It’s the long-awaited moment for Paper Route. Absence drops this month, a title referring to other things—as explained by J.T. Daly—yet certainly a suitable moniker for the prolonged period of anticipation for the Nashville foursome’s full-length debut. Yet when it rains it pours, so not only is there the new release, but also a new video from Olivier Groulx (Arcade Fire) and a tour with Copeland.
Daly gave us the lowdown on all things Paper Route, including the emotion behind their music, the artistic responsibilities involved and why he chooses to sing the most difficult songs night after night.
You guys are so intentional about every piece of your art you place out there, so I assume the title, Absence, holds deep meaning? Was that hard to name this batch of songs with one identity?
It wasn’t this huge restraint on titling the album, I will say that. But I think when we stepped back to look at all the songs as a puzzle piece for a much larger image, we realize that all of the songs tended to be about the absence of something, the longing for something that was once there. Whether it’s a lover or God, that thread ran through things in every way.
This album is such a long time coming, so is there a sense of relief with the release?
Oh, absolutely. We’ve poured our lives into this. And it’s a relief to have a label do what they’re actually saying they’re going to do. They’re actually releasing this. We have so many friends who have made the albums and then they’re never even released. But I feel like we can move on with a lot of our lives as well. Our past two years have been bookmarked by certain songs on this album, so it’s hard to even go back and listen to some of them because they are painful memories of last year. But I can look back and realize that, “Hey, maybe I’m getting somewhere.”
How’s the Copeland tour?
It’s excellent. It’s a great tour. Our fans and their fans are definitely looking for the same things in a lot of ways, so we’ve enjoyed this tour quite a bit. We have a short set, so we’re trying to cram as much as we can, but it’s half-and-half on the new stuff and giving people what they know from our previous EPs. We are making sure to do three to four off of Absence each night.
Which ones are making it?
“Dance On Our Graves” is making it every single night. A song called “Wish” is making it every single night. We’ve got a song called “Gutter” which is making it every single night. That song is the furthest we’ve ever ventured into trip-hop. That song was birthed out of a jam session that we had that Chad called “the worst jam that ever occurred.” [Pause] It was horrendous. He took all of the recordings from that day back to his house and ripped up and slowed down and sped up all of the sounds, turning it into a completely different song. So almost all of the sounds on that song are triggered by machine live and sped up and slowed down with MIDI controllers. It’s a completely new side of our band; we’ve never gone that far into the electronic world before.
Does that make a favorite for you?
Sonically, yes. Lyrically, it’s more of an abstract song. That’s a song about a dream that I had and basically about a panic attack. I tend to lyrically lean on a couple other songs a lot more on this album for my favorites. But it is a painfully honest album.
Which song is the hardest to sing?
“Dance On Our Graves.” Absolutely.
So that’s an odd choice to put out there every night, then.
Definitely. [Laughs] I grew up in a very religious home. I think that was maybe the first time in my life that I faced this feeling that maybe there isn’t a God in my life. I was driving home and was really angry, I guess. That sounds so cheesy, but that’s honestly where my head was. I had no idea what was happening. That song just kind of created itself and I think life definitely doesn’t work out like that song. In five minutes, I’m basically turned around there. [Laughs] But I do think there’s this very overwhelming sense of hope in such a dark song. It’s a very dark song, but I never lost my sense of wonder in that. I’m begging God to be there.
Why choose to go there night after night?
I think people need to hear it. Anyone who grew up in a Christian home … what we want to do is ask the big questions. I want to know what the truth is. If I can’t believe in anything that isn’t the truth, then it truly is a waste of time if it’s not. I’m searching for that and the people who love Paper Route are searching for that as well.
Do you see that in the audience?
Honestly, this is nothing against any of the other tours that we’ve ever been on, but this is the first tour that could easily be just our set list. Almost every night, we’re having people come up and say they cry when we played that song. And it’s not all an eternal perspective. I just think there’s a yearning in all of the songs that we’re choosing to play.
It’s interesting you bring up the emotion. A friend sent me a message about “You Kill Me” from Are We All Forgotten saying that song brought him to tears.
That’s the main thing that we’re trying to capture—emotion with sound and lyric. I mean, that’s why we listen to music. We are definitely the minority in that. I think that a lot of people listen to music to feel good, to feel happy. But we have tried to, while still writing pop music, capture as much emotion as possible. I listen to music because I want to be nostalgic or almost cry. We tried to capture that in all of the songs that we put on there. That’s the main thing we’re going for. I think that helps people reflect, and I think it also helps people ask questions. People don’t ask enough questions.
That brings up an inherent responsibility then, do you think? If you want to move people to some place, is there a responsibility that comes with that?
I would say that there’s no blood on our hands. Whatever happens will happen. But for me as an artist, I do personally feel like I have a responsibility to communicate a sense of hope. But that’s just me. Whatever someone takes from a song, that’s their interpretation. That’s just art. The meaning to all of art is just abstractions. But I feel like I have been, in a sense, called to communicate that sense of hope. That’s because I need it. [Laughs] I don’t know how else to even describe it. I don’t even know if it can be described. My sort of journey as an artist is to always search, always ask questions, to never lose my sense of wonder and to try to give people hope.
Does everyone share that same vision?
Everyone has their thing more than others. Gavin is very much about communicating that sense of hope. Chad is a very, very emotional writer. His greatest strength is capturing a sound or moment that’s very innocent. He’s not afraid of cliches. I love that. Something is cliche for a reason—that it works. [Laughs] He will run straight at it, whereas I will cower. So, I respect him as a writer in that. Andy is such an incredible storyteller and such an honest writer. He’s very much a classic songwriter and loves and gravitates towards those types of musicians as well—those incredible classic songwriters. So, that’s what he brings to the table. I am in all worlds, I would say.
It’s almost too easy to throw art to the masses at this point, and yet you guys are intentional not only with your sound, but also with the visuals. I’m wondering why the emphasis on the visuals as well. What informs that?
I feel that my role in this band is just as much visual as it is songwriting. I often feel like I’m trying to say just as much with the visuals as the songs. It’s a whole other medium of saying something. I feel a lot better about saying things with visuals than even my lyrics at times. It’s something that we put as much attention into. I don’t know if that answers the question.
What sort of hopes do you have for Absence?
I hope that people still buy albums. [Laughs] We’re putting a lot of faith into the consumer on this one. We want to make another album. I don’t know how else to say that. That’s basically begging people to buy albums, but we have to sell. We have to be able to survive. I hope our shows are at least two to three times the size they are now. I hope people are connecting with the music, not so I can feel awesome, but so they are truly getting something from the music. Those are my hopes.
A year ago or more, when you were hoping to put out a full-length, are you where you hoped you would be then?
Honestly, it’s been a little bit harder than I thought. We’ve lost a lot of our peers just because of fiscal reasons or because of the economy. It’s so hard to see people connected to art who just couldn’t keep their jobs. So, it’s hard to not think about that when I think back to a year ago. People aren’t buying albums. It’s just a different time. We do feel so blessed the album is coming out, and we’re very excited to finally give it to people and see what happens. In that sense, I’m very ready. But we’ve seen some good people go.