Back-Alley SXSW Find Gets a Record Deal

Hard working NY folkie Christopher Paul Stelling is called up to join ranks with Tom Waits, Wilco, for his new album. Here’s an exclusive premiere of his new song.

Courtesy Jenn Sweeny

I first came across Christopher Paul Stelling a few years ago when he showed up in my hotel room at the then-fledgling Savannah Stopover music festival, essentially a pit stop for bands touring to SXSW to swing through and cop some gas money while taking advantage of the city’s legendarily lenient public intoxication laws. After a long night of cavorting which included seeing him perform for the first time and essentially completely blowing my mind, I made sure to check him out the next week at SXSW, where he was playing everywhere, sweating his way through set after set, forcing his music into people’s ears whether they liked it or not.

This is not a big-event thing. I’ve run into Stelling playing at music festivals—even when he wasn’t officially on the lineup. He’s turned up in back alleys of cities I’d never been to, at rooftop parties, opening for bands, and headlining venues I’d somehow wandered into, always with his battered guitar and always working it, sweating and red faced, giving it his all in every situation.

Now, after years of milking every drop of gas from a car as war torn as the aforementioned guitar, all that hard work and actual blood, sweat, and post-show therapy beer has paid off. He’s signed a deal with indie label ANTI—, where he shares a roster with names like Mavis Staples, Wilco, and Tom Waits.

This song, “Warm Enemy,” is the first track from his forthcoming album, Labor Against Waste, which releases on June 16. Relatively restrained for Stelling, “Warm Enemy” is a classic-seeming folky tune, featuring his intricate guitar work and a warm string backdrop, which is a departure from his sparse yet explosive one-man-band live performances.

Stelling had this to say about the new track:

Sometimes we have to give up in order to keep trying. ‘We’ is I, and all are our own. We’re our own worst enemies, and our own best friends. We created this. We know by now where change begins, but at times it’s always false starts. This is a song about the inevitable folly of self-ridicule and self-praise. This is a song about the importance of persistence. Or it’s a song about nothing at all.”