Interview by Margaret Corona
I was lucky enough to speak with bassist Sam Rasmussen and guitarist David Powys of The Paper Kites Monday, prior to their “At the Roadhouse” show at The Wilbur.
Margaret Corona (MC): Okay, so if you guys are ready, we can jump into it. So you’re on night five of your “At the Roadhouse” tour. How are you guys feeling?
Sam Rasmussen (SR): Good. Yeah, good. We arrived on a Tuesday. We landed at 8 p.m., got to the hotel at 9-10 p.m. Like, late on Tuesday, and then the first show was the next night. We always arrive, like, straight before and then it was four shows in a row. So we really did hit the ground running. And the preparation was a little limited, having other things kind of happening leading up to this tour. So we really hit the ground running, working out exactly how the set was flowing and that kind of thing. But now we’re on night five, is it? So I think we’re starting to get a bit of a groove going. Everyone’s relaxed a bit, the set’s making sense and kind of just enjoying ourselves on stage now.
MC: How did you spend your day off yesterday in Boston?
Dave Powys (DP): Yeah, it was a rainy day. We went everywhere in Cambridge town. We parked up outside a hotel. We had a couple of day rooms for showers. We got some lobster rolls.
MC: How were they?
DP: Ah, I had a lobster sandwich, actually. I didn’t love it. I’m not crazy for a lot of seafood. I don’t mind fish, like an oyster, a couple, you know? But not pounds of seafood. Yeah. Not really conditioned to it — I’m an inland man. But yeah, we went out to the pub, walked around Harvard, just relaxing really. Cuz it’s been a pretty full-on month — rehearsals and getting here straight into four shows. We’ve all got families at home and stuff. So it’s like, it’s been a whirlwind. Plus, because of all the families at home, everyone calls home and spends some family time, chatting to the kids and whatnot.
SR: Doing laundry. We’ve, over all the years, definitely learned to pace ourselves. In the early years, we’d have a day off it and it was like: activity day — we’re doing this! Now we’ve learned, even though it’s earlier on in the tour, we know that we’ve got the next years off and on tours. So, it’s just like pace yourself, have alone time.
MC: Yeah, absolutely. How do you like to spend your time between shows while on tour — I know you just alluded to maybe relaxing a bit.
DP: Yeah, everyone’s a bit different. Some people, depending on what town we’re in, there’s something they want to see or something they want to eat. And usually at least one person will be like, “I’m doing this today, if anyone wants to join” and then other people tag along or just do laundry and hang out. These days, we kind of pace ourselves. Early days we were running around, seeing everything we could.
MC: Okay, so this is kind of a cool full circle-moment for me because “Bloom” was the first song I ever learned how to finger pick on the guitar. And it’s been a lot of time since “Bloom.” How would you say your music has evolved since then — about like 13 years?
DP: Someone was saying to me the other day they felt like we’ve come full circle. Because when we originally formed, we were playing mostly acoustic instruments and fairly straight down the lines of folk. And so we have explored a lot out of our territories. Sam, specifically, as the main songwriter, has been influenced by a lot of different music as we all have, but his writing has been heavily influenced, over 12-13 years of being together, by different things. So that’s really come out in different albums we’ve released. I think maybe something like “twelvefour” would maybe be a key difference in our journey — people would say, like, ’80s inspired guitar pop. But now we’ve come back to, I guess, more roots and folk and blues. Yeah, and exploring a whole different set of inspiration, collectively.
MC: You transformed a building in Campbells Creek into a space for creating and practicing what became “At the Roadhouse,” which, what a cool way of making that happen. So I’d love to hear about your experience in this space.
SR: So Campbells Creek is an hour, hour-and-a-half out of Melbourne, where most of us live. And on the property, there’s an old analog recording studio. And I think that’s how we first found out about the place because we wanted the studio. But then there was this big beautiful building, kind of on the street front in front of the studio that was built in the almost late 1800s I think, and that town was kind of founded as a gold mining town. So it was a gold mining store for a while and was a shop and it was a church and it was an everything, you know, like a pub for a while — this old building. But now, it just kind of doesn’t do much. And so we were able to transform it. We wanted to create, like, an American-inspired-divey-Roadhouse bar kinda thing — this mythical Roadhouse. So we got in a really clever set designer, and just sourced a bunch of stuff that we felt like suited it from horseshoes to, you know, booth seating and all sorts of stuff. And yeah, put a little stage in there. And by day we would record the record which was still somewhat live — it was in a studio, but it was still somewhat live — whole band, eight of us in a room playing the songs together. But then by night, we just did this residency for the month, where we would play as the house band. It wasn’t really advertised much at all. So we just kind of let word of mouth spread. There was a free show happening and we would just play the record from start to finish — 16 songs. People would just come and get a drink and a bowl of peanuts and it was a small little place, but it was an amazing experience. There were a lot of ifs and buts leading up — like, what if no one comes? What happens if it doesn’t work? — but it just organically
happened and word spread around the town, more people started coming and it was an amazing experience.
MC: You guys started The Paper Kites around the time of your high school years if I’m correct?
SR: Little later. I mean, post high school. Yeah, I mean, the youngest in the group, Josh, was probably 20-21.
MC: Oh, okay. So I was gonna say, what instruments were you all playing in these early years? And have they evolved since then?
DP: I’ll tell you a story about the first couple of shows we played. That I can remember, that is. I’ve got a notorious, terrible memory. But one of the first shows I remember was at a festival in Queensland, and I was playing accordion, banjo and the lagerphone.
SR: Do you know what the lagerphone is? [laughs]
MC: No, I don’t!
DP: This is an Australian bush instrument. So, I’ll tell you about the lagerphone. It’s a big stick. Like, you find a big dead stick from a gum tree or you can use, like, a post or something as well, but it’s got to be able to fit in your hand. It’s generally taller than you and you put nails or screws
through the stick and either side — you sort of put bottle caps on the stick so it jingles like that if you shake it. But then, if you bang it on the ground especially in like a bush dance,
SR: or a wooden floor or something,
DP: the old like, like [stomps] barn floor when you hit a lagerphone on the ground. That’s really percussive and loud. It’s like, imagine a tambourine,
SR: on a stick,
DP: with bass.
SR: You whack it like a stick, right? [lagerphone impression]
DP: Yeah. So you can get that rhythm and rattled sound. Yeah, so I played the lagerphone one song [laughs]. So it’s pretty different these days.
SR: For quite a while we were like, “no electric instruments,” you know, just had a Bob Dylan moment.
MC: Okay, so who were your musical inspirations around this time, when you were kind of starting off with things?
SR: So we’re talking 2010: there was this big, unbeknownst to us when we didn’t kind of realize this necessarily, wave forming of folk music,
DP: new era of folk,
SR: yeah, new era of folk, it’s been around forever, but like that new era, and all of a sudden, like Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling and there was an Australian band called The Middle East, and all these bands, all of a sudden, were just like, roaring into popularity. And it was just by chance, kind of. I guess we had an interest in that, so we wanted to play that kind of stuff as well. There’s a few other Australian artists as well. So some of our songs do sound a little bit like early songs, even some of the unreleased ones do sound a bit like Mumford and Sons — some of the more stompers.
DP: Obviously, like, I remember we used to cover a Laura Marling song, but also obviously singer/songwriters like Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash like that. They’re definitely sort of childhood soaked in influences for us and they’ve always been, but I want to say what we maybe sounded more like, maybe newer influences at the time — were definitely like, Laura Marling and Mumford.
MC: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. How would you differentiate your sound at the studio versus on stage?
DP: Our sound in the studio has always been fairly vocal dominant. And I would say the way our records are produced have always been vocal heavy. I don’t mean that in a negative way. But we focus on vocal harmonies and melodies, essentially. Live, I think that’s still a feature, but it always feels more dynamic, I’d say, in a live show. Different instruments poke out more in a live setting than they would on a record.
MC: Yeah, absolutely. Do you have a preference for one over the other?
SR: Pretty different,
DP: yeah, it is different. I think I prefer playing live because there’s always a finality to each show. So when you’re done, you can’t go back and change it — it’s just done. And when you’re on tour, you just do it again the next night. And so, you change something a little bit, tweak
something here or there, you know, play something a little differently and you can kind of go unnoticed. In the studio, it’s still awesome because you’re creating something for the first time. Sometimes I find that the pressure’s a little more there, like you just have this infinite amount of notes you could play. What’s going to be my legacy now, and what’s going to be printed? And I can’t change that now. It’s like, it’s crazy. And inevitably, I always listen back to a record and think, I probably would have played that differently right there! But it’s locked in.
SR: That’s what a record is. It’s like a time capsule: that moment and then that’s it. It’s a blessing and a curse.
MC: Okay, I know you guys have to go to dinner, so I’m only gonna ask you one more question. What would you say inspires you most these days?
DP: Someone asked me this the other day, actually! Creatively, what inspires me the most is time on my own in the bush — in nature — my family, I have three kids. So me and my wife and my three kids, I think that there’s a lot of like, intensity in those relationships. And so that’s an inspiration, sometimes, in a tough way. Like inspiration is not always like a positive thing. That can be both. Yeah, and then just other people, relationships with other people. But one of those is different. Like one of them is just my own headspace and experience, especially in nature, like going on a bushwalk by myself, you know and everything. Just unpacks and unwinds and my mind slows down, so then I sort of want to get back to the studio to practice.
SR: Mine are probably different inspirations from different areas, definitely alone time. And usually in nature for me as well. It’s kind of something that can serve as a good reset. But otherwise, yeah, I can find inspiration and people just connecting with — whether it’s a close friend or a stranger — just connecting with people. I can just see something in someone that inspires me. Listening to music, finding a song or a record that reaches out and grabs me, I can be pretty inspired by that as well. And again, my family, my kids, my wife, the closest people around me. I find inspiration in a different way of perhaps, you know, seeing how I want to be or who I want to be or traits in them that I want to be like — it’s all over. It’s hard to kind of peg down a specific source of inspiration, I guess.
MC: Yeah, absolutely. So, that was it from me! I just wanted to turn it over to you guys and see if there’s anything else you’d like to include.
SR: I would say during sound check this evening, yeah, it was really lovely to be here. I don’t know how many times that we’ve played in Boston, but it must be seven to 10, seven, eight, nine, something like that. Probably. We’ve done Brighton Music Hall a number of times, we played Paradise, Somerville a few times. Anyway, to be in a beautiful theater tonight, yeah, it’s a great feeling. We’ve never sold this many tickets before in Boston. And it’s exciting to see that people
are still interested, and that there’s an audience still here that’s slowly growing and we’ve had some cracking times in Boston — great shows over the years. I’ve got some really, really fond memories of being here. Meeting really genuine people, eating some great food. We’ve watched some other bands here, you know, we’ve been to a Red Sox game — we’ve spent a lot of time in Boston and it’s just one of those home-away-from-home kind of places. It really is special for us to be here and exciting tonight to be playing for so many people in a beautiful room.
MC: Absolutely. Thank you so much, you guys. I really appreciate it. And good luck tonight, I am so excited!
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.