Interview: Paper Rival
Thu, 31 Jul 2008 07:35:16
Fascinated by foreign films and obsessed with Bill Hicks, Paper Rival frontman Jake Rolleston is a very interesting dude. He can go on for hours about his artistic inspirations, but there's one thing that truly drives his creativity: family. Paper Rival's debut full-length, Dialog, examines the concept of family through ethereal melodies and jagged, spacey guitars. Essentially, Jake's your classic, polite gentleman with a penchant for power chords. That's the balance he strikes in Paper Rival's songs, and it's quite intriguing. Furthering this intrigue, Jake talked to ARTISTdirect about songwriting, his favorite foreign films, Bill Hicks and much more.
How does your creative process usually begin?
Our process is similar to that of a singer/songwriter. Normally, a song starts on an acoustic guitar. We subscribe to the notion that if a song sounds good with just one acoustic guitar and vocals, then we can come together as a band and make it more creative.
The songs could definitely stand alone without the overdubs and other textures. The hooks are solid enough to carry them.
That's exactly how we want to feel about the songs. If somebody wants us to play a song acoustically, we can because that's how the song was written.
Would you say tracks like "Are We Brothers?," "The Family Ghost," and "Weak Sister" explore family relationships explicitly?
Yeah, with the exception of the lyrics that Patrick wrote, the entire record is lyrically about heritage and family—at least for me. It's really about how I relate to everyone in my life on a daily basis— in both good and bad relationships. I don't ask Patrick what his lyrics are about, because I don't want to know. I want to have my own meaning when I sing them live. For me, all of my lyrics are about family, living in the South, being a part of a big family and experiencing everything that happens as a result of that.
Do you have any siblings?
I have one real brother. I also have two stepsisters who I lived with forever. They're really young still, and I consider them my sisters. Then I have a stepbrother and another stepsister. So there are six of us.
“It comes easier when I can write about somebody that I know.”
You definitely have a few relationships to draw lyrical inspiration from.
I don't talk to a couple of my siblings very often, but the time that I do spend with them gives me a lot to write about. Now, I'm writing new songs, and I'm still going back to those relationships because that stuff means a lot to me. It comes easier when I can write about somebody that I know.
Would you say there's more of an emphasis on "family" in the South than there is in other parts of the country?
Yeah, you could look at it that way. When we go to the North and we meet Italian families in New York, the families have a certain bond. In the South, it's a bit comedic because you time your day around when you can sit down and eat lunch or dinner with your family. It can be really great, but it can be really bad. It can keep you shut in from things you want to be around, or it can make that bond a lot stronger and really teach you how to deal with people and be humble. It can also make you feel like you don't have to take the world on by yourself, because you have your family around.
There's something special about maintaining those traditions.
I think so too. There's something really nice about having a routine like that. No matter what you feel like, you can go home, and everyone's there for you. That's one of the better feelings that I can think of. I only really get that in the South. Maybe it's because that's where I'm from, but I still don't really get that feeling in places like Michigan or Iowa.
It seems like Southerners are much warmer and friendlier because they have that strong family unit as a foundation.
I agree with that for sure.
What's the story behind "Foreign Film Collection?"
That song was kind of about me. My explanation might be too literal, and I don't know what you've taken from the lyrics. However, I want you to keep whatever you got from them. That's yours! The meaning behind the song is really straightforward. I'm a huge movie buff, and I love independent films. I love foreign films, and when I'm talking to people, I always find myself chattering on about these great movies that no one else has seen. I just feel like an asshole though. In a sense, I feel like people think I'm just trying to show off because I've seen all of these movies. So the song is simply me feeling like an asshole [Laughs]. I think it's a good analogy for life. If you're someone who can brag about your foreign film collection, then you're an asshole. You're no better than anyone else because you've seen something that someone else hasn't.
What are some of your favorite foreign films?
There's this French movie that the director of Amelie made called A Very Long Engagement. It's incredible! I love Audrey Tautou. She's great. That movie rules for sure [Laughs]. I thought The Diving Bell and The Butterfly was incredible. The book was so good, and that movie just sent it over the top for me. I loved it. I was floored. It's crazy because you know the terrible thing that happens to the guy, and even though the movie plays backwards, you're still excited and blown away when you actually see what happens at the end. It definitely pulls on the heart strings for sure.
On your MySpace page, Bill Hicks has the top spot in your friend list. Has he particularly inspired you?
I've been the biggest Bill Hicks fan for about 10 or 11 years now. I can't say that I became a fan by just catching onto his comedy though. I became a fan because, when I was 12-years-old, I listened to Tool's Aenima a lot, and Bill Hicks had a bit at the end of the record. After hearing that, I wondered who he was. Then I went out and bought all of his records. Since then, I've been the hugest fan of that guy. I love his work. I don't think it's comedy. I think it's social satire, and it's brilliant. He's my favorite comedian ever.
Why do you think his comedy has resonated with so many musicians?
That's a good question. He's called a comedian, but he's not. He's like the rebel among comedians. He'll tell you that what he's about to say isn't supposed to be funny, but then you'll laugh, even if you know it's not meant to be funny. I think that just connects with people. I write a song, and I feel a certain way about it. Then an audience will take something completely different from it, and I'm okay with that. It's just how they take it. Maybe that has something to do with why Hicks has made such an impression on musicians. People connect, but it's not really what he meant by it when they connect to it as humor. Or maybe so many musicians love him because he's a badass, and he's smart [Laughs].
His material is really open to interpretation. Some people see him as just another comedian, while others view him as a modern prophet.
When you're trying to make it as a musician, you have a certain responsibility to avoid saying anything bad about anyone in the music business. Knowing that, when you listen to Bill Hicks, he just trashes Madonna, Debbie Gibson and all of the crappy pop acts from back in the day. Don't get me wrong. I do like Madonna. Hicks trashes Tiffany and New Kids on the Block, and he gives props to Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and bands like that. I think musicians love him because he was a huge music fan himself. He loved good music, and he could spot the fake musicians. He was a musician himself. He played guitar on his records. He was just a depressed, tortured guy who struggled and wrote music. I think he was the Kurt Cobain of comedy. No, he didn't kill himself literally. He smoked and drank himself to death though. He was an amazing guy. I could talk about Bill Hicks for days. I love hearing what Jay Leno, David Letterman and Ellen DeGeneres have to say about him, because they all love him too. He touches everybody, that's for sure.
What's the concept behind your video for "Bluebird?"
"Bluebird" is a strange song. We all definitely loved it. We had all of these different ideas for it. The song came around very strangely, and we thought of it more as an art piece. We got really creative on it, and we never figured it would be a song that we'd shoot a video for. The song's about a friend of mine who murdered his parents. The video is kind of cheeky, but the song is so serious. It's similar to what we talked about with Bill Hicks. In my opinion, the video is good because you don't have to feel bad about everything. The best way of dealing with something terrible might be to laugh. That's where the video goes. You can draw some comparisons when you see the characters. You can relate what they say to the actual, real story. The video's about a Big Foot character. The director was awesome, and we had a lot of fun.
Artists should strive to explore both dark and light equally.
Right, I think the best and most successful artists are the people who can reach both audiences. For instance, take an actor like Tom Hanks. He can do Toy Story and Forrest Gump, but then he can turn around and do Saving Private Ryan and Road to Perdition. He's arguably one of the most successful actors that ever lived. I think you've got to be able to hit both sides to have a chance. We're trying not to take ourselves too seriously, but we're trying to tackle issues that are important to us. We're trying to do it in different and creative ways, just like everybody else is.
Check out the video for "Bluebird" here!