Paper Bird's Paul DeHaven: "The ballet changed everything. There's nothing we can't do."
Over the last six years Paper Bird (due tonight at the Fox Theatre in Boulder and tomorrow night at the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins) has become a Denver favorite for all ages and backgrounds. Since dropping its debut album, Anything Nameless and Joymaking, in 2007, the bandmembers have been on a ride that has taken them from busking on the streets of Breckenridge to performing at Red Rocks. In 2009 they were featured on NPR's All Things Considered and have since toured the country several times, opening up for acts like Neko Case and DeVotchKa.
After collaborating with Ballet Nouveau Colorado on a series of performances in 2011 -- resulting in the act's third full-length album, Carry On -- Paper Bird said goodbye to trombonist Tyler Archuletta and welcomed drummer Mark Anderson, previously of Papa Bear.
Adding percussion to delicate female harmonies and whimsical, folky instrumentation has undeniably altered the course of Paper Bird. We recently spoke with Paul DeHaven and newly added drummer Mark Anderson about songwriting, the ballet, and how to stay creative while making money
Westword: Paper Bird looks a lot different today than when you released your first album. How did these changes come about?
Mark Anderson: It's been pretty crazy. It's been a year since we did the ballet, which was the time that I joined the band. They had needed two drummers for the performance, so they asked me and Stelth Ulvang from Dovekins. I wasn't officially in the band at that point, but it was such a good fit that I continued on afterward.
So making music for the ballet necessitated drums?
Paul DeHaven: It did, but we didn't know that when we started writing. Once the material started coming together, we saw that it needed to be a bit more rocking in places -- more textures and more rhythmically diverse. To work with the dancers, it needed that. It wasn't that it failed without drums; it just worked a lot better with them.
MA: That's what was interesting about the ballet. When we first started writing, we noticed the sound was bigger, fuller. It seemed like before Paper Bird had somewhat of an identity of not having a drummer, and now when we do all of the old songs, they've totally changed. It's so different.
PD: It's opened up a lot of things for me. Before I was always playing the rhythm parts with the guitar, keeping time like a snare would. Having drums has freed us up to explore more.
Paper Bird is foremost known for the female harmonies. Does the drumming complement them?
MA: Definitely. The harmonies are what capture people's attention. The challenge is trying to build beautiful melodies that the vocalists add on to. But without percussion it was limited, because the instruments had to be the drive of the music. We've been reworking old material. Now that we have drums, we can expand the sound. And just like how Paul was saying that the drums have freed him up to play around with more instrumentation.
I think that the girls are doing the same. They will rework the vocals from old songs to be more rhythmic and not just melodic. They play off the rhythm with the succession of their voices; they do these weird scales where they're jumping between each other's voices -- like two guitars doing a solo back and forth. And then we can work off their ideas.
PD: And we can relax. Because we're not all worried about staying in time; now we have one guy that's making sure we're staying in time. And then the rest of us can be more intricate, more involved.
It seems that everyone in Paper Bird has a side project going. The two of you [with Jason Haas Hecker] have Eye and the Arrow, which just released an album. How does that project differ from Paper Bird?
Paul DeHaven of Paper Bird
PD: Well, I sing, which is new for me.
MA: Like Paper Bird, there are still vocal elements, but its all electric instruments. And it's much more rocking. It's kind of all over the place, but pretty melodic. When Paul brought us the songs, they were really soft, like Paper Bird, but as we started playing them, they evolved into much more rock songs. But also I think Paper Bird has been going that way, too.
And the old material, now with drums, has a lot more up to it. People who come to our shows who have been coming for a long time now say, "You sound so much different!" We've gotten a lot of pressure to record a live album of old material with drums. The arrangement is the same, but the energy, the feeling, is much different.
PD: A lot of the [Paper Bird] songs we've written in the past have required that ethereal element from the instrumentation -- and whenever we tried to rock, we couldn't. Now the drums have provided that muscle.
MA: I do think Paper Bird is becoming a lot less of a folk band. The new stuff we're writing is not folk. Personally I've never been a fan of folk music or Americana music -- I listen to it and am familiar with it. But I have more a punk influence, more harder sounds. So it's kind of a hilarious mash of influences.
PD: We're realizing our potential. The ballet changed everything. We're seeing that there's nothing we can't do.
MA: It feels like this is a new band.