The release of fourth record Joy marks a fresh change in direction for Welsh duo Paper Aeroplanes. Still retaining a fragile sense of melancholy and emotion that long-term fans will be more than accustomed to, the new album is also imbued with a lighter, dare I say it, more joyful, playful side at times. AMBY caught up with Sarah Howells to discuss the new record, touring in Texas, and a mutual love of Kylie.
AMBY: Hello guys and thank you for talking to A Music Blog, Yea? this afternoon. Including your trip to Texas, you seem to have been on tour for quite a while now, so how’s it all going? What have been the highlights so far?
Sarah Howells: Austin was definitely a highlight. It was such a good experience and we played loads of shows during the week that we were there. Lots of different audiences and venues. The food is amazing and the atmosphere is just not like anything we’ve experienced so far. There’s so much on and we just stumbled into a room in a convention centre and Laura Marling was doing her last song, which was like “oh, okay!”
AMBY: Spending so much time away from home must be hard. What do you miss and what makes touring fun? All the phone interviews?
SH: At the moment we’re on tour with the full band and that’s REALLY fun. It’s a really good atmosphere and a real team spirit in the van but yeah, I miss my ‘other half’ and you know, it’s nice to have all your own stuff around you and being at home for a little bit, but it’s worth it.
AMBY: Austin must have been amazing. What’s it been like playing to American audiences?
SH: Really good. It’s not all American people there at such an international event. We had a few fans that had made it to the festival and that really wanted to see us, so it’s nice to finally go all that way and get to play to those people.
AMBY: Austin seems to be such a melting pot of amazing music. Did you manage to make time to see anyone special whilst you were out there?
SH: To be honest, we didn’t have a long list of people we wanted to see because we had so many shows so we didn’t think we’d be able to fit it all in, so in the end we just went where people were taking us and where people suggested in the few hours we had spare. We played a lot of our own shows in the British Music Embassy and we saw Kate Tempest and Jack Garratt in there and they were both phenomenal.
AMBY: Paper Aeroplanes are half a decade old! Forgive me for quoting from Wikipedia but five years ago your first album was described as “west coast, easy-riding, folkish indie with a pop sensibility”. The new album ‘Joy’ arrived in April. How would you describe it?
SH: Oh, I would try not to describe it! Err, I would say it’s dreamy, folky, electro-pop?
AMBY: I’m loving the subtle shift in direction on the album. How have fans responded to the new record.
SH: It’s been really good actually, yeah. It’s hard to know when you change your sound a little bit whether people will respond positively or not but it seems like people are loving it and a lot of people are saying it’s our best yet. I’m sure there’s other people who prefer the more acoustic stuff.
AMBY: It still has that element but it’s moved on from the last album and you wouldn’t expect to just do the same thing over and over again.
SH: Yeah, exactly. I think it’s got more variety. It’s got a bit of everything in there, rather than just the folky element.
AMBY: When the band formed did you set out to create the sounds of a particular genre, or is the process more organic than that?
SH: It’s definitely more organic than that. I was playing in a rock band before and Richard was playing in that band with me for a little while and that was the reason we started working together… a love of acoustic music… we were listening to The Frames and Gemma Hayes and Damien Rice… a lot of Irish people actually, and at the time I definitely knew I wanted to move away from the rockier stuff I was playing.
AMBY: Your producer Mason Neely has worked with some notable artists including one of my favourites, Sufjan Stevens. How did Mason influence the final cut of Joy?
SH: He had a great deal to do with it. That was the reason we wanted to work with him. He was a true producer that gets really involved and produces! Some of the songs we really let go of and he had a huge amount to do with them. I think people think that it’s cheating to have someone like that produce in that way, but because this was our fourth one and we’d done so much of it ourselves up to now it felt like the correct thing to do so it was great… a really good collaboration. He’s a really good string arranger so that’s how he’s worked with such great names. He plays the drums and a lot of the keys on the whole album actually as well.
AMBY: If ‘Joy’ could only be played in one place in the world, where would that be?
SH: That’s really hard! It depends on the song because they’re all from different places but on top of a mountain. On top of the Pwllheli mountains!
AMBY: You’ve had your music appear on a few soundtracks and TV shows. Were you happy with the way the songs were used?
SH: So far we really have been actually. We’ve been on the ‘No Smoking’ advert and none of us smoke and we’ve had some really good placements in a few dramas. I think that’s where the kind of emotional stuff that we do really works well.
AMBY: It was an interesting choice to have it [Circus] on the Champion’s League final but it actually worked really well.
SH: Yeah! Yeah, the lyrics aren’t actually that suitable but they took away a lot of the singing and I think as a musical piece it was really good because it’s quite dramatic. We were really excited… we were doing a gig somewhere when we heard that and we got loads of tweets and it was good fun. And it was all Gareth Bale.
AMBY: Of course, it kept the Welsh connection… What were the first records you really remember obsessing over and can you see an imprint of this somewhere in your own material?
SH: Yeah, I think so…Tori Amos was my first total obsession and before that I had my pop favourites. When I was about eight I was a massive Kylie fan!
AMBY: I think everyone is aren’t they!
SH: Yeah! But Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, loads of female singer-songwriters which is where the diversity comes from because even though they’re all female singer-songwriters, the production is always very different and they weren’t afraid to do what they wanted to do. And then Radiohead was a massive obsession of mine and Jeff Buckley, who has really lasted the test of time… and Bjork as well.
AMBY: Which song that you’ve written are you most proud of and why?
SH: It sort of changes just like your favourite song by anyone else would change, but I was playing ‘Circus’ last night and I think that is definitely one that means a lot to me and that I’m proud of.
AMBY: What’s in store for Paper Aeroplanes over the next twelve months?
SH: We’ve got a few festivals and there is also a rumour that we’re going to go to Canada for North by North East. It’s not confirmed yet but hopefully it’s going to happen, so you can write that there’s a hint. We’re definitely working towards getting the funding and it’s looking very possible that we’ll be in Toronto and we’ve just signed to a Canadian booking agent called Pacquin Artists so I think this year will see us heading to Canada!
AMBY: Thank you for talking to AMBY this afternoon and good luck with the rest of the tour. I’m really looking forward to the show on Monday. Last time it was just you and Richard…
SH: Oh, you’re going to love it. I think you’re going to like it if you haven’t seen us with the full band before. It’s really different. People we’ve spoken to have been saying it’s better than ever so hopefully it is and it will be tomorrow!
Thank you Paper Aeroplanes, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Iain Fox | @iainafoxphoto