Social justice has become a common refrain in modern music but living the example that you are spreading is a different experience, but one that Konrad Wert does daily.
His latest, “Be at Rest” as performed by Possessed By Paul James is another example of using a platform for a positive message to the masses.
“As a school teacher within the non-profit sector and public education, as well as an advocate for 20-years now, the song “Be At Rest” is specifically meant to call us to action,” Wert said, “Yes, ‘there are battles’ in these classrooms and we sincerely, desperately, need folks near and far to take up that mantle. The beauty of this song is both the composition of fiddles, banjo, guitar, and female voices blending all together.”
He added that a single voice is a hopeful reach for a universal chorus.
“Works such as these are meant to bring both attention to the social need while also accompanying the journey with inspiring song and words,” Wert said.
“Be at rest dear students for these worries are far too great to carry. Be at rest, passionate teachers, for these burdens you constantly face can become crushing. Be at rest, families in need, fighting for your child’s rights, as they can become exhausting and infuriating. And most troubling, most devastating, be at rest, children, men and women, that have fallen to violence within our schools. When a child, family member or teacher are directly affected by such choice or circumstance we collectively are grieving for them.
“Lift up your voice and sing us the chorus” is a mantra I feel we should all share. The chorus is the song we all share, the struggle we all face, and the hope that we will work together for something restorative and transformative when helping others.”
After gaining recognition from NPR, The New York Times, CMT, and MTV for his celebrated live performances and 2013 Billboard-charting breakout release, “There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely”, the Golden Apple-winning educator took some time to reflect and reorient and underwent two vocal surgeries.
“The nature of being a school teacher, a public speaker, and a musician, you know, any ear nose and throat specialist will tell you that’s like a hat trick for getting a vocal surgery,” he said. “So there was some time where I needed to really learn how to sing fluidly and in a healthy way while preserving the opportunity to continue as a teacher and articulate, speak, without duress.”
After a few years away from music, Wert is returning with a new album, As We Go Wandering, (due January 31, 2020), bringing a rejuvenated voice to Possessed By Paul James. Where There Will Be Nights was crying out on behalf of the dilemmas faced by families, students, and teachers nationwide, As We Go Wandering brings a sense of peace. But as the title suggests, in Possessed By Paul James’ estimation, perhaps counterintuitively, peace, rest, and movement dance hand in hand.
This tension of justice and peace, rest and movement, unity and self-expression are at the heart of Possessed By Paul James’ music and performances. Raised Mennonite among pacifists and service workers in a small community in southwest Florida, Wert’s upbringing brought strict guidelines of what could come into the house.
“The aesthetic was very church oriented,” he said. “We had this typified image of Jesus in the living room, Mary in the hallway, and a painting of the Last Supper in the bedroom. Musically, we didn’t get anything heavier than The Monkees.”
Upon leaving home however, Wert discovered punk rock. Coming from a rural town, Wert had been exposed to a lot of roots music, and where others would have merely seen a jarring conflict with their upbringing, Wert saw an interface.
“I actually found that in many ways, punk was like urban blues, you know, just with more energy and amplification. I dove in and started getting to know the Stooges, Patti Smith. I realized ‘Wow, punk is beautiful. Punk is to the street, punk is to the listener.’”
To paraphrase David Byrne, the punk movement was defined by attitude rather than style, something that sought to remove the boundaries between spectator and artist and making everyone a participant in what Patti Smith called, “just another word for freedom.”
For Wert, Possessed By Paul James became a way to create an environment for expression and reflection in a way that can foster wholeness from a sense of community.
“We could look at the complexities of expression, the conflict of ego and humility, and servitude within the Mennonite-Amish community and in our rumspringa – that was incredibly impactful for me. Because, how do you express yourself, and in a way that’s not completely arrogant? How do you do that in a way that reflects what really matters? That’s a huge element of what Possessed By PaulJames is.”