Paper Route

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Paper Route

It’s art versus entertainment. It’s thoughtful craftsmanship versus will.i.am’s pop equations. Those are the battles being waged by Paper Route as they try to break through on a major label with the core values that would place them alongside most independent artists. And after careful consideration and some time “putting the pieces back together,” JT Daly and the rest of the Nashville outfit are ready to stake their claim in popular culture.

They’ll be doing so with some new elements involved. They’re turning out a focused dream pop album after the expansive territory unveiled on their debut, Absence. Founding member Andrew Smith is also missing, taking Daly, Chad Howat and Gavin McDonald down to a three-piece. Yet Daly insists the new music is worth the challenge. We’ve got the inside story for you of a band moving from transition to inspiration and trusting that great art will eventually find its way to the surface.

SSv: It’s been a while since the release of Absence and even since you’ve been on the road, so perhaps the best place to start is just to hear what the official state of Paper Route is since you’ve lost a member and you’ve been away? I know there was a question of whether Universal would be the home for the next album…

JT Daly: Well, we came back from the road after what I am pretty sure was two years of non-stop touring, and the first thing was piece our lives back together. It seemed all of us were going through some sort of heavy season, so we waited for that to pass as well. Then we started writing again, and decided eventually that Universal was definitely going to be our home.

I think even the best place to start answering that question was that when we had come back from the road and Andy [Smith] had left, we knew we were going to have to be something different — something had to end for us to begin again. There were so many things going against us that it almost made it easier for us to be brave and step out of our comfort zone as a band. We almost felt led to make this type of an album.

I just feel like there's such a line now between entertainment and art, and I don't know if those worlds have ever been so apart.

I just feel like there's such a line now between entertainment and art, and I don't know if those worlds have ever been so apart.

SSv: Some of that is vague for me. When you say you had so many things against you, what is it that you mean?

Daly: Every single album we sold, we sold ourselves. We were a major label band selling units like an independent band. Every CD sold had our fingerprints in blood, sweat and tears on it. We weren’t going to radio. We had tried to make an album that focused on melody, and in a lot of ways, honestly, it has failed. In a major label setting, so many things were shifting, so many people were wearing different hats that we were just that story — the band that was going to blow up that doesn’t.

We were surviving one fan at a time every single night. It was just exhausting, because you couldn’t really go up in front of people and just try to play a show. We had to believe it every single night and it just became emotionally and physically exhausting to be in that head space. You look back and wonder if you sacrificed too much.

SSv: You say Universal is the right home now, but yet you just said you were a major label band not supported by your major label.

Daly: Well, the conclusion that we came to was that we wanted to make a dream pop album, which is not where we were earlier. That’s not where we were two years ago, so that’s definitely something that was new. The first step was that we came home. [Laughs] The next step was that we had to be a different band. Andy was no longer with us. We lost a member. We lost a limb, and we would have to evolve and become something completely different.

We had so many other things going on. We had cancer in the Paper Route family. There was divorce. We had members getting married. It was just a long, long season.

SSv: When you say you have to be a new band and evolve, what does that look like? The recent hashtag used was #almostdone, so I’m assuming you have a good idea of what’s on this other side.

Daly: We are making a dream pop album that is so specific in its lyrical content and an album that challenges every part of our creativity. I don’t know that we’ve ever done that before. In a lot of ways, we’ve done what we wanted to do. That’s what a lot of bands do, and there’s nothing against that because that’s how you make art in the first place. You communicate what is inside of you. But we’ve never done this work-in-restraint approach.

I turn on the radio now and it makes me almost physically hurt. The saying is, ‘In lieu of creativity, emphasis will be placed on sexuality,’ and that isn’t the case for all of the artists — I mean, that’s a broad thing to say — but I feel a majority of the bands like us have thrown in the towel with popular music. I found myself kind of haunted by that, or laying awake at night or punching my steering wheel at how homogenous all of popular music is.

Popular music has devolved, and I’m on a major label. Is this something I can even be a part of? Right now, technically I’m a part of the least evolved medium. Our world has people like will.i.am who apparently has songwriting down to some equation. [Laughs] It’s a science and it sounds like that. It does sound like that. Isn’t art supposed to be apart from science? I’m not sure of how it became this, but it almost reminds me after World War II, the science fiction move. Everyone was so depressed and the whole planet was filled with sorrow, and then you had a whole bunch of people write anything to take your mind off of the reality around them. Write something that isn’t real.

Now I get that. I get that things are so dark everywhere that we need some release in some way, but my hope is that we can sneak more real things into popular music. I think that’s what inspires us. We were so excited to do the most challenging thing that we could ever imagine, which is to make a dream pop album that we believed in.

SSv: Chad described the last album to me as a long sonic hallway where you kick in a lot of doors where you might head in the future. Did you kick in some of those doors on Absence that you went inside here or did you abandon that hallway altogether?

Daly: The reaction we’ve had playing it for people that we trust has been really encouraging. I would say from Absence, it is the strength of a song like “Enemy Among Us” and “Gutter” with the yearning of “Are We All Forgotten” and “Dance On Our Graves.” That would make up this entire album. I think that I’m singing very much up-front on this album. My voice is right there and I think that’s different. You can hear every single word I’m saying, and you’re supposed to hear every single word. So yeah, I think that’s a good way to say it.

SSv: That does sound like an opposite emphasis. The spotlight of Paper Route has always been on the construct of the song and the layers involved, it seems, so was that a purposeful shift of the band wanting to highlight the lyrics?

Daly: Let me think on that for a minute. [Pause] You know, that’s a really interesting question, because I don’t think we’ve ever put that much thought into it. It just happened. You know, I don’t know what has happened to us. Everything has just happened, and maybe that’s the best part. Maybe that goes back to the foundation of this band as a whole. We were excited to try this and we just started doing it. It still sounds exactly like us. I still listen to music because I want to cry. That will never change. I think that we just exaggerated one part of our band and have focused on that.

With Absence, there were too many colors. It was a great thing from a distance and I really like that image, but when you zoomed in, looking back I tend to get a bit lost. That’s because it was over the course of many years, and this is a very specific vision and theme and sonic theme that we’re going to release.

SSv: Do you feel like you can hear the absence of Andy on the album? Obviously there’s the vocal interplay that was always happening. Just curious if you feel you have to ramp up to fill that space or whether you let it sit there?

Daly: In a lot of ways, it was almost something that confused people sometimes. There were two singers and it just seems more focused now on this album. We definitely don’t wonder where the voice has went, but maybe I’m skipping a step in the story. The massive amount of songs we’ve written to get to this spot is the reason why we can exist as this type of a band now. It took us a lot of songs, a lot of different approaches to all of this to stumble into something that we believe in again. I love Andy to death, and that’s why I think it was so obvious to us that it had to be something different.

SSv: What does Andy say about the new album? I assume he’s heard it.

Daly: No, he hasn’t.

SSv: Really?

Daly: No, he actually hasn’t. It’s just accidental honestly. This is also the fastest we’ve ever worked. I have a playlist on my iPod of over 80 full recorded songs that we’ve done for this album. I always think it’s lame when someone says, ‘I wrote a million songs for this album.’ But we really have written so much to figure out what it is that we do best. That’s interesting because I have a friend who tells me that every band thinks they’re cooler than they are. This band wants to be The National. Coldplay wants to be Radiohead. Radiohead wants to be Scott Walker. Scott Walker wants to be Philip Glass or whoever. [Laughs] Man, I don’t know.

The point is that everyone has someone they think they’re supposed to be. It took us getting our teeth kicked in to have the courage to stand up and say what we are the best at and what we are the most unique at. Maybe my voice is the most unique on a major label rather than on an indie getting reviewed by Pitchfork. That was something that kept me up at night for a couple of weeks, but I think I reached the point in my life where I don’t know that I’m afraid of that anymore. I don’t care about which crown I’m wearing or who decides how many stars I get.

I want something that I believe in and I almost want to be frightened by what I’m doing. If I’m not frightened, I don’t know if it’s even good enough or worth it. I could go back and work at the gas station or farm in Ohio. That would be an easier thing to do.

SSv: I want to talk about some of the specifics. Are you doing this all in-house?

Daly: We have brought in one other person to co-produce some tracks in town [Nashville] and we’re working with him as well. His name is Robert Marvin. This is also the first time we’ll work with some bigger mixers. This is also the first time we’ve really listened to other people’s opinions. We’ve just tried to raise the bar, but we’re producing all the rest of the tracks.

SSv: In terms of timeline, you have any of that on the books?

Daly: Everyone’s hoping to do an August release. I know that right now, we have to get three songs done by next week — the first three singles. So it will be soon.

SSv: So back to the label, why would the label do a full push with singles now and not so much on the last album?

Daly: On the last one, we were still, in a lot of ways, doing whatever came naturally to us and not listening to other people. We stumbled onto some stuff that I’m very proud of — I mean, it’s a part of our story — but now we’ve just refined our songwriting. You know that story where Bono is talking about Prince who is a genius but that he just surrounds himself with ‘yes’ men. There’s no one there, however, to say that he’s a genius but that he’s off that day.

Our band does everything: we produce, we write, we design, we play, we shoot, we all play multiple instruments. When we’re not in Paper Route, we’re playing and producing for other artists. So this was the first time as a band that we opened up the doors and let people in. We became so much better because of it.

SSv: I want to hit on one more thing that you said earlier or go back to that theme, because it seems you’ve always believed in the power of great art since I first met you. After all these years, is that still something you go back to or believe in as much?

Daly: Oh, man. Yes, I do. I believe that when sound and lyric meet the soul, a person can be changed. We don’t take that lightly. We put a lot of focus on that on this album — probably more than ever. We’ve had a rough summer, so I think some people need to hear these things.

SSv: Have you wavered in that belief over time?

Daly: Oh, definitely. Maybe I’m the most relevant person that exists or the most irrelevant person that exists, but I don’t connect with what I’m hearing in pop culture. [Laughs] The BPMs are the same. The keys are the same. The voices sound the same — for the most part, at least. There’s always that one artist who sneaks in and ruffles everyone’s feathers. But if we can pull this off, I will cry tears of gold. [Laughs] I don’t even know what to say.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m so moved when a band like Arcade Fire wins the Grammy or when The National sneaks into the Billboard charts. I mean, that really moves me. It’s great art. I just feel like there’s such a line now between entertainment and art, and I don’t know if those worlds have ever been so apart.

SSv: You say, ‘If you can pull this off,’ so what would keep you from doing that?

Daly: I think it’s the movie Dig where the A&R rep says there’s a 90 percent failure rate. It has to be even worse now, because that documentary was made probably eight years ago. So there’s gotta be a 96 percent failure rate for a band. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, but we probably are doing the hardest thing that any band could do in the United States of America, which is to write a dream pop album that breaks on a popular level. Even if we were in Europe, you have much more of an envelope that you can push. But I’m up against will.i.am’s equation over here, but I’m gonna go for it. [Laughs]

*Photos courtesy of JT Daly, Bryson Leach and Brandon Chesboro


Comments

  1. Danna says:

    =)

  2. I’m sorry to hear that there are only 3 of you now,but i still believe you can create another artful album,I say do what you think is right for your music that your creating,true fans will find it extreamely interesting,& like it more,cause it’s honest & it’s what you guys as a band wanted,Id like to hear more artful music go mainstream as much as the next person that gets sick of hearing the typical mainstream song,cause it’s all about worldly things,but in a way,most bands never going that far up,is good for them,it makes them work harder on there music,cause even though it’s not hitting mainstream,doesn’t mean people aren’t listening,I have friends that listen to your music from across the world,so do what you think is best,& your true fans will support you guys no matter what. thank you – micky

  3. Kyle says:

    JT, Chad, and Gavin…you have the permission of all of us that have followed you to change hearts, minds, and souls with sound. Some of us knew from ‘devon’s song’ to ‘go call the police’ and ‘only words’ that “Absence” was another launching point. The progression and evolution continues!!!!

  4. Claire says:

    I love Paper Route. This was an excellent interview and I’m really glad I got to read it and connect with whats going on. Honestly, I think I’ll cry tears of gold as well if Paper Route gets the recognition they deserve as one of the best bands out there.

  5. Jeff Dolan says:

    JT, keep doing what you are doing man. You guys are pure inspiration. Great interview Matt!

  6. katie says:

    wow these guys are so great..i wish all the best for them in everything they do. they absolutely deserve it.

  7. Christian Casteel says:

    JT, your commitment to art comes through in everything you guys do. I’ve been a fan since “Cityscapes” days. You guys are the one of the most genuine bands out there. Keep doing what you’re doing. Eventually, you’ll find success the way bands like Arcade Fire have. Paper Route is the best band since Sigur Ros. Can’t wait to hear the new album.

  8. kimber says:

    I have listened to Absence thousands of times. I cannot wait for a new PR album. PR is hands down my favorite band. ever. I have never obsessed over a band this much. Been in love since 2007 and havent loved another band this much since.

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