Sunday, February 20, 2011

Paper Tongues head straight to the top, dawg!

Paper Tongues head straight to the top, dawg!

Christina Caldwell
If you interrupt a music megastar's meal by letting him or her know about your band, odds are you'll be blown off and escorted out by security. Assumedly, that would be the case with a huge star like "American Idol's" Randy Jackson. But somehow that approach worked for Paper Tongues frontman Aswan North.

Fast-forward three years; Randy Jackson is now the band's manager and mentor, landing them gigs opening for Muse, Flyleaf, Switchfoot and others. We talked to guitarist Joey Signa about the band's sudden rise to fame and the bumps along the way.

College Times: You guys ran into Randy Jackson of 'American Idol' during a chance encounter. Can you tell me that story? How did it lead to him becoming your manager? Also, how many times, on average, does Randy Jackson say "dawg" in a five minute conversation?

Signa: Aswan met him at a hotel in LA while Randy was eating lunch. Essentially, Aswan interrupted his meal and gave him our MySpace and phone number and asked (well, more so told him) to give a listen. Two hours later, he calls. We meet up with him at the studio and just start hanging. And since then, he has been our coach and manager and is becoming like an uncle. He is just like he is on TV. [He's] one of the most approachable ... people in the industry. [He's] a genius bass player and business man and really down to earth. His language is a little bit more "branded" for TV, but it definitely came from somewhere.

You've opened for some pretty huge names, including Muse, Switchfoot and Flyleaf. You guys are professionals now, but at any point during your career have you been star struck? Not just with the bands you've opened for, but with people you've been able to meet?

Yes! I was like a child at the Jimmy Fallon show! First of all, as you know, The Roots are the house band. So [when] I saw Questlove in the hallway, I froze up. I shook his hand while he was on the phone and said, "I just wanted to say hi." That was it. It was pretty embarrassing because I had to interrupt his phone call to tell him that. Also, "30 Rock" is one of my favorite shows ever and Jack McBrayer, who plays my favorite character, Kenneth, was a guest on the show. I immediately found him [after the show] and got a picture with him and put in on my Facebook. I was smiling for hours.

You guys blend many different styles that, on the surface, seem like they wouldn't go together. How would you describe your sound, besides the standard "rock and roll meets hip-hop, meets soul, meets funk"?

Our music, to us, is about passion and feeling. Whatever that sounds like is what we make. We use what we know to make what we feel, and that has gotten us to this sound, that even for me is hard to describe. The best way I can describe it is listening to what your soul is saying, and connecting that to our sound.

I'm curious about the songwriting dynamic among the group. With seven members, there must be a lot of ideas floating around. How do you arrange them into one coherent piece?

We never shut anyone down. We let whoever is working work until they feel they have arrived or exhausted themselves. Then we go through everything piece by piece and pick out what we all feel works. We have the honor of working with some amazing producers that really help in this area. But [we], as a band, give each other space to put down what they are feeling.

What would you consider the highlight of the band's career thus far?

For me, it's the shows where we can feel the crowd at its most intense moments. It could be a tiny venue with 200 people, but it feels as if we're in front of thousands because of the energy floating around. I also loved playing at the Jimmy Fallon show. So much fun!

Probably some of the most interesting stories I've heard from bands are about their worst live gigs ever. What's yours?

For me, as far as intense wreckage goes, it was playing at the George Lopez show. No one other than the live audience would ever know. We recorded "Trinity" for his website and the first time we played it, my guitar wasn't working. We finished the song and I had to stop the whole production and admit that I had no clue what was going on. Then in front of the entire audience, including George, I had to sort it out. Everyone was waiting for me to fix my gear and I had no clue what was happening! It was so scary. It was our first time on TV and all the cameramen and directors and producers were rushing me and it was freaking me out. I trashed my pedal board on my hands and knees while George moved on to recording some liners until something worked. Finally we re-recorded it with my emotions in shambles.

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