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  • Interview: Paper Tongues

    Thu, 08 Apr 2010 12:59:42

    Interview: Paper Tongues - Paper Tongues' Aswan North and Devin Forbes chat with ARTISTdirect.com editor and <i>Dolor</i> author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about their debut album, one particular poem, changing Keira Knightley's destiny and more

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    The most memorable revolutions usually start with a riff instead of a rifle.

    Paper Tongues have all riffs raised towards setting off a true musical coup d'état.

    The seven-piece seamlessly blends a sly funk stomp with flourishes of warm electronica. Above the funky foundation, a distorted six-string snap and crackle often gives way to soulful vocals. Paper Tongues' self-titled debut [Available Now via A&M/Octone] is loaded to the brim with unconventional and unforgettable anthems that somehow bridge the gap between Faith No More, Sly and the Family Stone and Bob Marley—all the while sounding distinctly fresh, fiery and fun. That said, Paper Tongues are The Red Hot Chili Peppers for the iPod age. "Ride to California" and "Trinity" clearly illuminate that.

    Join their revolution now before they're the biggest band in the world, which with any luck, will be very soon. This is the most refreshing and unique debut of 2010…

    Paper Tongues vocalist Aswan North and guitarist Devin Forbes spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about creating this enigmatic sound, poetry and spreading a little hope to a world that really needs it.

    What do these songs mean to you?

    Aswan North: One of the great things about playing shows night after night on a record that's so important is we've come to realize that we never get bored of the music. That's the first thing that happens. The music itself moves us. Let's leave out the lyrics and the melodies. There's something that's floating in the music that we look for in other bands that we love. We have a lot of different taste buds, but that's the first thing. How are we going to get on stage night after night if we really don't enjoy the music? We brought the songs to that place, and we're glad that we wrote the album the way we did. We tried to follow in the footsteps of Bob Marley and the Wailers when they were living in Jamaica. There were all of these riots going on and there was all of this revolutionary crap happening that needed to happen and yet, at the same time, they weren't taking sides. They weren't doing something that people weren't already doing. They were just joining the cause with the music and saying, "We're here to help. Why can't you politicians get along? We don't know politics, but why don't we just sing 'One Love?'" You know what I mean? That's where we wanted to go with this record. When there's so much hurting and so much sadness, the record really means hope for us.

    Would you say anything goes in a Paper Tongues song?

    Devin Forbes: Yeah, that's always the case. To look into one of our record sessions, you've got all seven of us in the studio waiting to do something. At first, we butted heads a lot because there were seven of us in there. So we made a rule—when someone's recording something, you don't stop him and tell him whether you like it or not while he's doing it. You let him do it and let him explore whatever it is he's trying to voice out of that instrument. In doing that, we've come up with some great sounds and stuff we never would've gotten to otherwise. All seven members have put a piece of themselves into the music, and that's been huge in making the record very eclectic.

    You channel soul more than anything else. There's true feeling in every lyric and moment.

    Aswan North: Right on, man! We named one of our songs "Soul," just trying to get to that point. We're trying to get it out.

    Devin Forbes: The first line is "We'll touch your soul."

    Aswan North: We're trying to convince ourselves that we can do that for people. Hopefully, they'll sing that because you're supposed to touch one another.

    The world needs that. It's got to come from the artists; that's where real change always starts.

    Aswan North: Culture, yes…

    It's all about communication. All of the instruments speak to each other and then the music speaks to the world.

    Devin Forbes: It's weird how it all comes together. You look at it and say, "How in the world can you have a seven-member band? What band has two keyboard players?" It doesn't make sense [Laughs]. People don't know what to think of it first, but we've tried to be sponges and we've learned so much from all of these different producers we've worked with. This is our first album and we're still learning how to really step around each other musically.

    Aswan North: Making the record, we realized, "If we're going to try to record that, we're going to play that. If we can play that and record that in the studio, we can play it live." That's why we went the route of a Slipknot, Linkin Park, Wilco or The Roots with a bigger band. We bring every instrument on stage; we don't leave anything at home. We play it on stage, and it comes together in this crazy way.

    The lyrics are really poetic. Do you tend to write a lot of poetry outside of your lyrics?

    Aswan North: That's funny…I've written only one poem in my life. Growing up, I had to listen to country music, and I'm grateful now. As a songwriter, I didn't know what was happening to me. My parents only listened to country music—Merle Haggard, Lee Greenwood, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton were doing a duet at that time and Reba McIntyre came out in the '80s. From the age of two to nine, you never got in our car and heard anything but country. If we're home on a weekend night, we were watching Hee Haw and The Grand Ole Opry. I'm just being real [Laughs]. One day, my neighbor plays me Kool and the Gang. They were way out-dated, but I was listening to them like they were brand new. I flipped out [Laughs]. I got a lot into hip hop and I went as deep as you could go. I started writing tons and tons of raps. I don't think I've ever mentioned this in an interview, but I wrote so many raps! In tenth grade, I took typing class, and I promise you I came out being able to type faster than anybody there, but I did not pass. I typed all my raps! I'd write rhymes at home at night, and I'd type them because I wanted them to look so pretty. I'd put them in a nice order. It was nothing but hip hop though! I can type so quickly to this day [Laughs]. I definitely did write a lot, and I was writing from a street perspective. I ended up getting in a lot of trouble and doing some knucklehead crap. I was being a wannabe. Normally what you want to be is what you become. It wasn't bad for me to be a wannabe at the end, the bad part was I became what I wanted to be which was horrible—which wasn't really me. In that, I learned a lot of street lifestyle and street cred in the sense of being an unknown rapper. When I got my head straight and decided to be Aswan again, it came out in my music and lyrics.

    If this album were a movie what would it be?

    Devin Forbes: I can almost guarantee that eight of ten songs on the album were inspired by movies. Aswan is so funny; he relates everything to movies. Every single thing he says is an analogy based on the movie he's most recently watched.

    Aswan North: [Laughs] I love movies. Atonement would be a great movie for this record. There's no doubt that I don't want this record to come out in the situation that Keira Knightley's character came out in. I want her to get that soldier back home, safe and sound, and make that romance! That's what we want for the Paper Tongues record. However, I think that would best describe the waves, the ocean, the war, the fight, the romance, the dance, the wooing, the dinners, the dressing and all of that stuff. This record has a little bit of all that in it.

    What do you want kids to take away from all this?

    Aswan North: Hope…that's what we really desire because that's what we needed to do it. My car got repo-ed about two months ago. I've still got stuff to write about it. We're out singing our music. At the end of the day, if you listen to the record and walk away with hope, we feel we've done our job because, once again, that's what Bob Marley did for me. I could listen to any Bob Marley record and walk away with hope. Each song can lift me. I can listen to a U2 record and walk away feeling hope. There's some hope on the new Black Eyed Peas record. We can dance all night in the nightclub to it, but it's got something more. We're trying to get hope ourselves so why not give some of it away? If you give something away, supposedly you can get it back.

    —Rick Florino

    What do you think of the Paper Tongues?

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