Actor Paul Adelstein’s Secret Passion for Music

Paul Adelstein

Paul Adelstein

The name Doris comes from Adelstein’s mom. Originally, band members offered up the suggestion as a joke, then Adelstein thought, “Why not?” and the name stuck.

Since the band’s inception he’s moved to Los Angeles, where he took on new bandmates, though some of the original Doris members flew out to be part of the recording session for All the Details.

Paul Adelstein first became interested in music as a youngster in Chicago. “I didn’t have much aptitude for reading music, but I loved to play,” says the actor, who began piano lessons at age 10.

His mother had a huge collection of classical music and his father was into jazz, but it was his older brother and sister who introduced him to bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and REM. “I remember listening to the Talking Heads: 77 with my sister when it came out; I was seven,” recalls Adelstein. “That had a huge influence on me, along with Squeeze, REM, Elvis Costello, and more classic rock stuff , Bowie, and The Beatles.”

Eventually, he learned a few blues scales and how to figure out a tune, and by the end of high school, he was crafting his own songs on the piano, and had also taught himself guitar.

Adelstein graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in English and minor in music. In the summer between his junior and senior years, he joined New Crime Productions theater company founded by John Cusack, and also started a band. That’s when Adelstein says he knew he would always play music.

“From that moment it was pretty much laid out what I would do with my life,”he says. “It was exciting because, after growing up and being so passionate about those things [theater and music], I didn’t really see a possibility of making a life in those worlds. Then, after being exposed to some working actors and musicians, all of a sudden, I saw that it was a possibility, and I was off to the races.”

Adelstein originally had his doubts about being able to follow both paths. “I was told, while I was growing up, that it would be wise to make a choice between one thing or the other, and that’s something that tortured me for a long time,” he explains, adding that he’s since realized how complementary the dual careers are. “Anything that lates your imagination is going to feed into anything else that stimulates your imagination.”

“I’ve always had both things running through my head,” he adds. “As an actor it’s interpretive—you are performing someone else’s words, so the kind of musician I am [as a songwriter] is maybe one step more intimate, but I really love both.”

“I’ve learned lessons both in acting and in music that apply to each one,” he continues. “I think they’ve both helped me to grow.”For example, he says, music has taught him “to listen and be patient, to keep trying … and that it’s okay to suck sometimes!”

Like many musicians, both recreational and professional, music is a sort of escape from the norms of a full-time career. “I really benefi t from being able to turn one thing off and doing another thing—switching gears,” he says. “For me there’s a huge amount of joy in making music.”

“Still, there’s not enough hours in a day,” he laments, when asked how he has time for it all. “I have a guitar in my trailer at all times and I play music every night when I get home.” He’s also set up a recording studio in his home that allows him to record in the evening, on weekends, and whenever he has a day off .

With melodies always running through his mind, Adelstein often thinks of music while acting. “In Private Practice there are a lot of needle drops, and so you can kind of imagine what type of song is going to be potentially playing,” he says.

He’s even tested the movie scoring waters a bit. His song “All You Need” was used as source music for a bar scene in the film Burn After Reading, and he wrote an original song for the short Pat Healy HBO film Mullitt. “It was fun to stretch out that way,”he says.

The new CD, All the Details, combines piano driven melodies with snappy, fun lyrics. It’s clear that Adelstein enjoys the process of songwriting. He admits to a variety of influences on the album, from Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson to Th e Beatles and Elvis Costello, but he’s come into his own as a songwriter.

“There are some themes or ideas of disappointment, ambition, and how people treat each other in certain situations,” he says. “Each song can stand on its own though I definitely tried to make a cohesive record.”

“As I got deeper into songwriting, I became obsessed with crafting the perfect three-minute song,” says Adelstein. “So while I listen to Van Morrison, and everybody from Etta James to Joe Cocker, the songwriting part of it became so important to me that I gravitated to people like Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, and Randy Newman … people who craft ed the three minute gems that I’m in constant pursuit of.”

Adelstein says that inspiration for these “story songs that are strong on melody” can come from almost anywhere. “I found what works best is to come up with a figure, or a couple phrases, whether it’s a verse, chorus, or even a bridge, and then, without really knowing where it comes from, I build out,”he explains. “When I have a specific idea about what a song should be about, or what it should be like, before I start writing it, it ends up being forced and kind of pedantic.”

When putting together an LP there’s always the challenge to arrive at the right mix of tunes, and sometimes that means exploring different approaches. “I’m most proud of ‘The Sing Along’ because I found it was different; it was a very still song for me,” explains Adelstein. “I used to throw as many chords into a song as I could jam in there, and I’m learning to be patient, so I am proud of how that one turned out.”

Another song that is quirky and quite catchy, is the lead song “Ladybug Luck.” “It was almost a novelty, and a couple different people said that it needs a full band, but I didn’t buy it,” he says. “When we recorded it, it was quick and easy, and I think that’s always a good sign for a song. I love how it turned out.”

The fun tune, rich in symbolism, was a favorite among friends, and that’s how it ended up as a music video featuring scenes from the 1971 motorcycle fl ick On Any Sunday. “My friend Kyle Davison, who’s this great video director in Canada, wanted a crack at the song, and then he had an inspiration one night when he saw that movie on late-night television,” says Adelstein, explaining how the video came about. “I was dubious, and kind of blown away with how it works. It’s totally charming!” You can watch the video at

Though very lyric-driven, Adelstein leaves the final interpretation of his songs open to listeners. “My favorite songs are the songs that seem super specific, but if you asked three different people to fill in the blanks, they would probably say three different things. I think that the music and how the song works is the most important part and that communicates it’s own thing to people.”

Overall, Adelstein is content with the resulting CD and the songs he describes as “sad songs with a snappy beat.” “I’m very proud of the playing and production,” says Adelstein. “We’ve got some great musicians and great performances, and it’s definitely a band at work bringing these songs to life.”

Heading out on tour with Doris this spring, Adelstein jokes that his wildest dreams are for “world domination” and “rabid, cultish fans,” but he admits he really just wants a “listening audience, paying attention to every moment.”


To read our full May-June 2012 issue click here!

Instead of being dedicated to one instrument, young musicians, or professionals, is a lifestyle resource for all music makers, regardless of age, instrument, or ability. We focus on providing educational articles teaching people how to play an instrument, but we also favor travel pieces, music related health articles, interesting news stories, and plenty more.

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