The epic journey following the emotional, reality-bending, head in the clouds, melody-ridden, high-octave hysteria of Paper Idol’s latest musical quest comes to a big conclusion with the release of his well-awaited EP Mania Days.
In this interview, the LA songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer is giving us the chance to get a sneak-peak at his creative process, the effect that the Pandemic has had on his music and mindset, his life in LA and of course, his latest project.
The first Paper Idol track I got to hear was “Still So Alive” and I had it on repeat for a couple of days. Back then I got the feeling that even though cheerful, the track is definitely containing some mysterious and not so bright flavour. The more I discovered Paper Idol’s music, the more I got familiar with this special trait of his work. He is so skilled in delivering upbeat, get-up-and-move tracks, which contain much more complicated plots and messages than you would expect. His music is basically a no-stress pill with a dance-no-matter-what intake prescription.
Paper Idol’s Mania Days EP is here to make you cheer for simply being alive, despite the hardships and frustration. Besides “Clouds” and “Tightrope”, already featured on our platform, the EP contains 4 more tracks which will make it impossible for you to sit still. He explains:
Mania Days is a six-part story about a boy named Paper whose broken heart leads him on a delusional adventure. Castles is the final chapter in the story – Paper’s mania wears off and he crashes back down to reality. The song is about my experience moving to LA to make music. I had these huge expectations for success, often fuelled by people in the industry, and thought it would require little time or effort to reach that success. “Castles” is about leaving fairy tales behind and realising that you need to work hard and stay determined to reach your goals.
Your new EP was just released, with some tracks being available much earlier. How long did you work on it?
I worked on Mania Days primarily through the pandemic. There were some songs I started earlier than that, which I reproduced and remixed to fit the sound of the EP. I work on music in waves - for example, "Clouds" and "Tightrope" were produced around the same time, and share a lot of similar elements.
What’s your favourite song from the EP?
That's a tough one - they're all my babies! I think I have a different favourite depending on when you ask. Every song on Mania Days represents a different mental state. Right now, my favourite is "Seen This All Before", because it has confidence and energy that's super fun to listen to while driving. I've been excited about the EP being out and driving a lot recently, so that's been my go-to track.
What’s your typical creative process? And how often does it happen that music just occurs in your head, without you intending it – as it did with your song “Clouds”?
My creative process varies, but usually, it starts with opening Ableton and just playing around. I'll work on something for half an hour - if I like it, I'll keep going. If I don't, I'll save it to my "random folder" and move on to the next thing. Making music is like rolling snowballs down a hill: you clump some snow together and start pushing. Most of the time, the ball gets stuck and won't keep rolling. But every so often, the ball gains momentum and starts flying down the hill, getting bigger and bigger as it goes. The "snowball effect" kicks in and the process continues with little effort on my part. Those are the songs that make it out of my laptop. If I'm really lucky, I hear the melody or the lyrics before even sitting down to write. I'd say the whisper from the muse comes every ten songs or so. "Clouds", "Feel Real Pretty", and "Seen This All Before" all came to me like that. I always finish my songs with Adam [keyboards] - he's been an amazing sounding board and co-writer / producer on Paper Idol songs.
Did the Pandemic affect the way you think about music-making, your career, your vision as an artist?
Definitely - before I got started on Mania Days, I moved to a remote part of central California to escape Covid-ridden LA and clear my head. The cabin I rented had an American poetry book, and I randomly flipped to a poem called "My Wage" by Jessie B. Rittenhouse, which is about the importance of setting your own standards. Before the pandemic, I felt like I was "bargaining with life for pennies," to use her words. After a lot of reflection, I realized Paper Idol could be so much more - an entire universe that brings together my interest in stories, visual art, and music. A place I could share my fantasies and fears and crazy ideas and where other people could also feel comfortable sharing theirs. Cloudkid, my label, was the perfect partner for the EP because they totally understood this vision and made it a reality. Together, we took the songs and created a multimedia experience that fans could really dive into.
Besides the fact that your music is a fantastic and intriguing blend of EDM, indie-rock and indie-pop, there is something else that makes it stand out and that’s the topics that you choose for your songs. As far as I know, you aim to create inspiring and dynamic music, which contains a substantial message. For example Mania Days is meant to be a “musical antidote for a generation bombarded by reality and desperate for an escape“. How do you manage to turn feelings and mental states like confusion, frustration, insecurity, desperation and other usually not so bright emotions into something one wants to dance to?
That's a great question - Paper Idol is my alter ego, the outlet for my inner child. The songs are pretty clear windows into the way I deal with problems in real life. I'm a positive person, and I also believe our existence and society and everything in the universe is completely absurd - so why not dance your way out of things? On another note, dance music as a genre and production style co-evolved with people going out to dance and have fun. That's why so much dance music is about sex and drugs and happiness. But those two elements - the production and the lyrics - are actually independent. Like, why not write a fun dance tune about getting kidnapped by a spy who thinks you're James Bond? Or about feeling cheated, or not meeting your expectations? I love that irony, that disconnect between the music and the lyrics.
“Seen This All Before” sounds like a real-life dialogue, with you being pretty disappointed with someone. I’m curious if it was inspired by a real-life person or relationship; What was the story behind it?
I had just gotten out of a relationship and was not in a good place - I wasn't making music, I wasn't moving forward. I read something about writing a letter to the person you're angry with, but not sending it. Before I even sat down to write it, I could hear the first verse in my head, so I immediately turned on my laptop and started recording. I didn't have much of a "plan" for the song; The beat was thrown together really quickly and I actually wrote some of the lyrics as I was recording them. It was really cathartic writing "Seen This All Before" - reading the lyrics, it's clear that the speaker is being absurd and immature, not the target of his anger. The song helped me get through that difficult time.
The last track from the EP: “Castles” seems to be telling the story of a romance, but it turns out it’s actually about your experience moving to LA. Can you tell me more about your artistic journey since you moved there? How did it all influence your music and mindset and would you advise other artists to do it too – since LA is well known for being a cultural incubator?
Here's a fact: all of the stereotypes about LA are true. The traffic does suck, the smog is heavy, the beach is incredible. The barista is an artist, the waiter is an actor. There's a shady dude with sunglasses at the back of the venue with a business card and the promise of stardom. I used to think these were tropes invented in Hollywood movies, or from an earlier time - but they exist here and now. When I first moved to LA, I got lost in the all-to-common fantasy that success was one deal, one show, one song away. It was all a mirage. My advice to anyone moving to LA is to deeply consider the kind of art you want to make and the kind of success you want - then find a community that aligns with that goal.
Do you believe that someone can rise above everything difficult that might happen in life, using a dose of humour and irony, in order to establish some emotional distance from what’s happening and be able to see the bigger picture?
Absolutely. During the pandemic, I became interested in Stoic philosophy primarily through the works of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The entire philosophy is based on the premise that human perception if unharnessed, can prevent you from seeing the world clearly. Humour and irony are fantastic antidotes to suffering. When the pandemic hit and Adam and I weren't in the same city, we started a series on Instagram Live called Collaborative-Video 19 (Co-Vid 19 for short), where we made nineteen 19-second tracks in 19 minutes each over livestream. Paper Idol runs on humor and irony.
And lastly, do you think we should all get prescribed some Paper Idol against boredom, loneliness and nihilism?
Yes - but consult a doctor first.