Like so many artists before her, Paula Boggs reached the point a few years ago when she needed to leave her day job behind in order to pursue music full-time.
Unlike so many, though, singer-songwriter-guitarist Boggs walked away from an executive position: The former U.S. Army officer and longtime attorney served as general counsel for Starbucks, leading its global legal department.
“The resurgence of music as my passion, and now my vocation, happened over time by me continually asking the question, ‘What is the work of your soul?’ ” Boggs says. “And as time moved on, that was less law and more music.”
In making that transition, Boggs devoted time to sharpening her guitar, vocal and songwriting skills, and she also networked and played gigs. A Buddha State of Mind, her debut solo album, was released in 2010. The follow-up, Carnival of Miracles — credited to the Paula Boggs Band — arrived in March.
“We were able to make the record we wanted to make: an authentic record, a relevant one and an entertaining one,” Boggs says of Miracles. “And to do that, we needed the right producer and the right studio.”
Those turned out to be Trina Shoemaker, whose credits include albums by Sheryl Crow and Queens of the Stone Age, and Bear Creek Studio, a secluded facility near Seattle that’s been used by Vance Joy and Brandi Carlile, among many others.
Boggs recently checked in from Seattle and delved into her backstory and how her previous careers have impacted her current one.
Medleyville.us: What skills and disciplines from your military and legal careers have served you best as a musician?
Paula Boggs: “As I have traveled through this life chapter, I’ve met a lot of incredibly talented people in the music business, including a lot of really talented musicians. I find, though, in this business — and music is not unique — talent alone won’t cut it. It takes discipline, it takes showing up when you say you’re going to show up, it takes having a plan and being able to execute that plan. It requires networking skills and having the sixth sense to be in the right place at the right time with the right people and saying the right things.
“I find that my training in law and business and the military have honed skills in me that help me tremendously with the business of music. But they also help me in being a disciplined musician in really putting in the time to continually work on perfecting my voice, my guitar-playing skills, my ability to blend with my team members, my ability to listen to them and take feedback and digest it without taking it personally. Those are all things that I’ve learned in my business law and military career.”
It’s been 10 years since you returned to music. Take me through some of the key events during that time that led to you making music your next career as opposed to it being a serious hobby.
Boggs: “Like a lot of people, I had passions as a kid, and a deep one of mine was music. … By the time I got to my mid-30s, music was not in my life in terms of me writing music or playing it. [About 10 years ago], my youngest brother’s wife died suddenly in a car accident, and that led to my spouse urging me to pick up the guitar again as a way to grieve, which I did.
“Shortly after picking up the guitar and taking guitar lessons, I started writing music again, and not that long after that, I actually started [participating in] an occasional open mic. I took a one-year course through the University of Washington; they have a songwriters certificate program. I met a community of musicians through taking that course. One of my teachers in that program was Sue Ennis, who wrote a lot of good music for Heart back in the day. She really encouraged me to keep going with my songwriting in particular.
“I began meeting musicians who really dug my music and wanted to play with me. One of them was Tor Dietrichson, who is a percussionist in the Paula Boggs Band. Tor and I first met in 2006; he is well known in Seattle circles. … Me playing with Tor, and Tor being associated with me, really helped me in those early days of getting my sea legs for performing. In fact, the very first performance of the Paula Boggs Band was in January 2008 at the Triple Door here in Seattle. And the only reason the booking agent gave us a shot was because of Tor. The agent knew Tor and respected Tor, and so when Tor said, ‘Give this band a shot: I’m in it, and they’re really good,’ the agent gave us that shot because of Tor’s word.”
Leaving Starbucks in 2012 surely meant leaving behind a very good regular income — something many musicians don’t have without the benefit of a day job. How have you financially transitioned into the rocky waters of a music career?
Boggs: “I have had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time with two very successful companies at the time I was with them. I was with Dell Computer Corp. in the mid-late 1990s to the early 2000s at a time when that company was doing exceedingly well. And in my 10 years at Starbucks, that company more than tripled its size.
“I find myself in a position that most musicians cannot find themselves without the benefit of aligning themselves with a major label. I have been able to self-finance things that many musicians need a label for, and what that has led to is not only a measure of financial independence, but importantly, creative independence.”
Did your backstory hinder your early efforts to get gigs — meaning, did anyone think you were maybe too “establishment” to be any good at music?
Boggs: “I’ve actually run up against that question in some form or another my entire adult life. When I left the military, I went into private practice, and there was this [feeling] that I was too conservative, simply based on what I had done before I got to the firm. In reality, both the military jobs and prosecutor job I had allowed me to be incredibly creative and entrepreneurial, but people would try to put me in a box before even knowing me.
“The same thing happened with Dell. At the time, Dell was this go-go, hugely entrepreneurial place, and I would get initially put in the box of, ‘Oh, she was in the military; she was a prosecutor — she must be conservative.’ And I would have to demonstrate who I am (laughs). And there was a similar thing at Starbucks.
“As a musician, I think the hardest hurdle — and I push through it daily — is people thinking, ‘Well, she made a lot of money, she has money to burn, so this is her playground, and she’s not any good.’ The biggest hurdle for me often is for people to just listen to the music.
“We played a gig in D.C. a few weeks ago on a Wednesday night. It was a great crowd, and it was probably one of the best crowds that club had on a Wednesday night in a while. The club owner came up to me afterward and said, ‘Loved your set; loved the music. Come back on a Saturday night.’ There’s no bigger compliment for me than that because we made believers out of a club that didn’t want to take the risk of a Saturday night at the outset, but we were able to show we were the real deal. And through that, we earned our seat to a Saturday night gig. And that’s what it’s all about — step by step, and earning your seat at that table.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Paula Boggs Band on tour (schedule subject to change):
• Nov. 6: Elbo Room — Chicago
• Nov. 7: Cicero’s — St. Louis
• Nov. 14: Rhythm & Rye — Olympia, Washington
• Dec. 12: Skylark Café & Club — Seattle