It’s been nearly six years since fans last heard from Konrad Wert (aka Possessed by Paul James) on record. But as the travelogue video for “When It Breaks” — premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Jan. 29) from his new album As We Go Wandering — shows, Wert hasn’t been idle, either.
The rootsy Kerrville, Texas singer-songwriter (and Special Education teacher) did take a hiatus, however. The time off accommodated two vocal cord surgeries (“Lasers through your nose, which is godawful,” he notes) as well as a return to teaching. The songwriting never stopped, however, and gradually As We Go Wandering, which comes out Jan. 31, came into view.
“I wanted to feel comfortable with really believing and advocating with Special Education,” Wert tells Billboard. “With this album I wanted to speak to our convictions in a loving way, a creative way. It can be tricky: You don’t want to be preachy. You want people to feel welcome, regardless of their belief system or ideology. I want to reach everyone in a passionate manner and push the envelope of the question — could you be doing more?”
Wert considers As We Go Wandering, a communal effort that incorporates more than 20 friends and family members from around the country, to be very much a “winter” album. “I think this accommodates an icy snowfall in a cold climate and is something really good to listen to while you’re holed up inside.” But he isn’t resistant to the idea that the 12-song set’s lively nature works for other seasons, too. “A listening audience is going to have its own interpretation, sure,” Wert says. “Once I put the songs out there, it’s up to the people how they hear them.”
The “When It Breaks” video features footage from the documentary of the same name, which tracks Wert — both clean-shaven and bearded — trekking around the country with his wife, two young sons and two dogs in a mobile home to support his last album, 2013’s There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely, which hit No. 12 on the Bluegrass Albums chart. “It’s about our family journey,” Wert says, but it also underscores for him the episodic nature of his teaching career.
“The whole reason I left teaching was it was breaking,” explains Wert, who’s planning another leave to promote As We Go Wandering. He has weekend shows planned for the time being before hitting the road more extensively during the summer along with dates in Europe and, for the first time ever, Australia and New Zealand.
“You lose your conviction and your direction sometimes as a teacher, especially as a Special Education teacher with these kids who have so much challenge and burden. You’ve got to replenish yourself. I’m four years back in it since that,” he says.
The video for “When It Breaks” is below.