The history of paper kites is an interesting area of study. They have evolved from humble beginnings, where it is thought they were first used as a way of measuring distance. From there they drifted to everyday entertainment, and have even found a home in competitive fighting, where kite strings laced with broken glass and razors slash their aerial rivals to ribbons.
I figure Melbourne band The Paper Kites must have taken their name in homage to this ancient art, and intend on following a similar career trajectory. It is surely just a matter of time, then, before the quintet starts attacking its audience between songs. Singer Sam Bentley seems intrigued.
“Gosh. That would be amazing,” he says. “To be honest, I haven’t given actual paper kites much research, but knowing now that’s how intense it gets, we’ll have to look into it. But our audiences are usually pretty lovely. I remember one of our first times in Byron, in what I guess you’d call the hippy hub of the country. I was kind of expecting people to be standing there with their arms crossed, listening really intently. But man, that show!” he laughs. “I remember looking out at one point – you know that flailing arm thing that you see certain people do when they’re on something? Everyone in the room was doing it. It was very strange; no-one ever really dances like that to our stuff because it’s pretty chilled. I don’t know what the people of Byron were on that night. Good vibes, I’m guessing.”
One of the enduring stories from The Paper Kites’ early days is the limited release of their first EP, for which only 500 copies were pressed given the tedium of burning and packaging each CD. The transition from emerging band to touring artist, where venue booking and distribution becomes the responsibility of somebody else, includes a significant leap of faith. For a band to find the right people to surround itself with, especially in the beginning, it can be an unexpected struggle.
“It’s a strange transition,” agrees Bentley. “Most people would say that they’re just in it to play music, and that’s great, so they should. The main focus is still to write great songs and put them out there, but there is a whole business side to it that you have to be versed in. We had a list of things, like needing a booking agent, needing someone to manage us, stuff like that. It’s very overwhelming at first, booking a tour and promoting your show, getting to understand the networking side of things – recognising that there’s a lot more to it than just playing music. If you can surround yourself with a team of people who believe in what you’re doing, you’re on your way. A lot of people don’t have that, and it’s hard to find when you’re just starting out. But if your music’s good, and you’re trying to find the right kind of people, that can really take you through the small steps until you reach a point where others can help you get to the next big step.”
The band has recently wrapped up a US tour supporting City And Colour, and I wonder how that shift from local stages to playing before massive American audiences now seems – was there a moment when Bentley realised they’d actually started taking those bigger steps?
“I don’t think there’s any point where you notice the shift to being a larger band. You’re always hoping that people are going to come to your shows, no matter how big you are. We’ve always tried to push each tour to be bigger and bigger than the last, and then you suddenly realise when you’re playing venues that you’ve always wanted to play that, ‘Huh. I guess we’re doing OK.’ I don’t think you ever really realise it at the time; you never stop to think where you are. You’re always looking to the next big thing. You forget that once you were only ever dreaming about these shows. I’d always wanted to play at the Forum in Melbourne, and we finally did that at the end of last year. It all keeps gradually progressing, which is really exciting to see.”
Progressing from venue to venue is one thing, but the impact this has on the development of the band’s sound is something else altogether. Everybody wants to grow, to uncover new inspirations and find some measure of success. As The Paper Kites have evolved, I ask if Bentley is at all conscious of the impact this might have on his writing.
“I think…” he pauses. “You’re kind of appropriating what you observe in the people you watch, the things you listen to. I watch a lot of film, and at the risk of sounding really wanky, try to get stuck in to as many obscure things as I can. My brother gave me this 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time book for Christmas, and I’ve been trying to make my way through it all. I mean, it’s overwhelming, there’s just so much music out there. I don’t think you’re doing your job as a songwriter if you’re not interested in what the great works of the past have been, or listening to artists who have been influential enough to make it onto that kind of a list. You need to work out what makes them such great records, and then I guess from that you take all the things that you like and try and apply it yourself.”
He laughs again. “I’ll be interested to see what my writing is like after jamming my head with all of this music.”