Andrew Pauls was born and raised in Lancaster County.
But it took getting away and returning home for him to create deep connections in the local music scene.
While he was musical throughout his youth, forming a folk trio at Goshen College in Indiana helped him get his start as a regular performer. He applied that newfound confidence to his work as a solo artist when he returned to Lancaster permanently.
On Friday, Pauls will perform his introspective, original folk music at Community Room on King’s monthly Coffeehouse and Open Mic Night. Pauls is the night’s featured performer, but time will be dedicated to allowing other artists to share their work, too.
Pauls says attending a small Mennonite church in Kinzers, his hometown, informed his early musical habits. Hymns helped him develop an ear for harmony, and the tight-knit community of the church encouraged him to perform during services when he was still getting his musical footing. He learned piano first, but picked up guitar when he was 12 or 13.
Not long after he learned his first chords, he started writing his own songs.
“I’ve always sort of gravitated towards writing my music,” Pauls says. “I don’t know exactly why, but I always found more meaning in that. I’d rather make something of my own up and noodle around than spend the time trying to learn someone else’s thing.”
He finds himself inspired by matters of social justice and messages of peace. Subjectwise, it’s true to how he first started, as he remembers writing an anti-war song as a high schooler.
That interest is reflected in his day job at Community First Fund, where he aids low-income populations, people of color and women-owned businesses with financial lending.
“I was drawn to the organization because of its mission, and I would say that definitely comes through in my songwriting, a desire for a more equitable world,” Pauls says.
While seemingly unrelated, he sees a strong commonality.
“They’re parallel tracks, even though picking a six-string is going to be different from entering data into a database,” Pauls says. “In a cosmic sense, I would like them to serve the same purpose in some ways.”
As a young musician, he performed for his classmates at Lancaster Mennonite High School during the school’s chapels, when students would come together for a speaker or performance.
“Honestly, looking back, that is probably one of the toughest crowds to play to,” Pauls says. “High schoolers at 9:30 in the morning? Forget it.”
Pauls played a few gigs at coffeeshops in Lancaster before heading to Indiana for college, where he connected with a mandolin player and a fiddle player to form folk trio Theory Expats during his sophomore year.
“Playing with them and booking shows with them made me realize, you just have to email people,” Pauls says. “It’s not the scariest thing. You just have to go for it.”
He started booking gigs at Lancaster venues when he was home on summer break. When he moved back to Lancaster in 2017, he started forming meaningful connections in the local music scene by attending events such as Jordan Capizzi’s songwriting sessions at Tellus360.
Pauls released a full-length album in 2016 of stripped-down recordings featuring just his voice, guitar and banjo. He’s currently recording for his next project, of which he’s still determining the details.
He’s been working hard as of late to strengthen his songwriting muscles. In February, Pauls participated in an online songwriter’s challenge to write 14 new songs in 28 days.
“I’m sort of a perfectionist in some ways, and songs would just sort of lay there half-baked because I didn’t have the courage to finish them, because it wasn’t going to be perfect enough for me,” Pauls says. “This was a way to (say), ‘OK, I’m going to have to finish these songs, and even if they aren’t perfect.’ ”
He admits there were some days when that task was more difficult than others. For instance, if he went out of town for a weekend, he’d have to catch up by writing multiple songs in a single day.
“Even when that happened, I was fairly pleased with what came out of it,” Pauls says.
The process also helped him strengthen his skills recording his own music, which he does himself at home. Occasionally, for a change of scenery he’ll spend the day recording at his parents’ home in Kinzers.
He’s using multiple tracks on his newer music, adding more layers and instrumentation. There’s a newfound depth in his lyricism, too.
“I’ve been tapping into a deeper part of myself. ... In the past year and a half, it’s been coming from a different place, whether it’s self-reflective or it’s reflective on what’s happening around us in our lives, in our country,” Pauls says.
He doesn’t find it scary to share more of himself with his listeners, though.
“It feels good,” Pauls says. “I think it helps me learn more about myself. It’s definitely a more vulnerable place. … I think our society thinks vulnerability is a bad thing, but I think that it’s a good thing.”