Every once in a while a band comes along that simply makes you smile. With a joy of good song-writing, a classic sense of how to join the dots, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of great music Papernut Cambridge have hit upon a vivid daydream of an album with Love The Things Your Lover Loves. All swinging 60’s psychedelia built on a Britpop groove, the band are everything and none of these. To find out more Martyn Coppack meets up with Ian Button (previously of Thrashing Doves and Death In Vegas) to discuss all things Papernut…
Artrocker : Hi, how are you?
Ian Button : Alright thanks..glad you like the record and got in touch!
A : Tell me a bit about the band, what’s your history? That’s a mighty lineage to be coming from?!
IB :The actual name for the band goes back a really long way, before there was ever a real band. I had a dream I was outside a gig somewhere in America and there were two bands playing: Papernut Cambridge and Elvis Breakdown…I had no idea what they were like, the dream didn’t get that far, but I used to try and write all these weird dream phrases and memories down – this was about 1990 and I was in New York where we were recording the last (Thrashing) Doves album for Elektra. There’s some other great stuff on that notepad if only I could find it….
Cut to about 1996 and I decided to write a song about this imaginary band Papernut Cambridge…just a one off tune amongst songs I was writing for a project I had then (it was called The Anthony Anderson Project). Always alongside the major band stuff I was doing (T Doves and DIV) I’d be tinkering and writing/recording stuff on my own. There was lots of spare time in between the work. I made model aeroplanes a lot too. Musically I was quite prolific through the 90s – I had a couple of projects that had tiny releases…I was signed again to Herb Alpert & Jerry Moss’ new but ill fated label Almo…..and when the internet started I launched a little online label releasing free stuff with some mates, did a few gigs. There’s psychy acoustic tracks, a city by city fuzz pop album documenting Death In Vegas’ 1999 US tour, some electronic stuff…it’s all languishing in a drawer now…
It wasn’t until 2011 that I was asked to come up with a Christmas song for something Darren Hayman was putting together – I needed a name for the project so I decided to bring Papernut Cambridge to life – sort of. That was the beginning of what became the first album, and one of the catalysts for starting Gare Du Nord Records with Robert Rotifer and Ralegh Long, so we could release our three albums in 2013. The schtick for Papernut at the beginning was that we were somehow channelling the songs of this imaginary band…kind of a layer of unreality over it all. The template for the recording process was set then too – me starting the songs at home, sending tracks to a load of friends for them to add stuff, and the assembling and mixing it all as it came back.
And that was sort of it – it’s down to my friends who encouraged me to come up with more stuff for that first album, and then since we started it’s just rolled on from record to record, and here we are releasing the fourth one.
The lineage – well, yes, I’m kind of amazed myself sometimes, when I look back to my involvement in those two major, long term band projects across very different decades…one project where everything seemed so meticulously planned and calculated but didn’t really get to achieve what was expected, and the other that seemed to happen so naturally and easily, and became much more recognised and successful. I had great times in both – and learned a lot from both…and hung out with great mates who I’m still in touch with.
A : There’s a strong 60’s influence through new (and excellent!) album Love The Things Your Lover Loves, almost like some sort of missing link. Is this something you’re aware of when writing or is it just the way it is?
IB : I’m a child of the 60s and that’s when I heard and bought the first music I liked – it’s inevitable I suppose that it’s an influence on me. I don’t think it’s something I’ve suddenly taken on for this LP, or this band even…..I’m really still writing the same kind of songs as I’ve done for years…Thrashing Doves had a lot of 60s influences too…I played a lot of 60s flavoured guitar on DIV records. I love music from other decades, and I think we take bits from here and there too, but the roots are there, and they’re genuine I suppose…I do remember the 60s. I am conscious of it in terms of style or melody, or production or whatever – and yes, I try to be like that on purpose. I definitely think more has rubbed off on us after doing the covers LP we put out last year (Nutlets 1967-80). People have said they can hear it in this new album, that we’ve taken on a bit more Edison Lighthouse etc…..There’s lots of 70s in it too!
A : What about the cast of musicians, vocals seem to play an important part here. As does percussion yet nothing seems overdone?
IB : It’s great playing with a bunch of friends and collaborators on this – basically it’s friends who I’ve done work with, one way or another – maybe drumming, recording etc – and I’ve just called in the favours to get them to play stuff in my band. For this album the lineup has solidified. We recorded a lot of it together in a studio, which we hadn’t done before, and it’s great having more input from other people – to an extent I’ve got people playing instruments or parts they might not normally do on their own records – Darren for instance, constantly doesn’t think he should be the drummer – but some of the rhythms and fragmented or minimal beats he’s done are so untypical they are perfect – I’d rather have them than have me or someone else splashing away like normal. I think that’s integral to the sound and approach of this record. We use percussion a lot too – I love claps, cowbells….loose but interlocking to build up a good groove – I don’t mean funky, we’re not trying to be funky: the opposite in fact really. Like the way some of the drums and percussion are used on Lou Reed tracks – Vicious, Hangin Round, Charlie’s Girl.. the drums on the Arnold Corns version of Moonage Daydream….that’s where we’re looking!
The vocals, backing vocals and the way they interact are hugely important. I love double tracking, gang responses, overlapping parts. Having a biggish band with a mix of male/female voices is great.
A : What are the stories behind these songs. Delivered in time-honoured 3 minute fashion, there seems to be a sense of storytelling happening? I particularly like the run from Radio through to Them.
IB : Some have stories behind them, others are just built outwards from an idea or a word. Chartreuse was just BAM! the first time I tasted it, literally only last year, I just thought I’ve got to try and write a song dedicated to it…slightly funny, affectionate etc..and I had to do a bit of research to try and find some facts, history, references I could use. I think I’ve used a bit of poetic license in the timeline, I might be wrong about the 30 Years War …Haha..Sorry, if anyone spots anything. Them comes across as some eerie demon/ghost story I suppose, but it’s really about kids skateboarding down our road at 3am one night, off their nuts on laughing gas. Radio is a song about writing a song – this is literally how it happens for me a lot….waking up and trying to stitch together earworms into some kind of pop quilt!
A : Your music stands out from the current crop of psychedelic bands in that you owe more to a classic sound rather than one of experimentation. A sort of irony in a way considering the classic psych sound was built on experimentation. Are you more influenced by that sense of classic songwriting than the more out there experiences? How do you join these together?
IB : I’m definitely influenced by songwriting that isn’t considered psychedelic. Much straighter pop music, Motown, even stuff like schlager – and it was kind of a deliberate move not to be lumped in with new psych too much. The first album was maybe a bit more dreamy and lysergic, but I wanted to strip some of that away and make more direct songs with more direct production. The experimentation comes with how to put the fragments together – what combination of sounds is going to work for that hook? How can I make this section pull the song ahead without writing a new bit?
Freakouts don’t really grab me – people losing their minds – I might throw in a few seconds of something like that, but I like music to sound constructed and deliberate, that’s what’s interesting. I like the discipline in Neu or The Velvets. I think the solo in Television’s Marquee Moon is the ultimate in contained improvisation. See Emily Play, From The Underworld by The Herd, Circles by The Who – those were some of my earliest favourite tunes…they had atmosphere and imagery, they were sonically dazzling to me, but ultimately pop songs. I fact I believe that what everyone wants ultimately is a pop melody – even amid the most difficult, fucked up, couldn’t-care-less or contrary music that people love, when they put a nice tune in, some major chords, that’s what tips them over into genius. That’s why JAMC were so great early on. It’s also why I like Bieber’s Love Yourself. When Sleaford Mods put out something with major 7ths and a 60s girl group tune going on, they’ll win music hands down.
A : And on that note, do you ever feel you may just get regarded as a retro band? Can bands actually be retro anymore with the internet opening up so much music for consumption?
IB : Hmmm retro band? I don’t think we’ve left people in much doubt about that haha! As if our own songs weren’t proof enough, we hammered the point home with Nutlets last year. The thing is, I think we’re in a kind of glorious, golden bubble – we’re people of a certain age making the music we love, and want to make, for fun basically. We’re not chasing a be-all-and-end-all career – everybody involved works/does other things/ has their own band. We’re not trying to push any envelopes or be politically vital. Speaking for myself, I always say I am supremely qualified to deliver music like this because I remember it when it happened. I’m not a 20 year old discovering what his mum and dad were into, or getting it second/third hand via Britpop or whatever.
On the question of whether it’s even possible to be retro – I think it’s rather that it’s impossible not to be. The further away we get from 1956, or 66, or 76 or whenever you think modern music started, the more stuff there is flying around to be inspired by and there’s less chance something’s not been done before. It’s like the big bang. Things crash into each other. Kanye samples King Crimson and Section 25. Those three artists are now forever linked, which is incredible, but in a way, not. Wherever you go now you’re going to hit something familiar.
A : Where next for Papernut Cambridge? How does a band survive in this day and age? Can we look out for you at festivals or your own gigs?
IB : We’re not a hard gigging band – we pretty much just put on our own nights in London/Kent or play at friends’ events. We don’t get festival offers. I apply every year to the Cambridge Folk Festival just because of our name. They don’t reply.
We have another album recorded, and hopefully it will be out at the end of 2016 or thereabouts. This time everyone’s written their own song about being in Papernut Cambridge. We might call it Group Hug.
I think ultimately you survive a long as it’s fun and you’ve got some kind of means to make or release your music. If you get hung up with impossible ambitions, or don’t have the confidence in what you can do yourself, that’s when frustrations and disappointments kick in, and you feel like you’re reaching and failing all the time.
A : Anything you would like to add on the current state of music and tips for younger bands starting out?
IB : I was quite flippant about a question like this the other day – I said my advice was not to take any advice. I guess I don’t really mean that, but I’d feel very awkward giving career advice to a young band, simply because I know how flukey my own ‘career’ has been. It’s a cliché now to say it, but so much of what happened to me and the bands I played in couldn’t happen now. On the other hand, Papernut Cambridge (and me as a producer etc) are able to do stuff off our own bat that would have been impossible for my younger self. We have taken control of what we want to do, and we’re just doing it. So I guess my tips would be – be yourself. Do everything confidently. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Get several baskets. And not just eggs.
A : Thanks for taking time to answer these questions. Your album put a smile on my face which is all you can ask really