether or not the lyrics reflect Jon Paul’s life story is not important. What is important is that song itself is phenomenal, the man who wrote it is an amazing human being and the artist as a whole is someone you should check out before his music becomes as renowned as “The King’s Speech.”
In essence, Jon Paul so much more than a feel-good story. This kid is the real deal.