Plenty of musicians seek part-time jobs when they're making a go of it, so that when they're home they can work without being encumbered by a full-time schedule that stops them from going on tour. There are lots of baristas and bartenders out there, and some delivery drivers. Daniel Pujol is going a slightly different route.
"I finished school in March, and I'm registering to be a substitute teacher," he explains, "so that my degree doesn't devalue when I'm on the road. When I'm home, I'll go in and work two or three times a month. If I get in five days a year, it counts."
The Nashville garage-rocker, with his unkempt hair and signature sunglasses and goofy outfits, might seem at first an odd fit for the classroom. But beyond the fuzzed-out guitars and often punishing rhythm section of his eponymous band, Pujol, there are some lessons to be learned.
The band's first full-length, United States of Being, came out earlier this year on Saddle Creek, after an EP on that label in 2011, and a series of singles and demos in the two years prior. USB, as it's slyly called in acronym, is something of a portrait of Pujol's philosophy. From the spoken-word sample in opening track "DIY2K" ("I don't want to die / But living is tricky") to the album-closing clinical-depression anthem "Psychic Pain" ("There is a pain inside my brain / That feels a way I can't explain"), he examines the challenges life throws at us, and what amounts to a Zen-like approach to handling them.
Many of Pujol's characters live in a state of quiet, desperate optimism. "I know I'm hanging out in a smoky bar / And I done drove here in my parents' car," a book-smart kid admits in "Mission From God." But then he continues to insist, "I gotta know about you, I gotta know about you too!" Elsewhere on the album, Pujol declares, "God is pumping me all full of lead," and "is reloading Jeremiah's broken yoke / But I'm not dead! Just full of lead!"
It's thoughtful stuff, and material that implies that Pujol, while gaining nationwide note only just lately, has been working long and hard on creating this body of work. Some of the songs on USB were recorded as demos in 2010. One of them, "Black Rabbit," also made it onto a single he released on Jack White's Third Man Recordings in 2011.
"All the lyrical narratives — the order of the lyrics on that album is intentional," Pujol notes, explaining why a song like "Black Rabbit" appears three times in his recorded repertoire. An earlier Internet-only release on InfinityCat, X-File on Main Street, was a bit conceptual as well. "I released most of that material on 7-inches, and it was compiled and released on InfinityCat," he says. "There was kind of a plan: X-File on Main Street was sort of a Nashville record; the context of it was very intra-Nashville, for me and my friends. Then the EP [Nasty, Brutish and Short] was a little bit of a wider scope, and [United States of Being] was an even wider scope.
"It sort of went from a regional narrative to a national narrative to a being-a-human-being narrative."
One of the 7-inch singles from X-File, "Angelbaby," was issued by Pittsburgh-based Velocity of Sound, whose Darren Little simply got in touch with Pujol because he liked his music. Pujol was shopping around at the time for labels for the series of singles, and agreed to work with Velocity of Sound.
That set of songs was more abrasive and lo-fi than most of what Pujol released prior and since, though the spirit remains. On "How High," maybe the album's most traditionally Pujol-ish song, he sings, "You're 19 and I'm 25 / I've been here ever since I've been alive/ You say you were born to get away / And it makes worry I was born to stay."
Though not trained as a poet, Pujol writes at a level that betters most others out there writing in any musical genre. He employs techniques rarely seen in straight-up rock 'n' roll; often, for example, he'll take one line from early in a song and repeat it later, changing only a few words in order to alter its meaning. ("Brand new popes and kings / Owning all the things / I need to survive," begins "Providence"; "Pirates, popes and kings / Repeat everything / century 21," begins the last verse of that song.)
A common ideological feature throughout USB — and Pujol's earlier catalog — is a wide-eyed look at American culture, clearly concerned but never baldly critical. (Perhaps his most direct critique, if you want to call it that, comes in "DIY2K": "America, you know better / I know we can get it together.") Pujol insists that his take is neither an affront to American consumer culture nor an affirmation of it.
"You can use this idea of consumption — it's not that consumption is good or consumption is bad; it's that it's there. And it's better to try to do something normative or interesting with it: Highlight, perhaps, the utility of why it exists, as opposed to saying ‘I love consumer culture' or ‘I hate consumer culture.' You can use consumer culture as a human."
Pujol's philosophy, and the area where he tries to work, is more nuanced.
"It's relationships between people," he says. "Not generalizing or making abstract to-dos of a lot of those kinds of things, but grounding interaction in what's integral, which is the space between you and someone else, or between people in general."
And music, he says, can be key, at least to him.
"I think it helps me make sense of how I feel about it," he explains. "Music and writing is a good way for me to externalize what I'm thinking and feeling and figure it out. It prevents my head from exploding."