Melbourne folk five-piece The Paper Kites are crossing the Tasman in a couple of weeks to treat fans in Wellington and Auckland to their rich back catalogue of material, stretching from when they first formed in 2009 and started self-releasing EPs to their debut record States, which came out late last year. The troupe's New Zealand shows follows an extensive tour of America and Canada, where they not only supported Ontario musician City and Colour, but also played a whole raft of their own sell-out shows. We had a chat with founding member Sam Bentley about the group's humble beginnings recording in his bedroom and selling homemade EPs, to impressing eager crowds on the other side of the globe...
UTR: Hi Sam! How are you, what are up to at the moment?
Sam: Hi, um, I’m good. I’m in Melbourne at the moment, just at my folks house having a cup of tea outside. But it’s pretty cold.
So, you guys just got back to Australia after touring the US and Canada how you feeling after that whirlwind?
Yeah, it was fantastic. It was our first time over to that side of the world, and it was a massive tour, it was something like 35 shows across six weeks. So it was pretty exhausting I think I slept for like a week after I got back. I’d never experienced jet lag before, it really knocks you out. But we got to go down south and visit New Orleans and do the great American Road Trip across Texas and Arizona and then up into Canada, where it’s beautiful and freezing. So we got to experience the real hot south and the real freezing North. I’d never been so cold. So yeah, it’s nice to be home.
It’s great that you went over to support City and Colour, but you also did a whole bunch of your own headline shows which sold out….
Yeah, it’s such a strange thing to not necessarily know that anyone is aware of your music outside Australia. I mean, I suppose it’s a bit naive to think that, because of the powers of the internet these days, but we got over to some of these places in Canada and the US and playing to these full rooms and it really was a bit of a shock, I think we were expecting to play to 30-40 people or something like that. So to be on the other side of the world, and have people coming up to you and saying, “I’ve been waiting so long to see you guys”, and “this song really helped me”, it’s fantastic.
How did the folk music scene you experienced there compare to the scene in Melbourne?
It’s true what people say about Southern Hospitality, because everyone is sooo welcoming and come up to you after the show, whereas in Melbourne you’d probably just get a little fistbump or something. Um, but yea they loved it and everyone who was coming to the shows were genuine music lovers, whereas in Australia, we haven’t experienced it yet, but we know of heaps of other bands who have experienced the Tall Poppy Syndrome where people come and cross their arms and stand at the back of show. They are really hard to impress.
The band, with you in particular, formed The Paper Kites from high school friendships, how have the dynamics changed over the years?
Um, the dynamics is still pretty much the same. No one really doesn't get along in the band, even after spending seven weeks in a van together we are all fine. To be honest every time we get to a new city everyone just splits off and does their own thing, so you still get time to yourself, but we get on really well. But Christina, who is the only girl in the band, is really excited about this next Australian tour, because the band we are travelling with are girls, so I think she has officially dubbed it “girls on tour”.
Haha cool. And I understand that when you guys started playing together you used to make homemade tapes to sell to people, so it must be amazing to see your project grow to this point…
Haha, yeah. Actually we found some of those home made ones the other day, which is funny because I think they are selling on eBay at the moment, so if you have any people will buy them.
Really? How much are they going for?
Oh I have no idea, but I think we can probably print off a few more and say they are original, haha. But um, at that point we had no money, and we really needed to record some music. We had no idea what to do, so we recorded some really crappy garage band demos and sold them for $5 at our shows and that was essentially what got us up and running, and we were able to record Bloom [EP released in 2010] and we kept going from there. So now we actually get a budget to record. That’s really nice to be recording somewhere other than my bedroom. But everyone’s got their own little story and people can also say, “I was there at that show and I have a copy of that terrible home demo.” It will probably come back to bite us one day, but it was fun.
And nowadays you guys are well-known for these wonderful music videos that get created for your songs, how much involvement does the band have with the story that unfolds in a video?
Well, It usually starts with me saying: ”Hey guys I’ve got cool idea for a video” and sometimes it’s not so cool. But generally they go with it. And we have been fortunate to work with some great directors in Australia, but we usually have quite a large hand in the videos. With the 'St Clarity' video, I had a meeting with the director and I said “I have an idea, I want to fly a French bubbler over to do a video”, which is a little unusual, to spend your video budget on flying a Parisian bubbleologist over to Melbourne, but she was keen. It’s really great to be able to see the strange ideas in your head come to life and to be able to say, yup that started as a little seed in my head.
Have you got anything in the pipeline?
At the moment we are working on a video, which is going to be interesting to pull off, but we love making videos, it’s always fun to put a visual extension of the song out there and we want to make them exciting, and we want to be pushing people’s ideas of what can be in a music video.
And do you have any new material in the works at the moment or are you just working through this touring phase?
Um, it’s in the back of my head. To be honest I haven’t written a song since we finished States. It was such a big job to get that album finished I think I just want to refocus what I want to do with this next record. I mean I’ve been listen to so much music, my brother bought me this 500 Greatest Albums book for Christmas and I’ve been working my way through, because I hadn’t heard like half of them. So I’m cramming my head with all this new music and I kind of like to let things sit. People say you should be writing all the time as a writer, but I often like to let things build for awhile until they are ready to come out, so who knows what this new record’s going to be like. We’ve got a pretty buy second half of the year, but when that is all finished we’ll get stuck into writing the next record.
It sounded like the writing for States was done over a really concentrated period of writing…
Yeah it was. I mean there were a lot of songs that had been built up from the year before, like a lot of demos, but the majority of the songs that ended up on the record came from this musical explosion in a period of two weeks, and that’s exactly what I mean, I had been holding on to that stuff and I felt like I was on this writing spree and all of that came out.
Okay, one last question, you mentioned the 500 albums book, any that are stand outs?
Oh... There’s so many records in there. But I’ve actually been listening to Joy Division a bit a lot lately. Their record Unknown Pleasures is really cool. Some people can kind of think of them as that “cool” band that “cool” people are in to but I really really love them. And a lot of that stuff, The Cure and The Smiths are kinda “cool” bands, but they are in that book for a reason, because their music is great. And there are some nineties records in there that I had never heard of, so it’s great, it’s like a musical manic session.