Paper Tongues' success a modern fable
Charlotte group gains recognition
By Courtney Devores - McClatchy Newspapers
If you haven't heard of Charlotte electro-rock band Paper Tongues, chances are you will.
The septet hasn't followed the traditional route of a local band. You'd be hard-pressed to have found them at local venues over the last three years. In fact, the group, which released its self-titled major-label debut on A&M/Octone Records March 30, has never played a headlining show in Charlotte.
It's is a fairy tale of fate that began with producer Brian West (Nelly Furtado's "Whoa Nelly") discovering its tunes on MySpace and inviting the group to Hollywood. The members weren't even a band yet, although they'd jammed together at open mics and on downtown streets.
It was during a trip to L.A. three years ago that charismatic singer Aswan North stumbled upon what would become Paper Tongues' golden ticket - "American Idol's" Randy Jackson lunching in a top hat at the Mondrian Hotel.
After jotting his name, number and MySpace address on a scrap of paper, North approached Jackson, slid his plate out of the way and slapped the slip of paper in front of him.
"He said, 'Check it out. You'd understand our music,'" says Jackson.
"He was so personable. I thought either this is going to be great or it's going to be terrible...I get so many of these (solicitations) every day that I can suss it out intuitively. He made an impression. I called him two hours later."
"He should've had security usher me out," North says with a laugh, back home in Charlotte between tours.
He recounts the story in a hyperactive, rapid-fire stream similar to the carnival-barker rap he unleashes on the band's hit "Ride to California" (about his initial trip).
When North answered his cell later, Jackson was on the other line - "'Get Higher's' my song."
"He was going off," says North, a Goldsboro native. . "(Jackson) said, 'I said I was going to listen and I always listen once.'"
Jackson was impressed by Paper Tongues' demos, produced by German transplant Nicolas Balachandran of the band Cannon Hill.
North's voice and persona were key.
"He has an unbelievable voice and an amazing range. If you could put Freddy Mercury, John Fogerty, Axl Rose and Led Zeppellin in one bottle and shake it up ... there were (also) hip-hop elements which remind you of Beastie Boys or Chili Peppers," says Jackson, who signed on as the manager.
Since then, Paper Tongues has spent 14 months touring. Its songs have been played on TV's "Melrose Place" and "The Hills" and the album (with production by West and Balachandran) topped Billboard's Heatseekers chart, which tracks on-the-rise acts. In April, Rolling Stone magazine took notice with a feature. The band played WEND 106.5 The End's Not So Acoustic Xmas and at NASCAR's Rev'd Up and All-Star Race in May.
Jackson doesn't recommend bands waiting outside fancy restaurants in hopes of bending a celebrity's ear instead of tweaking its live sets locally. "I grew up (gigging), but it's whatever works for you. For this band, this is how it happened. But it's not a typical story," he says. "This is one of those classic stories that happens once in a lifetime."