**Paul Oakley Stovall and his band Into The Green at Lyon's Den Pub (1934 W Irving Park, 773/871-3757) May 1
Actor, singer and songwriter Paul Oakley Stovall also has some athletic history. He played basketball in high school, but he gave it up to pursue the stage. An artistic associate with the renowned About Face Theater company, Stovall recently had a promising audition for John Cameron Mitchell's new film. Into The Green, a band that he formed with collaborator Steven Goers, may soon be heading into the studio to record the follow-up to their 2000 disc Ghettos and Oceans, and you can catch them performing live in early May.
Gregg Shapiro: Please begin by telling me something about your background.
Paul Oakley Stovall: I grew up in Chicago on the South Side, around 92nd and Ashland. Around the fourth grade we moved to the south suburbs, as part of that second migration of Blacks from the city out to the suburbs. I went to high school out in the suburbs and then did a year at the University of Illinois-Champaign before I kind of had that forced meeting at the table with my parents—'I'm going to be an artist and if you don't pay for my schooling, in art, oh well.' Being the type of parents they were, they thought, 'OK well, we're sending our kid to college.' So, I won that one.
GS: So you got to study what you wanted to in college.
POS: I got to study acting at DePaul University. It would be far more embarrassing for them to have me not be in college. I was willing to say, 'Well, I want to act and sing. As you know, you can just go do that. So, you could either have me on the street doing it or with a degree where I could teach and do other things.' So, they gave in.
GS: When did you first realize you could sing and you wanted to pursue singing as a career?
POS: That's a good question because I was singing with my mom from age two, three or, whatever, but I realized I could sing in school. I think that the time you get the validation from this (claps hands), how other people respond to you and that's when you know. It was fifth grade, Oliver Twist. If you can't sing, you have to stand in the back and when I got pointed at and pulled forward, that's it.
GS: Did you do theater in high school, too?
POS: In high school I was a jock too. I did sports, but I was trying to work it out to do both and again, that moment came, that talk with my dad in the car when he was picking me up from basketball where I said, 'I just quit the team today because I can't do the winter play and the basketball team.' He couldn't get with that one (laughs).
GS: The first time I heard you sing was in cin salach's theater piece Undone.
POS: I have to go back to Eric (Rosen), cin, and Andre Pleuss, and Ben Sussman. With anyone else it would've been probably taken over by the producers at some point and made into something commercial. But with Eric, his conception of it was firm yet malleable, so we all got to put our five cents in. We were in rehearsal when Sept. 11 happened, it just infused us, it became part of us and Eric and I both had our birthdays right around there. It was just a perfect creative process.
GS: Your play As Much As You Can was featured in About Face Theater's Festival of New Plays. What can you tell me about it?
POS: The play is about interracial relationships in the gay community and that's being very broad. It's about, in particular, how the African American guy's family who reacts to it, because that's not really put on stage very much. I think, within our community, if you date outside your race it's seen as a fetish and not really dealt with for what it's really about. I've got a friend who is 6'5', tall, athletic, plays basketball, white guy and he is into bears in the bear community. People just kind of make fun of him about it, but no, he just wants to fall in love and bring this person home to his family and what's that about? The more we don't talk about those things ... because something that's not real in the whole fabric of the community.
GS: What happens to your play after the staged reading?
POS: Eric and I sit down and talk about how we develop this. A lot of the board will be there and company members and we're going to go back to the drawing board and say, 'What do we do next with this?' I mean, the whole thing came about because I lied two years ago when we had a festival of new plays. Eric wanted me to sing something from (my band) Into The Green and I said, 'No. It's new plays. I can write. I have a play.' He said, 'Oh, you do?' And I didn't. But I had things that I was concerned about. So I wrote a scene and lied and said it was a scene from my whole play. The scene went off so well that all the board was like, 'We want to see that.'
GS: How did you come up with the name of the band Into The Green?
POS: Steve (Goers), the writing partner, came up with it. He found it in one of Ovid's poems. He says something like, 'and then off into the green the angels went,' or something. When people ask us now we just say, 'What does it mean to you?' They come up with a lot of good things (laughs).
GS: I've heard your sound and style compared to Seal, but I beg to differ. The sound is grittier, more like Stan Campbell of The Specials. Who would you consider to be your musical influences?
POS: Sade, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, XTC. It's funny, when you say influence, a lot of people take that as who you try to emulate or sound like, but I'm just influenced by that. Sting, even. Probably my biggest now is Meshell Ndegeocello. Her politics. I think she just does it her way and I do it my way. That bravery of, 'this is what I have to say,' and we may not say it the same way, but she's quite an influence on me.
GS: The first Into The Green album was released in 2000. Is there a new album forthcoming?
POS: I see it happening this summer. I see that. I dream that (laughs). We're working on it, we're in pre-pro(duction). A lot of it has to do with getting Steve Rodby's schedule, he's going to play on this one. He's in Japan and New York—getting him the tracks so he can rehearse and getting the studio time. It's kind of like Tears for Fears, we're the duo and then ... it's hard to get a band together these days. The short attention span age has spread even throughout trying to band five or six people together. Five different interests. You have to do what you have to do to make money even. I can't be coming to three rehearsals a week.
GS: With your recent relocation to New York, how will that effect things?
POS: People say I'm living in New York, I say I'm based in New York. Because it's easier for me to get and find the work that I need to find [in New York]. I don't want to say one comes first over the other, but if one's cooking, that's where I'm going. You can also fly back and forth for $99 these days, so that's a good thing too. When I was on tour with Rent, Steve would send me tracks that he'd come up with and I'd just lyrically work it. That's how we did 'Kings' and 'Paralyzed.' Or I'll sing the whole song over the phone to him and he'll just put it on the click track and start to write underneath it if we're not together.
GS: The future of music.
POS: The present.