I recognize the five note riff that opens "Electric Indigo" instantly. Hugging my knees to my chest on the concrete steps outside Underground Arts, I hum along as The Paper Kites
sound check their guitars, playing the riff over and over again.
Guitar is central to The Paper Kites' music, from the entrancingly beautiful arpeggios of "Bloom" to the more recent 80's influenced electric guitar melodies sprinkled throughout twelvefour.
Sam Bentley, lead singer and guitarist, is joined by Dave Powys on guitar and vocalist/keyboardist Christina Lacy also plays guitar on some songs. It seems fitting that the band is 3/5 guitarists, fleshed out by Sam Rasmussen on bass and Josh Bentley on drums.
As the sound check wraps up, I head around the back of the stage to meet up with the two Sams for a quick interview. Sam Bentley introduces himself as just "Sam," and Sam Rasmussen, who goes by Ras, is finishing up a text to his sister (I privately wonder how to get my own brothers to text me back). We check a few rooms backstage - all full - and settle on a comfortably worn pink couch outside the green rooms. I start out with some basic questions - they don't have a set genre, but they liked it once when they were called "dreamy indie pop" and "indie folk-inspired guitar pop" on a poster. It's a mouthful, and Bentley has come up with a shorter, catchier characterization for their new sound: "laties" (pronounced like "ladies" but with a "t"). "It's like late-night eighties - I'm coining that term right now. We're a laties band currently. We love so much different music it's hard to pin down our genre to one thing, but I hope our term 'laties' takes off!"
Although "laties" might never take off the way Sam hopes, the word captures twelvefour
perfectly. The entire album was written between the hours of 12:00 AM and 4:00 AM.
"I was looking for an idea for the second album because people always talk about the second album curse. We didn't have any expectations on what our second album had to be, but I wanted to challenge myself as a writer. I had heard of this concept, from some screenwriters, who talked about the best time to be writing being between 12:00 AM and 4:00 AM, so I decided to try it. I stuck to those times for two months or so, slowly reversing my sleep patterns. Everything ended up being based around the twelvefour
concept - the album was, and then the videos were, and the sound as well. It works well for listening between those hours too, because that's how it was written."
The accompanying music videos for twelvefour
are beautiful, whimsical fantasies to dream of, awash in blues and reds. The video for "Electric Indigo" features a club called "Dance or Go," where security patrols the pulsing crowd for anyone who won't dance, offering the self-explanatory ultimatum: you dance, or you go. "Revelator Eyes" follows a couple on a date in the Jam Bar, where records are available to be played by bar-goers and a Guitar Hero inspired arcade machine offers a real electric guitar to anyone who wants to play. The last video in the trilogy, "Renegade," follows a boy biking with a sleek black inner-tube tied to his back through clouds of sapphire mist to reach a poolside cinema. "We loved the idea of creating these fictional bars and clubs and stuff that didn't exist - late night haunts that people would go to. I would love to go to places like these. Hopefully someone gets inspired and creates one of these places," Sam muses. I happily volunteer on the condition that someone else fronts the money.
If you haven't gotten enough of The Paper Kites' whimsical visual storytelling after digesting the Midnight Trilogy videos, keep an eye out for another video to be released soon. "It isn't finished yet, but the story behind the upcoming video is we did a tour in Australia called The Midnight Tour
a couple of months ago. We did something really different, we played the shows and we had these four huge windows, kind of like an apartment building, and during the whole show there were stories playing out in these windows. It was like the audience was looking across the street into other people's windows. People were arguing in the windows, there was an artist, a dancer, and things like that. When the show finished, we wanted to do something else with the footage, so were cutting this new video from that so people can get an insight into what the show was like. It's really cool."
After the interview, I grab a couple of quick photos of the band in their dressing room. Salsa and a variety of chips are strewn across the coffee table, and I have to step backward into the bathroom to get a wide enough shot to include all five of them.
"You're going to get all our half-eaten food in the shot," laughs Christina.
"What if the bathroom door just closes on you?" someone else shouts as I back fully into the bathroom. Everyone laughs, and I grab a few shots of the band before leaving them to grab food before the show.
A few hours later, and they're back on the main stage at Underground Arts. First up is "Revelator Eyes," and Sam Bentley's gentle voice glides over a soft drum fill before being joined by Christina Lacy's lush harmonies. "Renegade" follows, then "A Maker of My Time" from the Young North
EP - the first song not off of twelvefour,
and a nice bridge between The Paper Kites' older folkier sound and the newer "laties" feel.
Later comes the magical moment of the show.
"Can we get the lights out please? Lets see how quiet we can get this place," Sam instructs. The lights are turned off, the band is lit only by the soft glow of the bar, and the audience hushes each other until the venue is silent except for the occasional pop of a beer can being opened. Sam begins to fingerpick "Tenenbaum," the sound of alternating bass notes strummed on guitar echoing in the dark quietness. When the song finishes, whispers of "Bloom" float on the silence. Sam obliges, and no one says a word as he launches into the song solo. The second verse begins and the bass drum, vocal harmonies, and gentle thud of the bass drum blossom to fill the last vestiges of the quiet.
The Paper Kites breeze through the rest of their set list, the audience still riding on the high of hearing "Bloom" in the darkness. They cover Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," refreshed by female vocals (Lacy's), pure and perfect, sweetening the rockabilly hit.
For their encore, they huddle around a mic for an a cappella version of "St. Clarity." Their voices blend together, light, soft, and gently blurred as if by drops of water on a watercolor canvas. It's hard to separate any one voice from of the mix. Homemade percussion - snaps and stomps- accent the harmonized "oohs" and "aahs."
A girl behind me begs for "Featherstone," a favorite off the Woodland
EP. She's been singing along to every song.
"Please play 'Featherstone!' Please, please."
Sam smiles knowingly as Christina and Dave begin the low A strum that starts "Featherstone." The crowd seems to absorb and reflect the girl's excitement as energy hangs like electricity in the air. The song finishes with a definitive drum hit and the lights fade to black. For a second, I'm transported by the darkness back to "Bloom," but now the venue is far from quiet. Underground Arts probably won't experience a moment that peaceful until past 4:00 AM, when the last drinkers have cleared from the bar, when the band has packed up their amps and extension chords and gone back on the road, when the venues employees have finally punched out, when the magical hours of twelvefour
finally come to a reluctant end.