the AU interview: Sam from The Paper Kites (Melbourne) on working with Phil Ek, night owl antics and making it overseas!

Ahead of the release of their highly anticipated twelvefour album, out this August, Antigone caught up with Sam Rasmussen of Melbourne band The Paper Kites to find out more about the making of the record and what the group has been up to during their time off the road. Working with the awesome Phil Ek on the album, Rasmussen details their experiences in studio and the concept of overseas success.

Tell me about working with Phil Ek (Modest Mouse, Fleet Foxes, The Shins).

The man, the mystery. He was great to work with. It was pretty tense at some points – maybe not so much for him, because that’s just the way that he works, but I know Christina and I had a pretty interesting time recording vocals. Normally in the past, when we’ve been singing, you keep going until you get it. But with Phil, he would cut you off and say, “It’s not working, you’re not getting it,” a couple of takes into the song. You’d sort of feel like your confidence was smashed a bit, because you go home after that day and you know you haven’t done a song the way the producers hear it and you think you know your own voice. You say, “What am I doing wrong?”, but at the end of the day, I think he was really right in saying, “If I’m not believing what you’re singing, then you’re not singing it right.”

We’d go away and have these Rocky montage moments where we’d be practising at home and then come back in the studio the next day and we’d get it straight away and he’d come in and say, “That’s what I’m talking about, that’s how you should be singing it.” So I think it’s a bit of a more opened-up vocal sound than I’ve had before. Generally, I’ve layered heaps of my vocals and you can disguise your vocal intersections when you’re layering voices. When it’s literally just you singing out there, you kind of hear everything. I’ve never sort of had to record like that before, I felt exposed. But I really enjoyed it.

What are you looking forward to when playing a national tour after performing in Europe and the US?

It feels like ages since we’ve played a show in Australia, I think about fourteen months. So we’re pretty ready to play but having said that, when we get back into the rehearsal space after recording an album, straight up, we always really suck because it never sounds as good as it did on the record. We really want to put together a really great show this time. I think we’re meeting up next week to talk about things that we feel make a great show and combining all of our live influences and seeing what we can do to this set to push the live set a little more. I think the songs on the album are already going to lend themselves to a bigger sound and it will be good to see how they translate.

How have people responded to the single “Electric Indigo” so far?

It’s been great. A lot of people have been saying, “I love this new direction you’re taking.” It doesn’t really feel like a new direction because I’ve been in that headspace for ages. You’ve got to remember, you’re catching everyone up. Most of the singles that we’ll put out are a bit of a different sound but there are still heaps of tracks on there that are true to the folk thing. But it’s been really great so far – the video’s been going really well as well. We tried to do something a little bit different with that, getting cool actors on board – so yeah, it’s been good.

Something like “Bleed Confusion” is in second person, how do people usually respond to your personal writing?

I mean most of them are pretty personal, I suppose. But it’s good, I always get people coming up at shows and they genuinely want to get into a discussion about the songs and they really want to know what they’re about. And I always appreciate people that delve a bit deeper than the music, people who want to know what a song’s about and where it comes from. That’s what I care about as a writer. When people catch onto certain lines or the theme of a song, I really like being asked about it. Songs like “Bleed Confusion” – funnily enough it isn’t super personal, but I wanted to tell a story in that song. It is a little bit more of a narrative than the other songs are and it’s almost like a spoken word kind of thing. It does paint a picture so you feel like you’re there and you know what’s going on. I really love that song and I’m glad it made it onto the record.

Are you exclusively a night owl? What do you believe is special about that time? Did it fulfil its promise?

The short answer is yes it did fulfil its promise. I am a bit of a night owl. Most nights I probably wouldn’t go to bed til 2am anyway. The idea came about through a discussion with a friend who’s a fellow writer. We were talking about creative hours and when the best time to write is and he was telling me about this interview that he’d seen where these other screenwriters were talking about this idea that midnight and four am were the creative hours. That became a seed in my brain, I thought it was really interesting and I’d never done it before. So I set out on this campaign to do it over the next two to three months. I just completely reversed my sleep pattern. I was a bit unwell in the middle. It took me ages to get my sleep patterns back.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of that Frank Sinatra record ‘In the wee small hours of the morning’ – it carries that really late night, lonely, isolated vibe and that’s how I wanted this to come across albeit a little more guitar-infused than a Frank Sinatra record. But it was really interesting; some of the songs that I came out with were really bizarre. A lot of them didn’t make it onto the record, the guys said I think this is a little too weird or doesn’t sound like us. We all have our own ideas of what people expect from us, and what we expect from ourselves and it people can be a little bit defensive and rattled when we’re all trying to decide what direction we should take. I do think the album changed from what I first thought it would be but that’s real and that’s how you make a record and we’re really happy with how it turned out.

There are some literary sounding lyrics on the new album “time is just a remedy covered in disguise.” What artists or writers inspired the writing process of twelvefour?

I do enjoy a lot of Oscar Wilde, anything he’s written. He’s a brilliant writer and he pushed a lot of buttons at the time. But a lot of films as well – you sort of notice with the music videos, there’s an 80s tinge that’s going to come with them. I was actually watching a lot of old horror films by this Italian director Dario Agento and he did films like Suspiria and his lighting is super 80s, like colourful washes of blue and green and red. So he’s been a big colour influence. Because I write in colours as well – you want a song to sound blue or sound green. And that’s why the neon thing was so strong with the album cover because we wanted it to sound a certain way.

Was it a conscious decision to make a concept album?

It was very intentional right from the start. Even though I hadn’t necessarily brought the whole band in on it. I thought it was better to have a really strong idea, at least an idea to base an album around, and then sticking to that idea. I was pretty strict with it too. I did stop at four AM on the dot and it was very deliberate to write the album like that because I wanted to say this was done completely between these hours and this was the result. More so to see if there was any truth to the idea in the first place and I think there was in the end but I certainly wouldn’t want to do it again.

How do you view the Australian music scene after touring overseas?

You do realise how small the Australian music scene is when you get over there. But having said that there’s a lot of really awesome Australian bands making a splash over there as well. There’s this huge wave of all sorts of music but it’s suddenly coming to the attention of people in the States. I don’t think it’s that sudden but maybe it’s just a little bit more mainstream than it used to be. I know when we’ve played over there, we’ve always found everyone to be excited and say thank you for coming all this way, we’ve been waiting this long. We didn’t really realise we had anything going outside of Australia in terms of live followings. We’ve been doing some pretty great shows in New York and Canada and all over the place which was at first a bit of a shock. It’s only going to keep increasing -this sort of Australian invasion, if you can call it that.

What would you say to young musicians who are in the same position you were in five years ago?

For any young musician, including little Sam Bentley, I think it’s important to be aware of where you want to go. I think a lot of bands and artists in general go into it with the wrong idea they want to be famous or whatever. You’ve really got to be smart about it and look at the long burning slow career not a ride to fame. You’ve got to be clever. Be original with your music videos as much as you can and your songs. Don’t follow trends just because they’re in at the moment. Write for yourself, don’t write to be recognised or to be famous. I think authenticity in music and feeling you’re injecting into your songs, people will totally pick up on that. I feel like the media in general, singing shows on TV and all that rubbish has completely ruined it for young people that are wondering how to make it in the industry because they see that and they think that’s how you should do it. I would like to think that the Australian youth are a bit more clever than perhaps the Australian media give them credit for. There is validity in working hard at your craft and playing those small venues and moving up the chain and doing it for yourself and not doing because you want to be famous.


‘Electric Indigo’ from the upcoming album ‘twelvefour’ out August 28.


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