Home Read Now Hear This: Paul Leary | Born Stupid

Now Hear This: Paul Leary | Born Stupid

The Butthole Surfer keeps it wonderfully weird on his first solo album in 30 years.


THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Paul Leary issued his debut solo album The History Of Dogs in 1991. And now, 30 years later he’s releasing the followup Born Stupid. Three decades may seem like an oddly excessive length of time between albums, but that’s apropos, as nearly all the highlights of Leary’s legendary career have been odd and excessive.

Leary is best known as guitarist/vocalist for Austin’s infamous psychedelic noise rock band Butthole Surfers. Their aggressively surrealist recordings and live shows have become mythology in the world of underground music. The headline of a 2016 profile in a magazine summed this legacy up neatly, stating “Butthole Surfers Were the Epitome of Every Hell-Raising Rock ‘n’ Roll Legend You Ever Heard.”

Beyond the group’s extreme persona, Leary was creating seriously brilliant music with the band. The significance of that work can be measured in the far-reaching scope of the their influence. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was an ardent admirer. Comedic iconoclast Eric Andre has acknowledged being inspired by the group. Pillars of arena rock like U2, and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones can also be added to this list — and both have collaborated with Leary in various capacities.

Much of the subversive creative spirit that fueled the Butthole Surfers’ best work can be found inside the grooves of Leary’s charmingly twisted new album. Musically, Born Stupid largely steps away from the atomic punk energy and fuzzed-out metal riffing that defined Butthole Surfers’ sound. Instead, Leary has crafted an equally compelling soundscape filled with carnival sideshow calliopes, spaghetti western guitar motifs, and off-kilter German beer hall waltzes. But where the Surfers’ work was often squarely focused on the manipulation of sounds and textures, Born Stupid is heavily rooted in the craft of song, and the record’s finely structured musical landscapes work to support the stories being sung.

The connection between Born Stupid and vintage Butthole Surfers is not just stylistic. Longtime fans of Leary’s work will be pleased by the presence of a couple radically reworked interpretations of Surfers material, including a giddily demented singalong version of the The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave.

According to Leary, there was no grand vision behind the conception of Born Stupid. “I wasn’t planning on making another album, but over the years songs kept popping into my head. So I figured I might as well record them.” Leary has seized a ripe cultural moment to send this music out to the world, as Born Stupid speaks effectively to the damaged state of contemporary U.S. culture. There’s no better example than the album’s title track, a perfect anthem for the modern American age. “With so much strife and peril in this world I’d like to help make things better. But, instead, I had to be born stupid,” Leary croons in a warped country drawl, evoking the voice of Lee Hazlewood as sung through a cancer kazoo. Throughout the album Leary is joined by drummer Josh Freese, known for his work with a range of artists, including The Vandals, Guns N’ Roses and Devo.”