Interview: Paper Jets

Written by Laura Curry

The Paper Jets - Logo (Black Hi-Res)

 

The music of The Paper Jets conveys to listeners that positivity is a major key in life. It’s easy to imagine that on an off day, fans will search through their music collections to find The Paper Jets for an immediate boost to their mood. Pop-Break had the opportunity to interview Brian Erickson of The Paper Jets about their take on Powerpop, the evolution of their sound and their upcoming album Everyday Forever.

Who is The Paper Jets? (Names of the band members & the instruments you play)

Brian Erickson – lead vocals, guitar, keyboard

Mike Virok – lead guitar

Frank Lettieri Jr. – drums, vocals

Scott Austin Miller – bass, vocals

What year did the band form? Are you primarily based out of Princeton?

The band formed in 2008, and Princeton is a common locale. None of us are actually from Princeton proper, but we each live in surrounding towns. We don’t consider ourselves a Trenton band; we don’t have that punk background or aesthetic. Princeton seemed more appropriate, especially since you’ve got a good chance of running into one or more of us at the Princeton Record Exchange just about any time, any day.

The Paper Jets - Almost Nine EP Artwork

What’s the story behind your band name?

It came from a brainstorming session between myself (Brian) and our founding guitarist Bill Lambusta. We were literally tossing names around (Peter Buck’s Air Rage and The Effuse to name a few non-serious contenders). One of us blurted out “The Paper Jets,” and the other said, “That’s it!”

I see that Brian and Frank were in The Invisible Solid back in college. Was everyone else a part of other bands in the past? How have your experiences in previous bands influenced the music of The Paper Jets?

Virok and Miller were in a band called Evangelina & The Boys, and they’ve each played in various other bands within different genres before. One of Virok’s first bands actually opened for one of The Invisible Solid’s last shows, so we’ve known him for a while. He introduced Miller fairly recently.

Experiences in other bands have helped us make better, more professional decisions in The Paper Jets. No pay-to-play, no band mills, and be professional, because what seems funny to you may seem unprofessional and immature to others. Just a lot of growing up. Sonically, we don’t carry much over from The Invisible Solid, which was more acoustic, singer/songwriter-based music. Perhaps you can hear a bit of nascent Paper Jets because Frank and I were there, but we’ve grown quite a bit since then.

Who has your sound been likened to?

We get a lot of comparisons to Ben Folds, because there are pianos all over our last record (We Are All Strange Friends), and Big Star, because they’re one of my personal favorite bands and their music has worked its way into my DNA. But it really depends on who you ask and what that person listens to. Everybody has their own musical center.

I’d like someone to listen to us and hear something they find relatable and special. And if they liken that to something more well-known, then I certainly welcome it because that means they’re putting us in the same league as something that has become successful.

Would you say that Powerpop is the most prominent element in the sound of your music?

It was definitely the most prominent element in our early work, and it still informs a lot of what we do. However, now we have recordings with tempo changes and jazz breaks and operatic vocals; songs that challenge us as a band but still sound like us. We’re trying to move beyond the confines of what people generally think of when they think of that genre.

But in terms of traditional Powerpop – Badfinger, Big Star, Cheap Trick – I love that stuff! The big guitars and harmonies and catchy choruses are my bread and butter, so those influences probably sneak in there more than I sometimes think they do.

What is the band’s take on Powerpop? How are you reviving/recreating this genre?

There aren’t very many bands that do it. It’s kind of a throwback, with a lot of elements that aren’t fully taken advantage of by a lot of bands. The idea that we’re doing something new with the genre comes from wanting to put the melody ahead of everything. Early on as a writer, I was told that my songs sounded the same and that the melodies were very similar verse-over-verse. I was offered this weird discouraging encouragement from certain peers. There’s no more harsh of an insult to a songwriter, so the idea of changing the melody from one verse to the next became a priority. It became a driving force. Paul McCartney does that a lot. His best songs have subtle changes that keep your ears interested.

So Powerpop, to me, is a good way to write and convey interesting melodies.

What fuels your music? Or rather, who or what do you draw inspiration from when it comes to creating music?

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It comes from different sources every time a new album is made. We’ve recorded and shelved so many things that the first record, Face Forward, was born out of necessity. It’s an eight-song mini album that we made in one weekend. We needed to get the monkey off our backs.

The second album, We Are All Strange Friends, was more conceptual. The songs concern how we’re all oddly tied together and how destructive those relationships – romantic, platonic, and familial – can be sometimes. Within the band, we had faced the death of family members. There was divorce, a few romantic relationships had ended, and the keyboard player on that album – an old high school friend of mine named Tim Ryan – died in a terrible car accident while we were recording. So that kind of hung over the process and definitely informed the sound and tone of the record.

But the inspiration itself always comes back to the idea and desire to make something great. I listen to albums that I consider great (as do most people, I’m sure), and that sets a particular standard. We don’t aspire to be your friend’s band or your brother’s band. We want to be a band that plays well with the rest of your record collection.

As all of your fans know, you took time off to work on your full-length album Everyday Forever. Now that you have made your comeback, does that mean the album is recorded and ready to go? What can you tell us about Everyday Forever in terms of a release date, the recording process or even the themes that are explored in the songs?

The album isn’t quite ready to go. We did a round of demos in November and then a second round in January. While this may seem counterproductive to some, it has allowed us to play around with arrangements and not spend a ton of money or time in the studio. We also just took on a new bassist, so we’re teaching him the material now. The next round, which should be starting within a month or so, is gonna be album time! And we expect it to go quickly because of all the work we’ve put into getting things together beforehand. So with that said, we don’t yet have a release date.

Thematically, the name Everyday Forever is a bit of a contradiction. The term ‘everyday’ implies something ordinary: your average, everyday [insert noun here]. And forever is just that: infinite. But the contradiction is trying to find happiness within the everyday. Attracting the chaos and throwing yourself off your axis, because that’s how you gain perspective. It’s all about following your bliss and finding something you want to do ‘every day, forever.’

What are you most excited about for Everyday Forever?

We’ve got a tune on there called “Say I Can” that will absolutely knock you out! And in addition, I’m excited because it’s the most collaborative we’ve gotten as a group. Now, I bring about half or 2/3 of a song to the band most of the time. Even on the off chance that I’ve got a complete song, the band fleshes out the arrangements together. That wasn’t the case before. It is now, and it yields better material and keeps things interesting for everyone.

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Does Everyday Forever deviate from the sound of your previous recordings? If so, how has your music evolved from one recording to the next?

There’s more joy with this album. All the loss and negativity that surrounded Strange Friends has lifted. It’s as though we’ve gotten to the other end of something we weren’t sure actually had an end, you know? It’s still conceptual like Strange Friends was, but sonically, it’s less dense. There’s more space, and the musicianship and writing – as it should from one record to the next – has improved.

While you are performing, what are you trying to convey to the audience?  How do you want them to feel by the end of your set?

We try to convey a sense of inclusiveness. While digital streaming has basically given every person access to the same virtual record collection, the live experience is still unique and one of the few ways that a local band can really get its point across to people. By the end of a Paper Jets show, I want people on our team. I want to give them a sense that music is the language of positivity. At the end of our sets, I’d like people to feel moved. In the past, we’ve had people mob the stage to sing our last few songs with us, and it feels amazing to be able to give people that communal experience.

When you consider all the bands in the Central Jersey scene, what makes The Paper Jets stand out?

We’re a band’s band: a group that other musicians can gravitate toward, a band for people who still listen to albums. And I think we are very malleable as well. We can incorporate other genres and sounds and get away with it pretty effectively. And it still sounds like The Paper Jets.

If someone has never heard your music before, what song would you recommend they listen to in order to fully understand what The Paper Jets is all about, and why?

I’d recommend “Cooking Up an Accident” because it’s one of our best recorded performances. It’s chaotic, and the track is just saturated with music. Guitars, piano, harmonies. It pulls everything together. There’s a little jazz melody in the main vocal, some Beach Boy harmonies, a little bit of Dylan or Malkmus affectation in the delivery, and Frank just killing the drums. And it’s got Tim Ryan all over it, which makes it extra special.

What is your proudest accomplishment as a band thus far?

The aforementioned “Cooking Up an Accident” received commercial radio play on Radio 104.5 in Philadelphia. That’s the local alternative rock station. Our manager sent us a text message in all caps: “TURN ON THE RADIO RIGHT FUCKING NOW!” And just like that, we had our That Thing You Do moment. It was a galvanizing force, and the first sign of true validation from outside the band that perhaps we ARE onto something.

What’s next for The Paper Jets?

Foremost, we want to fully integrate Miller, our new bassist, into the group. Secondly, our official comeback show is May 7th at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, and we’re putting a lot of promotional effort into that. Third is to complete our next album, book a tour, and go hard!

The Paper Jets perform with Lowlight and the Wicked Hollow tonight at Happy Mondays at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park.