The indie folk scene in Australia, while rich in diversity and filled with an overwhelming breadth of talent, seems to be overflowing to the point of being unsustainable. We all know the awesome bands that have risen to the top like cream for a whirlwind ride and then bubbled away by the next festival season, never to be heard of again, but Melbourne five-piece The Paper Kites have met this problem head on. They’ve gone viral on the internet (OK, so ‘viral’ gets tossed around a lot but nearly 6.5 million YouTube views indicates that’s no overstatement) and introduced themselves to Australia and the world simultaneously.
After signing with Wonderlick Recording and Sony Music in a joint venture domestically, and with Nettwerk in North America, The Paper Kites are launching their debut album, States, into the global market. But as frontman Sam Bentley admits, the recording process was certainly not a walk in the park. Yeah, people got mad – but they still love each other.
“It actually ended up being a pretty difficult record to make, I think. It was the first time we didn’t all agree on the styles. It was really unusual for us because we’re always on the same page so, um, yeah…” Bentley trails off, wanting to talk openly about the creative process but also quite clearly not wishing a few arguments to be misconstrued as evidence of some ongoing rift within the band.
“There were a lot of heated discussions about the songs that ended up on there,” he decides. “Even now with the finished product, there are still songs that some [of the band] are not that stoked with being on there and other people would be upset [about] if they weren’t on there. It’s not that it’s a divided album, but I think what happened with this record was that – especially when you’re working with five opinionated people – everyone was in their own musical bubble and had different opinions on what they saw as great music. When you bring an idea into that that doesn’t sit well with their idea then it’s always going to be a recipe for a heated discussion.”
While Bentley agrees that the indie folk scene in Australia is bursting at the seams, he believes The Paper Kites’ approach to songwriting sets them apart. “There are definitely a lot of people in the scene and that’s a problem,” he says. “It’s not that we’ve intentionally tried to avoid that but I do think that the industry, particularly in Australia, is very stuck in the idea of what’s hot and what’s not. We try to write stuff that’s not really going to fit into those categories. I think there’s always going to be a place for the singer-songwriters doing their thing though. And if it’s stuff that people connect with then there’s always going to be a place for you, and I guess that’s what’s been the common factor for our music – people really get something out of it.”
Produced by the experienced Wayne Connolly, States has taken the group into a new territory with regard to sonic diversity. Just how these sounds will come to life on the upcoming tour is another concern for Bentley. “It’s going to be interesting because we’re dealing with sounds we never have before. It’s always a task to translate it live and we’re really going to be working on that. It’s a really exciting process as well. We want the live shows to be true to the sound of the album but I have no idea how we’re going to do that.”
They might be on the verge of an international breakthrough but the connection the band has managed to establish with their audience has never been driven by market concerns or strategy. Slowly, The Paper Kites are becoming aware of what works and what doesn’t, but it needn’t dictate how they create their music. With every debut album comes the concern over broadening one’s audience while remaining familiar to those who’ve been there every step of the way. Enter young Melbourne composer Tom Coghill.
“He worked with us on five or six songs,” says Bentley. “He brought in a lot of wacky ideas and a lot of texture to the songs that we wouldn’t have thought of. He was a really great collaborator but again, that was also yet another reason why some people in the band weren’t comfortable. I think it pushed our soundscapes into a territory we have never been before so it has resulted in a much more complex album. I think no matter what, when it’s your debut album it’s really important that you get it right. We’ve never tried to be the band that was the hottest thing – we’re just putting out the stuff that we’re writing and it’s a progression of the sound. People are either going to embrace the sound and really enjoy it, or they’re going to say, ‘That’s not the Paper Kites that we know and love,’ and they’re going to hate it. That’s always the risk.”
BY KRISSI WEISS