Friday, April 15, 2011

Chicago band Paper Thick Walls hypnotizing audiences with its brand of folk pop


One can't help but be drawn into the hypnotic folk pop of Chicago band Paper Thick Walls.

With the May 3 release of the group's first record, "A Thousand Novels," Paper Thick Walls,, is set to ensnare even more listeners.

The band, fronted by Kate Schell and Eric Michaels, will perform at a record release party May 6 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago.

Derek Nelson & The Musicians also is on the bill. The show starts at 10 p.m. and tickets are $8, available at

I had the chance to talk to Schell about the band and the making of "A Thousand Novels."

Q - This is your first record. What kind of goals did you have for the record?

Well, we're doing a lot of work right now. Right now, we are on tour a lot, almost every weekend. We're trying to get our album out to different markets. It would be awesome for it to get picked by a pretty cool record label. That's the final goal so far.

Q - Like an indie label?

Yeah, a cool indie label like Matador or something.

Q - When you sat down to make the record, what kind of goals did you have?

Eric and I would just get together and sit down and write music, the lyrics before the music. Almost everything we have written so far is all fiction.

Our idea was to create these really visually enhanced songs, such as in the lyric, "I saw you reading by the water." We talk about a lot of atmospheric themes.

When you talk about stuff like that, people can get involved in it better.

Q - It sounds like you were really trying to draw a picture for people through your songs.

Yeah, definitely.

Q - As far as how the album turned out, did it live up to your expectations?

Yeah. A lot of the stories are different, yet all similar in one way or another. They are all about love and loss, and that is sort of the idea that we had, a collaboration of different vignettes within a novel.

Q - Back in 2004, you were named VH1 Songwriter of the Year. How did you feel about getting an award like that?

I really couldn't believe that I got it. It was kind of overwhelming, but at the same time, it was really great, and just gave me a huge boost of confidence.

My songwriting style from that record has definitely changed and evolved. It is a little bit more mature.

Q - How so?

The style of my music and who I'm influenced by personally has changed vastly in the past six years. That was like piano pop.

My style now is much more folky. I'm influenced by people like Cat Power and Joanna Newsom.

Q - I'm sure you have seen your band's music labeled in different ways. How would you classify your music?

It's like folk pop or folk rock. A lot of people compare us to Arcade Fire. The band that we are into right now is The Nationals.

Q - You met Eric, I understand, when you were both attending Loyola University Chicago.

I was a music major, and he was a theater major at Loyola. Those departments are literally stacked on top of each other in the same building.

But we didn't meet each other until our last year there.

Q - Did you discover early on that your voices blended well together?

Yeah, it's really weird. We would go to each others' shows, and finally, one day, we said, "why don't we sit down and try to write some songs?"

The first song we wrote together was "A Thousand Novels."

Q - I see that Mike Hagler, who has worked with the likes of Neko Case and Wilco, was the sound engineer for "A Thousand Novels."

He's a great guy. We recorded "A Thousand Novels" in both of our apartments, mostly in Eric's. We took what we recorded, and gave it to Mike Hagler, and he just polished it up. It sounds like it was recorded in a professional studio.

Q - How did he hear about you guys?

Eric's former band, Glasko, recorded their album with Mike. We went to see Mike, and he loved our music. He loved Paper Thick Walls. It was right up his alley, with the whole Neko Case thing. And by the way, I love Neko Case.

Q - It would seem like it would be hard to recreate some of the songs live. How do you do it?

The reason why it works live with all the other sounds is because well, for one, we have Jacques Rene, who plays violin and mandolin. He recreates the sound in a brilliant way.

Eric and I play the core of the songs on piano, and he plays guitar. And it all works really well together.

Q - How do you guys see yourself fitting into the Chicago music scene? Do you think you are creating your own niche?

Yeah, I think we're doing a really good job with that now. I'm sure a lot of bands like to stick around in the city and play weekend after weekend in Chicago.

What we are doing is a little bit different. We're going on tour, and trying to test the other markets. We've gone all over the Midwest. It's really important to get out there.

Q - Do you think the Chicago music scene is still vibrant? In the '90s, the Chicago music scene was kind of the "it" scene, with acts like Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair. What do you think of the scene now?

Maybe it's not as much as it used to be, but I think it can be whatever you want it to be. I still think it is a great city for music. It's all about making a buzz wherever you can, and working your butt off.