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The Paul O'Sullivans: A band united by a name

BY Emma Taubenfeld

9th Nov 2022 Life

The Paul O'Sullivans: A band united by a name

In 2014, four men called Paul O'Sullivan from around the world decided to take a chance and start a band. Meet the Paul O'Sullivans

Paul O’Sullivan lounged around his apartment in the US city of Baltimore one evening in 2014, feeling bored. So, like a lot of people with nothing better to do, he logged on to Facebook. Just for fun, he decided to try to find out how many other people on the social network shared his name. Moments later, dozens of Paul O’Sullivans, name twins from around the world, filled his screen. On a whim, the then-27-year-old human resources employee sent friend requests to them all.

The birth of a band

Many of his fellow Paul O’Sullivans ignored him, but a few felt too curious to pass up his invitation. Says Paul O’Sullivan from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, “My first reaction was ‘Who is this guy and what does he want from me?’ So I thought about it for a while .” Ultimately, he couldn’t resist the unusual friend request.

Baltimore Paul

Baltimore Paul © Courtesy of The Paul O'Sullivans

As Baltimore Paul scrolled through the profiles of the Paul O’Sullivans who accepted his invitation, he noticed something four of them had in common: They were all either amateur or professional musicians. There was Rotterdam Paul, a singer and guitarist; Manchester Paul, a bass player; and Paul from the US state of Pennsylvania, a drummer. Four men with the same name who all love making music? Baltimore Paul had an idea. 

Wouldn’t it be funny, he asked the other three musical Pauls, if they formed a band called The Paul O’Sullivans? They all agreed that, yes, it would be. And so they did.

"Baltimore Paul noticed something four of them had in common: They were all musicians"

Starting a band across multiple time zones—the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States—proved to be tricky. “We decided to try to write a song, but it was impossible for us to play together live from four different places,” says Rotterdam Paul. They would have been out of sync, and being even half a second off from one another would have wrecked their sound. 

Fortunately, Manchester Paul, a 59-year-old former professional musician who now works in public health, knew how to fix that. They would create a kind of musical assembly line. “I have done a lot of studio work, including some online sessions,” he says. “It’s not that unusual. Even Stevie Wonder has worked that way.”  

The musical assembly line

The production line starts in the United States. “Baltimore Paul comes up with the musical ideas,” says 54-year-old Rotterdam Paul, who works as a counsellor in a mental health facility. “I’ve written songs before, so I help with the lyrics.” Baltimore Paul and Rotterdam Paul then record a basic track with guitars and vocals, and email it to Manchester Paul, who, in addition to the electric bass, plays guitar, wind instruments and the upright bass.

Rotterdam Paul

Rotterdam Paul © Courtesy of The Paul O'Sullivans

“I listen to the song over a few days to get a feel for what bass arrangement seems most appropriate,” he says. “It’s not my usual way to record, but the technology does make it very easy.” Once he records a bass track, he emails it back to Baltimore Paul, who then builds it into the main song. Later, Pennsylvania Paul adds the drumbeat. Round and round the track goes, with each member adding on his own layer until they achieve the sound they want.

The Paul O’Sullivan Band released its first original song, “Namesake,” in March 2016. It’s an upbeat pop-rock track about long-distance relationships—not romantic ones, but friendships like those they had begun to develop. 

More than just a band

But just months after the song’s release, Baltimore Paul began experiencing health issues that forced him to take time off from making music. The other Pauls also decided to take a break from the band. But they didn’t press pause on their friendship. 

Instead of supporting each other in the recording studio, they supported one another more generally. The other Pauls made sure Baltimore Paul never felt alone, even with the long distances between them. They shared family pictures, chatted online and checked in on Baltimore Paul and on one another.

“We developed a lasting friendship, despite the fact that we’ve never met,” says Manchester Paul. “I honestly don’t think that we could get any closer.”

Manchester Paul

Manchester Paul © Courtesy of The Paul O'Sullivans

Rotterdam Paul, wholeheartedly agrees: “We share our lives through group chats on Facebook Messenger and on Instagram. We always cheer each other up when we hear that things aren’t going so well. Sometimes I’m in touch with them more than with my friends in the Netherlands.”

Adds Pennsylvania Paul, 58, “The other Pauls are gentle, dear, caring people. They are a fountain of joy.” 

"At first the only thing we had in common was that we shared a name, but friendship took over"

Even their age difference—Baltimore Paul is two decades younger than the others—was of no consequence. 

“At first the only thing we had in common was that we shared a name, but friendship took over,” says Manchester Paul. “It is probably because of the music. Musicians tend to gravitate together and age doesn’t matter. In my work I play with people who are anywhere from 30 to over 60.”

Back to the music

Finally, after a four-year break, Baltimore Paul was well enough to start making music again. The first thing the band did was create a music video for “Namesake,” which debuted on YouTube in February 2020. In its first two weeks online, the video pulled in more than 20,000 views. It has now been watched more than 50,000 times.

And when Covid-19 slowly shut down the world just weeks later, the Pauls didn’t miss a beat. After all, the band had already gotten the hang of remote work. But now their international connection took on new meaning. 

“Writing a song with someone across the ocean makes you feel less trapped,” says Baltimore Paul. They used their time during the pandemic to record their first EP, or short album. Titled Internet Famous: A Retrospective, it was released in April 2021. 

Half of the proceeds from Internet Famous were donated to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which supports the World Health Organization’s work in fighting the pandemic. 

“Life is tough sometimes,” says Pennsylvania Paul. “When you have an opportunity to generate joy, you have to put aside the other stuff.” 

Pennsylvania Paul

Pennsylvania Paul © Courtesy of The Paul O'Sullivans

Amid the pandemic and the lockdowns, the four Pauls were discovered by the media. They appeared on the national US television program The Kelly Clarkson Show, and they have been interviewed by high-profile media outlets such as The Washington Post, CBS News, and Forbes magazine—not so much about the music, but about the unique way the Pauls met, the feel-good story behind the band. Some media incorrectly presented The Paul O’Sullivans as a project that started during lockdown, when in fact the band came together five years before the pandemic.

Although he enjoys the publicity, Manchester Paul bristles at the portrayal of the band as a gimmick. “The music that Baltimore Paul writes is in fact really excellent,” he says. “It would be interesting to take it further.”

After so many years of getting together remotely, they would love to meet in person one day, but so far, only two of the Pauls have done so. In the fall of 2020, Baltimore Paul surprised Pennsylvania Paul at his home after coordinating the visit with his fiancée. It was the first time any of them had met face-to-face without a computer screen in the way. The two saw each other again the following summer and they hope to add the other two Pauls to the mix soon.

"Baltimore Paul dreams of a whirlwind four-stop international tour—one concert in each of their hometowns"

“It would be great to meet and perform with the band,” says Rotterdam Paul. “We talk about it a lot. I do want to take my family to the United States for a vacation and meet the other Pauls.” So far, personal commitments and pandemic restrictions have stopped them from making specific plans.

Manchester Paul, who already plays in two professional bands and is involved with numerous recording projects, agrees: “It has been a lovely journey that has lasted seven years so far. Where it will go, I don’t know. A world tour would be great.” 

That is exactly what Baltimore Paul dreams of: a whirlwind four-stop international tour—one concert in each of their hometowns.

“What are the odds,” he says, that a random Facebook request would lead not only to new music but to lasting friendships as well? “Some things are just meant to be.”

With additional reporting by Paul Robert

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