Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Paper Tongues interview

A version of my Paper Tongues interview originally appeared in the North County Times and can be viewed here:

The band opens for K’Naan on Sunday at the Belly Up in Solana Beach and Tuesday at House of Blues in Anaheim, Calif. Photo courtesy of A&M/Octone Records.

To get ahead in the music business, some risk-taking is necessary. It also helps if your band has a brazen front man.

Aswan North was in Hollywood to meet a potential producer for Paper Tongues. One day, the singer spotted Randy Jackson at a trendy hotel restaurant and seized the opportunity. He interrupted the “American Idol” judge’s dinner, wrote down the group’s MySpace page info on a napkin and assured Jackson would be impressed. Hours later, North received a call and Jackson eventually became the group’s manager.   

“We thought Aswan was a little crazy at first, but it definitely paid off. We wouldn’t be in the same boat without Randy right now,” said drummer Jordan Hardee, from a tour stop in Washington, D.C.

Paper Tongues’ impressive self-titled debut was released last spring on A&M/Octone Records and opened atop Billboard’s Heatseekers developing artists chart. The first two singles (“Trinity,” “Ride to California”) went top 30 at modern rock radio.

So far, the septet has shared concert stages with Switchfoot, Muse, Jet and Neon Trees. The current tour opening for Somali-Canadian rapper K’Naan has been a totally different experience.

“This is our first time in a hip-hop scenario,” Hardee said. “K’Naan fans have been enjoying it and really seem to love the material. We have a lot of hip hop influences, so his crowd really takes to it well. It’s definitely a perfect fit.”

The energizing “Paper Tongues” album is a musical melting pot, where the band steers into hard-hitting alternative, dance rock and hip-hop directions with equal intensity. Hardee said it was initially a struggle to make those elements coalesce in the studio.

“There are seven different people [in the group]. We all have different personalities and influences - classic rock, hip hop, jazz, classical. Getting all that together was hard at times. But when we started recording “Trinity,” it was the first time magic hit. All our influences shuffled into one sound.”

Paper Tongues formed three years ago in North Carolina. The members took part in Improv Music Experience, a weekly event where local musicians would set up at a downtown intersection and play to benefit the homeless.

“It was a Saturday night deal,” Hardee recalled. “Nothing was pre-rehearsed. It was a free-for-all, just going out there and having fun for the music’s sake.”

On the album’s frenetic “Ride to California,” North recounts how the band headed out West and attempted to get signed.

“We were all in Charlotte trying to raise money and had no hopes of a record deal or anything there. We just had a passion and belief for this music and tried to do whatever it took to get it to the people. A lot of [fans] wanted to contribute to our California trip. We went out there and things quickly started unfolding. The momentum started.”

During the uplifting, frenzied rocker “For the People,” North is defiant (“I won’t let you push me back away”), yet also reassuring (“don’t lose heart ‘cause things get better”) as  Hardee provides a clanking beat. The tune’s “together as one” attitude stems from a common music reference point: Bob Marley & the Wailers.

“They sang about what they believed in. That’s the kind of thing we took from them and like to do as well.”

Hardee, who is also proficient in various instruments, co-wrote the music for three tracks on the album, particularly the moody mid-tempo “What If” – a showcase for North’s soaring voice. Elsewhere, “Soul” contains a group chant about touching people’s spirits and “Rich and Poor” finds North urging a roll call of cities to “say a prayer.”  <<<

Although Jackson has pull on “Idol,” Hardee doesn’t think Paper Tongues is ready to perform on the popular TV show yet.

“We want to do it more ‘grass roots’ style and not use Randy for that. Success overnight would be a little cheap in the grand scheme of things…we want to do it on our own and build that way.”

What is it really like being one of Jackson’s top “dawgs”?

“Since he has been around the block in the industry wearing different hats over the years, it’s phenomenal to have someone with all his connections and wit about music” behind you. “He’s a great friend and like an uncle to us now.”

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