Q&A: Paper Tiger
Leeds homies Paper Tiger, possibly the city’s most accomplished hip-hop outift, are stopping off at HiFi on their tour of the UK this week. In a city that was once a real hotbed for hip-hop sounds, they are one of the few flag bearers of the genre – and, as their last album Blast Off indicated, they are aiming to plant this flag on the moon. Their mixtapes and studio recordings are pretty cosmic in their instrumentation, but their grounded lyricism ensures that it doesn’t get lost in space. With new music coming in 2018 and a live mixtape on the way in October, we spoke to Greg from the band to see where they are at.
You are a Leeds based band. How has the city helped you to become the band you are today? It’s rare to be in a city as rich with club and gig culture, yet it still feel like a village – would you agree?
It’s definitely got a lot of music and culture for such a small city – having a big population of arts and music students helps of course. Half the band is elsewhere these days, but being in Leeds definitely gave us time and space to experiment – rehearsal space is cheap and plentiful – and it’s inspiring being surrounded by so many great musicians all the time. You can pass 10 jazz musicians in the street on your way to buy milk. Also Leeds gave us one of our most influential formative experiences: hearing the Iration Steppas soundsystem for the first time.
Your last single, Rush, was a lyrical and sonic ode to London, taking grimy elements and putting your own funky impression on it. Why did you choose to write about the capital? Do you think Leeds has to do more to achieve the same level of energy?
The rapper in our band (Raphael Attar) is from South London originally. He came up here to study and moved back there quite recently, so I think he had a renewed sense of appreciation for the pace of life there. I don’t think Leeds needs to compete with London really – there’s plenty of vibrancy without having to sacrifice things like trees and manners.
You also have members from Wolverhampton. I once went there for a football game. How would you sum it up in a line?
Not the worst place in the world, but by no means the best… just, meh. They do love football though.
You were recently involved in the Manchester With Love project. How positive are you that music is a healing force in the world?
It was great to be asked to supply a track for that project, as there’s so many great people involved and it’s obviously for a good cause. Music will always have that power to transport you to another world, lift your spirits or turn a negative into a positive – whether it’s providing pure escapism, a sense of belonging, or just an opportunity to shout rap lyrics in your car.
How do you like doing your radio show on KMAH? It is quite a distinct creative process to your usual music making, isn’t it?
Yeah it’s great – Leeds has been crying out for something like KMAH for a while and people seem to have really connected with it. Doing the radio show definitely provides an incentive for seeking out new music regularly. There’s so much stuff out there now that it can be hard to keep up, but we often struggle to narrow it down to 2 hours a month! Radio has had a massive impact on my own listening habits, hearing people like Mary Anne Hobbs and Gilles Peterson enthuse about all kinds of music from all over the world. Doing the show is just like what we do with each other in person – saying ‘hey have you heard this?’ and sharing it. It’s more like making a mixtape, rather than DJing or performing.
I sometimes find bands to be quite pretentious because their role as listeners isn’t made clear. I enjoy it when a band loves other music as much as me, and not just themselves. The hip-hop sampling tradition changed all this. What is your take?
I agree that it seems strange when artists appear not to have any enthusiasm for other people’s music. We’re all fans first and foremost, and the desire to create music comes from wanting to join in the conversation – to share our ideas and interests with other people. Hip-hop culture was definitely a jumping-off point into discovering lots of other music for us, and realising that everything’s fair game. I’ve always found artists and listeners with super-narrow genre constraints quite confusing – why limit yourself? It seems so boring. There’s so much out there to discover and enjoy, especially now. We commonly hear from rappers that our music’s too strange to rap to, or that it doesn’t have the exact bpm that they usually work with. You wouldn’t just eat spaghetti for every single meal for your entire life would you, or draw the exact same picture 500 times in a row? (I guess some people would. That’s weird though.)
Do you think there is enough of a beats/hip-hop scene in Leeds? Where are all the proper hip-hop club nights? Do you go out much, anyway, or do you mainly spend time in the studio?
As I said, we’re fans of music so we do go and see a fair amount of stuff – obviously when friends are playing in the city etc. There seems to be quite distinct scenes that dominate in Leeds: house music in clubs, rock/experimental bands at places like Brudenell, and the jazzy stuff coming out of the music college. Our music has always fallen between various categories – too jazzy for clubs, too much rapping for musos, too heavy for jazzers – so we’ve always just done our own thing really. Decent beats-type nights have come and gone in our time here and have always been under-subscribed, and most of the hip-hop nights tend to be semi-ironic 90’s student affairs. It’s a shame, but nightlife is increasingly about economics – if the numbers don’t add up then promoters aren’t going to go for it. Something like an equivalent to Low End Theory at Wire or Hi-Fi would be amazing though.
Your Facebook updates suggest you are still happy with the album you released a year ago. Do you think this is a rare phenomenon, to not be bored or unhappy with your work? How have you maintained interest in this older material?
Our earliest releases are a bit lacking technically, so that always makes you cringe a little listening back. But we were pleased with them at the time and they capture a moment, so they’re still enjoyable. But ‘Blast Off’ (our 2nd album released in 2016) was the first time where we felt like everything really came together in a coherent whole, and that our technique has caught up with our ideas. If you listen to our first album ‘Laptop’ Suntan (2013), I think you can hear the progression between the two. It really feels like we’ve found our way of working, and our sound. We haven’t actually played it all live much yet – this tour is a proper chance to do so, and that always makes things feel fresh. It’s important to enjoy your own music though and not be too precious about it – if you don’t enjoy listening to it, then you can’t expect other people to! Most of the time people who say ‘oh I can’t listen to my own tunes’ are just being faux-humble anyway.
You describe your sound as space-funk. If you had the chance to go into space but never return, would you do it?
Definitely, as long as we could still get a decent cup of tea.