It feels appropriate that My Friends, the latest album by Paper Lions, comes out near the end of summer, because its wistful power-pop evokes mental images of that time of year, its sun-dappled sound set off just so by tinges of melancholy shadowing. On My Friends, the Prince Edward Island-based combo recalls some who mastered the genre and those who’ve redefined it, which you notice in the rich Beach Boys-like melodies of “Ghostwriters”, the neoclassicism à la Fountains of Wayne on “Bodies in the Winter”, even the Weezer-y romp of “San Simeon”. Yet these influences and cross-references never feel rote or derivative, since everything’s filtered through a songwriting perspective that reflects Paper Lions’ own experiences and environment. With the release of My Friends imminent, PopMatters caught up with guitarist Colin Buchanan to find out how the new album was shaped musically by growing up and living in Prince Edward Island, as well as how Paper Lions have responded to adversity in a perplexing music industry to find themselves in the much better place they’re in now. PopMatters is premiering Paper Lions’ My Friends, out Tuesday, 20 August via their own label, Fountain Pop Records.
Photo by Stephen Alexander Harris
PopMatters: What jumps out about My Friends is the production, which allows your classic power-pop sound to come through clearly and crisply. Was that something you were aiming for when you made the album and what was the recording process like?
Colin Buchanan: For this record, we really wanted to reach another level, not only in the songwriting but also sonically. We wanted something that sounded really big at times, but also could sound small and meek when need be. Howard Reddekopp was instrumental in us finding that sound and striking that balance.
PopMatters: The press release mentions that the new album is an “ode to your stories of youth” growing up on Prince Edward Island — there’s definitely a wistful pop tone to My Friends. Were you trying to get back into the mindsets you had way back when on the album or did you write the songs with the perspective of looking back to the past with the knowledge you have now?
Colin Buchanan: I think there is a bit of both going on. Some songs are trying to convey a feeling rather than present perspective. Those ones tend to be more descriptive and story-like (i.e., “My Friend”, “San Simeon”, “So Lonely”). Others are more of a reflection from our current age and life situation and tend to have an element of a lesson being learned (“Sandcastles”, “Ghostwriters”, “Philadelphia”). That balance was intentional. We initially talked about all the songs having this tie into our current lives and presenting something of a moral in each one, but it really seemed out of step with the point of the record. When you are a kid, you just do things without meditation and act on instinct. It doesn’t always have to mean anything. We wanted parts of the record to reflect that feeling and spirit.
PopMatters: On a related note, how does your environment influence your music, since there’s a jaunty, maritime quality to your music? The Beach Boys are mentioned a lot as a point of reference and there are passages on My Friends that recall Vampire Weekend, though perhaps some of us might not think that eastern Canada would evoke such a warm, summery sound!
Colin Buchanan: Environment is always an influences and PEI is no exception. It’s a nice, quiet, and affordable place to live. Just the fact that we all live within five minutes of each other and can go off to the countryside and write in a cabin the woods or an old abandoned church is pretty incredible and freeing when you are trying to create [something]. Also as a music scene, PEI is relatively void of trends and other distractions that might make you second-guess your work. We find we can just go off and make whatever music we want.
PopMatters: One of the more interesting aspects of your bio regards the circumstances surrounding your 2010 release Trophies, which, as Wikipedia lore goes, left you uncompensated for your efforts and led you to offer it online as a free download. For an up-and-coming band at the time, what was it like dealing with a situation like that and how did you go about making the best out of it?
Colin Buchanan: It was a pain for sure, but we got through it. I think a lot of other bands would have not wanted to ruffle any feathers, because of the sheer fact that you are an up-and-coming band and have yet to prove your worth in the business. We knew something was wrong and gave them a chance to right it. When they didn’t, we decided to give the record away for free. It wasn’t any sort of calculated “screw you” to the label. We just wanted people to hear the music.
PopMatters: Did that experience impact the way you’ve approached making music since, both artistically and business-wise? For instance, it seems like your resourcefulness in making Trophies a free download reflects your savvy with social networking.
Colin Buchanan: Business-wise, for sure. We’ve always had long talks about different creative ways we could present our music to people, even before the bad deal happened. The experience just mobilized us to put these ideas into practice. So with the help of a good friend on PEI, we started Fountain Pop Records, which will now release all of our titles as well as hopefully some great bands from the area.
PopMatters: With the release of My Friends, what do you have planned for the rest of 2013?
Colin Buchanan: Lots of touring. Mostly through North America, but hopefully hopping the pond at some point too. We will also just continue growing the band as well as the new label.