From the beautiful music he composes, performs, and produces, to his philanthropic efforts, resilient spirit, and aptly named podcast, Paul Cardall is “All Heart.” Connecting with listeners around the world, the Dove-Award winner’s solely improvised album Peaceful Piano has over 2.4 billion streams, with 20 million streams a month in 160 countries. This month Paul is celebrating the launch of his new podcast All Heart with Paul Cardall, as part of the American Songwriter Podcast Network. Each episode features a deep-dive interview with an interesting artist, actor, director or personality about their passion and drive. Upcoming guests include Thompson Square, Tony Memmel, and Randall Foster.
Based in Nashville, Cardall is a sought after collaborator who has worked with Grammy Award-winning gospel singer CeCe Winans, Audrey Assad, and Steven Sharp Nelson (The Piano Guys), among others. As an artist, he has four consecutive No. 1 albums on the Billboard New Age chart, and won the 2019 Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year. Extending his talents, Cardall has executive produced an additional seven No.1 debut albums on his label, Stone Angel Music, with 21 albums in the Top 10, totaling over 40 charting releases and 300 weeks on the Billboard charts. His album Peaceful Piano, engineered by ten-time Grammy Award-winner Michael Bishop, is currently nominated for Classical Album of the Year at the A2IM Libera Awards.
Born with a congenital heart defect, a two-time survivor of endocarditis, and a heart transplant recipient, you could say that Paul has been heart-focused his entire life. “My heart has literally been healed time and time again by surgeons. After my third surgery, I discovered an ability to compose comforting piano pieces that brought spiritual and mental healing to my heart. Since then, I feel it’s been my life’s mission to heal other hearts,” says Cardall.
So in these unprecedented times of fear and uncertainty, who better to turn to than Paul Cardall? We all could use a little more heart.
American Songwriter spoke with Paul Cardall to learn more:
American Songwriter (AS): What inspired Peaceful Piano?
Paul Cardall (PC): I wanted to take listeners back to my beginning when I discovered an overwhelming calm and soothing feeling a solo piano creates when performed tenderly. That was a couple of years after undergoing my third major open-heart surgery, as I was born with only half a functioning heart. While I was fighting for my life, a friend died in an automobile accident in 1988. I was trying to understand the rich irony of life and death when I sat at the upright piano my sisters learned to play on. I discovered an ability to play by ear. Fast forward to 2009, when I had been living in a hospital waiting for a miracle after years of living with heart failure. I’d take my oxygen and IV medication to the grand piano in the lobby every night and play what I was feeling. My heart flowed with melodies of life and death. Fortunately, I received a miracle on September 9, 2009, when surgeons removed my deformed scared heart and replaced it with a donor heart. Peaceful Piano is a reflection on a decade of miracles living with a donor heart and being grateful for second chances.
AS: Where was Peaceful Piano recorded? How long did it take?
PC: We recorded the album in two full days. Ten-time Grammy Award-winning engineer Michael Bishop invited me to record at the Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio. Ironically, I had volunteered on the Oberlin College campus during my college days as a youth counselor. Steinway pianos were all over the campus, and I learned it was where Steinway technicians are educated. I had hoped to return someday and play those pianos. Michael made it happen.
AS: What does your writing process look like?
PC: I had nothing written prior to going into the studio. I intended to improvise thoughts and feelings reflecting back on getting a second chance at life after the transplant. For example, I thought about the miracle of transplantation and the ability surgeons have to temporarily raise people from the dead. Those ideas inspired “Waiting for A Miracle” and “Deep Waters.”
I usually take three or four notes randomly on the piano and from those create a melody. I’ll add in the chord phrases that interest me. I’m left-handed so naturally, I flow with arpeggios that give my pieces a soothing feeling like a calm heartbeat. My style of writing and playing is somewhere between jazz and classical, yet I try to lay out a piece like a pop song with an intro, verse, pre-chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.
AS: Your music has been incredibly successful on streaming platforms. How do you promote it? Are you at all surprised by the success?
PC: Watching my music find listeners in more than 160(+) nations has been mind-blowing. I don’t tour regularly, nor do I have radio airplay and national press. Everything from day one has been word of mouth. Someone hears a song on Pandora Radio, which is where my largest audience is with two billion streams. The same with Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Youtube, Deezer, Tidal, and more, it’s been word of mouth.
What I’ve done is focus on defining what my music is so that people know exactly what they are getting. The vast majority of my songs have no lyrics and instrumental music easily crosses not just borders but religion, culture, heritage, and tradition. It speaks to the heart and people receive a message they most need to know from some higher power—call it the Universe or God. But, my recommendation to anyone who has no touring, radio play, or press is to focus on really defining to your audience, what this is, and the effects it’ll have in their lives.
AS: I notice from your YouTube channel that you’ve created music videos for a lot of your pieces. What is that process like?
PC: I was a film major at the University of Utah and had planned to make films. I know the editing tools and with the internet and smartphones, it’s become so much easier for anyone to create video content. I enjoy acquiring quality stock footage and editing my music to these images in a way that fills a home or office with peaceful sounds and imagery. Occasionally, I’ll hire a team to film my performance and edit those elements into a video, but for the most part, I try to get out of the way and let my music be the only thing people see, feel, and hear.
AS: Your music has an incredible global reach. What do you think it is about your music that resonates with so many people across so many cultures? How do you find that people generally discover your music?
PC: A majority of people hear the music on Pandora in the United States and worldwide on Spotify, Youtube, Deezer, and other platforms. I’m on a couple of playlists, but not enough to explain 2.4 billion overall streams. My fans are deeply engaged in sharing the music because they have had life-altering experiences with it.
For example, a young man from Iraq emailed me saying his family died in the second war with Iraq when Saddam Hussein was removed. He lost everything, was depressed, and contemplated suicide. He worked on a U.S. Military base as a janitor. The day he planned to take his life he was sweeping the hall of an office when he heard a piano melody coming from one of the rooms. It echoed from a computer stereo speaker. He followed it and would later email me saying, “The music called out to me. I wanted to die that day but your song ‘Redeemer’ was playing. I never heard it before but the melody said, “Allah wanted me to live.” I live for my family who is gone to carry on our name.”
I’ve heard from parents who’ve suffered a great loss, those with dealing with chronic illness, and others with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness. Businessmen and women reach out saying they heard the music on Pandora or Spotify and it’s part of their morning wakeup meditation. I like to think the music finds them instead of them finding the music.
AS: What made you decide to create the All Heart podcast?
PC: My fans are ALL HEART. Everything about them is diverse and beautiful. I wanted to dive deep into conversations that will educate, edify, and inspire my fans. I hope it’ll also draw new people to my music. I’ll be speaking with a lot of unique people making a huge difference in our society. From one of the longest-married couple in country music, Thomspon Square, to American Ninja Warrior Contestant Molly Burdick was diagnosed COVID-19, and then discovered she was pregnant. Did I mention this incredible athlete was born with congenital heart disease? These are informative, inspiring, beautiful conversations and I’m anxious for fans to hear them.
AS: Our current global situation has taken a huge toll on the live events and music industry. What are you working on right now? What’s next for you?
PC: All Heart Publishing is releasing my life story written by award-winning author J.D. Netto. The Broken Miracle will be a two-part book about my journey living with half a heart, receiving a heart transplant, and how music played an instrumental role (pun intended) in countless miracles to unbelievable to be real and yet they happened. I’m also working on a deeply personal album that’ll be a companion to the book. Recording studios are closed, and I’m at high risk for COVID-19 with my transplant, so I can’t record at the moment. Hopefully, we can find a cure and be respectful of others so no more people have to die. I’ve fought my whole life to live, so I appreciate all that the medical people are doing without much reward or fanfare. They are heroes to me.
AS: What advice would you give to your listeners right now?
PC: I’m trying to be patient. As a creative, I’m an anxious person. I know this is very hard. I remember living in the hospital for months not sure if I’d ever walk out of the hospital alive. Fortunately, this pandemic can be overcome. So I encourage myself and my fans to wake up with an attitude of gratitude—grateful for our breath and the people in our lives. I’ve spent some time discovering new music and old, like the Johnny Cash Hymns albums and early Kris Kristofferson. I’ve called friends and family members I haven’t spoken to in years and focused more time meditating and praying to be my true self.