Melbourne indie folk quintet, The Paper Kites, have just released their debut album, States, and are now enjoying their first North American tour. In between shows in Kelowna and Nelson, CFUR caught up with bassist and synth player, Sam Rasmussen, to talk about making it in the age of the internet, the creative process behind States, and what it’s like to tour NorthAmerica for the first time. Oh, and of course, moose.
Interview by Karl Domes. (This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
How did the Paper Kites come together?
A few years ago Christina and Sam Bentley would play music together together at weddings, cafes, and parties and that kind of thing. They had a few weddings lined up and they got asked to put together band so they pulled in Josh, Sam’s cousin, and myself. We did that, then we recorded a demo and played a festival that went really well, then a show in Melbourne. Dave got pulled in pretty early as well and it just kind of started rolling like that really.
When did you realize that you really had something going on?
In the very early days a friend of ours asked if he could make us a video clip, so Sam and Christina wrote Bloom and we made that together with him. We put it on Youtube and it started getting views, just friends at first then it spread from there. After that we played a couple of shows in Melbourne just for fun, but all of a sudden a few extra people started turning up, and we though this is cool. We started making plans to record the EP, and it was around that time that it started to actually feel like it was going to go somewhere. We never started the band to make it. We were just doing it for fun because we liked the music.
Did the internet play a major role in the success you saw early on?
It did early on. It enabled us to reach an audience far greater than, you know, the suburbs of Melbourne. After about a year we played a show in Melbourne at a famous venue called the Corner Hotel that seats about 850 people and we sold it out. We’d not once been played on radio and we’d never done anything with the media, never any interviews or anything. I guess it was a combination of word of mouth and the internet, YouTube especially. It was from there that we got noticed from our management and booking agents, and things started to get more official after that. Yeah, absolutely, it gave us a huge start in the early days.
And now you’re on your first North American tour. How has this been different from touring in Australia?
In Australia, because it’s so big and so spread out you do a lot of flying, whereas here you do a lot more driving. The City and Colour tour started in Atlanta and we’re pretty much doing a full lap of the continent. We’ve just arrived tonight in Nelson and by the time we finish we’ll be in New York. As soon as we got out of California, through Oregon and Washington and into Canada the scenery’s been very beautiful, and it’s very different from Australian terrain. It’s very dry and flat in Australia.
Landscapes play an important role in your music. Have you been finding inspiration in the North American landscapes you’ve been driving through?
Yeah all of us, and especially Sam Bentley, who’s the primary songwriter. He finds inspiration in solitude and in nature. Being here and seeing such different scenery, huge snowcapped mountains and beautiful fall trees, it’s inspiring for us. It’s opening our minds, it’s a new experience, and all of our songs and music come from life experience. It’s inspiring us to create something different and something new.
How was it travelling with City and Colour?
It was brilliant. They were all absolutely lovely, band and crew, very accommodating and very kind. The shows were amazing. We played in these theatres and venues that were just magnificent, and obviously huge and always full of people. For an Australian band who’s never been to North America, to come over for the first time and to get an introduction like that and to learn the ropes from such professionals, it was brilliant. We’re so grateful for the opportunity. It was an amazing experience.
You’ve essentially been on tour since August. How do you keep yourselves energized over that long of a period?
It’s hard sometimes, it really is. You hit highs and lows. It’s made easier being here in North America because everything’s new. As we travel it keeps changing- we’re in the desert and then all of a sudden it’s California, and now we’re in Canada- we always have something new to look forward to. I think the thing that’s keeping us going is new experiences. We’re constantly looking forward to seeing the next town and we’ve been enjoying feeling the weather just get colder and colder. Also, we’re a pretty tight group. We’re pretty close with each other and pretty honest with each other, and we know when to give each other a bit of space. We know when to encourage each other and stir each other up a little bit. We understand each other and we work well together. That helps us get through shows for months on end.
You’ve just released your first album, States. How long has it been in the making?
We were touring through Australia late last year and finished up mid-November, and pretty much straight after that Sam went away on his own for a good few weeks and wrote most of the songs that ended up on the album. We had a small tour the first three days of January and the week after that we were in the studio rehearsing. It was about two months of really hard-core rehearsals, pushing ourselves really hard, and picking what songs we wanted and how we wanted to play them. It was a pretty big effort over about six or eight months.
What’s the chemistry like when you guys are rehearsing and recording in the studio?
We understand each other pretty well and we’re pretty close. We were all good friends first and band-mates second. Like any band we have our moments. With five creative minds and five creative opinions, you’d be crazy to think there isn’t some kind of disagreement at times, but we push on and work through decision making together and not one person gets the way every time. It’s give and take. You have your struggles and you have your disagreements but in the end, with every CD we’ve recorded and every big decision that we’ve had to work through, we’re always so proud of the result. We’re really, really proud of our record and we’re really stoked about how it turned out.
Compared to your first two EP’s, Woodland and Young North, the States album seems to be musically more complex. In what ways has your music been evolving since your last EP?
We’ve played a lot of shows since the last EP, and a lot of them were with bands we really respected and enjoyed watching. Every time you watch a new band and tour with new musicians you learn off them. You’re all learning off each other. There was about a year and a half of maturity in there and musical experience as well. Not to mention for this album we worked harder than we’ve ever worked before. We rehearsed long, long hours and really set some high standards in the studio. It’s been a combination of maturity and hard work, and really just honing our craft.
Has more success changed your music?
I don’t think so. We’re all very agreed on the point that we don’t write for anyone. We’re not trying to write hits, and we’re not trying to write hooks and things that people are going to dig. We just write songs that we love. You can see the progression and the change between the two EP’s and the album, how the music’s progressed as we ourselves have progressed. We’re not trying to glue ourselves to a genre and we’re not trying to go out and sell as many CD’s as we can. All those things are nice, but effectively we’re just writing for ourselves, songs we love. It’s a great honour when people enjoy that music and get behind it.
The States album has a distinctive moody feel to it. What inspired this undertone?
I’m not sure really. I think it was just the sounds that we were really into. We felt like the lyrical content was supported by moody atmospheres. It all just kind of made sense. We always try and tie everything together- sounds, messages, artwork. It felt right, those kinds of tones and atmospheres. It all works together as one big unit.
How has the production of the States album given you an opportunity to explore with different sounds and different instruments and putting something more layered together?
It was really good. When we were in the studio we booked out a lot of time, more than some would think you need, but we really just wanted to take our time and just fiddle around. Some days we’d push ourselves really hard and work fast and other times we’d spend all day just fiddling with noises. A lot of the sounds on the album I couldn’t tell you what they are because I can’t even remember. We had all sorts of things going on. I think time was really the key, not having to rush through. We just took our time and had a good play.
Is the production of another album on your mind yet, or are you still just reveling in the creation of this one?
It’s come up once or twice, but really that’s not getting talked about. We have a lot of touring ahead and this album’s still got a lot of legs on it. I think we’re going to work this for a while longer and enjoy not having to think about creating and rehearsing for a little while.
This is a long time you’ve been touring. What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get back to Australia?
I’ve got a wife and two kids, so the first thing I’ll be doing is spending my time with them. We were actually talking about this today. I think it’s three weeks or so until we get home and we’re all talking about what we’re going to do. I love cooking and I’ve been going crazy not being able to cook my own food. I’m dying for some home cooked food. I’m going to go home and spend some time with my kids and spend some time with my wife and just enjoy being home for a while.
What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a musician?
I studied audio engineering and I’m pretty passionate about technical production and theatres, sound and lights and audiovisual and that kind of thing. I love the theatre. If I wasn’t on the stage I’d probably be on the other end of the room, doing the sound and running production.
What do you guys do as a group when you’re not making music together? Do you ever just go hang out and spend time to be friends?
Yeah we do actually. Funny enough we’re all pretty good friends and in the same general friendship group so it’s often that there’s parties or events happening that we’re all at. I recon that when we get back we might need a bit of a break from each other for a couple weeks. We’ll see how that goes.
So are the Paper Kites ever going to come up to Prince George?
Uh, maybe next time? We’ve jammed in a lot of dates in a pretty small time on this tour. Obviously there’s always places that miss out. But we’d love to come up to Prince George.
It’s beautiful here but it is a long ways away from anything. We have tons of moose though.
I’ve been dying to see a moose! I’m going to email my agent now to tell him to get us a show in Prince George.
For tour dates and to kick back to some awesome Australian indie folk, visit http://www.thepaperkites.com.au/
Photo Credit: http://www.c-heads.com/2012/09/27/interview-with-the-paper-kites/