Shaking violently. Screaming at a high-pitched frequency. Bending backwards, forwards, and sideways. Head to his knees. Arms in the air. Holding his breath.
This man is not suffering. This man is not convulsing. This man is not schizophrenic. He is performing.
On stage a wave of hysteria overtakes Eric Paul’s body. The frenzied act matches that of the music: loud, sporadic, overwhelming and sometimes annoying. Fronting bands for over 20 years, Eric Paul finds peace among all this chaos.
“I usually struggle with anxiety but on stage I can let it take over. I don’t need to control it like I have to in public,” Paul says. “I can’t let my mind blow up, which it wants to do, so I let my body blow up on stage instead.”
Eric Paul has been the throbbing voice of Rhode Island punk bands Arab on Radar, The Chinese Stars, and currently Doomsday Student since the early 1990’s. Exposed to instruments at an early age, Paul chose the drums as his gateway drug into music. Ditching the role of drummer, Paul took the reigns of vocalist in 1993.
“I didn’t sing until Arab on Radar,” Paul says. “My first demo I was scared shitless. Prior to that I couldn’t hear myself over how loud everything was. Then I heard myself and I was alarmed, to say the least.”
Paul is not just a vocalist of a punk band but rather a performer of poetry. Each lyric is a plunge inside Eric Paul’s mind giving a glimpse at what goes on inside. Admitting to being open with emotional elements in his lyrics, Paul uses music as a way to release much of his anxiety and emotional turmoil. This turmoil tends to fuse from an audio perspective into a visual, physical act on stage for Paul. Bursting with character, Paul’s stage presence embodies originality in its purest form.
There is no typical performance from Paul. Every performance is unpredictable chaos, mimicking the music emanating from the band. Such capriciousness often evokes similar feelings from the crowd, even venue owners.
Nathan Joyner, Some Girls guitarist and friend of Eric Paul, remembers a night where Paul’s performance was none other than one of a kind. Paul’s current band, Doomsday Student, played a show in Ventura, California in a less than fitting sports bar. “Doomsday played and people kind of fell off their seats. It was the straw that broke the camels back,” Joyner says. “The bartender was telling Paul to turn it down but Paul shook her off and went back on stage. He pulled his pants down, pulled his ass out and mooned everyone. It was hanging out and he was running around on stage like that. He pulled his pants up and played the rest of the set like nothing happened”.
Despite the challenge of appeasing the masses, Paul takes each interaction with the public with his head high. Looking on the bright side of things, Paul sees the honesty in his skeptics. “As much as it sucks, the honest quality is refreshing. A performance elicits such raw emotion in you. 90% of times when you see a show you’re bored to death. Bands care about how they look more than fucking ripping their heart out through you like we like to do.”
Watching Paul perform is a true sensory overload. As the drums begins a pounding rhythmic beat Paul takes center stage in front of the drum kit. A piercing guitar riff high enough to numb the ears is the underbelly of this less than melodic beast. Add in an accurately timed bass line and the flawless repetitive riff takes off.
The minute the beat begins a creature emerges from Eric Paul. Jumping up and down in place with the bassist to the left and guitarist to the right, he immediately changes over to shaking back and forth. Doubled over almost as if in pain, it looks as though the urge to vomit is about to overtake him any minute. In time to the deafening bass line, he bends backwards twiddling his fingers and quivering his arm in tune to the beat. His high-pitched, throbbing voice begins to drone into the microphone.
Standing up he mouths into the microphone, “Ah, those crop circles shaved into your head”. With a straggled walk to the left, Paul leans on the amp throwing his body forward and backward, head high in the air and yet far below his knees in a matter of seconds.
The tempo changes. Cymbals take charge and steady bass backs a frantic guitar. Paul relishes in the tempo shift for a split second, both arms in the air, hands dangling freely jumping sporadically to the beat. The freeform bliss doesn’t last long as he is doubled over again just as soon as he is up, squirming his arms in the air. Head to the knees, arms to the sky, repeating while vocals ensue.
People in front flail their bodies in whatever motion it takes, building up a sweat around the band. The nauseating tempo slugs on but Paul does not. Unexpected and disorderly, Paul steps forward into the crowd. Mic in hand, body erect and stiff, Paul merges into the masses as lyrics roll off his tongue. Some people welcome the unexpected guest with a friendly shove while others stare disapprovingly.
Paul emerges from the crowd back to the front center of the band only to wail, “You hear the national anthem when I cry” as his body begins convulsing to the tune of the music. Throwing his body forward and stomping his leg up and down, Paul is reminiscent of an agitated child unable to get what he wants. His body begins to pulse like that of one receiving shock treatment. His fingers squirm. Arms thrash. Hips twist and turn as if trying to find peace amidst his last moments.
Hitting the cymbal with his hand, the song ends just as abrupt as it began. This is only the first song in their set in Providence, RI tonight. Doomsday Student guitarist Steven Mattos describes Eric Paul in elementary terms, “He is a beautiful mess with emphasis on the beauty. Paul is theatrical and puts everything out there. It’s just raw, raw, raw emotion”.
A veteran performer, Paul doesn’t see music or performing leaving his life anytime soon. Describing his stage presence as having a hysterical element to it, Paul has a healthy appetite for letting his inhibitions get the best of him. “In all honestly, I enjoy the relationship with the people at a show. It’s a very visceral feeling,” Paul says. “I never experience it anywhere else in the world. Not even in sex”.