The Paper Kites’ Sam B: “I didn’t want to be held back by what I thought I should do”

As Melbourne indie-folk five piece The Paper Kites have shown us, there’s something pretty special about the hours after midnight, when the warmth of the sun is long gone, a blanket of stars has taken over the sky, and the mood has turned solemn and peaceful, with only candlelight to guide your way through the house. This is the setting in which frontman Sam Bentley immersed himself for months to write the concept album twelvefour (the band’s upcoming second record due out August 28) which is based on the idea that an artist’s creative peak is between the hours of midnight and 4am.

The Paper Kites ensemble (Sam Bentley, Christina Lacy, Dave Powys, Josh Bentley and Sam Rasmussen) recently released the first single from twelvefour, Electric Indigo. Reflecting a bolder, more 80s soaked sound than what we’re used to hearing from the dreamy folk quintet, Electric Indigo is a painfully pretty ballad that melds stunning, harmonies with luscious, moody electric guitar. Accompanying the single is a gorgeous video clip (see below) showcasing the magic that happens after midnight when you’re just a little more spontaneous, a little more brave and yes, perhaps a little bit more socially lubricated.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Sam Bentley to hear more about making the upcoming album twelvefour. He told us about what it was like to flip his life upside down in the pursuit of creativity (“I’d fall asleep at the keyboard and I’d fall asleep on the floor”) and what it was like to collaborate with Grammy-nominated producer Phil Ek as they produced the record (“He took us aside and said, “I think you need to let these songs be what they want to be.””). Sam also told us about what it was like to collaborate with his band and how they dealt with moments of conflict and diverging views (“you can have some heated arguments, and that’s all part of making a record. It’s all of us caring about the album we make.”).

Hi Sam! Where are you calling us from?

Hi! I’m in Melbourne – and this is going to sound really lame – but I’m currently having some tea and scones. It’s pretty cold in old Melbourne here!

As you do! Thanks for taking the time to speak to me. Congrats on the new album twelvefour. It’s gorgeous and I love the story behind it (of writing between midnight and 4am). I’m kind of bummed we couldn’t do this interview at midnight!

That would’ve been great! Maybe my responses would’ve been all too honest.

That would’ve been so cool, damn. In any case, as you’ve described, twelvefour it is a concept record based around a theory that an artist’s creative peak is between the hours of midnight and 4am. I read that when your mind gets tired your focus broadens and you’re able to see more opportunities and connections. Did you feel that was the case?

Yeah, well I didn’t really know what to expect going into it. I’d only heard through conversations with friends and I’d seen someone talking about it in an interview – but we can’t even find the original interview – so we’re not even sure if we got the hours right! But that’s what I got from it so I thought, yep that sounds good – let’s do that. I found it really difficult to start off with just because I kept falling asleep! I’d fall asleep at the keyboard and I’d fall asleep on the floor, and then you’d wake up and keep trying to write something. But I think that time of night is a really moody time of night – you feel all sorts of melancholic feelings. Even that 80s-soaked vibe that you hear through the record, that’s totally the sound of that time of night – it makes you just want to put on a Cure record!

I’m so glad that you say that, The Cure is one of my favourite bands. I definitely picked up on that 80s vibe in the album. Can you take us back to those midnight writing hours and set the scene for us? Was it candlelight? Was it a mostly solitary experience?

Matt (Matthew J Cox, the filmmaker) – who directed the documentary that’s coming out – shot this really beautiful opening scene, which is very true to how the setup was. He came over at midnight and did this one long shot following me walking through the house from my bedroom, into the kitchen, and making a cup of tea, and came into the studio and turned everything on. He really nails the mood. It’s all very low light (or no light, just the moonlight showing), with a lot of candles; anything to cool the mood down a bit. I didn’t like it overly bright in there, I wanted it to feel kind of lonely and sombre. But now I’ve got the neon signs up (from the album cover) in my studio, so that would’ve been great to have.

Since Electric Indigo has come out and you’re sharing that you’ve gone through this creative process, have you had other artists reach out to share their view on their own experience, or ask for advice?

Yeah, a few people. A few writers have emailed and said they’re looking to try it or said that they felt it was true [being more creative after midnight]. I think anyone that does any sort of art or writing can identify with it – often people don’t find time throughout the day to sit down and work on their craft until those late hours. I’d definitely encourage anyone who hasn’t done it to try it – you get some interesting results. It’s funny, even if it’s not actually true, there has to be some sort of placebo effect about it; when you’re writing in those hours, you feel more creative.

I read an interview where someone had said your songs were perfect songs to drive around at midnight and clear your head with. Was it your intent that people listen to this record at night, perhaps alone?

I don’t know! I think it caters to both night and day. There are certain songs that really capture that midnight mood, like Neon Crimson; it’s so sad, and so moody. But there’s some up songs like I’m Lying To You Cause I’m Lost that are more ‘up’ songs – it doesn’t feel like a ‘late night’ kind of song, even though that’s when it was written. I think it’s not necessarily something that has to be listened to at midnight but it would be interesting to listen to it during those hours. I don’t think I have yet – I should probably do that. There were so many songs written for the record and each song was so different. We had an interesting time trying to put all the songs together.

I managed to get a preview, and as Electric Indigo may have suggested, sonically the record does feel like it explores a lot of new sounds for you – overall it feels like a bolder sound, some of the songs have a strong 80s vibe, whereas some have a quite strong country feel to it, beyond your ‘classic’ folk sound. Was it a conscious decision to explore and experiment with multiple genres?

That was the beauty of the whole twelvefour thing. I didn’t want to be held back by what I thought I should do. Sometimes you get ideas for a song but you just scrap it because it doesn’t fit with either what you expect from yourself, or what your band expected from you. I was really conscious of not doing that this time. If a song wanted to sound like a shoe gazer song, that’s what I’d let it be. Even working with Phil in Seattle, that’s what he said to us. He took us aside and said, “I think you need to let these songs be what they want to be. If the song wants to sound lush and 80s, let it sound like that. If it wants to sound gritty, let it sound like that.”

We did end up with a whole lot of different songs because I wasn’t sticking to anything, which kind of made it hard for everyone when they got all the demos. Every song was different than the last one, and a lot of weird songs that didn’t even make it on the album – like ones influenced by Massive Attack and trip hop – which didn’t quite gel with every other one. But I still wanted to let each song be what the song wanted to be. I didn’t really make any apologies for it being such a weird eclectic bunch of demos. But in culling the songs, and picking a top 10, we had to make it work together as a record – and I think it does, and I’m glad it makes sense for people, because combining like an 80s vibe with shoegaze is a little weird. There’s still elements of folk and singer songwriter that you would expect from us. We weren’t sure if it was going to work but Phil said to us, you need to trust it.

It’s great to see you flirting with different genres and being open to different sounds.

I can’t limit myself to one kind of music and I want to be a bit of a chameleon artist, I would hate to stick to one thing. I am sure it frustrates my band. I need to keep it fresh and relevant to what I’m interested in.

The Electric Indigo video clip is a story of spontaneity, bravery and all the great things that happen after midnight. Who came up with the story line?

I read it and sent it to Matt because I really wanted him to direct it. It’s actually sort of one of a trilogy, not storyline wise, but different scenarios that go on in those hours [between 12 and 4am]. We wanted to create these late night scenarios that could happen and wanted to draw on that late night mood and 80s soaked vibe – that was the first idea. Ever since I saw the song I saw something like that video with it. It was a pretty ambitious video but I think Matt did an amazing job. Charles and Laura [Charles Grounds and Laura Brent, the twelvefour actors] are so good together, they have amazing chemistry.

In the trailer for the twelvefour documentary you’ve hinted at a few moments of conflict and diverging views within your team. Can you describe what it was like to work together and how do you deal when you have moments of conflict?

The whole point was to document what it’s like to make a record and have a very candid view, and show that it’s not always easy. For each of the members of the band, we have our own ideas of what we can pull off, what we should be playing. Sometimes that clashes. When someone challenges another person in the band about what they think we should being doing, sometimes it’s hard not to get defensive or sensitive because we all care about making a good record, and when you start messing with people’s ideas … you can have some heated arguments, and that’s all part of making a record. It’s all of us caring about the album we make. But we slog it out with our conversations, each person tries to present their point about why something should make it or shouldn’t, but at the end of the day we’re all really good mates and it’s all in the best interest of trying to make something that we’re proud of. It was funny having the camera there for some of the conversations. I’m glad it’s going to show a more realistic view of what artists put into making their records.

I’m sure that bands who are just coming together would value you being authentic about what it’s like when there’s different points of view about what direction you should take.

We certainly had a lot of moments where we were really frustrated – Matt would come up with the camera and you’d want him to piss off. I’d get really worked up about it because I’d be trying to push this idea and people wouldn’t get it, and vice versa. We were being challenged and no one was letting up. There were a few moments when we looked back and thought, gee, I hope people don’t think the band will break up because of the arguments that we had!

We definitely don’t want that – we’re big fans of you! Thanks for talking to us today Sam.

Thanks – it was lovely to speak to you.