Interview with Paul David Stanko

Divine Magazine
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Paul David Stanko has been an active percussionist, composer, arranger, recording artist, singer, drum instructor and performer around the Twin Cities area for over 20 years

Tell us a bit about your company and why you do what you do.

I am an LGBTQ musician hailing from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul in Minnesota, USA. The same cities where Prince cut his teeth.  I am a percussionist, composer, singer, producer, pianist, bassist, preacher, teacher, and husband.  As a percussionist, I spend a lot of time playing for local theatre companies doing lesser-known works like “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”, or “Reefer Madness”, or one of my favorites, “Evil Dead: The Musical”.  As a composer, my work has been performed around the world in churches with my sacred writing, premiered by the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra and streamed worldwide on various platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.  I am a rock and roll baby with jazz sensibilities.  My current release, “Sunshine (after the Rain)” is a song I wrote for my husband and partner of over 15 years, Tom.  It celebrates love that has aged, like fine wine.  I mean, new love is great, who doesn’t love that rush?  But there is nothing like knowing when I come home from a long day at my day job that I can get comfortable in my sweats with someone who knows, loves, and supports me. And we can just sit there together and watch the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race without having to talk.

As a public figure, how do you think being hailed as a role model impacts others and what pressure does it put on you?

One of the things I am, in addition to a musician, is a preacher and teacher… to be more accurate, I have been in church work since I sang in choirs as a child.  I currently serve a reconciling United Methodist Church in Golden Valley, Minnesota as the Instrumental Music Coordinator in non-pandemic times.  But throughout my work in various denominations over the years, it came to light that I am also pretty good in front of a congregation… and I have a lot to say.  Several of my sermons are posted on my YouYube channel. Early on in my adult work in churches, I came across a scripture passage that speaks really well to this point: James 3: 1 states, “…we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  To me, that means those of us who are in the public spotlight, or in roles of leadership in general, are held to a different standard by the public.  Right or wrong, that puts a lot of pressure on people.  I mean, just mentioning I also have a spiritual side gives the reader a pre-conceived notion of how I should be… and specifically since I have identified with the LGBTQ community, there are many who have judged me as a heretic already because they do not see how those two things can exist simultaneously.  I mean, aren’t I going to hell for being gay? Actually, I am not.  Neither is anyone else unless they chose to. In my years of study, I have come to understand God is not what we were raised to believe. In fact, much of traditional Christianity has been designed to control how people act and think, which is the opposite of what the point of life is.  BUT, I am preaching and teaching in a world where most do not have an understanding of that because they were taught not to challenge the status quo.  Heck, we use to burn people at the stake for using their God-given gifts to help heal people or for thinking outside the box.

I believe my role, EVERYONE’S role, is to be who they are: boldly. Is there pressure as an artist from others to conform?  Sure!  I am an independent artist, so while I don’t have the pressure of a major label telling me what to produce or what to say, I also don’t have the resources to let the world know about my creations without me doing the leg work. Because I chose not to “conform”, I have less of the role model pressure, but because I am a leader, I know I need to be aware of my actions: of what I say, for it WILL be judged. 

Take my song “We Can B Free” for example.  I was writing that in Minneapolis when George Floyd was murdered.  I was writing that SPECIFICALLY when Minneapolis was burning. My grandmother lived near the 3rd Precinct that went up in flames from the riots.  That was HER Target store that was looted.  The Arby’s that burned was the very Arby’s I helped open as a 17-year-old boy from my first job.  It was VERY real to me, and those events influenced my writing of that song.  It is a protest song, of sorts.  But I am a fan of deeper meaning—hidden ideas if you will.  When I was re-writing the second verse, I wanted something deep, but just a little naughty (perhaps something I picked up from listening to Prince?!).  So while walking our dogs one of those late spring mornings after the initial riots, I thought it would be fun to figure out how I could turn a curse word that sort of described this time into something more wholesome.  Thus, Forgiveness, Unity, Courage & Kindness was born.  Great message… hidden meaning.

As a church leader, am I judged for that?  Well, only by those who are looking to divert blame from themselves. “To the pure, all things are pure” is another great scripture passage.  If we focused more on forgiveness, unity, courage & kindness, wouldn’t the world be a better place?  I mean, FUCK!

If you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

Transforming people’s lives.

When I was in college, I wrote in my journal, “let that be my goal: to move as many people as possible through contact with me”.  I want to inspire in people the idea of their divine spark.  I want to remind people, that each one of us is a creator, co-creating this world together.  I want to help people put away the fear of unworthiness—that they are unlovable—that drives our egos in unproductive ways.  I want to be known for compassion and love.  I want to be known for high standards, yet grace to get there.  I want to be remembered for being a leader who inspired everyone they worked with to be the best version of themselves they can be.

Give us some details about a typical day in the life of *YOU*

I am a creature of pattern, as most people are. I get up early (am I a morning person—my husband is not).  My morning always starts with a cup of coffee and checking email, wishing people a happy birthday on Facebook.  Then I meditate almost every day.  It’s a new discipline for me.  Usually, my monkey mind wanders to work or a shopping list, but sometimes I can feel I have connected back to Source. 

When I am done meditating, now it’s music time. This is when I write and record my music, or practice the drums, piano, bass, or guitar. I find I am most creative after my meditation.

When the clock hits 6:15 AM. then I shower and get ready for the day job.  I work for a food service management company as their Director of Employee Development.  My workday is usually helping people with issues or developing and executing training.

I usually work about 10 hours a day at my day job and head home.  Getting home is usually walking the dogs, feeding them and getting dinner ready (whoever gets home first between my husband and I prepares dinner… unless I do it better, then he defers to me). We generally eat dinner while watching our shows. 

After dinner, we cuddle on the couch with the dogs and our iPads while watching TV until I go to bed.  I usually go to bed early and read, and watch YouTube or Tik Tok videos until I fall asleep.

How would you describe yourself in one word?

Open

I am open to new ideas, new people, and new thoughts. There is very little judgment in me… ok, superficial judgment as a human on the planet, but even those people I dislike, I would be there for if they needed me.  I am open to hearing, learning and being exposed to new things.

Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.

We are all one. 

Everyone on this planet is connected. Our soul, our spark of life, is each just a facet of the whole.  We are all “God stuff” —made from the same stuff—stardust and such.  The sooner we all come to understand this, the sooner we can put down the guns.  The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can put away the fear of others different than us.  As soon as we understand this, the sooner we aren’t threatened by a different belief system than our own. 

Look, it’s like a diamond. Each cut of a diamond creates a facet that is completely unique, yet almost identical to the other facets –just at a different angle or a different size.  When you turn the diamond to look at each facet, they each appear the same: flat—similar to every other facet.  But when you take that diamond and spin it around, as the light hits all those different facets in their own unique way, the diamond dazzles you with its brilliance.  THAT is humanity. When we, as a species, realize we are all just different facets of the same diamond, we can all shine with our own brilliance unthreatened by the shine of the other facets.  When we can embrace the knowledge that it takes ALL of us to shine in our own time, in our own way to make the diamond sparkle as brilliantly as it can, the world will be changed.  If EGO can be put aside, we will be brilliant.  “Sparkle, Millie, Sparkle!”

What is your biggest weakness? What helped you to identify it? What helps you to get over it?

Self-doubt.

The idea that I am not good enough. I mean, I am NOT the greatest musician that ever lived. I am NOT the greatest songwriter that ever lived. I am NOT the greatest leader that ever walked the earth.  But coming to the understanding that I don’t need to be anything other than the greatest version of MYSELF that ever lived took me time.

I had to be beaten over the head with that fact many, many times. 

I had to learn I am just a messenger.  I can change no one but myself.  I can proclaim the greatest truth from the highest mountains, but if people chose not to heed that advice and not change, that is NOT ON ME.  My role is to proclaim my truth, and ONLY my truth, boldly, with no judgment of anyone else’s truth. It is not my “job” to change people or change their minds.  My role is to inspire ideas—plant seeds if you will. 

When people chose not to hear, it is not a critique of ME or of them.  Those who have ears will hear. Those who resonate with my vibe will resonate. Those that do not will not.  It took me many years to learn and be OK with that.

How do you learn that?  GREAT question!  You live… and observe… and mediate… and repeat until you do.  I am a product of MANY years of failure, study, and evolution.  Life teaches you that over time.  I mean, if you can learn it from these words: cool!  You’re ahead of me at this point! LOL

Do you sing in the shower? What songs?

I totally do!!  I use that time to work out lyrics to my newest song that I was working on right before I shower… I find the water southing… helps me get out of my own way.

…or I sing the last song that I am obsessing about.  You know how songs get stuck in your head and you cannot get them out… yeah, those OFTEN become my shower partners.

If you were to write an autobiography, what would the title be?

“Well, THAT was interesting”

If someone was going to make your life into a movie, who would play you?

Young me: Tik Tok personality Bryce McKenzie—not because I looked like him when I was his age, but I sure WANTED to!!

40’s me: Zac Effron—because I was RIPPED at 40 (not as much as Zac, but this is a fantasy, right?)

Current me: I can act if someone will cast me!!

What was the last TV series you watched on TV?

Emily in Paris—total candy, but so satisfying!!

If you had to describe yourself as a flavor, what would it be?

Vanilla—hear me out—this flavor gets a bad rap as “generic”.  But, the vanilla bean is exotic and packed with subtle, deep, rich flavor if done right.  I may SEEM boring at first, but once you bite in, I am layer upon layer of undisclosed goodness.

Would you rather be the one in a movie who gets the hero/heroine or the baddie with all the good lines?

I am, and always have been, destined to be the Luke Skywalker.  The Hero’s Journey moves me on a profoundly deep level.  Good will ALWAYS triumph over evil and I may have a lightsaber in my office, just in case…

What’s your least favorite personality trait you like about yourself?

My need to be liked.  I think it was college when I discovered my self-esteem and it took me decades to reduce its pull in my life.  I would be lying if I said I have conquered its pull… it’s less, but still there.

What makes you nostalgic?

Disneyworld.  Our first airplane vacation as a kid was to Disneyworld. It always brings me back to family and being a kid.  It’s like a different lifetime.

What’s your most expensive piece of clothing?

Probably my $200 Diesel jeans

If you could learn any language fluently what would it be?

I would love to be fluent in Spanish.  I have always been drawn to Latin America… the music, the men… the food!  I have taken some Spanish in High School but never became fluent.

If you were talking to a younger version of you, what advice would you give yourself?

It’s not about needing someone else: don’t keep trying for a relationship.  Love who you want, whenever you want, but don’t feel the need to “tie them down.”  Relax about your sexual orientation, it all works out wonderfully in the end.  And DO seduce him when you tell him you could—you both love each other, and it will be the last time you see him alive.

Also, when that voice screams in your head “I will not date this man”, this time, listen!

https://www.instagram.com/pauldvd69/

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