Paper Route is on a mission, and the end goal is to mean something to you.
While every artist appreciates an audience, the vast majority of artists and bands who care deeply about curating their craft tends to eschew the typical vehicles that carry and promote mainstream culture. In other words, throw a dart and you’ll likely stick a musician who says they hate radio and that pop music sucks.
Paper Route want to change that. Instead of dismissing pop culture, they want to embrace it. Better yet they want to change it. Michaelangelo supposedly once termed the phrase “criticize by creating”. Paper Route is well on its way.
If you’ve heard the new album, you know they’re prepped to do just that. The Peace of Wild Things showcases one brilliant pop gem after another. From haunting ballads to dance hall anthems, Paper Route holds the goods. Now it’s time to find the audience.
Stereo Subversion: There’s so much to discuss, but I want to start with the sequencing of all things. As much as I love the songs, the order is just as inspiring.
JT Daly: We tend to spend a lot of time creating playlists and creating sequencing because we listen to soundtracks so much. Gavin [McDonald] and I share something in common which is that our favorite album of all-time is Kid A, and it’s the sequencing with that one, we just get lost in it. We talk about it all the time. And also when we first started this album we were referencing a lot of artists like Nine Inch Nails for the cinematic and almost storyline approach to his albums, the ways the songs just bleed into each other.
So when we finished all these songs and picked the ones that were going to be on the album, we knew that we had much more of an indie pop album in a lot of ways, so then we had to concentrate even more on the placement of those songs and, believe it or not, we really didn’t argue that much about it.
I’m pretty sure whenever this album got turned in we listened to it and knew it was perfect. We’ve always referenced what we jokingly call trifectas, albums where the last three tracks just slaughter your heart. [Both laugh] And we knew months, maybe even a year before the album came out, the last three tracks were going to be “Tamed,” “Rabbit Holes” and “Calm My Soul.”
We knew “Calm My Soul” was going to end the album because it really is the ending that we feel just ties everything together. And we knew that “Love Letters” was going to start it because I feel like specifically that’s what my life was looking like at the time. I was in a moment of desperation, I was like, “This is how I feel about the situation. These are facts.” And then life just kind of ran its course. I feel like the album kind of runs along parallel next to it.
SSv: So were all of the guys in on the trifecta idea?
JT: Oh yeah. All of them. That was something we’d agreed on very, very early on. This is how it ends.
SSv: That’s not surprising because those three tracks have the greatest range, emotionally and sonically. Do you think there’s a danger in doing that though, saving these three for the end of the record?
JT: Sure there is. I think if there is a danger or there is a bad business move, I’m pretty sure that the band I’m a part of has made it. [Both laugh] Chad [Howat] and I were just talking about this the other day backstage in Myrtle Beach, and we were saying, ‘Man, we just don’t give people anything sometimes.’ And I don’t know if maybe that’s a reason why we’ve survived as long as we have? I have no idea, but we really just do what comes natural to us.
We just challenge and push ourselves, and then if something makes us feel uncomfortable, artistically…the difference between a challenge and this is an absence of integrity, we really just kind of stick to our guns. And I don’t know if that’s shooting ourselves in the foot or not, but that’s why we put those three songs at the end—it just makes sense to us, and we’re still making albums.
SSv: But that’s the way to learn, right? You wouldn’t have the album you have now if you hadn’t made those steps, both good and bad. Would you have it any other way?
JT: No, absolutely not. I don’t think that we’ve made Sgt. Pepper’s or anything, but I know that in two days I go back on tour and I’m excited about that.
SSv: And now you’re on the other side of the coin. You’ve done all you can to make this a radio-ready album and you’ve organized it so well. You’ve been in control all this time, but now you’ve come to the stage where you can’t control how radio will respond to the album. You’ve done this a few times before, so does it feel any different now?
JT: This is by far the best team we’ve ever had, and this is by far the closest we’ve ever actually come to sneaking into pop music. We’re kind of Trojan Horse-ing it right now. I’m getting the radio charts, and while we aren’t #1, we’re doing kind of good. It’s actually working.
I just typed up a mass email today that’s going to get sent out to people. We’ve never really, as a band, requested help from our fans and asked them to participate in anything, at least not in some really significant way where we have asked them, “Please do this. Let’s make a mark.” And I think we’re gonna do that now.
We’re doing well on the Twenty by Twenty satellite pop radio station, we’re still charting in the Top 20, and we’re gonna start asking people to call these stations and have them request our songs.
SSv: That takes a certain amount of confidence, so you must have this feeling of, “Hell yeah, I’m going to bat for these songs. We’ve fought for them, we believe in them and now we’re ready to do this.”
JT: That’s exactly how I feel and it’s weird because it’s maybe one of the first times in my life that I could really be celebrating something, but it’s even more of my ego—whatever is even left of my ego. If my ego were to exist, it has been shot down once again because I’m going against every reason why I fell in love with music. It’s reaching out to people and completely removing all of the mystery and basically standing naked in front of them and being like, ‘Can you help me out?’
It’s like Courtney Love, I think she said this in the book on Nirvana, ‘A rock star should never be caught hanging his own posters up,’ or something similar. And I’m there. It’s like that Hunter S. Thompson quote on the music business, ‘The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench. A long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and all men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.’ [Both laugh] That’s his quote.
A pop radio station asked us to come in and do an acoustic performance because we’re charting there, people are requesting a song and it’s doing great. And before we come in there the guy in his radio voice is like, ‘Get ready for Paper Route with “Two Hearts!” But before them, here’s Rihanna!’ And he seriously plays Rihanna, and then he comes back to us. We’re doing “Two Hearts” in the studio, and then after us he plays some song I had never heard before that was just mindblowing, something about clubbing it up.
We were sandwiched in between those two things, and he didn’t even think it was weird, and that made me feel so relieved. I am covered in a blanket of relief. I’m like, ‘Okay, so I was kind of right. This can work and I’m not completely insane. People do want to hear some of these things that we’re saying.’
SSv: Considering how two-dimensional radio is these days, do you have people telling you they appreciate what you guys are doing to change that by having some of your songs on the radio?
JT: Absolutely, and it’s been a relief. And what’s kind of crazy about it is that it makes sense. It makes sense why certain bands who are similar to us, that one single breaks and suddenly they are in a tour bus and playing to 500 people a night, and I think that’s because I still like to think that we all have more in common than we’re acknowledging.
I’m looking out there, and the breadth of the audience is even vaster and I just see every type of person out there kind of humming along to our single when we’re playing it live now. I hope that that continues and I honestly hope that we can do something good with that.
SSv: I like that last statement and the responsibility it assumes. I’m curious what that would look like for you. What is that responsibility? What would you want to do with your songs, and how does that look now compared to where you were five years ago?
JT: I want to pay my bills, and I want to make an album that’s twice as good as the last one, but I want to still be honest and sing about the things that me and my friends sit down and talk about, when we actually look each other in the eyes and have conversations, and we pay attention, we listen to each other as much as we speak. I want to sing about those things. I want there to be [long pause] there’s just so much more to talk about than what we are talking about right now in popular music. People need a lot more than that, I think.
It’s a lot better than it was, but I kind of feel like the music industry—and I might change my mind about this tomorrow—is kind of like our economy. The poor are becoming poorer, and the rich are becoming richer. And this medium that I’m a part of, that’s my job, the pop music is becoming poppier and the artistic music is becoming more artistic, and few people are holding hands anymore.
Everyone’s just kind of thrown in the towel. “Well, our song needs to have this many beats per minute and say this X amount of times, and, dude, I know you want to go low in the chorus, but people want to hear you at the peak or your range, and so this is what it has to be because we’re making pop music.”
And then you have other people who are like, “Well, I rented a boat and a Radio Shack microphone and I sang all these songs in another language.” [Both laugh] I kind of just want both. I don’t think that’s wrong.
SSv: That works as an analogy because you’re right. More people are content with polarized places because everything has been so fractured and segmented down in society that we have learned to live there. We have our own TV channels, our own clothing, our own stores and styles to bolster our way of living, so we’ve adopted this mentality of, ‘If you want to be cheap, you can be cheap, because I don’t have to acknowledge it.’
JT: Absolutely. I feel like we’re always trying really, really hard. And again, I can’t really say that it’s work. I just know, and I’m thankful, that you and I can have another conversation, because I’ve released another album, and I’m a part of something with my best friends and we’re in the middle of this tour right now. But it’s a frightening time too. I don’t know how long this band is going to last, I don’t really know anything. I just know what’s happening right now, today.
SSv: But you have to have more confidence now than you did a few years ago when you said you didn’t know if you were still going to be here in a couple years, right?
JT: Yeah, we’ll still be there. I just don’t know to what extent. I don’t know if we’ll be touring year-long at that point or if we’ll just be mewithoutyouing it, you know? Two tours a year. Fall, Summer, done. I feel like getting in that stupid van we travel in just takes years off of your life. [Both laugh]
We’re still doing that! I don’t mean to brag—I don’t even know if it is bragging—but I don’t know of many other bands that still do this, in fact I can’t name one.
SSv: Define “this.”
JT: As in, taking such small baby steps forward as a band, that they’re almost microscopic, with regard to what the average person would probably call success. We’re still in a van. I’m still driving it at three in the morning to the next show on bus tours. Singing on no sleep. Selling my own CDs.
We went to go play the other day, and the girl that’s getting ready to announce us is like, “You’re on in 10 seconds! Are you ready?” And I’m looking for our drummer, Gavin, and kind of freaking out, and then he comes up to me and he’s like, “I’m sorry, the girl that’s watching our merch while we’re playing was late.”
So I run up to the girl who’s getting ready to announce us and tell her ‘I’m sorry, the girl who was supposed to be watching our merch table was late.’ She was like, ‘I had no idea that your merch guy was in the band.” I said, ‘Yeah, we’re running a small camp these days,’ and she replied by saying, ‘Well, some day you guys might make it.’
And she walks on stage to introduce us and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve done this for a decade, I’ve done this for 10 years!’ [Both laugh] I’ve seen fads come and go in the middle of recording an album. So it’s just weird, man, going to bed at night and thinking about these things.
SSv: Earlier we were talking and you referenced a frustrating show in New Jersey. Can you talk about that spectrum of how things are both great and depressing at the same time?
JT: We played New Jersey and just in general the highs have been a little bit higher and the lows have been a little bit lower. The lows are going into a city and doing a headline show and there just being so much pressure on how many people are going to be in this room tonight and how can I give them the best show ever because our album’s out now.
I hope that I see every single one of you and more next time because I’ve got a lot to say and I hope you guys are willing to listen. And then afterwards, I want to talk. We all can learn from each other, but if we don’t deliver and you don’t like the album, well then this is probably going to end.
It used to be, when we were waiting so long for this album to come out, it almost just became a habit to play a show and be like, ‘Well, our album’s coming out, we promise. Just hang on a little bit longer.’ And I don’t want to say it became an excuse, but it really did almost become just like this cast on our body. It gave us something to talk about. But now it’s game time, and there’s no excuses anymore.
SSv: Tell us about the high point then. The ‘it’s all been worth it’ moment. Has that occurred since the release?
JT: Yeah, there have been moments. We’ve played some cities, sold them out, and I think it’s worth it when you remember that some of these people know every single song in our catalog. Some people might not believe me when I say it’s not for the sake of ego, but it really is more that I feel at peace knowing that we all know that we have something in common, that we aren’t alone in these thoughts, that you’re thinking the same things that I’m thinking. You’re learning from me and I hope to learn from you. That, I would argue, is how we have seen success with this band, and I hope that that continues and grows.
Photos by Allister Ann