Jason Quever

The Papercuts’ frontman sounds off on Kanye, epiphanies, and the anxiety-quelling power of liquor.

Jason Quever by Lindsey Best

photo by Lindsey Best

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Ben Evans: After releasing three prior records under the Papercuts name, do you still get excited on the eve of a release, or has the digital age drained a bit of that enthusiasm.

Jason Quever: No, its really exciting, I mean…Really the first one was in 2004 and it wasn’t super different back then. It’s maybe more nerve-wracking right now because so much focus is on immediate press. I mean we try not to look at that, but you know that the label and everybody is paying attention to it. I mean I love making records it’s my favorite thing to do, but there’s a lot of anxiety with it to.

BE: Do you think there is more expectation on behalf of your audience now that this is your fourth Papercuts record?

JQ: That’s a good point too. You have to keep moving and hopefully keep people interested, and feel like your going somewhere. Otherwise, people feel like “well I have the other records, why do I need all of your records.” I feel like I have to reinvent myself every time, but I like that idea.

BE: Conceptually what are you bringing to the table on this album, Fading Parade, that’s different from your past records?

JQ: Well, I think conceptually it is the most… I have always kind of shied away from love songs, and this is kind of a more romantic record. So, that is sort of a first, where I sort of embrace that. Production-wise there was a lot of different things, I worked with an outside producer and went to an outside studio. That was a first.

BE: Had you been producing everything yourself prior to this?

JQ: Ya, up to this point I was the only person who ever twiddled the knob.

BE: If you’re the sole producer, as you were on past records, is it difficult not to have a critic when your making an album; you know, not to have someone to run things by if you are putting everything together yourself.

JQ: It’s funny that you say that, because in some ways it’s the opposite whereby I feel like I tend to be overcritical when I’m working alone, and sometimes you need someone there to say “No that was cool.” or “Go off in that direction.” So in a way, having someone there sort of feels like I don’t have to be so much of a critic.

BE: Yeah

JQ: Do you know what I’m saying, because you’re overworked. You’re basically overworked when you do everything yourself, and you have no perspective on anything.

BE: Do you find that establishing a vulnerability as a songwriter creates a stronger bond to the music for the listener?

JQ: Its hard to…I think in my situation yes. Ya know, I can only come from a place of total honesty. I don’t think that’s necessarily true for everybody. It’s just the only way…The thing with interviews I’ve always thought about is that I’d love to be witty and give smartass answers but I just can’t. It’s the same with music, I can only be sincere and honest ya know, for better or worse, I’m not putting anything on. So it works for me, probably because I lack the wit to pull it off any other way (laughs).

BE: It’s almost as if with this record you start with one emotion and then sonically you add texture and depth and subtlety to that emotion. As a unifying aesthetic, what do you think it is on this record? What is the central mood, the driving force behind the record?

JQ: God, its so hard to see it for what other people might see. I mean, it’s funny because if I described it, it would be totally opposite from what other people would describe it as. Whereas, for me this is kind of an upbeat record, this is an exciting record, it’s more of a major key record. I mean there is a point where it gets a little darker, but, for me, I found myself kind of feeling really exuberant when we were recording. Which, maybe when other people hear it, they hear this sleepy, dreamy, or whatever the word you wanna use is. But from where I’m coming from it’s a more exciting record for me. I found myself sort of…just kind of throwing my arms around when I was singing and stuff like that.

BE: One of the songs I really like on the record is called “White are the Waves.” Can you talk a little about the impetus for that song, and emotionally where that song came from?

JQ: I feel like musically its some sort of nod to Kate Bush. Lyrically, it’s the one song I talked a lot about with the band. I remember writing that song and saying “What is this about?” And I sort of started saying white are the waves, and wondering what that could be. Usually I don’t write that way, but it started to take shape like Kurtz. I think we started to think about it like Heart of Darkness, sort of like his psychotic logic.

BE: Do you still live in San Francisco?

JQ: Yes.

BE: Is there a San Francisco sound? Do you feel like you make music similar to Belle and Sebastian and that crowd?

JQ: I don’t know, people always say there’s this laid back thing that we do, but, like I said, to me it seems upbeat. So its weird, if it exists its totally unconscious. So I don’t know, I cant think of any San Francisco bands that we sound like, in my mind. I feel like a lot of San Francisco bands are influenced by some sort of psychedelic music, maybe that’s it, theres such a rich history of psychedelic music that you just can’t help but be influenced by it. But people always use the words laid back. So, I’ve always made laid back music, I guess, I’ve never been into super fast rock and roll?

BE: I find there to exist a tension in your music, actually, does that make sense to you? Do you think there is tension there?

JQ: Ya, totally, its always the best when your working out some problems, or some epiphany or something. Usually that’s what a good song is, it feels like you’ve worked through something painful and come out the other end in a positive. That’s what I try to do usually. I usually try not to make it mopey, it might start out mopey, but usually I feel like the thing to try to do is make it upbeat on some level.

BE: I was reading a press release for your new album and it said that you don’t like to be the center of attention. I imagine that’s kind of difficult being in a band and playing shows; how do you approach that?

JQ: Lots of alcohol (laughs).

BE: And your dead serious (laughs).

JQ: I am serious, and I’m trying to figure it out. Its funny, I’ve been asked that question; people ask me, “What do you do on tour?” I am sure no one expects that. Yeah, it’s a just coping mechanism of being in the middle (everything). But I guess there’s a part of me that likes it (performing), I mean, I love playing music and I like conveying something to people so, not every single fiber of my being hates it. But I definitely cope by… I get more into it ya know. I have a lot of great people playing with me now, so it’s like I have to step it up and try to enjoy it. If you’re not having fun everyone knows it, so I can’t let everyone down, all the people that go, and so I get into it just on that level, wanting to do a good job and make people enjoy that time their spending there. So, I can get into it on that level. Though, it’s true that I generally don’t like to be (in the middle of things). It doesn’t make a lot of sense on one level of my personality.

BE: Do you approach going out and playing live shows as if your there to please people and entertain people, or is there still an element of it that is truly pleasurable to you?

JQ: Oh, its totally fun. Especially when your playing with people you like playing with. So, its fun, its not hard. It’s a lucky position to be in. Its not like I have to try that hard to enjoy it. But there are moments that are really trying and difficult.

BE: What songs closest to you on the new record? What came from a poignant, personal experience? You mentioned this was a love album, did you have a relationship in your life that led to these songs?

JQ: No, its not really from my point of view. I think the first song “Do you really wanna know”… I wasn’t taking it seriously, I was just like, I should play a happy song. So I started playing that and it came out And I didn’t think much of it. But Tom who produced us, really liked it and the band really liked it, so I guess I have a lot of positive feelings about it because it was kind of easy to do and it seems to be a song that people like. It does kind of convey…it says, “I don’t know if I love you” that’s kind of the chorus and I guess that’s kind of the idea of the record, that feeling of being totally torn and not sure about where you are.

BE: I take it that since you don’t like to be the center of attention that you don’t like to meld the personal and the musical too much; at least in discussing the work.

JQ: I really feel…I’m totally honest about it, I just don’t ever write about my own specific experiences, there (the songs) more just like vaguely colored by memories and things like that. But I think I would be honest about it, I mean, maybe you’re right maybe I wouldn’t be, its hard to tell. But theres nothing to hide, I guess you’ll have to trust me on that. Theres nothing really terribly autobiographical about anything.

BE: That’s interesting, I watched the Thom Yorke video of him dancing from the new Radiohead album, and I just have to believe watching him gyrate that he hears the music differently; that he hears something different or more completely then I am hearing. I’d describe your music as very colorful, I think if you shut your eyes and listen to this album a couple times, the colors start to come out. Does that make sense?

JQ: That’s what our drummer said, he was using the term “Technicolor.” I do think in colors a lot kinda of when I’m trying to put sounds together, so I guess that makes sense. We tried to make it as rich as possible; fun to listen to, headphone candy and things like that. Yeah, that’s cool. Thank you, I appreciate that.

BE: Do you ever enjoy stripping it down, just grabbing a guitar and playing?

JQ: Yeah, I’ve had this rule for a long time that the song has to be able to survive with just an acoustic guitar and vocals.

BE: Whats your ambition as a songwriter, if you could accomplish one thing through your work what would it be?

JQ: Man I just think about staying alive, I feel like I’m just a survivor. If I can trick people into keep putting my records out (laughs), that’s kind of my goal. I love writing so much, and I love having the funding to make records. I just feel like every song I make…its fun, but also, I write a lot and pick the ones I think will enable me to keep making records. I just really want to be able to keep doing it, and have it be exciting for us. Ambition wise, there are songs that I could think of that I’m like “God, I wish I could write a song that good.” But that’s about it really, I just wanna hit people immediately, ya know. I just like to try and write songs that come from some sort of magical place, just like Kanye or something, you hear it and it hits you so strongly. That’s what I always wanna try, go for that real epiphany and magic feeling you feel when you hear Kanye or something.

BE: There’s so much to be said for the slow burn though, ya know, for something that it takes you four or five listens to warm up to, those are oftentimes the most lasting songs or records, and I know that with the hyper-stimulated age were living in, the digital age, I know it is more important than ever now to hit people immediately and generate interest. Have you found that your songwriting, your discipline has been influenced by that fact?

JQ: I don’t know if it’s the digital age or what, but I’ve definitely, over the years, have realized that it needs to change more than I might naturally do. When I first started recording it was all over the map ya know, so I just made demo after demo and there was all kinds of styles, sort of experimenting, and when we made Mockingbird, which was actually the first record, I tried to put a bunch of things that made sense. But I think, getting feedback from that era made me realize that you don’t have to, so I’ve kind of gone back to trying to make it as diverse as possible. I don’t know if that’s the digital age or just the nature of making records and people critiquing them; and taking what you feel like is real. So I don’t know…maybe…I mean I think it’s just the same as always for my kind of music I just always wanna write like singly kind of songs anyway, so you always need those kind of songs, in the digital age especially, you just have the few songs people might hear on the internet.

Jason Quever is the lead singer and songwriter of San Francisco’s Papercuts. Since 2000, the band has released five full-length albums, including their most recent, Fading Parade.