I had never heard of Paper Tiger before and when they took the stage I immediately thought something was about to happen. You can just feel it watching them set up on stage and before they even play a single note. Normally I never ask a band to describe their music or even comment on it, but here I feel I need to ask as I couldn’t really place it. It is definitely ambient and psychedelic music of some sorts, guitar driven, but beyond that, I’m not sure what more to say except that it sounds incredible live!
So, help me here, I hate asking this question as much as you probably resent answering it, but here it is: How would you describe your music?
Toby: Imagine this yeah, you’re watching an episode of Gardners’ World, only BB King is presenting and you’re on acid.
Lewis: I think that pretty much sums up what we’re about as a band, because Gardeners world embodies the inspiration we draw from nature, BB king represents the bluesy undertones in our music, and the acid is symbolic of all the psychedelic vibes we have going on with our lust for whacky pedals and making soundscapes.
You’re from Bristol, and somehow if I heard your music without knowing where you’re from, Bristol would have been one of my guesses. There seems to be something in the water there with bands doing more ambient type music. Is it just a preconception?
Finn: Thanks, I think that’s a really flattering question, as of course, Bristol is well known for its ambient bands, particularly Trip Hop artists such as Massive Attack, Portishead and Smith & Mighty.
Freya: Definitely, but what I like about the Bristol scene at the moment is that there is such a broad variety of different music here to be explored and discovered. I think this is enhanced by the fact that Bristol is a university city and therefore it’s easy to meet individuals with a variety of different tastes often from different parts of the country, or other countries entirely, who seed themselves in Bristol and add to the richness of the local scene.
Adam: For sure, I’d say our experience is that the scene here for small bands like ourselves is very free and open and there is definitely a sense that we’re all simmering away in this big melting pot of different genres of music. Just stroll down Stokes Croft, pretty much any night of the week and you’ll have a choice of Jazz, Blues, Rock, Reggae, Hip Hop, Drum and Bass, you name it! And they’ll all be on at venues pretty much side by side, and sometimes even on the same bill!
Toby: Yeah and I think that’s so true, there aren’t many regimented scenes in Bristol, everything is quite liquid, I mean we were all only recently at the Old England to support Adams ex-bandmate in his instrumental stoner metal project, and were surprised by how many people there were all kitted up in their Bristol wavy vintage, ready to hit Lakota after the show for a night of free Techno, House and Drum and Bass. People here have a very open mind to all genres of music and appreciate anything that is slightly different and comes from an honest place.
Finn: I think the size of the city definitely effects that too, as most of the major gig venues here are all within a relatively small centre, people’s exposure to new music is much higher.
Lewis: So I guess you could say that we are identifiable as a Bristol band because our sound has been moulded by an exposure to lots of different genres and much of this has come through our immersion in the diverse music scene of Bristol.
Most bands with 2 guitarists would differentiate the sound of the 2 guitars. For example, one would play a Les Paul while the other plays a Stratocaster. What intrigued me with you guys is that it was almost indistinguishable who is doing what, the 2 guitars are the same, both creating similar soundscapes merging with each other. Is this intentional?
Toby: Yes! But it hasn’t always been that way. Lewis and I had tried to get a gigging band together in the first year, and I think at that point it was quite obvious that each of us had very separate sounds and influences. But as we’ve played more together and found more like-minded musicians to write music with we’ve both grown as musicians. I bought my strat about a year ago mainly because it was the guitar I’ve always wanted but also because I knew it would suit paper tigers sound and mesh really well with Lewis’s playing. Since then we’ve both been in and out of rehab for our bank ruining addictions to pedals and vibing off of what each other is creating along the way.
Freya: I don’t think that was intentional though was it?
Lewis: I think it happens in most bands. When I met Toby I was coming from a blues background and was mostly self-taught, but was just beginning to expand my sound and realise that the puritan approach to pedals and effects that I had acquired from playing in a classic rock band for such a long time was slightly too restrictive. We both taught each other new things whilst remaining true to our roots and I think that comes through in our music.
Toby: Yeah, and Adam is a sick fingerstyle guitarist too which has brought a new dynamic to our sound with his contribution to the material. To be honest we’ve sort of put all our brains in the Paper Tiger 2000 blender ™ and come out with some kind of freaky musical hivemind where we all contribute to each other’s parts, knowing exactly what sound we want in a song for each instrument!
Adam: Guys, we’re basically like musical bees!
Finn: Haha! Not this again – Adam is obsessed with bees, he had a spirit-quest like an apparition on his way home from Motion last month about their plight and now believes it’s his duty to save them from their untimely demise, through the medium of singer-songwriting.
Adam: Also they’re fucking cool.
Freya: Can’t argue with that!
You told me you want to come and play in London as soon as possible. What is your idea of the current London scene and why do you feel it is important for you to play there?
Toby: I’ve lived there all of my life, and we’ve all been to loads of gigs around Dalston and Camden. I even played a gig in Gillet Square in Hackney when he was 17 – there’s some fuzzy footage of that on YouTube somewhere if you’re willing to dig around.
Adam: London’s been the stomping ground for loads of seminal psychedelic bands like The Hendrix Experience, Cream, Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Currently, there seems to be a big surge of talented psych acts and they all seem to be coming from or stopping off in London. Freaking out with the Londoners is a high priority for us.
Now, we just can’t ignore your visual appearance, can we? Tell us about that.
Lewis: I think Freya should answer this one, seeing as she’s the visual mastermind of the band!
Freya: Thanks for the introduction guys, I’ve got this one! I think that in our every day we like to experiment with clothing and we’re not afraid of making a statement particularly as Bristol is really accepting of different styles and creativity. So on stage we peacock, push the boundaries and stimulate people visually as well as musically. We’re about immersion with a bit of theatre thrown in, all to transport people to a different dimension and be a bit weird. Maybe when we’re higher budget there’ll be less Poundland face paint and more pyrotechnics.
What are your hopes and ambitions for the band?
Adam: Our attitude has always been to take every gig and every opportunity as it comes, not relying entirely on big dreams, but achieving small goals. For now, we’d love to play Bristol venues like Thekla and Bristol Bierkeller, and get as many support slots with incredible bands as we can. We want to be involved in the scene, we want to meet amazing people and we want to play memorable shows.
Freya: Also we’ve all had a recurring wet dream about pressing our first vinyl hahaha
Tell us a bit about each one of you guys.
Toby (Guitar) – Growing up in London, I was involved in many bands with my friends, playing everything from Prog Metal (think a shit version of dream theatre with James Hetfield and Tom Waits love-child on vocals) to Ambient Post-Rock (think Godspeed You! Black Emperor with 200% more violin and 100% less talent), and everything in between. My taste in music is better defined as ‘erratic’ than ‘eclectic’, and I think it is this which has led me to love psychedelic music, as there are barely any parameters to what the genre can do and what you can bring to it musically. For example, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard and Tame Impala are both Psych and sound almost nothing alike (particularly in their latest material). It’s this creative freedom that now excites me the most about being in Paper Tiger, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
Lewis (Guitar) I’ve been playing since I was 13 years old and was previously in a classic rock band. I was never really been formally taught until about a year ago but I would hang around a blues bar in Sheffield (where I’m from) to get tips from the owner. I guess you could say that that’s where a lot of my blues instinct comes from. Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Gary Clark Jr. are all guitarists that I tend to think about when I’m trying to develop the unique style of playing that I’ve managed to make for myself. I’d say that my overall music taste, being erratic at best, helps me to blend sounds into my music to surprise people.
Adam (Bass) I got involved with a guitar around the age of 13 or so and played a bit of piano beforehand. My parents used to take me to gigs and festivals all of my childhood and throughout my teens as well, so I guess I’ve always had a load of different genres of music in my ears since I can remember. I started to teach myself bass so I could play with my schoolmates in a band when I was 15 and started to love how physical a live instrument it was; you feel every note, almost like you don’t need to hear what you’re playing. Eventually dropped the pick, started learning the entirety of ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ (just utter perfection) and after that, I was pretty much sold. I’m not quite sure who I sound like but I’m always amazed at the work of Colin Greenwood; he always takes you where you’d least expect it.
Fin (Drums) I went through a bunch of instruments before I settled on drums. Since then my most inspired periods have come from obsessions with drummers like The Rev, JP Bouvet and Yussef Dayes. “Black Focus” by Yussef Kamaal was a big one for me when it came out last year; I really started to apply more African and funk rhythms which hopefully comes through in the sound.
Freya (Vocals) My relationship with music and art has always kept me sane and let me escape when needed. I trained classically on piano and violin and later realised I could sing in tune. Although I have not been part of a band before, I always liked the idea, but until now never found such a great group of fascinating musicians and artists I felt I could share my ideas with and learn from. They have brought out a side to me that I didn’t know existed and I have now caught the performance bug! Making music after having listened to it for so long is so revealing – it feels a little like using your little toe, it was always there but now you realise its importance in keeping you balanced and you can’t stop using it. I am inspired by all genres of music but am particularly drawn to the sounds of King Krule, Cream and Angel Olsen who intertwine classic music styles with raw emotion, creating something unique and haunting. If my singing can transport people in a similar way then I will be fulfilled.
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Photos by Lucy Dorsett