Interview: Paper Lions

Paper Lions - Photo by Stephen Alexander Harris
Paper Lions – Photo by Stephen Alexander Harris

We borrowed John MacPhee—vocalist and guitarist of Paper Lions—from a busy touring schedule that brought his band from their home on Prince Edward Island all the way to Vancouver. A transcript of the interview can be found below:


LotusLand: Hey there, polar bear! Do you mind introducing yourself?

John MacPhee: My name is John MacPhee, with the band Paper Lions. Should I say that lower? No, I can’t go any lower. That’s as low as my voice goes.

LL: So, how’s your tour going?

JM: The tour’s great, we’ve only been out for a week. We began in Winnipeg and we had the luxury of flying into Winnipeg, which we don’t often get to do. So we were able to skip 40 hours of Canadian winter driving. Once you hit northern Ontario it’s a long stretch. That was great, the shows have been awesome. We were all a bit surprised, our weather is a lot like yours this time of year. When we left P.E.I it was 10 degrees and raining, and we flew into Winnipeg where it was -20 and a snowstorm. I had this fake leather coat on and a little fleece sweater… so I was not prepared at all. Thankfully we went to value village the next day and picked up this cardigan—I quite like it, it was $8, quite economical as well— and a winter coat. From that point on, the tour has been wonderful.

LL: You’re touring with Jordan Klassen, correct?

JM: That is correct.

LL: How did you decide to tour with them?

JM: Well, we first played a show with Jordan almost a year ago in Toronto. We weren’t on tour together at the time, however, we were performing at the Rivoli, and he just asked if he could jump on the show. I believe he was doing a cross-country tour and had the night off. We listened to his music and really liked it, so we welcomed him on the show. Then when we were getting ready to tour Western Canada, we knew we wanted a Western Canadian act to come out with us. I believe the manager of our band was friends with Jordan, because our manager was involved with the Peak Performance Project, which Jordan was involved with as well. So they got talking about doing the tour together. We’re big fans of what Jordan does, he makes beautiful music. He obliged, and was excited to come on the tour. We’ve been doing a couple of shows, we did Calgary, Edmonton last night, and Vancouver tonight [November 16th].

LL: Cool, cool. Have you just arrived in Vancouver or have you had a chance to see the city?

JM: Well, we love this city. I don’t say that lightly, we’ve spent a lot of time here. Actually, we performed, or at least spent time in Vancouver before we spent time from Alberta to Ontario. We skipped all of it and came in for this really unique showcase for theatres in British Columbia. We ended up getting some shows, you go and play your songs and the theatres ask you to come perform. We ended up with this incredible opportunity to perform all over the province, including in and around Vancouver. We did Port Moody, Burnaby, New Westminster, and all of these suburbs. Abbotsford, Mission, Capilano College in North Vancouver, which is a beautiful theatre.

Anyways, we spend a lot of time here, and we love it. When we’re talking about touring in Canada, we often reference the East Coast and the West Coast as our favourite places to perform. They’re very different places, but it’s a combination of the geography and the people. Vancouver is such an interesting culture, it feels like a melting pot of cultures colliding, which creates a great environment for artists to come and create.

LL: We heard you had to start a new record label in order to get your last album out. What was the process behind starting an entire label?

JM: That was very rewarding, but a lot of work. A lot more work than any of us thought, we didn’t really know what we were getting into. Leading up to that, we had a run-in with a small Canadian label that owned our EP Trophies, back in 2010. Not very many copies of the EP sold, we knew that, but we figured there were a few thousand dollars waiting to be given to us. We never actually saw any of that money, and in the meantime the label had shut its Canadian doors. So we decided we’d give our EP away for free, and it ended up serving us quite well. We got quite a few downloads and people sympathized with the story.

That was the seed that grew into the record label, it gave us the gumption to try it. We didn’t really know what we were getting into, but we thought we were up to the task. We started Fountain Pop Records about a year ago and so far have released our own record My Friends under it. Now that the record release cycle of My Friends is coming to an end, we’re setting our eyes on other bands that we might want to work with and help out.

LL: What are some of the best things about being able to work for your own label?

JM: There are a couple. Owning everything is huge. If you create something, you want to own it. Ownership is definitely a big part, but also having the freedom to do whatever you want is exciting. It’s nerve-wracking, there’s no one else to blame but you if it doesn’t go well. Still, the freedom was very appealing to us, knowing that we could get together and come up with these ideas and then go after them. Obviously, the con is that you have freedom, but you don’t have the money to get it done. That’s a big drawback. We’re four relatively young guys, and we’re footing the bill for a North American album release that was fairly large in scope. That was quite uncomfortable, and I had a few nights of rough sleep over it, but that was a couple months ago. Now we’re into the end of November, the dust has settled, and I’m sleeping better. I’m happy with how it all went.

LL: So you did successfully manage to release My Friends under your own label. The theme of nostalgia runs through that record, are there any childhood memories that you think are a perfect example of My Friends?

JM: Really the lyrics on that record are all either a specific story, or a couple of stories all put into one, or adaptations of stories from our youth. Specifically, in the song “Bodies in the Winter,” the scene of that song was across from our house. Our father was a minister and so we grew up beside a really large—and now I would consider it beautiful, but back then I considered it ominous—country church, and a really large graveyard that we would always have to run through. There was this one specific building called the vault, and as kids we would often have to run through it to get wherever we were going or play a game in and around the graveyard, like capture the flag. It was rumoured as children that there were dead bodies in that vault. We were quite scared of running past this building, our hearts would be pounding, we’d be holding our breath, whatever superstitions that kids hold on to. That’s the main idea of the song, there are specific memories talked about in the song.

The interesting thing, looking back now, is that we had confirmed that there actually were dead bodies kept in that vault. It’s kind of crazy, but because on Prince Edward Island there’s not really a morgue to hold all the bodies that died, or at least there wasn’t fifteen, twenty years ago. So in the wintertime, when the ground was too frozen to dig a grave, they kept the bodies in the vault until the ground thawed. We were rightfully nervous about that building.

LL: What would you say is the best way to listen to My Friends? Headphones, stereo blasting in your car, anything.

JM: Good question… that’s one I haven’t been asked, nor reflected on. Anything I say would be a guess. It depends on the mood that you’re in. I think it’s an album most suited to listening to in the summertime, although I’m sure it’s enjoyable year round for some people. A bulk of the songs were written with summery lyrical themes and memories that were based in the summertime. I would say… jump in your Jeep, get the roof off, gather your friends, get an orange mocha frappuccino, and pump My Friends in that Jeep.

LL: Jeeps it is. Do you have a favourite song to play live?

JM: One I’ve been enjoying as of late is the title track, minus an “s,” a song called “My Friend.” It’s been getting a lot of support across the country, people have been gravitating towards it on the radio, on YouTube, on Soundcloud, those types of things. Of the new songs, “My Friend” would be my favourite. It’s new to the audience, it’s new to us, and people tend to jump around and sing along, which makes it fun.

LL: Besides the tour, and/or after the tour is done, do you have any projects you’re looking forward to working on?

JM: Once the tour is over we’re going to be making, or at least writing, the next record. We’re really excited about it, we have a friend of ours who just opened a new studio in Charlottetown, Adam Gallant is his name. We’ll be getting in there one or two days a week, and we’ll have free reign of his studio to start demoing, which is really exciting. That would be the big project for the winter.

LL: Sounds good. Your last question: you’ve had various band names before this one, including Chucky Danger Band, you were going to be Lions Club but there were legal issues… What do you think is the absolute worst name you’ve ever come up with?

JM: The implication being that those are really bad band names?

LL: Hey, no fair.

JM: Just joking. The first name that we had for three or four days was Centre Fade. I think that’s one of the worst names. I’m really glad we didn’t stick with it, because it’s a combination of really boring and very uninspiring. There’s nothing clever or witty or inspiring about it at all. It would be horrible.

LL: Well, thank you for coming out here and thank you for the interview. Peace out, boy scout.

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