By Jay Callahan (jmclaincallahan.com)
Paul Defiglia first joined the Avett Brothers in 2011 as a substitute bass player, and then joined as a full touring member of the band in 2013. Paul grew up in Winston-Salem and says, “I always felt like Winston was a home to me. Winston isn’t trying to be what it isn’t and I really like what is happening with the downtown there.”
“I am really proud of being from Winston-Salem,” said Defiglia. Here are his answers several questions about his time in Winston-Salem, followed by the story of his connection to the Avett Brothers and how he learned to play piano… on stage.
When all have you lived in Winston-Salem?
I went to school at Lewisville Elementary for four years and to Hanes Middle School. I also lived in Greensboro, Raleigh, and Florida growing up. My dad lived in Greensboro, so I went to Grimsley for a couple years. Then I came back to Winston to go to the School of the Arts for 11th and 12th grades from 1999 to 2001. I left to go to New York University in 2001.
Which Winston-Salem streets have you lived on?
I lived off of Polo Road across from Speas Elementary. My aunt also lived off of Robinhood, and I hung out there a lot growing up.
What are some of your favorite Winston-Salem restaurants?
I used to go to Little Richard’s a lot. I liked going with my family to the Zevely House and The West End Café. I also hung out a lot at Morning Dew and Rubber Soul. I used to go to a lot of punk-rock shows at The Werehouse. I also really liked hanging out at Recreational Billiards, The Garage, and Elliott’s Revue.
What were some areas that NCSA really helped you with your career?
I specialized in classical bass performance at The School of the Arts. I had a lot of great teachers there. The School of the Arts was such a good primer for me musically. Ear training and music theory at NCSA were so important to me.
How did you get to know Becca Stevens, another famous Winston-Salemite?
I actually grew up with my mom playing her family’s band, The Tune Mammals, in the car to my sister. So the first class we had together, I recognized her immediately and asked her about being in that band. I actually dated Becca for a while in high school.
Were you in any bands in Winston?
Yeah, I was in a band with Becca called Cabbage Row. It was right around the time the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? was in theaters and it was my first attempt at bluegrass. I was really into jazz and hip-hop at the time. I played in a band that ended up having a lot of the same members as Gomachi.
If you were on a stranded island and could just have one breakfast for the rest of your life, which would you choose: Moravian sugar cake, Bojangles biscuits, or Krispy Kreme doughnuts?
Man that is hard because I love Bojangles. I took my wife to the Krispy Kreme across from Thruway last time we were in town. I would have to say Dewey’s sugar cake though. My wife also loved the Moravian sugar cookies.
What was your favorite concert at the Ziggy’s on Baity Street?
I saw Medeski Martin and Wood and that was probably my favorite show there. It was packed. I also saw P Funk and Junior Brown there. It was really a cool place.
What is your favorite nickname for Winston’s minor league baseball team: The Spirits, The Warthogs, or The Dash?
The Spirits because they used to be a farm team for the Cubs and that is my team. My dad took me to see Mark Grace when he played for them.
Do you have a favorite team in the ACC?
I never had an ACC team, but if I had to choose, I would say Wake Forest. I remember watching Tim Duncan play there.
More about Paul Defiglia’s musical history and his time with the Avett Brothers:
After Paul graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA) in 2001, he went to school at New York University and majored in jazz performance. In 2004, he met Langhorne Slim, and he was the double bass player of Langhorne Slim and the War Eagles until 2008. During that time, he met fellow North Carolinians, The Avett Brothers, at a show with Langhorne Slim and Paleface. “I was from North Carolina too, but I hadn’t heard of them at the time.”
In 2011, after taking some time off from music, Paul was working at his aunt’s farm in North Carolina one summer and got a call “out of the blue” from The Avett Brothers asking him to sub-in on bass for Bob Crawford, who was expecting the birth of his son. Later that year after the band returned from Europe, Bob’s two-year-old daughter, Hallie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Bob took some time off from the group, and they again asked Paul to step in on bass. Paul had just been married the previous week to Mickela. “I was floored, because these were the biggest shows ever,” said Paul.
For the next year and a half, Paul subbed off and on for Bob. After Bob started to return more regularly to the road, Paul really didn’t know what to expect. “They heard me tinkering backstage with the piano, and they thought I knew how to play piano, even though I am not a piano player,” said Paul. He was able to use a lot of the information he learned at NCSA to “kind of fake it,” when playing piano for the band.
In 2012, right after the band’s album, The Carpenter, came out, Paul started to play piano on a more regular basis. He started to take piano lessons and practice it a lot more. It speaks volumes of his musical abilities that he could play an instrument that he didn’t have a background with in front of thousands of fans in one of the biggest bands in the world. “There were a couple of times I really freaked out. I was learning to play piano in front of thousands of people,” said Paul.
“At some point, I convinced them to get a Hammond B3 Organ and it made a lot of things come together,” said Paul. He still plays bass for the band when Bob switches over to fiddle. “It is like a musical chair situation for the band now. Within one band, there are three different looks, which is really cool to me.”
Paul said, “the Avetts and Bob are some of the most honest and generous people I know. It really became their decision if I stayed. They could have easily said thanks for your time, but they didn’t and I am extremely grateful to them.”
At that point the band had already added the talented cellist, Joe Kwon as a full-time member. Scott Avett would give Paul small clues like, “I don’t know if you are ready for this.” Paul would think, “ready for what?” In 2013, Bob, Scott, and Seth Avett brought Paul in and asked him to become a full touring member. Since then, Mike Marsh (drummer) and Tania Elizabeth (fiddle) have joined The Avett Brothers to make it a seven-member touring band.
Paul recently helped the Avett’s with his first studio album with the group. They recorded at famed-producer Rick Rubin’s studio in Malibu, California. “They really didn’t have to ask me to be a part of it,” said Paul. “I can’t believe I am a part of a record this big. The longer we play together, the better we sound. It is awesome to be a part of this.”
Paul mentioned that The Avett Brothers have a great respect for Winston-Salem. They have done a lot of recording in Winston and Kernersville. Along with playing with The Avett Brothers, Paul also is interested in exploring outside projects as much as he can. He likes to play gigs with different people and try to keep working on improving his abilities. “It is important to constantly refresh my musical environment and keep growing, and the Avetts have helped to facilitate my growth.”
It will be exciting to follow another Winston-Salem native continue to grow in his successful musical career, both with The Avett Brothers and in his side opportunities. If you haven’t seen them in concert, watching Paul and The Avett Brothers is one of the greatest musical experiences you can have.
Paul currently resides in Nashville with his wife, Mickela, who has a television show called Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozi.