Interview: Paper Lions

Paper Lions (Publicity Photo)

Paper Lions (Publicity Photo)

Erika from Rockin’ The ‘Burbs recently chatted with singer and guitarist John MacPhee of the Canadian indie rock band Paper Lions. Paper Lions are currently in the middle of a short North American tour and will be making a stop at the North Star Bar in Philly next Tuesday, June 18th. Tickets for the show are currently still available and can be purchased here. See all of their upcoming tour dates here.

Hailing originally from Belfast, PEI (FYI, that’s in Canada), Paper Lions consists of brothers John and Rob MacPhee, as well as longtime pals Colin Buchanan and David Cyrus MacDonald. They’re set to release their sophomore LP (titled My Friends) later this summer. According to John, My Friends was largely inspired by shared memories of adolescence and nostalgia. For example, the track “Philadelphia” is about John and Rob’s first family vacation to the US. See the video below of Paper Lions performing “Philadelphia” and read the full interview to learn more about that memorable trip to Philly.

RTB: Your new album My Friends comes out on August 20th. How was the recording process?
JM: Well, we went to Vancouver about a year ago and recorded the bulk of the record out there with producer Howard Redekopp. When the offer came to work with Howard we were really excited. He has worked with some great bands like The New Pornographers, Tegan and Sara – bands that we’re big fans of. It was a really awesome process working with him.

RTB: When it comes to writing lyrics, is it typically a full band process or does one person handle more?
JM: It’s really a combination. I’m not sure if we really have a set way. The bulk of the lyrics would be written by Colin, Rob, and myself. I would say typically what has happened is one of us will come up with a line or an idea or a theme and that would be presented to the three of us and we’ll kinda hash it out. And David will sometimes chip in a line as well. It’s definitely quite collaborative.

For My Friends, we wanted to dig a little deeper lyrically. We all grew up together. We started by recalling old memories together, it was really quite a fun experience. After sharing stories we realized there was a lot of material and potential for song lyrics in these stories. Most, if not all, songs are actually based on shared childhood memories. We sorta called it a “lyric field trip” – going through memorable moments and nostalgic locations from our childhood. We used that as the starting point to write the lyrics for the songs.

RTB: Who are your biggest musical influences?
JM: We’re definitely influenced by a lot of what we hear, whether we like it or not. We’re lovers of pop music. Myself, I’m a big fan of ’60s pop. I love strong melodies like the Mamas and the Papas and The Beach Boys. Collectively we’re always showing each other all kinds of music. Some of it’s older, some of it’s newer, some of it’s totally unheard of to some of us, and some of it’s familiar.

RTB: Being that we’re a Philly-based blog, I have to ask – what inspired the song “Philadelphia”?
JM: Philadelphia is rooted in our first family vacation. My brother Rob and I and the rest of our family (5 kids and our parents) piled into our (I believe it was a) Windstar at the time. As we headed south of the (Canadian) border, we recall having pretty high expectations for this trip. In actuality, we went to visit our aunt and uncle and didn’t end up doing very much at all. We recall going to a Phillies game and seeing them play the Expos, which was exciting for us as we were big fans of the Expos (sadly, they’re not a team anymore). Then we played golf. We really remember just complaining a lot because it was so hot. That’s where that song comes from, just our time in Philly and hanging out with our cousins and staying busy doing not very much.

RTB: I think the audience will definitely enjoy listening to you perform that when you’re here!
JM: Yeah, absolutely. This will be our first time playing in Philly. Obviously we’re really excited to get back there. It has been years and we’ll be able to see our family, as well. But we’re excited to share this song with you all, it’ll be pretty cool.

RTB: You guys used to be called Chucky Danger Band. First off, how did that name originate? Second, what inspired the name change to Paper Lions?
JM: Well, growing up we played together quite a bit. We really had a number of names we threw around. Chucky Danger Band just happened to stick around a little longer than the others. We had always played together and it was something that took us a while to pursue a musical career. I would say it was right about the time we decided to change the name to Paper Lions when we made the decision for the four of us to really make a go at this and try and pursue a musical career that goes beyond one or two records.

RTB: How is it being in a band with your brother? Does it ever create any tension within the band or have an effect on the group dynamic?
JM: I’m sure it has an effect. It definitely did in the early days – we used to have some pretty heated fights. But, we’re both married now and I have a 14-month old girl.
RTB: Congratulations!
JM: Thank you, appreciate that. I think what happened is we just had all the fights we could have and there was nothing left to fight about and we just decided to stop – that would’ve been about 5 or 6 years ago.

RTB: You’ve played with some notable acts in the past. Are there any bands today that you’d love to play with?
JM: Yeah, certainly. Fellow Canadians, Arcade Fire, would be a great band to play with. We’re big fans of them. They’re a band that’s making great music and making it on their own terms and having a really successful go at it. So they’re definitely a band we really look up to. Paul McCartney would be pretty amazing. I mean there’s lots of bands. Phoenix, we’d love to play with them, and Mumford and Sons.

RTB: So, you’re playing shows through June – what are your plans after that?
JM: We have some summer festivals we’re going to be playing in July and August. For the most part, it’s going to be fairly quiet until the record comes out. And once it does come out, September and October will get fairly busy. We’ll probably be playing all across North America – the East and West coast. So I’d say the fall will be pretty hectic with a lot of show dates, but we’ll definitely be getting back to Philadelphia.

RTB: One last question – what’s one interesting/random fact about the band?
JM: That’s a good question. Well we already touched on this, but what makes us unique is that we’re four guys who have known each other for years and years. Obviously my brother and I grew up together, and our next door neighbor Colin, we’d play after school every day. We met David in high school. You’re talking about 25-ish years of history together and obviously we’re a young band. But it definitely sets us apart. We grew up in a town of about 150 people, so it was pretty small beginnings. But, other than that, I would say something that may be slightly more quirky – we once played a show in Alert, Nunavut, which is basically as close to the North Pole as you can get. It’s the farthest, most northern settlement in the world.
RTB: Were there a lot of people there?
JM: No. Actually it was a Canadian military base and an environment weather forecasting station, so we went up to play for them. It was about 50 people. It was 24 hour darkness and minus 50 degree weather. We got on a military plane and had on survival suits. We were warned that if the plane went down we’d probably die, but we still put on the survival suits just in case. It was pretty crazy.


– Erika Reinsel