Pianist and composer Paul Cardall has been incredibly prolific, and on February 5 he added to his discography with The Broken Miracle, which he reckons is his 22nd studio release. This one is special, though, because it is “probably my most vulnerable project of my career. It’s a culmination of everything I’ve been through. This is a reflection back on my journey,” he says, calling from his Nashville home.
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Cardall certainly has led an extraordinary life. “I was born with only half a heart,” he says, which meant that he was not expected to live for long. Cardall has beaten those odds—but this meant he had to endure a childhood largely spent in hospitals. As an adult, he has undergone a heart transplant. Still, despite such daunting obstacles, he has built a successful career, becoming one of the most-played artists on Pandora (with 2.4 billion streams on that platform to date).
Cardall’s story is so compelling that there is an additional aspect to this project: “[The album] accompanies the novel that’s been written about my journey. It’s a fictional story based on real people and real events in my life,” Cardall says. This book—also titled The Broken Miracle—came out on February 2. “It’s a way for my audience to experience the things I’ve been through that I’ve drawn inspiration from.” To ensure that the subject matter was handled correctly, Cardall brought in his longtime friend, bestselling author J.D. Netto.
Reflecting on the album and the book parts of The Broken Miracle that focus on Cardall’s childhood, he says, “It’s one of those stories, you look back and [say], ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize that that was the worst part of my life—and at the same time, I was creating the most beautiful piece of work.” He did this, he says, because “I was always told, ‘You might not live very long,’ so I was always trying to create something beautiful to give the world because I’ll be long gone and forgotten—that was always my mindset.”
Cardall’s lovely melodies are highlighted on The Broken Miracle album’s eleven instrumental piano pieces. This type of work has become his signature style since his 1995 debut album, Sign of Affection. When writing, he says, “Usually, I sit at a piano and I just start creating ideas. On this particular album, I recorded forty improvisational themes, and out of that, [it] became eleven songs. I do the instrumental music, and then I layer it with orchestration and other elements.”
But telling his own story this time meant that Cardall wanted to depart from his instrumental style, so there are also eight tracks featuring vocals. For these songs, Cardall enlisted several guest performers, including David Archuleta, Tyler Glenn (Neon Trees), Thompson Square, and Ty Herndon, among others.
While all of the lyrics are meaningful for Cardall, he felt particularly invested in doing a good job on the heartfelt track “My Heart Beats for You,” which was released as a single in December. “That was me trying to write a song for my wife,” Cardall says. “That’s no easy task, when you’re trying to write the love of your life a love song that is timeless. I had met her at a time when I had survived a [heart] transplant and a divorce and had a lot of trauma from countless surgeries. I needed somebody to just love me with all my scars—and she did that. Her love is what makes my heart beat. Her love has transformed me.”
Given how special that song is, Cardall approached popular vocalist David Archuleta with it. “I knew David because years ago, we did a series of concerts in Slovenia,” Cardall says. That country is where Cardall’s wife is from, and they went there “to try to raise awareness of heart disease. There are little kids unable to get surgeries because there’s not enough kids with heart problems to justify [having] a surgeon practicing full-time, so I went there to try to convince them. So when I sent [David] the song, he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is cool!’”
When deciding on which collaborators to bring in, Cardall says, “I think it’s like relationships. Sometimes you just automatically connect with somebody. Others, it takes a bit of time—you have to build that relationship of trust.” He looks for “people that inspire you and make you want to be a better writer.”
Cardall remembers the moment in his childhood (growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah) when he first learned about this type of inspiration: “The first time I heard 2112 by Rush,” he says of the Canadian band’s seminal 1976 prog rock album. I was like, ‘These guys are my heroes.’ They were on a label called Anthem Records.” Years later, Cardall signed a deal with Anthem, as well. “I ended up on the same label as Rush,” he says. “That’s awesome!”
When he first discovered Rush, though, Cardall was content to remain more of a fan of music, rather than playing it seriously himself. He did take some piano lessons at this point, but he admits that “I wasn’t very good.”
Unfortunately, when Cardall was sixteen years old, one of his close friends was struck by a car and died. Seeking to find an outlet for his grief, “I went to the piano and music just started to flow through me,” Cardall says. He found the cathartic experience also helped him with “trying to understand life and death and my place and role in life. I wanted to have purpose, and music just came to me.”
Around that same time, Cardall started listening to artists such as Enya and George Winston, which struck a particular chord in him. “I started to be drawn to instrumental piano and creating, so that other hearts can be healed the way that music was healing my heart,” he says.
Right away, Cardall says, “People were asking me to play songs I had written and that was like, ‘Maybe there’s something with this.’” He started his professional career by playing piano at a Salt Lake City Nordstrom’s department store, where he sold customers his CDs. Gradually, his popularity grew well beyond Utah, and he was approached by the then-fledgling Pandora streaming service about putting his work on that platform, which is what finally brought him widespread popularity.
In 2018, Cardall moved from Salt Lake City to Nashville in order to expand his career even more. Now, with The Broken Miracle, he is looking back on his past – and in telling his story, he is working toward an even brighter future.
Photos by Mark Mabry