Paul Cargnello Vodka Soda

PREMIERE: “Vodka Soda,” the new video by Paul Cargnello

“The song is really about Montreal nighthawks. The Montreal nightlife is so incredibly powerful. I’m writing about being out there, and what it was like just to bar-hop.”

Been missing going out to bars and drinking vodka sodas like you did in a pre-COVID world? Paul Cargnello has, too. The prolific Montreal troubadour released his first French-language LP in four years, Peut-être, back in July, on Verdun-based punk label Hell for Breakfast (a subdivision of Slam Disques). The album’s final single, “Vodka Soda”, has now gotten the music video treatment. In it, Cargnello performs in a room full of umbrella-wielding lookalikes of himself, each wearing his trademark hat and sunglasses. The Eminem-inspired clip is directed by Hell for Breakfast founder Jessy Fuchs — and while it doesn’t actually feature any vodka sodas, it does have plenty of guitar shredding, all-black clothing, mysterious vibes and total badassery. 

Today, the video is premiering exclusively via Cult MTL. Check it out below:

We also had an opportunity to chat with Cargnello via Zoom about the video, the song’s creation, his upcoming English-language album, and his love for album titles that read like full sentences.

David MacIntyre: How did the song “Vodka Soda” come together when you wrote it?

Paul Cargnello: Last year, when the pandemic hit, I went in the studio and started recording. I released three or four tiny, five-song EPs to raise money for certain causes. It was just to keep myself working. Things like (the local social justice organization) Hoodstock needed money. It was a tough time for everybody. But I also spent that time recording just for myself. I started writing a French record, as well as English material. I recorded two complete albums. This year, I was like, Okay, I can’t wait anymore. I don’t want to wait. Even if there’s a pandemic and we can’t gig, it’s fine. This music needs to be out there just for me. 

I have an English record dropping in mid-November. “Vodka Soda” is the last single off of my French record, which dropped earlier this year. (The song) is really about Montreal nighthawks. The Montreal nightlife is so incredibly powerful, and it was a sort of fantasy song. I’m writing about being out there, and what it was like just to bar-hop — witnessing the low-lifes and high-lifes, and what that means. Sometimes I go out because I want to observe the world and watch it, to let inspiration flow over me. 

“Vodka Soda” is like me going into my own imagination, imagining myself ordering a vodka soda—which is ironic, because in the video, the director picked up on that. There’s a part where I order a vodka soda at the bar, and then somebody passes me a guitar. At that time, I wanted to go out, have a drink, hang out with people, and watch the world. I get a lot of my inspiration from what I observe from the nightlife after 1 a.m. But I couldn’t. All I could do was be at home and play music. In the video, there’s that moment where I order a vodka soda, but somebody passes me a guitar. It’s symbolically very representative of what was going on [in the world].

DM: And how did the song’s music video come about?

Paul Cargnello: All credit goes to the guy who directed it, Jessy Fuchs. I recently signed a record deal with (his label) Hell for Breakfast, which is a punk label… At the end of this year, I’m going to have 18 solo albums, and I’ll have been signed to something like 10 record labels. In between that, I’m releasing things independently. Hell for Breakfast approached me… Jessy understands that do-it-yourself ethos. If hammering a crack in the wall isn’t working, just move to the next crack and see if you can break through. That’s his attitude. He approached me, we started talking, and became fast friends. 

When he came up to me (about directing the video), his concept was, “I want to do it like (Eminem’s video for) “The Real Slim Shady.” We’re going to walk you through this alternate universe, you wake up, and everybody around you is dressed exactly like you, with the hat and sunglasses. Everybody’s paying you royalties.” I was like, “Alright, cool. But now I owe the Blues Brothers tons of royalties!” (laughs) Basically, I’m just ripping off Dan Aykroyd from the 1970s. I’m walking through this world where everybody’s basically Mini-Mes.

DM: You said you have an English album that’s coming out pretty soon, right? What can we expect, and when will it be released?

Paul Cargnello: I think it’s going to hit in mid-November. When you come to a record label, and you go, “Okay, I have an idea: I want to release two albums this year, and they’re coming out really close together. We’re not going to be touring all over the place. Let’s just make this about the songs.” My French album that came out is called Peut-être. This album is very, very singular. It’s very personal, because it’s me. I did everything—absolutely everything. Not only did I perform all the instruments on the record except for one song, I produced the album, and I wrote all the songs. I wrote the lyrics and got them translated, so they’re mine… I love Prince and Lenny Kravitz, because I know that when they’d walk into the studio, they’d play everything. I wanted to prove to myself that I can, and I did it. 

The English album that’s going to drop pretty soon after [the single release for] “Vodka Soda” is really a team effort. Even during COVID, I was sending files to friends, and I was working with my band, the Truth. There’s amazing people in there. I’m working with Clerel, RockLee, Jasmine Bleile, and James Challenger. This is my band. I would send my bass player a track, and be like, “Okay, do whatever you want. I have an idea, but I want you to send me your ideas.” The backup vocals are never me, it’s always Jasmine and Clerel. It’s a really collaborative effort. So many other musicians influenced me on this English record, whereas on Peut-être, it’s all me in my head.

DM: What’s the title of this new English-language album?

Paul Cargnello: My band is called Paul Cargnello and the Truth, and the English album is called Lies. It’s like, Peut-être Paul Cargnello? and then Paul Cargnello and the Truth: Lies. I want everything [in my album titles] to be a sentence from now on, you know? I started that in 2014. I did an album called The Hardest Part Is You May Never Know Paul Cargnello

DM: Brilliant.

Paul Cargnello: Now I want everything to almost be a sentence every time I release a record. I’m obsessed with that album Barry White Sings for Someone You Love. I love this idea that you can release it like it’s a statement.

DM: Aside from your upcoming English-language album release, what are your plans for the remainder of the year and early 2022?

Paul Cargnello: I was working very hard at making sure that the life of Nicholas Gibbs was honoured in NDG. But that’s done, so I don’t know what’s going to happen for the rest of this year. I’m going to be promoting a single and an album. I’m going to be a keyboard warrior for a month and a half promoting it, and hopefully I’m going to play somewhere. I’ve got some DJ sets coming up. Next year, look out, because I’ve got tons of projects. I’ve produced a whole bunch of artists. Everybody’s been waiting for that [ideal] release time, to see if venues are opening up. I’ve produced a whole bunch of records that were postponed this year, and coming out in 2022. It’s all killer stuff. And more albums to come—I haven’t written it yet, but give me a couple weeks and I’ll have another record! ■

For more on Paul Cargnello, please visit his website.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.