ATH Interviews: Papercuts

ATH: You’re four albums into your career, which is a great deal further than a lot of bands get to go nowadays.  Is there a special formula that keeps you motivated for writing, or are you luck insofar as you’re the predominant musician/writer?

Jason: Well I just try to make the focus on enjoying the process of writing and recording albums, so my level of motivation and enjoyment stays in my own control. If I focused on the ups and downs of my “career” or what I thought of the business side of things, it would probably be a bit harder to stay productive. I just try to focus on the process and enjoy it, if it stopped being fun I’d probably stop, even if the material aspect was tempting… Also I’ve never made hype friendly music, maybe that’s enabled me to keep rolling without feeling like my time has come and passed…

ATH: Listening to your catalogue, one of my favorite things has to be your voice, aside from the overall awesomeness of course. It seems have this sort of raspy/whispery (is that a word) resonation (I mean this in a good way) to it? When you first began recording yourself at home, was this just the general nature of your voice, or were you modeling the tones after anyone in particular? Any effects used on it in the studio?

Jason: Thanks, I don’t really attempt to make it do much except sound as good as I possibly can with the voice I have and the material i come up with. I, like most people, dislike the sound of my own voice, so I just like to use reverb or echo to make it transform into something else a little. That way I can try to hear it as something other than my own voice, like another instrument.

ATH: You record a great number of LPs for other bands. Does the recording process differ greatly when your working with other people’s work as opposed to your own? If so, how?

Jason: Well I certainly am in totally different roles in the two situations, especially for this new record. When recording other bands I tend to try and be a positive figure in the room, someone looking after the band to try and facilitate a good atmosphere and interesting sounds, but with an ear to technical details. Getting Thom Monahan to co produce enabled me to become more of a performer than ever before, focusing on playing instruments, singing, writing and arranging, etc… I loved being able to walk away from being a technical person for my own record, and try to look at the big picture…

ATH: Similar question here, sort of….it’s odd, but despite how much I’ve listened to your records, I don’t know a whole lot about you as a person, other than your recording/songwirting prowess. Tell us…what are some things we don’t know about you: Favorite meal, first musical memory, thing you can’t leave at home when you head out on tour?

Jason: Favorite meal, well this may look like pandering but I had an amazing hamburger when I was at sxsw, it was a diner near waterloo records, I forget the name of the place. Oh my god, we are going back when we’re in austin again. My first musical memory is the Beatles, I became obsessed really early with “Revolution”, the loud one… I can’t leave home without my ipod now (thanks Dana!), I need to hear the Vashti Buynan rarities record every few days, it puts me in a peaceful place…

ATH: I’ll gladly admit that I’ve listened to your records year round, but they seem to have this odd seasonal quality to me that makes them perfect for either winter weather, or those cool autumn nights before the winter has completely taken over (which it never does in Austin). With this in mind, do you ever think about such a thing as seasonal listening when you’re writing a new record? Or are there any other odd things you reflect upon, such as where the song is best listened to, i.e. a small venue, bedroom headphones, etc.?

Jason: I listen to my demos when I go for long walks in my hilly San Francisco neighborhood. I usually decide if a song is good or not listening to headphones walking around so I guess that’s probably what I think of when I think of people listening to the record. I love spring and summer the most and think of it as that kind of record, though maybe other people think of it as a darker thing than I do, which is totally fine!

ATH: Obviously, you should be proud of your work, and especially with the Fading Parade being so recent, this might be sort of a ridiculous question, but, is there one particular record of the four major Papercuts albums that your more proud of than any other, if perhaps you were going through a difficult time, or one where you can acknowledge you made huge leaps and bounds as a songwriter?

Jason: Well I feel most happy with fading Parade, probably because I was in a really good place writing it, and recording it I had the help of Thom as well as Frankie Koeller and Graham Hill, who played on the record and helped me arrange some things.  The album You Can Have What You Want was written at a very sad and dark time in my life so in one way I’m glad I had the record to help me work some heavy things out, in another way it’s hard for me to think about what a bad time it was when I wrote it. So I think about records in terms of how things were at the time more than a rating system, you know?

ATH: Having toured a fair amount myself, is there any one thing you dread about being on the road with your band? Personally, those long stretches from say Arizona to Texas always sucked the life out of me. What do you guys do in the van to entertain one another?

Jason: Being the leader of a band, I dread those bummer drives and uninspiring shows and gross back stages mainly because I dread the others in the band being depressed on the road. I feel too responsible for everyone having a good time, which is impossible to do all the time when you are on tour for a month…. I have ups and downs myself too, sometimes I wonder if I can face people on stage and pretend I like myself, but somehow once we are actually playing, I usually remember why I’m there in the first place and enjoy it….

ATH: Seeing as its difficult to really carve out a niche for one’s self nowadays with the massive quantity of bands on the Internet, is there any alternative life that you could see yourself living should this ever prove to be insufficient, for whatever reason?

Jason: I really can’t imagine doing anything else and being slightly happy, it’s the thing I love doing so I work pretty hard to keep being able to do it! If I couldn’t make records I’d probably become a beach bum, move to san diego and play guitar on the pier through a pignose amp pinned to my fanny pack while on roller skates….

Photo credit goes to Robert Loerzel @ Under Ground Bee.

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