Paper Lions is a pop rock band formed by four childhood friends from Belfast, Prince Edward Island. Brothers Rob and John MacPhee, their childhood neighbor Colin Buchanan, and high school friend David Cyrus MacDonald reflect on youth and friendship on their 2013 album, “My Friends.” They recount childhood stories with beautiful vocals and lyrics that are sentimental and bittersweet. We interviewed the band about their experience performing at the Olympics and Paralympics, the role of technology in music production, and the story behind the song “My Friend.” You can find out more about Paper Lions at their website, paperlions.com.
What prompted the name change from Chucky Danger Band to Paper Lions? What do each of those names mean to you?
When we first started, we were very young. I was still in High School and I think John was just 19. As we grew up and our sound developed, we felt we outgrew the name as well. Chucky Danger means many things to me. It reminds me of being young and blissfully naive. The thrill of getting to perform in front of people for the first time with your childhood friends. Paper Lions is what grew out of that. After playing hundreds of shows with those same people. Travelling together. Maturing as friends and band mates.
Who and what have been your most significant creative influences?
For me, the most significant influences have been bands that work really hard. Never rest on their laurels and understand how important their fans are. Groups like The Flaming Lips have never relented after so many years. Everything they present is an extension of their creativity. Smaller groups like The Octopus Project, which we toured with through the states last fall, have the same ethos. If you build it, they will come. Just don’t give them a reason to leave.
How have being based in Canada and your social identities influenced the music that you create?
Our sound isn’t as much shaped by our landscape as it is by our people. We take inspiration from the community we live in. The community of our childhood and the bands in the Canadian music community.
You recently (on Canada Day no less!) celebrated a decade of performing. Congrats! What have been some highlights of playing live?
There are a number of individual highlights. Playing in China. Travelling deep into the Canadian North. Opening for bands we really admire. But really the greatest accomplishment has been the fact that we’ve been able to do it all with each other. No mid-tour melt downs or line up changes. No personal animosity towards each other. Not many bands can stay together that long and still be friends.
What was it like performing at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics?
The Olympics exist on such a large scale, that it’s just impossible not to get swept up in the excitement. We loved being apart of that fever and would do it again in a second. Was extra special performing on our home turf and having a real sense of national pride.
Your style has been characterized has “indie rock.” What do you make of this designation generally and as applied to you?
Rock music that doesn’t get much radio play maybe? I’ve never really been able to fully understand the “indie rock” label. I think it meant something more specific years ago. I guess I more just think of a us as a Pop/Rock band.
In 2006, you used YouTube at a time when both that site and your band were in earlier stages. How do you see technology affecting music production and promotion?
It already has affected not just music, but society in such a drastic way, it would be very difficult to say where it will go from here. Promotionally, it has really given the power back to the artists. Production and distribution wise, it still has a way to go. I think there are companies that are making positive steps forward. Embracing technology and understanding how the next generation of music fans want to experience their favourite artists. Change is inevitable and it’s hard to say if the music industry will ever catch up. I will be very interested to see what happens to some of these young companies 5 years from now.
I am glad that you have regained control over your 2010 album, “Trophies.” That album seems to have a less upbeat sound than your most recent, “My Friends.” What do you make of the differences?
I think of the two albums as quite different in their lyrical content and over all sonics, but not necessarily as one being more or less upbeat. A lot of the songs on “Trophies” are party songs. Lyrics about being foolish in your early 20’s and music that really charges forward. “My Friends” is a little more reflective. It deals with our childhood together and has a more bitter/sweet melancholic feel. They are both reflections of where we were at that time in our lives.
I would love for Arctic Monkeys to cover your song, “Don’t Touch that Dial” though I enjoy how you do the song as well. Do you ever write songs with other artists in mind? If you had to cover any song, what would be?
We don’t ever think about selling songs to other artist, but certainly would not shy away if the opportunity arose. I love Arctic Monkeys too and think it would be rad if they cover ‘Dial’. If you know how to make that happen, please let me know.
One of my favorite songs by you is “My Friend” off your most recent album. What is the story behind that song?
The verses of that song outline two different stories from our childhood. The first talks about playing in John and Rob’s barn loft as kids. Playing ball hockey and making hay forts. Our friend Dacry fell through the barn hatch and broke his arm. The second decribes us making home movies as kids. Rob would always direct and John and I would play multiple characters (Eddie Murphy style). We only ever had 1 or two blank tapes, so we would just record over what we spent days creating. Sadly, none of the movies exist.
How do you describe the difference between a friend and an acquaintance?
You know who your friends are. An acquaintance is someone on your Facebook you want to delete but can’t.
I enjoy the video for “Pull Me In.” It feels very organic and the skating scenes fit well with the melody of the song. What was the making of that like?
We shot that on one of the hottest days in August last summer. Was pretty tough to get people to find their skates, hats and mitts and come out on such a beautiful day but it turned out great in the end. Was fun to channel the charm of winter in a completely different season.
On what projects are you working currently?
We are currently in the studio writing for our next record.
What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?
-Sem and Strike