Hi guys! It’s been a sweet ride for you as Paper Lions, with your new album, My Friends, released on August 20th and a North American tour that kicked off that same day. What has this in between time been like for you? Were you waiting, anticipating, or was there tons of stuff to do before your album dropped?
I think we’ve all been doing a lot of both. There was a quite a bit to do to prepare, but, at least for me, there’s definitely been enough time to just sit and anticipate.
You’ve released 2 cuts so far off My Friends, “My Friend” and “Philadelphia”. Are they indicative of the overall sonics and concepts of the new album?
Each song sounds pretty different, but they all have elements that tie them together sonically across the record. As for concepts, when we wrote these songs, we made a conscious decision to write about our childhood (we grew up together). That’s a theme that you’ll hear in all of the songs.
The lyrics of My Friends are based on your personal experiences, swimming in the memories of your youth and teeming with themes about friendship, fun, fights, love, heartbreak, and being at the beach. Who is the songwriter in the band or did you all pitch in to write this album?
We all contribute toward the creation and arrangements, and the writing of the songs is done by John, Colin and Rob.
You call Prince Edward Island home and are located there to this day. Although I’ve never visited Prince Edward Island, I have a romanticized view of it due to reading the Anne of Green Gables book series, which takes place there. What are some of your fondest memories of growing up on Prince Edward Island that haven’t made it into your songs (yet)?
There was one particular time, long before the band began, that involved wrapping up a certain younger member of Paper Lions in a foam mattress, tying it with a rope, then hanging him upside down from a tree. As he hung there, slowly spinning, he began to slip out of the mattress. His pants stayed inside. He accidentally mooned a teacher driving by. We’ll see if we can work that one into a song at some point.
Famed indie music producer Howard Redekopp worked on My Friends with you. What was that like? What did he focus on that maybe you hadn’t worked on before?
Working with Howard was really great. One of the most important things about working with someone on a record, due to the close quarters, and amount of time you’ll be together, is just being able to get along. We hit it off very quickly, so I think that contributed to a much smoother process, which in turn, helped create a better record. Something that he focused on was using vintage, analog, or just really rare gear. We’ve never used as much of that as we did on My Friends, and it made for a warmer sounding record, which worked very well with the songs that we brought.
You released 2 previous EPs, Trophies in 2010 and At Long Creek in 2012, and they are very different from each other, at least in style. To my ears, Trophies is your pop-rock album, while At Long Creek is your acoustic folk album. Why such a big (but interesting) change between EPs?
When we wrote Trophies, we were coming back from a hiatus wherein just about everything concerning the band changed; name, manager, agent, even our idea of what we wanted to be as a band. Previous work had been quite sprawling, with no connecting themes musically, and the lyrics were often a bit generic, or overly universal, maybe. So, starting from scratch with Trophies, we were really interested in pared down, short pop rock songs with simple, locally themed (about our home, or our lives, or our friends) lyrics.
At Long Creek actually began as a three-song, acoustic EP, meant exclusively as a perk for our IndieGoGo contributors. But we liked it too much, and it grew bigger as we were making it, so we decided to release it. Four of the songs were written for our upcoming record, My Friends, so the ALC versions are reinterpretations meant to fit into the “acoustic” category, call it “folk” if you will. The other two, “Travelling” and “Polly Hill,” are older songs (even older than Trophies), certainly more “folk” than anything we’ve written in a while. They are relics from an age where we wrote in whatever category or genre we wanted, then struggled to make songs fit together on a record. Luckily, I think they worked for At Long Creek pretty well. So does that answer the question? I don’t know. Let’s say the answer is “natural progression.”
“My Friend” can be found in acoustic form on At Long Creek and now you’ve electrified it for your new album. Was that song and its lyrics the spark for the creation of My Friends? Did any other of your acoustic songs make the jump to the new album?
My Friends was actually written before At Long Creek. We took four songs from My Friends, and recorded acoustic versions of them for the IndieGoGo perk, but it turned into more. One song, “Ghostwriters,” was much different on My Friends before we made ALC. Once we recorded the slower, acoustic version, we decided we liked it more, and replaced the song on My Friends.
“My Friend” was one of the later songs written for My Friends (sorry for the confusing names, plural means the record, singular the song), so the theme of the record had already been decided upon.
I’m picking up a Weezer-like vibe from the Trophies EP, with its upbeat pop mixed with rock riffs and sing-along, exclamatory vocal harmonies. Was Weezer and/or similar bands an influence at all on that EP? I’m especially digging the guitar riffage on the last third of “Sweat It Out” and the shouted vocals at the end of “Trouble”.
I would say Weezer has always been an influence on everything we’ve done, mostly because we all loved them growing up, and listened to them all the time. It shines through on Trophies more than anywhere else in our records though, for sure.
You play a variety of instruments on the At Long Creek EP. Did you end up playing instruments you hadn’t used before?
I don’t think there was anything played on that record that we haven’t used before. We used to regularly use a banjo, mandolin and pump organ. It was nice to bring some of those instruments back into the fold again, especially the organ. It’s a really interesting sounding instrument, although kind of hell to tour with.
John, your vocals are so sweet, earnest, heartfelt, and engaging, but also infused at times with melancholy and longing. Many Paper Lions songs employ beautiful vocal harmonies. Is that all you doing layered vocals in the studio or do other band members sing on the songs as well?
That’s a very sweet compliment! Thanks, on behalf of John. Our vocals are generally recorded this way: John sings all the lead parts, then I (Rob) usually double them to add a little bit of depth. I sing most of the backups during recordings, but sometimes it sounds best when we all sing our individual backup parts in the booth at the same time, for that “live off the floor” feel.
David, your drum rhythms are tight and kinetic and give the songs their pace and groove. Who are some of the drummers you admire?
David: I like playing punchy drum parts that are more part of the song than accompaniment. I rely heavily on my bandmates to help write beats that can define and enhance the song – sometimes taking it to places it would not be otherwise. I think Chris Frantz from The Talking Heads elevated songs like that, as did Jonathan Sugarfoot Moffett with Michael Jackson. But generally I follow bands more so than individual musicians – I’m with the rest of the world in love with the new Daft Punk record – Omar Hakim made my jaw drop through the second half of “Giorgio By Moroder”.
Rob and Colin, as I mentioned earlier, you bring the riffs on “Sweat It Out” and “Trouble”, and also your breakout song “Travelling”. Is this something you want to do more of in the future on the studio songs or do you save that for your live performances?
Well, we hope that some of the riffs we (mostly Colin) created on My Friends stand out in the same way. A powerful, or interesting, or even pretty riff is always something we’re striving toward while writing or recording songs.
You’ve all done a ton of touring over the years, hitting some big fests like SXSW, Warped, and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver (Wow!), and performing in places like China and the Northern-most human settlement in Nunavut, Canada (Did you perform for scientists camped out there??). Are you all dyed-in-the-wool road warriors or does the road and air travel take its toll?
There was actually a little theater at the military we played in Nunavut, for Canadian soldiers, as well as scientists working on something to do with the weather (I’m pretty sure). We all really enjoy touring for the most part, but it can take its toll. No one likes to be away from family and friends for months at a time.
Speaking of which, you’ve gone through 3 vans during your touring cycles. How did the vans get knocked out of commission and who does the driving (and do you end up driving each other crazy in such a confined space)?
Van number one was encouraged into retirement by an unfortunate encounter with a female moose, in northern Alberta. We wrote the story into a song, “The Night That We Survived”, which at this point, hasn’t yet made it onto a record. The second van was a piece of junk from the start, breaking down NINE times between northern Ontario and PEI. We never made it home in that van, I had to call my girlfriend (now wife) to come and pick us up at the Confederation Bridge. We split the driving four ways, and frankly, don’t understand bands that do it differently.
I’m based in NJ and visit Philadelphia once in a while, so I have to ask what you link is to the city. The lyrics of your new song “Philadelphia” are about a family moving from Appalachian country to Philly, so I’m wondering what the connection is.
My brother John and I have family in Philly. The song is actually about one of our family vacations, where the seven of us drove in a minivan from PEI to Philadelphia to visit our aunt, uncle and cousins.
“My Friends” is really a signature song for you, at least as far as the lyrics go. I love how you contrast high vocals and a light, 70s sonic touch with bittersweet, reflective lyrics about friendship like “We’ll tell stories / that we’ll never tell again.” and “…if I never met you / I’d be different.” The 4 of you have been life-long friends (and in the case of John and Rob, brothers) and now you’re going through this musical journey together. Do you feel like ‘The Four Musketeers’ or is there the occasional internal sparring?
There are always occasional, small fights between friends and family members, especially those who work together. But we’ve worked through most of our problems at this point, and we’re all very close. The thing that’s needed most (by us) while on the road is space, so we’ve worked out ways of getting that. It includes headphones, laptops and silence, for the most part.
My Friends came out on your own record label, Fountain Pop Records. Will you be putting out releases from other artists as well? Will they all have Canadian credentials or will you seek out an international artist roster?
We’ve talked about doing releases for other artists, and at this point, we’ll just wait and see. It depends on how well things work for our own record, of course. If things go well, we wouldn’t hem ourselves in geographically. We’d sign bands we like.
In mid-July you shot a video, but I’m not sure for which song of yours. When will it be released and can you give any details about the video?
We’ve actually shot several videos over the past few months. There are two more Seaport Sessions videos to be released this summer (check out the one for “Philadelphia”), the “My Friend” lyric video was recently put out, and a video we shot last week for the song “Pull Me In”, from My Friends, which we’ll be releasing this Fall.
Lastly, can you please list your official site(s)?