Papertwin’s synthesized work stands apart from other contemporaries lumped into the synth pop genre. It lacks the vision of M83, the experimentation of The Naked and Famous. Instead, the Brooklyn trio’s latest EP, Vox Humana, is marked by a restrained beauty. The layers are inviting, the decisions made are exquisite. If anything, Papertwin is a finer choice than the others.
If you’ve yet to hear Papertwin, then their new EP is a great place to start. Produced by Abe Seiferth (Yeasayer), the EP is the band’s third but their first real studio work after previous home recordings. Listen to “Alkaline”, the lead single, and read on for the band’s full story.
Stereo Subversion: When you finished Alkaline, was “More” the obvious single to get out there?
Francis Cardinale: That was actually the last song that came together of the six on the EP, and I think it was more or less obvious to all of us. It actually came together more quickly for us than other songs had. [Laughs] I think format-wise and with the tempo of it, I think we all felt that it was a pretty strong song for us and wanted to put that one out first.
SSv: You said that one came last, but was the writing process for that one pretty similar to the rest? Do you guys have a pretty well-oiled machine for how songs come together?
Francis: [Laughs] Actually, no, they’re all kind of different. That one came together differently.
Nick Shopa: Usually Max [Decker] will start the song, and then he’ll hand it over to Francis, who will work his drum magic, and then he’ll hand it to me and I’ll work some synthesizer melodies, figure out chord voicings, certain sound patches, whatever. But this particular song…I think Francis started it.
Francis: Yeah, that started out on a drum machine sequencer that I have, and it just came very quickly. It was very organic and, I don’t want to say effortless, but we were definitely happy with how quickly it came together.
SSv: I was so struck by the editing and restraint on this album. It’s spot-on. There’s just enough there. The layers are compelling and it pulls you in and keeps it interesting without ever becoming overwrought or having too many ideas at once.
Nick: For us, one of the goals has always been to peel things back and make the songs as minimalistic as possible, because it would be easy for us to overload it with tracks and sounds and have too many things going on. So it’s really a conscious decision on our part to make sure that we’re not doing too much with it. Restraint is a big part of that, so Alkaline was an effort on our part to be as minimalistic as we could be. There was deliberate restraint there.
SSv: Is that a core value for the band, something you guys always seek to do?
Francis: Yeah, I think you could say that. And that’s sort of informed by our past. [Laughs] Our previous recordings were a bit too busy and the songs suffered as a result of that.
SSv: Is the EP format something that just works well for the band? Maybe for the marketplace?
Francis: Yeah. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we’d like to do a full-length, it’s just that some of it is monetary. This was our first time going to a studio and we were really, really lucky to work with Abe who was an engineer at GSA Studios for a while before he ventured off on his own. So he’s just great in terms of helping us produce it as opposed to be an engineering wizard. He’s really into house and dance music, so it was kind of a fun process to work with him. But the EP is really just limited to the amount of songs we’re able to do in that period of time and resources since we’re still on our own here.
SSv: Was there a big before-and-after, working with Abe? Was there a real sense of the music before working with him, or even you guys as songwriters?
Nick: I think so. He showed us some studio tricks that we otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. He processed things differently and did things that producers generally do for bands. We were still co-producing, so it’s not like we wanted to give complete creative control to him, but he was very good for taking what we do and finessing it a little bit. There were some decisions he made that we wouldn’t have, but they weren’t so drastic that they took us in a completely different direction or anything. But that’s why we worked so well together, because he suggested really good alternatives and new directions as far as processing effects or whatever.
But yeah, the before-and-after was very clear. It ended up being a much more professional EP in my mind. No question about it.
SSv: You mentioned you’d like to do a full-length, but have monetary constraints and whatnot. It feels like in the past, an artist could have serious hopes of making music and having that be the bulk of what they do, but now it seems like it’s really about entrepreneurs with musical talent who can run a small business.
Francis: Right now this is really just a labor of love. We haven’t really entered into that market, per se. And the other thing is, I don’t want to make it sound like we need money to make music—we would be doing it anyhow and be happy—it’s just we realized that the beauty of being able to do it in a studio is a luxury. We’re really happy with what we’ve got. We’re all good friends and this is just something we love to do.
Nick: And as far as the other part of the question, it doesn’t feel like we’re running any sort of business. [Laughs] We all work our day jobs for sure. I tune pianos, for example.
SSv: It seems like no one is able to just make the music and put it out there and not think about how to put it out there. Is that something that’s not of any consequence to the band? Is it really just about making music and not being concerned with who hears it?
Francis: Well we want to make music that we feel confident about putting out there. We’re not going to put out something we don’t like. We definitely think about that other aspect of that—how to get it out there to as many people as we can. Some of it seems completely random and is about timing, and some of it is just about meeting the right people.