I came to the name Paul DeHaven through a friend. She mentioned that her Evergreen neighbor had recently started writing gift songs—customized, original songs written on behalf of a gift-giver for the recipient.
“People will request a personalized song for a sweetheart or a kid—” even a dog for his birthday, DeHaven told me when I tracked him down. “They give me a batch of details and what they want the song to be about, a genre, a length. Then I cobble their story together.”
The concept itself is special; but considered from the perspective of a songwriter? It’s impressive. “In music, everything you do builds on everything else. Every time you put pencil to the paper, you’re writing. Something happens. Your brain is making pathways. Your skills are growing,” he says of writing into the confines of someone else’s story and song. “And you have to make sure you hit the mark—it’s a good challenge.” DeHaven has penned nearly 350 songs since October 2020—and that’s just the music he’s written for other people.
He has quite a few other projects, actually; and, as it turns out, his work was already familiar to me, mutual friends aside. Previously a member of the rock band Paper Bird, DeHaven was part of the earlier 2000s Denver music scene, which was burgeoning with talent and a sound unique to the West.
Though Paper Bird no longer makes music, DeHaven does, along with Sarah Anderson, another Paper Bird original and also an Evergreen resident. Their new band, Heavy Diamond Ring, is a folk-rock project with bass, drums, guitar and keys, plus Sarah, “whose voice is like an angel singing,” says DeHaven. When he’s not writing birthday ballads for beloved pets, he’s crafting original songs for Heavy Diamond Ring. “I often come to [Sarah] with original song ideas and she helps flesh them out.” The band has two records out on iTunes and Spotify, and is finishing up the second full-length album with exciting guest appearances from other big names in the Denver-turned-national music scene.
But wait! There’s more! “This thing happens where I have a band and we work on music, but it takes a long time. So then I go home and I record more music while the band is making a record, and I just keep making albums.”
DeHaven regularly releases music under a solo project of his own name—lo-fi indie folk rock and synth pop—all available at pauldehavenmusic.com. I found his solo project to be the most diverse of all DeHaven’s music, which he attributed to a few different causes. “When I’m writing for myself, I tend to mind the subconscious a bit more. I write around ideas, around stories. I write the water surrounding the iceberg underneath the surface,” he says. Already bent toward this tendency, DeHaven finds it an even more powerful force when creating his own music alongside the customized gift songs. “Now I do expect more from myself when I’m writing from my heart, for my art. It’s got to go deeper.” In both the music for others and the music for himself, originality is supreme. “I’ve tried to piece together a career of not doing covers, and I’m addicted to the process of making original songs from scratch.”
Not that he finds anything wrong with covers, and mountain-area residents will be especially thrilled to learn that DeHaven has yet another project: a Grateful Dead cover band called Street Cats Making Love. This, along with two more projects—Saskatoon and Eye & the Arrow—demonstrate DeHaven’s drive to be making music and playing music as much as possible. I asked him if he was more of a songwriter or more of a musician, and he asked, “Do I have to choose?”
The fluidity of artist-observer to creator-executor will be especially apparent in this month’s release of DeHaven’s solo instrumental project, “Landscapes, Volume 1,” which was written and inspired at an artist’s residency at Caribou Ranch in Nederland last year. Tucked into the hills in a cozy historic barn, DeHaven found himself inspired by the mountains and the stillness. “It was time to create and I was exploring the idea of making landscapes,” he says. “My idea was to turn the landscapes into music. I take patterns I see in nature, like birds flying and watching their wings flap. I wanted to take those patterns and turn them into musical patterns, transferring them into sounds. Or superimposing musical staff paper over the landscape—a boulder here, and here and here,” he indicates some low and some high. “A tree here, a tree here,” he adds and then sings the notes to me as the elements of nature would fall on the musical staff. “Landscapes” just dropped on October 8 and is also available at pauldehavenmusic.com.
This coming December, look for another album, “Pink Kimono,” “a more traditional album with some dancey songs and some more folk songs. It’s kind of schizophrenic,” he says, “but it’s the pandemic record I’m going to release. There was a lot to explore and a lot of time to explore it.”
To keep up with album releases and DeHaven’s other projects, visit
pauldehavenmusic.com and follow him on Instagram at @pauldehavenmusic or Facebook at facebook.com/pauldehavenmusic. For those interested in a personalized song, contact DeHaven through his website.