Jonathan Paull Gertler
Like the unyielding current that propels the mightiest of rivers, the muse flows quite strongly through the music of multifaceted singer/songwriter/guitarist Jonathan Paull Gertler. The artist’s skillset runs deep within the sonic banks of the ten tracks that populate his bold new album, No Fear, which is set for release on all major digital platforms on September 10, 2021 via Rock Ridge Music. Co-produced by Gertler with his trusted collaborator Jon Chase at Chase Studios in Methuen, Massachusetts, No Fear further benefits from the intuitive collaborative nature of regular Gertler cohorts Sal DiFusco and John Paul on guitars, Joe Santerre on bass, and Jon Chase on percussion — not to mention the occasional, poignant cello accents from Catherine Bent and Bobby Chase, background vocals by Jon and Corinne Chase, and piano courtesy of Doug Johnson.
Whether it’s the clear acoustic shimmer of the optimistic opening track, “Grasp the Moon,” the stark emotionality of the lead single, “Time and Place,” the jaunty lilt of “Low Lying Sun,” the vibrant resonator counterbalance that permeates “Just Another Day,” or the swingshift shuffle of the title track, No Fear cascades with the creative momentum of an artist fully in control of steering the course of his musical destiny.
Gertler and Chase’s mutual goals for the overall sound palette of No Fear were to delineate the cleanest guitar tones, most supportive instrumental accompaniment, and clearest vocals possible. “We wanted to capture anything that got across that pure acoustic tone,” Gertler confirms. “The idea was to go for less sonic density and more sonic quality, something I think helps the listener get much closer to the music. Over the course of three albums, my sound has been an evolution of diminishing sonic density and increasing real-time organic feeling, so I’m really hoping the simpler it gets, the better it gets. When you can say less but express more, it comes from a deeper well.”
If anything, the lyrical content in evidence on No Fear reflects the culture of positivity Gertler has nurtured as a blossoming songwriter over the course of his previous two albums, 2013’s After the Storm and 2016’s Heart and Mind. “Everything I’ve ever been involved with has to reflect that,” he believes. “There are certain subjects that are very powerful and make me incredibly happy. Things like love and reflection and nature all hopefully find their way into my lyrics, but you also have to take into account all the pitfalls the world can bring you.”
More than ever, Gertler knows how to maintain a sunny disposition. “There’s no question I’m optimistic because everything I do in life really requires a level of optimism,” he continues. “No Fear reflects this in a lot of ways by my tempering optimism with realism — and aiming high, as I’ve always done, is a really important part of it, whether I’m talking about love for humanity, love for a concept, love for a person specifically, or love for the emotion itself. Ultimately, a lot of what I write are love songs, one way or the other.”
The fire of creativity stirred inside Gertler at an early age. “Right from the very first time I picked up a guitar, I started writing songs,” he reports. “I started writing seriously when I was about 14 or 15, and it never occurred to me not to be engaged fully in my chosen subject matter.” Does Gertler consider the art of songwriting to be a calling of sorts? “I wouldn’t call it that, because it sounds a little bit more priest-like or musically self-important than I am,” he replies with a laugh. “But it is a necessary means of self-expression. When I’m really distracted or stressed, I don’t write well. But when I’m feeling really centered and energized, I want that feeling to come more to the surface. That’s when I write the best.”
Gertler feels the many years he spent as a vascular surgeon clearly fueled his outlook as a songwriter. “Being a surgeon was a central event in my life,” he agrees. “It informs your personality, and I spent a lot of years at it. It exposes you to life, death, and other things most people never get to see. Some of my songs are very reflective of that part of my personality, but I also try to account for the willingness to take risks in life to get to a better place without putting people in harm’s way. If you’re just totally afraid of taking that risk, you end up with lousy outcomes.” The art of surgery is very much the art of staring down tough odds with both confidence and humility.
Nowhere is Gertler’s camera eye more present than on No Fear’s lead single “Time and Place,” a heartfelt requiem inspired by the untimely passing of his sister, a song he plays on her own cherished 1969 Martin D12-20 acoustic guitar tuned to open C. “This is really my favorite song on the album,” he admits. “The first line that came to me for it was, ‘The first time today that I thought of you,’ which starts the last verse. I wrote the song several years after my sister died. This was one of those times where the music and the lyrics came together simultaneously, and I just wrote everything down. I went back in and refined it, but it didn’t require all that much change. ‘Time and Place’ is very much about the feeling of separation and sadness, yet still being close to someone you love and remembering from far away. Inevitably, love persists despite all odds.”
Keeping things as raw and real as Gertler does so adroitly on “Time and Place” bonds him even more tightly to his listeners. “What I’ve learned as a songwriter and a performer is, if you don’t show your audience how much you care about a song, then they really don’t care about it,” he acknowledges. “In songwriting, you just let your emotions out, and can hopefully find the words that are creative enough to express something people can relate to. That’s what matters.”
Said emotion-driven intentions readily come across in Gertler’s inclusive, conversational vocal style, something that enables him to invite listeners to join him on the ride at hand. “If you can be the person people trust to be drawn in by, and you never violate that trust, life’s just a lot fuller,” he explains. “I recognize I’m somewhat extroverted, and I’m pretty willing to put my emotions out there. When you can connect with people on that level, it’s the most gratifying — and I really love being able to do that with No Fear.”
Gertler’s viewpoint as a songwriter continues to mature, and that includes tackling the broader subjects head-on. “You do have to start by writing what you know about,” he notes. “At the end of the day, I know a lot of people are so afraid to fall that they don’t reach. The song ‘No Fear’ is very much about that. It’s what you think about a lot at a certain point in life — and this is one of those points in life where I think about it.”
Gertler realizes there are larger forces at work within the purview of his own output. “My orientation is always that I am committed to doing something for the greater good,” he asserts. “I’ve done really interesting things that have always been very people-oriented, and I’ve had the luck, pleasure, and luxury of being able to produce and write music through those years with the same orientation of being tuned into people’s emotions, and being tuned into the outcome and the vagaries of life. That’s ultimately what my music is all about.”
With No Fear now poised to crest onto our collective listening shores, “The idea that people will enjoy this album is unbelievably exciting — and it’s a little bit frightening as well,” he concludes. “I think it’s actually a really good place to be.” For Jonathan Paull Gertler, the mighty musical current that pulses through No Fear is markedly poised to carry him to the next level. (Text by Mike Mettler)