Not often does a band release a debut album talking about what’s changed. But then a band like The Paper Kites doesn’t come around all that often.
It indicates the already considerable history of the Melbourne five-piece. Formed around the schoolyard friendship of frontman Sam Bentley and guitarist-vocalist Christina Lacy, The Paper Kites sprang to life in 2010 on the back of a performance at a local music festival.
But it’s also an indication of an unusual degree of patience for the modern music industry. Maybe it’s the democracy of a five-piece band, but they weren’t to be rushed into turning out their debut album.
Since The Paper Kites’ formation, they’ve teased audiences with a series of EPs – two in 2010 and one each year since. ‘Young North’, their 2012 release, was supposed to be an album, but the band was encouraged to hold off at the last moment. Now, they’re thankful they kept their powder dry.
“It was definitely the right way to go then,” Sam Bentley says over the phone from his Melbourne home. “Musically, we could’ve released an album. But it was also a decision based on building our live audience and getting the band to a place where we could do the right sort of venues that would be appropriate for an album tour. It turned out to be a good decision.”
For their upcoming national tour, The Paper Kites are playing both The Forum in Melbourne and The Metro in Sydney. Well known medium-sized venues, they vindicate the band’s decision to hold off on their debut album, ‘States’, which is set for release at the end of the month. But the larger venues also hint at the wider appeal of The Paper Kites, driven in part by the Melburnians’ decision to expand their sonic palette. No more can you define them as ‘forest folk’ – a term that makes Bentley laugh.
“We definitely assisted that accusation with the videos we put out,” he says. “It really was a part of the concept of the songs at that time. That was the feeling. But we’ve always said we want the room to be able to push a new sound each record we release. Everyone outside the band has their own idea of us, their own preconceived notion of what The Paper Kites are. But as the band members ourselves, we have our own idea of who we are and where we’re going with our music. Hopefully everyone embraces it.”
With ‘States’, writing the songs wasn’t the problem, the band cutting down the final playlist from over 40 demos. Rather, it was the arrangements they chose to focus on. So, Melbourne composer Tim Coghill – known for his rich, emotive soundscapes – was drafted in to help fill out the album.
“He brought in a lot of ideas that we hadn’t thought of and a lot of weird textural things. So from the start it was a much bigger project than we’d intended it to be. Things kept coming in – different ideas and different sounds – and it made for a pretty challenging record, I think.”
More challenging than they expected?
“It was. It really was,” Bentley continues. “We put down 13 songs with the plan to maybe cut down further from that. But in the end, we couldn’t cut it down because there were songs that everyone wanted on there. So we agreed on the 13 tracks, which is a bit longer than most albums. But yeah, it was a real challenge to record it because we all wanted it to be the best it could be.”
Wound up in that album-making process was a pile of conflicting musical ideas from five different musicians. But the band stayed true to their collaborative approach, talking through the songs one by one.
“It was for the best. We all like to talk about everything at length. It’s not just one person leading the way; it’s everyone pushing it along. It definitely has its challenges. And it was a lot of work – we spent a lot of time on it – but I think we ended up with something we’re all really proud of … We wanted all the songs to be as good as they could be, and as interesting, and as rich sounding. And that’s what we kinda ended up with.”
Helping keep the band focussed was renowned local producer, Wayne Connolly. The band had worked with Connolly before on ‘Young North’ so trusted his guidance when it came to the hard calls.
“Wayne really understands what we’re going for; he listens to the demos extensively before working with us,” Bentley says. “But he was funny on this record, because there are a lot of songs that he was quite attached to. So he came into it saying, ‘Guys, you have to record these songs’. There were a few he was really adamant about. And we were like, ‘No, Wayne. We don’t like them.’ And he asked us to trust him, and of course they turned out great.”
Away from the studio, though, comes the challenge of converting these songs into a cogent live performance. The Paper Kites have turned heads with their onstage abilities, but Bentley laughs when thinking about taking ‘States’ on tour.
“We’ve kinda dug ourselves a little bit of a hole! But I’m sure we’ll work it out,” he says. “We’re about to start [rehearsals] tonight, actually. We’re going to try to work out how to get some of these sounds in there. Because there are a lot of crazy sounds that we just fluked in the studio. And I think we’re going to play around with samplers, just to get them in the live shows. It’s definitely a big challenge for us to put all that stuff in, but we’re keen to do it.”
‘States’ is released August 30. The Paper Kites play The Soundlounge on September 5, The Hi-Fi September 6, and The Northern September 7.