The Australian folk giants are back with their fifth studio album Roses! Ahead of the release, COLLiDE chatted with the group about their breakout success more than a decade ago, their developing sound, and the collaborative direction they’re taking on the new record!
First things first: it’s been a strange year. Did you finish Roses pre-pandemic, or were you still working on it when COVID hit the world? How was your process impacted?
It was a strange year, certainly like nothing the music industry (or anyone) could have seen coming. We were lucky that we had just finished a 12-month tour of our last album in London and had come back home to Australia in December. Still, we came home to really intense bushfires through the summer, and then the pandemic happened almost immediately after that. It was just a bad year. I certainly don’t want to play it down because it was hard for a lot of people. I’m careful not to try and paint it like we triumphed over a hard year and made an album – while I salute anyone that managed to get an album out last year – at the time, I honestly just had no stomach for promoting anything we were doing. It just felt a little self-serving and insignificant with everything that was going on – we certainly had conversations about what we were doing and why – as I think maybe a lot of people had that same conversation last year. Having said that, we also noticed that people were streaming our music more than ever. We were getting messages of ‘thanks for getting me through this’ and such – just little reminders that while it doesn’t always feel significant or important to us, music and art are a great comfort to people and always has been. If anything, the realization that while our work isn’t considered ‘essential,’ it’s most certainly precious to people – just as we have artists that we hold close in the same way. So I suppose that there’s very little that can stop people from expressing and creating even through tough times, so it felt good and right to be making the album. The idea to do an album of duets was decided long before COVID hit. So, in our minds, we were going to be working on it anyway, we’d already started on it and had recorded the first song with Lucy Rose (UK) in Brighton while we were on tour there in December.
In many ways, the fact that a lot of countries were locked down and people were stuck in their homes made it easier, artists had a lot more time, and everyone was eager to be working on something. Melbourne’s lockdown at the beginning of the year wasn’t as hard-lined or restricted as the infamous second wave lockdown, so we still were able to get all the music recorded early in the year. Nadia Reid (NZ) even managed to fly over and record her part and get back home just before New Zealand closed their borders. We would try and keep it only two people working in the studio and just record our parts when we were needed. I know that Rosie Carney (UK) & Aoife O’Donovan (US) were in pretty hard lockdowns when they had recorded their parts. Still, a lot of artists just improvised – no one could get to a studio because they were all closed, so most people just recorded from home. I think Aoife had one of her engineer friends run the session from his home; she recorded it in her closet at her home – and they were both in different states. I think the advances in home recording and that most artists have a home recording rig set up meant that something that would usually be tricky to do, especially during a lockdown, was really easy. Everyone just found a way to do it and got it done. It was very admirable.
The singles off Roses retain the hazy, dreamlike energy of On the Corner Where You Live, but also seem to harken back to the more stripped-down sound of your earlier work. Where does this album fall within the Paper Kites canon? What should fans look forward to?
I’m not sure what our canon is, but many of these songs were written with the vocalists in mind. Every one of these artists was picked by the band because their voices are something special, and we’ve tried to present that as best we can. So while we wrote the songs and recorded all the music – we are very much drawing off the vibe and talent of the singers we’ve chosen to feature – to me, they’re a very beautiful and moving collection of songs. I think everyone would be able to find a song that they can connect with.
Notably, each of the album’s ten songs sports a featured vocalist. You’ve even called it an “album of duets.” What inspired this collaborative direction?
I think that the people that know our brand and know our music would know that we love to anchor an album around an idea or concept – each one feels a certain way, has its own colors, stories – we’ve tried to be intentional about setting it up, so we don’t feel restricted by expectations or limited to a certain sound. So this idea for ‘Roses’ was just a natural progression of us wanting to do something new and something we hadn’t done before. The idea was either to do a whole album collaborating with just one artist or an album of duets with various artists – which we ended up going with because there were too many great singers we wanted to work with. I also wanted to challenge the idea of the ‘duet’ – I think it’s been a bit tarnished over the years, and a lot of people think ‘cheesy’ when they hear the word ‘duet’. I wanted to try a bit of a darker and softer approach to the idea of the duet, really trying to write the songs with those voices in mind and what I think would work for them.
The featured artists hail from countries all around the globe. Logistically, how did you manage that? Were the songs recorded in one studio or multiple?
Yeah, we made a point to try and feature artists from all around the world. We have singers from Sweden, Portugal, Ireland, England, the USA, Australia, New Zealand. As I spoke about before, almost everyone had a home recording set up, and they were able to record from home without having to go to a studio. We did have a few singers that lived in Melbourne (Ainslie Wills & Gena Rose Bruce) come and record in the studio, but for the most part, everything was done from the artists’ homes. I know Amanda Bergman (SE) lives on an old farm in Dalarna in Sweden, and they have a studio out there that they were able to use. We managed to get “For All You Give” with Lucy Rose (UK) recorded at her producer’s studio in Brighton while we were on tour there. Still, I think one of the most enjoyable parts of this album was the different ways in which all the artists managed to get their songs recorded.
The video accompanying your latest single, “Climb On Your Tears,” captures a profound sense of isolation — each shot is a different individual, alone, leaning against a wall while lost in thought. Would you consider it an allegory of our year spent in public health hibernation? Or is it tapping into a broader, less time-specific loneliness?
I remember speaking to the band about all the music videos for this album and about not wanting to promote or push anything from this record; it just felt like a bit of a ‘read the room’ or ‘read the world’ type of scenario. But I said if we do anything, I don’t want it to be asking for people’s attention, I don’t want to be pushing anything. If we do videos, they should be very simple, something that may take people’s minds away for a few minutes, but they should be structureless and have no storylines, just totally simple. I think the first video we did was for ‘For All You Give’ – and it was just a camera moving around our camelia tree at night, ‘By My Side’ was just a shadow walking on the beach, ‘Without Your Love’ was a car driving – just videos that people can watch and not have to think about anything, just listen to the song if they choose to – although I’ve found these ‘anti-videos’ to be quite rich and lovely. So the brief I gave to Drew Wilson, our director for ‘Climb On Your Tears’ was just a video of people sitting still in their homes. Still, I think people resonated with it because it felt like that year had felt for a lot of people – there was absolutely no story, really nothing happening at all – but everyone seemed to connect and understand it – this unspoken thing that bonds us and has been universally felt. It was a lot more poignant than I think we intended or realized it would be.
Somehow, it’s been a decade since the release of your breakout single “Bloom.” What’s changed for The Paper Kites since then? What’s stayed the same?
It’s been a long time now! Well, we’re all a bit older, maybe a little more weather-beaten, I hear the innocence in Bloom, and I very much hear the last decade in a song like “Take Me Home” (I don’t think that’s been released yet?). We’re all in very different stages of our lives then we were back then; I think you’d be worried if you weren’t after a decade. I know we all love and appreciate where that song has taken us, and it’s been a gateway to our music for a lot of people. I certainly don’t think it’s the best song I’ve ever written, and my definition these days as to what makes a good song is perhaps different to back then – but I think that from the very first song, it’s been about trying to write good songs, nothing more. We’re all still very close and have been able to do many things we never expected we’d be able to do over the last decade, and I think most of all, we’re very thankful for the way things have gone for us. I remember thinking on our last tour of the US that we were standing on stages that I’d always dreamed of playing – it was really special for all of us. Our fans are wonderful. I’m not always sure what kind of band you’d call us, but they certainly know, and they’re very passionate about the music, and it’s a wonderful thing to be connected in that way.
We’re looking forward to the day when we can finally attend another TPK concert in person. Until then, are there any virtual performances on the docket? A digital Roses tour, so to speak?
Me too. I think everyone feels that we took live music totally for granted – what a privilege it actually is to gather with other people and hear it and see it and feel it. I miss it greatly; it feels like a large part of me is missing, and I hope that it can return to us somewhere close to what it was. I don’t think that we’ll be doing any virtual performances any time soon – again, I’m glad for those people than can do it well – but to me, live music is such a sacred thing and nothing compares to being there experiencing it together. I’m holding out for that. In the meantime, we’ll just keep putting out music.
Check out Roses below!