PAPER CRANES: MY HIGH IDEAL DREAMING
About a year and a half ago, Rain Phoenix flew to Los Angeles for a visit and didn’t leave. She was hit by lightning—that is to say, she felt that jolt of inspiration that facilitates major life changes and immersed herself in the music and artistic community. She began playing her songs with musicians she met and the songs themselves blossomed. As if heated up by the sun and smog, she felt infused with this “energy” thing people talk about happening here. She was tired when Daiana Feuer met up with her at House of Pies for teatime.
Why are you tired?
We rehearsed till like 1 in the morning and I had to get up at 8.
Do you have a day job?
I got up to exercise. I had a class via computer. I do a ballet conditioning thing via iChat. If you cancel, you lose the class.
You see your teacher, your teacher sees you, you see your classmates. It’s called Ballet Beautiful. It’s great.
Isn’t it interesting to have appointments in virtual reality?
Especially when you put it that way.
So when the teacher praises your progress, they really mean YOU.
Yeah! And she corrects you. I can’t do the gym. I get bored. But I like to move. I’m very limber from doing all this now. I can kick my leg at a show and not limp for two days after. I can high kick.
Maybe you should try martial arts.
I have tried that. I do like it, I’m not against it. I love exercise. That’s my hobby.
Sports or working out?
Oh you said, ‘Sports OR working out.’ I thought you said, ‘Sports are like working out,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, yes they are.’ It’s working out.
Do you like rotating musicians?
It’s great when you find great players and we’ve been lucky, but it’s also fun to play with the same people for a while and lock it. I appreciate the time we have with the people we do, but I’m always happy for them if they get a better opportunity or a record they have to make. It’s always for a good reason so I am supportive of it, but it’s difficult to sort of go to square one. I am so used to it though. I’ve grown used to it. I don’t see it as a negative. There’s a silver lining to playing with new musicians and finding people that are excited about it all over again, that gets us all to see it anew.
What’s ‘anew’ with you now?
In January we started working on new material. This summer we’ll be releasing the first of three concept EPs, babies from Let’s Make Babies in the Woods. Three four-song EPs titled First Born, Middle Child and Baby.
What’s the through-line between Woods and the babies?
We just released Let’s Make Babies in the Woods, and the title just lent itself to continuing conceptually. As far as releasing them as separate entities, there were 20 songs we narrowed down to twelve and then groups of four songs that worked together. Each four had a separate personality from each other group of four; that’s how I thought of them as children. The firstborn is different from the middle child and so on. We separate the children and let each personality shine, to be individuals. Maybe then people can choose favorites and we can put them towards the family. It can keep going forever. I like to conceptualize things and it felt exciting when the idea came to me. These four sound like one personality. The first record is downtempo and cinematic and the demos of those songs have something about them that I don’t think could be repeated. Sometimes you record something and no matter how poor the recording is, there’s a mood or personality to how it was played that you can’t just redo. There’s a feeling in it that you sense. I didn’t want to tamper with how intensely everyone matched up in this dark room. It spoke of a very serious child. Sometimes the firstborn has the most responsibility for their siblings. It makes sense, this child.
How are the ‘children’ different from the Woods?
Let’s make a baby in the woods—there was no question we were going to give ourselves a chance to second-guess what we were doing, we were just going to record it and be off-the-cuff and be unforgiving to that commitment to experiment. The off-the-cuff thing is what I wanted. I wanted something naked and raw. But once you do one thing, you want to do the next. Lyrically, I work in the same things that a lot of people do: it’s love and relationships and birth and death and family and friendships and nature and all of that. Religion is in the middle child a lot. There’s questions of God and nature and love. Lots of existential thoughts. I wrote these around New Year’s with the concept of making a ‘family’ or siblings/children from Let’s Make Babies in the Woods—grouping songs like personalities in different children, and taking them through the process of birth, childhood, life, marriage, divorce, happiness, religion and death.
Are these the themes that are currently present in your world?
Absolutely. Within my personal world, yes, and they are the themes of all of our worlds. And that leaves room for the listener to impart their own emotional attachment to what they’re hearing. It’s very personal for me. I write most of them first from stream-of-consciousness, based on melodies in the moment, the music that’s there at the same time. Usually the first spontaneous words I spit out, I keep. Writing from a subconscious place, there’s true stories in the songs that I discover later. I might find a personal story in it or I might realize I wrote something about a friend going through a divorce. It wasn’t me, but it was the theme that came through from a facet of my life. Songs can mean anything and nothing, pretty much. I hope to approach writing that way and still give a universal story. With a lot of the lyrics, even if I go back and work on them, the words just pop out from our collective unconscious. I can go back and edit and bring in my personal themes but it originates from this collective unconscious place and so it involves the themes of so many people and who we are as human beings. I hope that what I write connects to other people on a personal level that they can echo back to me.
Is the collective unconscious more like a river passing by that you pull something out of or is it stored inside somewhere like a container?
It’s wild that you mention that. I went to an estate sale and bought all these old records from the 20s and 30s and 40s. I put them on and I was listening to the lyrics and looking at the song titles—‘I Was Dancing With a Tear in My Eye’ or ‘I’m Crying Because I Love You.’ The song titles were awesome. I connected with ‘Dancing With a Tear in My Eye’ and it’s not current and it’s not what I would write and it’s cheesy but I felt so connected. I was blown away by the idea that the themes are the same no matter what time we live in or how it’s said. Those feelings and thoughts and words. It’s so amazing to think about the people from the 1930s in their amazing flapper moments having the same bad moments and the same good moments of connection to the themes of the human heart. I want to be a part of us talking about them in song. I won’t be here forever, but I love the idea of people connecting to me and connecting to the people that I connect to. That idea that it’s all there all the time for us to tap into. We will always be connected by these themes—primarily love—and relating to joy and sorrow and birth and death and all these big themes are there for the human race. We all love or hate and have jealousy and all the themes that make up the emotional body. They’re always there. I feel like writing from that place is almost being aware that it’s out there and allowing it to come out and be here. The themes of the past are the themes of the present and future.
What’s Gift Horse Project about?
When I moved to L.A., I started this artist collective, Gift Horse Project, with A.J. Mason. It’s about my high ideal dreaming—feeling like it’s in the realm of possibility: how to see that value is not so much about money, all-for-me stuff, but more about the value of uplifting each other so we all win. It’s trying to put that idea in action by bringing together different artists to make one band or one gallery show or one event for one night only for charity. Even though we’re poor, all artists want to give back to other artists who might not have anything, but want to make art. That came through the sense of community that is already here in Los Angeles. I had been talking about it in New York, about how to create a collective that gives back and rotates artists so that people are exposed to more musicians and artists in a short amount of time that better fits the ADD of our time. The attention span is so little that to get a bunch of artists in the time that you might get one artist keeps people gripped and interested in a showcase. Collaboration lets us change how we as artists help each other get to where we want to be. There’s plenty of room for everybody and we should all shine and flourish, but how can we do that together if need be?
How does Papercranes put these principles into practice?
Papercranes is me and whoever I work with at the time, so it evolves through constant and shifting collaboration. Let’s Make Babies in the Woods was written with my Gainesville Papercranes. After I moved, the Florida guys gave me their blessing to play with a new band here. My motto is that I have to keep going, writing songs with people. What I like about moving around is that every incarnation of the band brings something to the sound. It’s ever-changing.
At last year’s Manimal Fest, I took it that you wrote mellow music because you played your songs slower and laidback. Then at the Stone Bar in February, your guitarist was using his teeth within ten minutes. Same songs but totally different!
It’s never really that deliberate. It has to do with the energy in the room that makes the performance free form and crazy. It’s hard to have an idea in my head and go execute it. I’m not sure what’s going to happen show to show. I like the element of surprise, when I lose myself or feel very self-aware and nervous. That was actually the same band. Actually the record we put out with Manimal was tracked by Gainesville Papercranes but has only been played live by this band. So it’s the first time that these songs have become a live real band feeling. We tracked the songs very experimentally, often in one take, off-the-cuff, and that’s what made the record. Now to play them as entities with new musicians has grown the songs too. Manimal was an early stage of the band.
The musicians you’ve brought together are interesting. Jenny O on keys, Kirk Hellie on guitar, the cellists. It is experimental. It’s easy to digest but at the same time it is different.
The cellos are special. As we become more comfortable and sonically gelled, energetically as a band it comes off more intensely. The shows are now showing each of our personalities and the whole group idea. By continuing playing, our sound keeps evolving.
From your stage performance, one might assume you’re a lively, flexible, excited person, surrounded by all this hair.
You mean because that’s how the last two shows spoke to you?
Your hair was all over the place and you were fist-pumping and stretching, moving around. There was a lot of power.
It’s the energy in the room, the audience, the way it just feels physically. The energetic exchange between watched and watchers is an amazing part of what makes performance and also that connection with the band frees me from thinking too much about whether we’re playing the song right. I’m just in a zone. That’s what you’re seeing. I’m able to just let myself go and that’s what happens when I let myself go. So, yes, if hairy and all over the place is the description, I’ll take it because that is authentically how I’m feeling at the moment.
Why is music what you do?
Well, I can sing. I finally admitted that at a certain point. I can sing! I can hold notes properly, and I really love that form of expression. Though I sang from a young age, I finally mentally accepted that as who I was. That propelled me to pursue it as my art form and not be caught between a million things I want to try to do and am good at. A process of elimination and delineation finally let me do that. It’s wonderful to write a song and to connect with a band, for me there’s nothing better. It’s the best drug I’ve ever tried. Music is the best high I’ve ever experienced, and so I’m addicted.
Do you live this life because you have to or can you see yourself in an alternate straight reality?
If by straight you mean doing something that is not in front of the camera or on the microphone and doing something behind the scenes in something creative—yes, I love doing that. I’m fond of collaborating and bringing people together and not being the focus of that thing. I enjoy organizing people to play music, creating shows, creating nights. I like doing that, and I enjoy producing. I’m very hands-on with my records. It’s all in an artistic field that I see myself. I don’t know if I could hold down a desk job. If there were an option for me that was not artistic or creative, it would be housekeeping. I’m really organized and really good at house-cleaning.
Do you like to do the dishes?
Yeah, I love that. I’ll go to people’s houses and if there’s sink fulls of dishes, I’ll do them because I enjoy it. I’ve gone to friends’ houses and cleaned them. If all else fails, I’d be a great housekeeper.
You could sing and clean at the same time?
That sounds almost fetishistic. I like it.
Swoop your hair around as you clean the curtains.
Full rock outfit, cleaning, vacuuming, fishnets. Definitely.
Do you know how to make a paper crane?
I don’t. The original guitarist thought of the name and was a real origami fan. He would fold them all the time. He and his girlfriend folded about 50 for me to shoot my music video for ‘Synapsis.’ They got blisters from folding all night. I’ve never had the patience to fold an origami crane.
But you’ll do all the dishes in someone’s house?
And in so fast amount of time. I enjoy it if someone leaves the room and they come back and it’s like, ‘Wow, what just happened?’ And I don’t leave them dirty. It’s not just for the sake of quickness. I get into a zone with dishes.
PAPERCRANES WITH CAMERAS, THE CHILD AND GUINEAFOWL AT THE MANIMAL VINYL SHOWCASE ON THUR., OCT. 13, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8 PM / $5 / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM.