“Being more behind the scenes and helping artists achieve or find their sound, or helping a young tech find their way, it’s just a different kind of satisfaction.” Compelling words from the audio genius that is Paul Wills.
With his younger brother's “cool radio with a cassette player” Paul would throw in AC/DC’s “Back In Black”, lay down on a pillow, and set the speakers on each side of his head. “My brother received the radio as a birthday gift from our mom. The speakers had 5” or 6” woofers in them. I had the volume kind of low, but with them so close to my head it was plenty loud.” He ended up using the radio much more than his brother, and the path to music had begun.
Making the move back to Oklahoma from Virginia as kid, Wills and his brother settled into life with their grandmother in Cleveland. With various interests, he explored different things. He says, “in school I had two completely different sets of friends. The jocks, because I played sports, and the others. I guess they could be labeled goth, or gamers.” He wanted to fit in with “the others” so he picked up guitar. “I had to mow a lot of lawns to buy my first guitar. A harmony electric. It was $75 and the year was 1987 or 1988.” Some of those friends were taking bass and drum lessons from Fiery Brothers Music in Sand Springs. Paul remembers, “the Sand Springs location would end up closing a few years later, but this is where I met some icons of the Tulsa music scene; Peter Banfield and Dustin Rhodes.” His description is idealistic as the two are legendary in Tulsa. After spending a large portion of his younger life as a musician, he came to the realization he had gone as far as he could with guitar. “It was a cold come to Jesus moment when I realized I had gone as far as I could. I needed a change, but wanted to keep working in the music business.” The change he needed was right around the corner.
Rum Runners was a local blues venue owned by a woman named Jean. She could sense his conflict and had a resolution. “I was offered a house sound gig paying $50 a night. Jean was tired of purchasing replacement baskets for her Peavey speakers in the house PA system. I knew just enough about audio to get into trouble! Little did I know the impact this offer would have on my path.” After getting the guitar itch again while meeting such a variety of musicians at Rum Runners, he formed a group and played locally for a few years. A short run later, he decided to concentrate all his music energy on learning the art of sound.
As notoriety began to build, Wills started working with local band Western Justice. According to him, they were a party band that had ties to rodeo events. Muskogee native Zach Swon sat in on a few shows with Western Justice, as they played several of the same venues. Paul recalls, “we would share stories about the venues and talk audio.” Western Justice would soon become a favorite in Las Vegas for the NPR, and be asked to play for the employees of Roper, Stetson and Tinhaul clothing lines. He says, “Brad Duvall, the guitarist, was friends with the owner. They would take up so many rooms at the MGM, the VP called and asked if there was anything special they wanted.” They wanted Western Justice. Performing in desert climates, 3 sets a night for 10 days, certainly takes a toll. Zach was asked on several occasions to step in as a guest vocalist, but was never able to commit. Paul learned later it was because he and his brother Colton would soon be featured on the reality competition The Voice. They took third place in 2013, and began touring soon after. But something was missing. That something was Paul Wills.
While on tour, Zach reached out to Paul and raised concerns about some issues they were having. The duo would soon be off the road, and asked for a meeting. “They finished their run and wanted to meet in Nashville. I learned the set up, and how the monitor board functioned during a rehearsal. Suddenly, I was part of a team. This was a new dynamic for me coming from a one man show.” After some growing pains, and learning new roles, Paul is now an intricate member of The Swon Brothers family. He travels extensively, doing what he loves, with people he loves. However, there is no place like home.
Paul says Oklahoma is one of his favorite places to be, and believes Tulsa music as a whole participates at a higher clip compared to most cities. “Steve McCabe and Travis Kidd are good examples. These are talented guys who are local yet earn a living in the music business.” He is currently the owner of Applied Media Concepts, and says, “I somehow turned my hobby into a career, and 100% of my income is directly related to the entertainment business.”
Paul refuses to take all the credit for his success alone. His thank you list includes, “Eddie Van Halen, just because, Jean from Rum Runners, Western Justice for the good times, Zach and Colton Swon for the memories, the miles and the stories, but mostly to Austin for being the best son ever.”