Music

LA Popsters Paper Jackets Deliver a Message We Should Embrace (premiere + interview)

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Two days before releasing their second album, LA-based pop-rock sextet Paper Jackets present a seemingly prescient music video that finds a way to ease your pain during these hard times.

Souvenirs Volume One
Paper Jackets

10 July 2020

The mascara running down the fabulous face of singer-songwriter Aimee Proal might best represent what she and her fellow members in Los Angeles-based alternative pop-rock group Paper Jackets are feeling right now. Sure, it's only a music video, and during a gruesome period in which the coronavirus pandemic and racial strife have rocked America, the deaths caused by a maddening disease and severe cases of social injustice cut far deeper than the problems many of us are experiencing.

Yet, as the message of Paper Jackets' music video "Miss You" conveys, the absence of love still hurts, with or without a lockdown. But the sextet led by frontman James Mason is doing its best to ease your pain with their cinematic reenactment of an emotionally charged original song that sounds nothing like the Rolling Stones' disco track from 1978. It premieres exclusively today at PopMatters, two days before the release of Souvenirs Volume One, Paper Jackets' second album.

Various scenes in the video, directed by Alex Bordoni, include: Mason and his pals watch a basketball game on TV (remember the luxury of live sports?) down to its nerve-wracking conclusion while Proal, living elsewhere and accompanied only by a smartphone, jumps for joy on her bed; Mason and friends enjoy a beverage on a rooftop patio while Proal, again alone, takes a sip of wine, constantly checks her phone, then looks disappointed when messages repeatedly read, "No new notifications from James"; that leads her to turn to an app to find other possible dating partners (all denied) before she takes a bath filled with bubbles and weepy drops of sad thoughts. If it all seems too bleak, don't worry, folks. Just keep watching.

In fact, check out the video now — the third from the boisterous 10-song album following "Baby Teeth" and "What They Call a Life". Then read on to discover more about the luminous band behind "Miss You" and prepare to catch the wave: Better days are ahead for a musical universe wrapped up in Paper Jackets' heartfelt tunes and anthemic fervor.

Writing delectable slices of life in the spirit of West Coast indie acts like Family of the Year, Milo Greene, and the Head and the Heart, Paper Jackets were building momentum with their 2018 EP release Don't Lose Your Head while opening for artists such as Bishop Briggs and X Ambassadors. Then 2020 hit like a ton of thick bricks.

The genesis of the song "Miss You" — written by Mason, Proal and bassist/backing vocalist Miles Franco — came together while the band were on tour in Brooklyn, New York, and shooting an award-winning music video for "Ghost of You", a single that was released last October, way before COVID-19 entered the public's consciousness.

"Miles had this riff he was playing in the living room when we were playing around with the Airbnb's xylophone," Proal writes in a joint email interview with Mason for this article that accompanies the "Miss You" video. "We just started singing over this riff. James had some melodies going for the hook, and I had some lyrics in my notes app that felt like a good fit. We started yelling out, 'I miss you!' and thought there was something just really fun and special about it, so we continued to work on the song when we got back to LA over the course of a few months."

The words of woe sung over a catchy melody seem made for these harrowing, perplexing times, but "Miss You" can just as easily connect with anyone trying to save a troubled relationship. "I've been running circles / Round the gates so open up / Tell me what I gotta do / So I can win your heart."

Mason, who was born in Fairfax, Virginia, spent time in Los Angeles while living in Austin, Texas, before re-establishing himself in LA by starting Paper Jackets in 2016 with producer Ethan Kaufmann. Calling himself "a fairly excellent Mario Kart racer" who likes "old-timey cars, rotary phones and … visiting national parks", Mason believes the most challenging aspect of making the "Miss You" video "was organizing around all the constraints caused by COVID and the anxieties therein," he asserts. "One of the biggest successes of the video is that it comes off relaxed in an otherwise hectic time."

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

According to Proal, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, who has lived in LA for the past ten years, "staying on schedule was a task" because there were ten different set-ups scheduled for the one-day shoot. "We remained focused and moved quickly," Proal adds of the dynamic band also bolstered by Emily Dickinson (keyboard, live backing vocals), Jonny Vesely (guitar), and David Allen (drums), all of whom appear in the video. "My motivation was to move fast so we could fit in the tub performance shot because it was a last-minute idea and scheduled at the end of the day only if time permitted, and we're all really happy it happened."

Mason's LA apartment was the primary locale for the shoot, but by the time the video was completed, the members of Paper Jackets were split apart by stay-at-home orders as a result of the pandemic. "At first, I don't think I was handling it great, but now it kinda feels like what's expected," Mason admits about the isolation. "No real expectations of an overnight fix, but we are optimistic for a slow return to normalcy! We've been very busy with music somehow still, so that feels great. I think most of all, we miss being able to tour and see our friends."

Mason, Proal, Dickinson, and Co. appeared in videos from recently uploaded live Zoom covers of Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" and Oasis' "Wonderwall" while spending time in quarantine but look forward to when actual human contact is an everyday reality. "Just when we thought we couldn't possibly write any more music, we have," says Proal, who believes she has become "quite" the video-game player during these moments of forced solitude. "Even though some sense of normalcy is starting to return here in LA, we're all still longing for the day we can get back in the van and on stages across the country."

That feeling of a world without palpable expressions of true love, friendship — and maybe even live concerts in a club or arena — bursts through in the music video for "Miss You". Its initial concept and storyline were presented by Bordoni, who connected with Paper Jackets through "our good friends at UnderWonder Content", Mason says of the LA-based integrated content company with musical clients that have included Katy Perry, Bon Jovi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Eminem. "They've been like a family to us over the last two years, and we are really lucky to have them on board."

With the groundwork laid for the video, other members of the band also contributed ideas to incorporate. "One thing that was important to us was that the video remained cohesive with the theme of our album art … you'll see little hints of souvenirs from the album hidden throughout the video if you pay close attention," Proal offers. That should encourage repeated viewings of "Miss You" while trying to separate fact than fiction in what's essentially a universal love story.

"I can say without a doubt this video is incredibly accurate," Proal states when asked about the relationship aspects. "I miss everyone in the band so much and the times we've spent together over the last year have been some of my fondest memories. The motorcycle scene feels symbolic of our desire to get back out on the road and all be together again." One of these happy days, Proal will be raring to go while undoubtedly shedding tears of joy, along with her bandmates and the rest of us.

Who are you quarantining with, and how are you keeping in touch with other members of the group, friends, and family? (Zoom chats, FaceTime, emails, etc.)

Aimee Proal: We constantly text and, on rare occasions, have met with guidelines in place. I've been quarantined alone, and after the first six weeks, my mental health was really suffering, so I have a small circle of contacts I see to go on hikes and things of that nature.

James Mason: I feel like now we've broken out more into the wild, but for a while, I was quarantined at a family home in Northern California doing virtual jam sessions with the band and learning new ways to work from home. Kinda bleak, but it had its charm.

Besides releasing music videos, what other creative ways are you using to connect with fans during the pandemic? How does touring in 2021 fit into your plans?

Proal: We've done some cover song videos Zoom style and James started these tutorials where he shows how to play our songs on guitar, which is really fun if you're just learning or want to pick up the guitar.

Mason: Pretty much. We've been staying active when we can on social media, and the press has been very supportive, so that's been great!

James, what led to the formation of Paper Jackets and what was behind the name for the group?

Mason: The group officially started in 2016 when I moved to Los Angeles for the second time. Years prior, I had been flying out to LA from where I was living at the time in Austin, Texas, to record a few songs at a time. Our producer Ethan Kaufmann grew up in Dallas, and somewhere along the way, we met up and started recording in his East Hollywood studio called "The Elephant in the Room". It was an exciting time for me, so I kept coming back and eventually put a band together. Emily was the first person I called since we played in bands way back in our teenage years. Then we met Jonny on Craigslist, which people always find funny, and Aimee was friends with Ethan, frequenting the studio as a freelance singer and songwriter long before I knew either of them. In a less-than-proud moment, I came up with the name Paper Jackets when taking out the trash on account of all the brown paper bags around a slew of empty beer bottles. It sort of symbolizes an unpleasant past but a hopeful future.

Aimee, when did you join Paper Jackets and what was behind your decision? How does it compare with pursuing a career as a solo artist?

Proal: My exact join date is a bit of a blurry line. I would say I officially joined the band when I showed up for the "Trigger" video shoot (which premiered in February 2019 after the song appeared on Don't Lose Your Head) or when I started playing shows with the band a few months before. Prior to that, I had been singing backgrounds on the records for already a year to two years. I prefer it over a solo career because I dig the teamwork aspect of it, and we're always there to lift each other up when one needs it, so it takes an enormous amount of pressure off. I also needed a break from writing for other artists on a daily basis; this band has reignited my passion for creating art in a big way.

James, you've said in the group bio that adding Aimee was "one of the biggest changes to the overall project." What does she bring to the group that might have been missing and how does she fit in?

Mason: The lead female counterparts offer a brilliant contrast and balance to the overall production and performance. We've worked hard on refining those qualities over the last few years, and it's coming out super-strong in the newer material. "Miss You" is only the first song of its kind, which is a terrific start and leads the way for more collaboration in the future. I think there's also a broader spectrum of personality between the tone of our voices and delivery.

What effort is Paper Jackets making to land song placements in films, TV series or commercials? For instance, "Baby Teeth" (also on Souvenirs Volume One) would have been a natural for the recently released film Babyteeth.

Mason: Haha, I'm not exactly sure I've heard of the film, but that sounds interesting. We are always pitching music, but I get the feeling licensing will be a little slow as it's been slow getting film and TV show crews on set and working.

The bio mentions that "the road to creating this record has been long and not without its bumps." How long did it take to record and what specific problems did the band experience?

Mason: Without getting into too many gritty details, it's been like what you might imagine. We'd ask for forgiveness rather than permission. We scrapped everything we had financially to make this happen. It was extremely stressful with all that on the line in front of you every day. You want to give endlessly to your passions, so I think somewhere along the line, if you push the limits, you will find the edge. I feel like we've all had our breaking point, but today be a new day.

What plans have been made for a Souvenirs Volume Two?

Mason: Volume 2 is locked and loaded. We plan on delivering that later this year.

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