Unaware of the exact location, I drive past the band’s house several times in my bulbous plum on wheels before finally locating the address known by few as The Pie Hole.
Tomorrow night, The Pie Hole’s basement will be the sight of Green Paper’s official record release party for the band’s debut Fire, the first in a series of five albums, musically themed around the elements.
In the short time that I’ve known front-man Tomm Hart, he hasn’t made secret his adoration for Japanese culture meaning that the final record will either focus on the fifth Japanese element of “Void,” or Space, or Bruce Willis’ timeless Sci-Fi essential The Fifth Element. Either way, I’m sure it will be a great listen, but if I was a betting man, I’d lean toward the former.
Tonight, however, The Pie Hole’s basement plays host to me as I am about to embark on what will go down as the strangest and most fun interview I have had the pleasure of conducting, but for now, we chill in the living room because the pizza has arrived and the band is midway through an episode of the USA Network Dramedy Psych starring Dule Hill and James Roday.
Mike Mendonez is less interested on what’s playing out on screen and more focused on his makeshift photo shoot with the house owner’s fuzzy, white, Bichon Frise. The dog is wearing a red sweater and the guitarist has affixed a Green Paper sticker to it’s back, placing the pup in different poses.
“Now he’s a marketing tool on four legs,” says the guitarist.
After the food and jokes have been consumed the members of Green Paper lead me down a creaky staircase into a bomb shelter of a basement, no windows, just four cinderblock walls, Natalie Newbold’s drum kit, a series of pedal boards and amps, and pool table used more as storage facility for broken guitars than for billiards.
“I need to use the spider bathroom before we begin,” says lead guitarist Jeff Lane.
I inquire about the nickname “spider bathroom” and the Mendonez explains that it’s a lightless bathroom and there are spiders everywhere. “I don’t recommend that you use it,” he continues before offering me the band’s prized throne, the coveted taco chair.
Although the band has only been together a couple of years, there is a noticeable camaraderie, a way in which they are able to operate on the wave-length, Lane and Hart are especially quick with a joke, almost in friendly competition to one up each other, matching each other’s comedic stories and quips. Yet it’s Mendonez who is the keeper of Green Paper’s lore.
“Me and Jeff [Lane] met in kindergarten and he thought I was black, that’s pretty much how it all started,” said Mendonez. “Then in eighth grade we bought guitars and thought we were really cool for a while. And then in high school we weren’t cool for a while, so we went to school at TCNJ [The College Of New Jersey].”
It was at TCNJ where Mendonez and Lane met Hart and the three played as three piece until they they figured at that they had something special and recruited Natalie Newbold to handle the drumming duties.
“All three of us took a shot at drums,” explains Lane, “but none of us could keep the timing. So I asked Natalie to jam with us once, and then decided she was in the band…she didn’t know that yet, but it worked out pretty well.”
The chemistry was there from the start and now, only a short while later, Green Paper sits only a day away from the official release of it’s debut album Fire.
Throughout the interview the band tosses out numerous descriptions of the album’s sound, one more ridiculously entertaining than the next. At one point Lane describes the record as “A bunch of baby spiders crawling out of guitar, all of which are playing baby spider guitars.”
Hart calls it akin to “An airplane crashing, but the airplane is full of cats,” while Mendonez recalls the reactions of Evan Bernard and Chris Baglivo, the engineers of the record, as “It sounds like a bunch of really cool babies having a party.”
“Nobody ever really questioned that logic either,” said Hart of the engineer’s description, “that just sort of became the new method of understanding. We just agreed like, ‘Yeah, baby party, you’re absolutely right.'”
But this record’s sonic appeal is more than an a collection of infantile creatures hosting guitar parties in a nose diving aircraft. It’s trippy and fuzzy, Rock N’ Roll and pop, catchy and mind warping in a 10-track collection, and it stems from the outfit’s greatest influences.
“We all hate the Allman Brothers,” Lane responds when questioned about what the group draws from. “Honestly though, all we have in the car when we travel is Pet Sounds and different albums from The Beatles, but mostly Abbey Road.”
Which segues perfectly into my next query about the opening salvo of Fire. “This is your debut,” I state, “the first time Green Paper is putting a full length product out into the public forum. These days, the attention span of people from our generation is something that can only be measured in nano-seconds. Why did you choose to lead off with a track that reminds me of ‘Revolution 9,’ why is that what you want people to hear first?”
“The first thing we ever recorded was called Bookends,” answers Lane. “It’s a two-song EP, the first track is ‘April 27th, 2004,’ and the second is called ‘Like Dirt.’ And we called Bookends because those two songs are like the beginning and the end of this five album project we’re doing.”
“If you listen closely on track one of Fire,” Lane continues, “you can hear a piano take from ‘Like Dirt, and the reasoning behind leading off our debut the way we did is because it seemed like the easiest way to branch the end of the last record, which we’re still unsure of how it will end, with the beginning of the first one…and also, because, we wanted people, if they’re on drugs when they’re listening to it, to feel really weird and then feel even weirder.”
After pushing a little further, Lane divulges that the opening audio collage is a more personal matter than he let on, stating that the track is a bunch of tape loops he cut up and arranged, the samples of which were taken from cassettes left to him by his late father.
“I really hated those tapes,” says Lane. “They were just a bunch of live Clapton sets and things of that nature. There was a Nat King Cole tape that was good though. The collage is definitely a sentimental thing for me though.”
As I question the band members about other specific tracks, more and more information comes out. For instance, track five, “Summer/Translation Blues/Summer Reprise,” an intense medley, with enchanting tempo alterations and Hart’s fiery interrogation of an undisclosed female character, has deep and personal meaning. According to Hart “The song is about the power people wield over you, how they can make you feel so shitty inside, and that same power you have over others, and how the perpetrator can just walk away without feeling anything or thinking twice about it.”
Later it comes out that “April 27th, 2004” and “Still Waves,” the first true tracks on the record are songs the band despised prior to the recording process.
“I to find it interesting that we started the album off with a pair of songs that we hate.” says Lane. “We actually had to convince each other that they were good. Tomm kept telling us that “April [27th, 2004]” sucked, but we said, ‘Dude, it’s the perfect Pop song, there’s a lot of things we can do with it.'”
“Everyone in my high school, including me, despised ‘April’ when I was a solo artist,” adds Hart. “I would be on stage with my acoustic guitar and everyone in town listened to hardcore so you can’t actually make a band with anyone. At the time I was recording in my basement and that was the one song where I said fuck it. I turned up all the settings the opposite way and I just wrote this really pissed-off song. Also, I wrote it the week after the first high school party I ever went to where I wound up getting shit-faced and puking in this kid’s bushes, it was pretty sweet. But I definitely hated the song when I wrote it.”
“And it was vice versa for ‘Still Waves,’ continues Lane. “Before we got together I had written this song in E-minor and I couldn’t stand it, so I did some Sonic Youth shit and threw it away. And then Tomm heard it and he said…I don’t know, I forget what Tomm said. But yeah, we came together, took two songs Tomm and I personally despised and made them work.”
Green Paper made it work indeed, as Fire clocked in at #13 on SIMGE’s Top 35 Albums Of 2010 (despite the record not being officially released yet, it fell into my lap in December and was too good to have it go unrecognized). And, although it is undoubtedly meant to trip people out, let it be known that Fire is much more than that. It’s a work born from heart break, personal loss, alleged covert recording operations in a collegiate studio somewhere in Philadelphia, and diets consisting mainly of burritos for weeks at a time.
Fire is an amazing triumph and the story of its creation is staggering, the ultimate tale of D.I.Y. band handling its business and scoffing at those who told them “no.”
As for what it’s about, from the mouths of its authors “I really don’t know what it’s about,” says Lane “This is supposed to be our Rock album, it’s gonna be really rockin’ I guess. But, the concept behind it, I guess, is being totally fucked.”
“Don’t look at me,” says Hart, “I suppose the whole album is about people using people and how many relationships we go through. We see people and relationships as a usable commodity and its upsetting.”
“On a final note,” continues Lane, “it’s going to be the best Summer album released in Winter.”
“And that’s probably not the best marketing idea either,” adds Hart as we exit The Pie Hole.