How Paul Simon Dreamed His New Album ‘Seven Psalms’
Paul Simon said his new album Seven Psalms wasn’t his idea and that almost all of it had come to him in a series of dreams.
He added that it wasn’t a new experience for him and that it went back to the classic Simon and Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence.” Simon – who previously discussed the source of his new music – told Gramophone in a recent interview that the project began to form after he discovered the 15th-century viola da gamba string instrument. “It was around this time that I had a strange dream,” he said.
“It was on Jan. 15, 2019, and the dream said, ‘You're supposed to write a piece called Seven Psalms.’ I wasn’t writing anything at the time, nor was I thinking about writing anything. I had done what I thought was probably going to be my last live performance, at least for a while.”
He added, “And then this dream happened, and I thought, ‘I’m not sure I even know what a psalm is. So I went to the Bible, and I looked at Psalms, and said, ‘Well, since I don’t know what it is, and it’s not really my idea – something in a dream, or somebody in a dream, said, “You’re going to do this” – well, then, bring it on.’”
Soon afterward, he said, he began writing short guitar pieces that developed over a year. “And then I started waking up during the middle of the night, two or three times a week between 3.30 and 5 a.m., and words would come,” he recalled. “I would get up and write them down, and then I’d see if I could write a second verse as well. But as soon as I tried to do anything, everything stopped.”
Watch the Trailer for Paul Simon’s 'Seven Psalms'
It was an experience Simon had gotten used to.
"The first one would probably be 'The Sound of Silence,'" Simon said. "I was 22 years old when I wrote it, so I had no idea what I was doing. There are others that were like that – ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘Graceland,’ but by ‘Graceland’ I started to recognize that sometimes things happen, and all have to do is just make sure it doesn’t get messed up as it passes through you."
Simon’s exploration of the viola da gamba had also led to his discovery of the British classical vocal group VOCES8, whom he brought on board for Seven Psalms, while also trying to make use of slightly unusual instrumentation. “I would … take individual voices, mostly the sopranos, and add them to the end of a guitar note,” he said. “What it does to the guitar string is quite magical. You can’t hear it as a voice – it just sounds like an extended ring. A few people I’ve played this for, they think it’s a synth – it’s so perfect.”
Seven Psalms comes out Friday. It’s available for preorder now.