[MUSIC: Interview] Papa vs Pretty
It’s too easy to forget that Papa vs Pretty are such a young band; Thomas Rawle and his cohorts have accumulated such a huge swag of achievements since he began writing music at North Strathfield’s McDonald College in 2006. The frontman and songwriter of the local three-piece has toured alongside class acts including Phoenix and Silversun Pickups, and the band have been embraced by the listeners and the critics, with a J Award nomination in 2011 for their brilliant debut record, United In Isolation. But in the rush and hustle of rock’n’roll, Rawle never had the chance to get a driver’s licence.
“I’m rarely at home, so there’s no chance for me to try to drive,” he explains. “The problem is that now I’m trying to learn in a manual, and it’s totally fucked. I feel like I’m making all this progress and I’m doing really well and then something screws up. I wish I could blame the car, but it’s totally down to me.” Has he considered tapping into the band’s success, and indulging in an utterly excessive vehicle befitting a rocker? “I don’t think we’re quite at that status just yet,” he laughs, “and I feel like I want to be able to do it properly, you know? The problem is that vehicles in general just freak me out: when we first started out I’d be sitting on planes and just having massive anxiety. Whenever we had to tour I’d just be freaking out… Thankfully I’m much better now, but the gears thing is still tricky. I’ll just keep practicing.”
The band are capping off a hectic year of touring and recording with a special one-off show, to celebrate the first birthday of Sydney newcomer The Standard. When I ask for a progress report on new material, Rawle tells me he’s excited about the songs they’ve written but isn’t entirely sure what do with them yet. “I honestly don’t know what the next logical step is for us. I’m just excited that we’re playing this show at The Standard. It’s been such a huge year, starting with the Big Day Out tour, then we supported Incubus at their shows, and since then we’ve just been writing. I’ve written something like 50 or 60 new songs for the next thing, whatever that might be. Some of them might get used by us, some of it might get used for some writing with other people, but it’s better [now that] we actually have the songs there for us to call on.”
It’s hardly surprising that the songwriting sessions this year have proved so fruitful: in the six years since Papa vs Pretty began, they’ve released four EPs and last year’s debut album. Rawle, bassist Gus Gardiner and drummer Tom Myers are also in demand as guest artists and musical collaborators, with Gardiner’s jazz background called in to great effect as a multi-instrumentalist on Jack Carty’s gorgeous sophomore Break Your Own Heart earlier this year. Do the band ever feel crushed by the sheer volume of creative projects taking up their time? “It’s the only way we know how to be,” Rawle replies. “I miss out on basic life skills that other people mastered years ago because I spend so much time writing. I can’t drive at all, and I know that the longer you wait the harder it gets, [but] this is it for us. It’s what I have to do. And to be perfectly honest if I hadn’t written the amount of songs that I have, given the amount of time I spend playing music, I’d be much more worried.”
The recent addition of another live guitarist in Luke Liang has allowed the group to expand their approach to songwriting. “Obviously with another member the dynamic is changed,” Rawle says. “But the reality is that if you want to have any kind of longevity [as a band], then you have to step it up with each thing you do. Our live set-up involves a lot of guitars and a whole bunch of gadgets, so we really need four people to make it all work. Now we’ve got Luke I can focus on writing more – because some of us have to work really hard at songwriting and having the confidence to try new things.” When I express disbelief that Rawle struggles as a songwriter, he explains, “It’s just a confidence thing… The thing with music production now is that if you write using Pro Tools or Ableton it’s possible to create ebb and flow through the production, rather than the musicality of the writing. So it’s very easy to write using the same, cyclical four chords, and that’s great: David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ is one of the best songs ever and I love it. But you also have to be able to write a ‘Life On Mars’”.
Rawle is tight-lipped about his latest collaborations. Jack Carty recently told me the pair were working together, but the PvP frontman maintains mystery. “It’s really quite exciting for me at the moment. I kind of feel like Batman because I have all this stuff going on, and I’ve chosen not to tell anyone about it until release. I just feel that there’s such an image to music these days [that] you’re better off if you can detach yourself and just write and write and work… I work with a lot of people,” he says. “For now, the rest is a secret.”
With: Papa Vs Pretty, Fishing, Palms, Shady Lane, and Falcona DJs; artwork commissioned by Lo-Fi Collective
Where: The Standard’s First Birthday! @ The Standard
When: Thursday October 25
Posted: October 22nd, 2012 under Brag 485, Music, Music - Interview, New.
Tags: Falcona DJs, Fishing, LO-FI Collective, Palms, Papa vs. Pretty, Shady Lane, The Standard, The Standard’s First Birthday!, Thomas Rawle