I will admit the soft spot in my heart for the guys in Paper Route. I was there for their first show in front of a couple dozen people in a dirty old school in Indiana. I conducted their first interview as a band. In other words, I arrived early for the bandwagon and have been rooting for them ever since.
Not that it really takes much convincing for those who’ve heard the Nashville electro-rock act. Now signed with Universal Motown, their full-length, Absence, finally arrives in stores next month after multiple EPs and digital downloads. It’s a moment two years in the making – one that Chad Howat tells us is a long time coming.
In this SSv exclusive, Chad gives us the details on the new release, how the addition of drummer Gavin MacDonald made all the difference and their chances of finally shaking the annoying Postal Service comparisons.
SSv: So you finally have a date for the release of the full-length. Feels like the date that so many within the band and, of course, outside the band have been waiting for.
Chad Howat: Yeah, we’re excited about it. It’s been a long process of making it, but it’s finally time to put it out. We’re definitely excited about it. We feel really good about it.
SSv: How long would you say this has been in the making?
Chad: Some of these songs are over two years old, honestly. Some of these songs go back before we ever even played a show. So for the better part of the last two years on and off we’ve been making this record. Then we signed a record deal last year and we’re given the chance to finally zone in and finish it in October. So it’s been a long process for sure.
SSv: So what’s the level of readiness or anticipation? Or did the EP help with that?
Chad: Well, the EP did help a little bit. But we’re still waiting with great anticipation for this. You know, EPs are great and everything, but there’s nothing like having a full-length, so we’re excited to put this out and see who connects with it. We’re extremely proud of it. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. And we’re definitely anxious and ready for sure.
SSv: What about the track listing – any previously released material or is it all brand new?
Chad: It includes an updated version of the song, “Are We All Forgotten,” which was off the EP. And a song called “Carousel” was on our MySpace for a year, so we went back and finally finished that song. But everything else is brand new. There are 12 songs overall and only “Are We All Forgotten” has been officially released before.
SSv: What’s the feel of the new material? Is it an extension of the EP or will fans be surprised?
Chad: It’s a little bit of both, I would say. It does feel like an extension of the EP to some degree. It’s also bigger and smaller and faster and slower. We just really expounded upon everything. There will be some level of surprises. There’s a trip-hop feel to a handful of the new songs. We always have programming in our songs, but there’s almost a trip-hop feel or undertone to some of the songs. But it’s all still over the top and ethereal and bombastic.
We’re really proud of it and especially the lyrics, too. It’s one of those records that doesn’t sound like it was recorded in two weeks, you know? It took two years, as I said, and over that time, our tastes have changed with the times and all of that seeped into the recording process. We’re drawing from a lot of different places on the record, so it’s not honed in on one sound the entire time, but it’s all over the place. Then again, that’s what we wanted to do on our first record.
If a band is a house, then we’re going down a hallway and opening a bunch of doors for possible future records right now. We’re just opening those doors for ourselves sonically and we can figure out where we want to go later from there. We’re wanting to try a lot of different things and see what works, yet I think it all works cohesively with each other.
SSv: How much of the work precedes Gavin’s addition to the band? Just wondering how much influence he was able to have on the material.
Chad: I would say about half of it preceded him, but once he joined it definitely changed a lot of things. He contributed stuff not only on drums, but also programming. It was good. J.T. and Andy and I have been working together for so long that when Gavin joined, it created this really healthy tension because he’s coming at it from a different perspective. He would definitely push and challenge us, which can be annoying sometimes but it always ended up being a good thing. Once Gavin joined, there were many times when he and I would just get together and start with a drum beat and make it to the record, so I guess it did change things. It’s a new avenue of writing of getting together with Gavin in a room and let him start drumming and write a song around it.
SSv: With the tour coming up with Copeland, do you know how long you get to play?
Chad: I think we get a half hour set which gives us five or six songs. The thing is that we’re playing mostly new songs on the record and we’ll be changing the set list every night. Typically we will stick to a similar set list, but now we have a lot more songs to draw from. We have two EPs and a full-length now, so we have 25 songs to choose from. I think we’re going to have to switch it up every night and we can stay fresh and play what we want. I’m really excited about it. I’m a pretty big fan of having a new set list for every show if you can.
It also gives us more chances to play stuff that’s appropriate for the city that we’re in. You can get out there for the people that are playing before us and scope out the crowd and see the vibe and what mood they’re in. We can play a really moody set or upbeat set – just whatever the crowd seems to want and we can have some flexibility with that.
SSv: When you look back, was there a moment when you turned the corner and realized that Paper Route really was going to go somewhere?
Chad: I don’t know. I’m not sure when that moment was. I think we’ve had a couple of those to be honest. I think when Gavin joined and started playing shows, we at least knew that we could make it work from the live perspective. Also, getting signed to Universal was a huge vote of confirmation or affirmation you could say. It makes you think, ‘Hey, maybe this will work after all.’ It opened up a lot of doors to things that we would not have been able to do otherwise. That was probably the biggest thing. Also, people are starting to use our stuff on TV and movies and they’re using different songs. That’s great, too. I don’t think there’s a singular moment to point to. We still go through that question of ‘is this working?’ That question is still there for us.
SSv: Did you guys play South by Southwest?
Chad: Yeah, we just got back. It was awesome. We only played twice this year and last year we played four times, so this was a lot more relaxed. But it was great. We played with Brooke Waggoner at the Maggie Mae show with a bunch of other Nashville artists and it was packed. It was awesome. We played a lot of new songs from the record and people seemed to really like it.
SSv: You get a chance to check out others?
Chad: I got a chance to check out Efterklang and that was seriously about it. I saw a hip-hop artist named Kid Cudi who apparently just signed with our label. But other than that, we were busy the whole time, so we didn’t get to stay and watch other bands. We also had to get back and start rehearsing for the Copeland tour.
SSv: I know that early on, it was a bunch of Postal Service comparisons for the band. Have you found yourself fighting that with each release or was that a help?
Chad: I don’t know that it was a help. It definitely got annoying. I could see it. Obviously the names are so similar that maybe we shot ourselves in the foot by picking the name Paper Route. We just really liked it. At that point, we probably had 100 people that knew about us and we didn’t want to change it so we wouldn’t confuse those 100 people. [Laughs] So we thought we’d just stick with Paper Route. We tried thinking of other ideas and nothing really stuck. It wasn’t that big of a deal.
But we do get comparisons to that. The name obviously has a lot to do with it. I think if anything has programming and any kind of pop melody over it, it’s going to have that connotation, so I understand that. But once we added Gavin and we started using live drums… I really think that people like Postal Service will like us, but especially with this new record, that comparison doesn’t apply at all. Our stuff is a lot louder and bigger and more epic sounding now. Their stuff is much more programming, 8-bit, lo-fi. I love them and think they’re great, but we don’t sound like them at all anymore.
SSv: The Copeland tour dates seem to close at the same time as the album release…
SSv: So what comes after that?
Chad: I believe we’re looking at a West Coast tour in May. We haven’t confirmed anything that I know of, but we’re going out for most of May with some other bands. And we’re just basically looking for tours to get on this summer. Then we’re talking about going to the U.K. since the album is coming out there the first week of May. We went last December and it was great. At the time, we didn’t have any music available there so not that many people knew about us. But the people who were there were great and sang along with the songs, which is pretty surreal. To be in the U.K. and have people singing along there is awesome. So we’ll just be traveling all summer.