The Norman Transcript

Sound Advice by Doug Hill

September 6, 2013

Paper Lions to claw Norman

Prince Edward Island’s exports include mostly quiet ones such as potatoes but it’s also home port to indie rock band Paper Lions.

The Canadian quartet will play their first Oklahoma show Wednesday at the Opolis micro venue in Norman’s downtown arts district. One endearing aspect of Paper Lions is that their new album of songs titled “My Friends” (Fountain Pop Records, 2013) is all about the pastoral 2,100 square mile hunk of paradise they call home.

On a recent automobile journey from New York City back to “The Island” vocalist John MacPhee spoke by telephone about their music.

“Our roots are on Prince Edward Island,” he said. “We grew up there in a small town called Belfast and every major childhood memory is wrapped up in the island.”

MacPhee’s brother Rob is in the band along with guitarist Colin Buchanan who was their next door neighbor. Drummer David MacDonald was a high school classmate.

“When we started working up the lyrics for this album we started sharing stories from our youth and realized there was a large arsenal of shared memories we could tap into,” MacPhee said. “Sometimes one person could start the story and another could finish it from a shared perspective.”

It dawned on them that it was a unique position for song writers to hold and dig into. The Island has several nicknames including “Garden of the Gulf” because of rich agricultural land. Only 130,000 people live there but it takes four hours to drive its banana-shaped length.

“My family has a 160 year old farmhouse right in the center of the island where we go in the summers,” MacPhee said. “It’s a place of rolling meadows that resembles Ireland. It’s an incredibly lush place with hills and brooks.”

One song called “Little Liar” laments the notion that as they grow older and seek their fortunes elsewhere the likelihood of summering there ever again diminishes. Paper Lions’ music reflects the beauty of the place they call home. It’s an attractive pop rock sound that’s melodic and unpretentious. Their tunes have a gentle intensity and approachable quality with appeal for many kinds of listeners. Comparisons to the Beatles and Beach Boys are rife. That’s relatively common schtick in today’s indie rock realm, but Paper Lions accomplish it with particularly adept personality and panache. It’s unlikely you’ll need hearing protection at their live performance and virtually guaranteed you’ll be able to decipher their lyrics and understand the words’ meanings.

They have a charming songbook that’s aurally differentiated among the selections. There’s an abundance of tight vocal harmony, well orchestrated instrumental accompaniment and memorable lyrics. The overall impression is of well-crafted songs, strongly performed by sincere, intelligent musicians. Paper Lions’ music is not contrived fluff. They intersperse powerful rock passages throughout stories about boys building forts and love for the women in their lives.

Paper Lions’ 2013 challenge includes consistently recreating that good music on their first major North American tour with 30 dates in places they’ve mostly never played before.

“Certainly the magical thing about touring is playing in front of people who know and love the music,” MacPhee said. “Giving them that experience with you is quite a rewarding process.”

They consider working in the studio and producing a record just the start of building a relationship with their fans.

“Our performance philosophy of live performance is to start with the album in mind and then take it in directions that you couldn’t necessarily record,” he said. “We like high energy with a few curve balls thrown into the show to make it a memorable night for us and the audience.”

Paper Lions’ stage ethos was ingrained in them by a manager early their career that began nearly a decade ago.

“He told us that live shows should be fun, dynamic, have an element of surprise, big energetic moments and quiet thoughtful ones,” MacPhee said. “I’ve come to appreciate charismatic front men such as Queen’s Freddie Mercury and we’re always striving to be better.”

Paper Lions are excited about their maiden visit to Norman.

“This tour is going to be a whole bunch of firsts for us as a band,” MacPhee said. “Coming to Oklahoma is one of them.”

If You Go

What: Paper Lions, Colin Nance and Octopus Project in concert.

Where: Opolis, 113 N. Crawford

When: Wed. Sept. 11, 9 p.m.

Cost: $12                  

Paper Lions are brothers and friends.


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Sound Advice by Doug Hill