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Paper Lions fall between rawk and a hard(core) place

"I moved back in with my parents to be able to afford to do this," says Jesse Smith, singer/guitarist of Atlanta quartet Paper Lions. "We quit jobs. We take this very seriously."

Smith is discussing the band's dedication to supporting its Kindercore debut, The Symptom and the Sick. "We had deadlines to meet for writing, recording and touring," he adds. "And we're doing it."

Smith's certainly had enough practice at all the above. Paper Lions is his third band since picking up guitar at 14. It's also his third with singer/guitarist Justin Snyder and bassist Chris McNeal. Back in high school, Smith, Snyder and McNeal wouldn't head to the beach for spring break like other kids — unless the beach was on the tour itineraries they'd book. In college, they'd work half the summer so they could afford touring for the other half. "It's a great experience to play, [to] make music physical," says Smith. "There's an energy. I get nervous before every show — still — and I've been playing 10 years."

Ironically, touring helped contribute to the demise of Smith, Snyder and McNeal's last band, Some Soviet Station. Signed to Atlanta indie Moodswing Records and enjoying a great reception, SSS was only a few dates into a two-month tour when the group's van died in Louisiana on account of a faulty overhaul by an unscrupulous mechanic. But in the end, it wasn't just the van that broke down.

"I felt Some Soviet Station was definitely progressing musically," says Smith. "But Lee [Corum], our drummer, decided he just didn't want to play anymore — which is fine; we're still friends. I've just always felt a band is like a gang. And if Lee weren't in the band, it wouldn't be Some Soviet Station. So I called up Josh [Lott] — who was in At The Price of the Union, SSS' sister band — and we started a new one, which allowed us to explore some options opened up by the change."

Spending 10 days in the studio with Dave Barbe, Paper Lions experimented more than they ever had with SSS. Songs were written with two guitars, bass and drums; once in the studio, the band layered on keyboards, piano, Fender Rhodes and melodica. They even replace the yowling vocals with a more melodic delivery, sanding the edges off their sputtering D.C. hardcore/(post)punk-influenced angularities without squandering the impact.

While re-emerging as Paper Lions allowed the group to escape the stigmas that would've lingered with Some Soviet Station's moniker, Kindercore — which scooped up Paper Lions last year at their second public performance — was simultaneously grappling with signing a spate of hard rocking bands (Paper Lions, the Agenda, Jet By Day). This, after all, was a label that had been associated largely with the psychedlic pop of Athens' Elephant Six crew and other, even more twee, sounds.

"It's just ridiculous to me [that] people would think we just woke up one morning and thought hard music was popular and cool," says Ryan Lewis, Kindercore co-founder and Agenda member. "The time it takes to find, record and market bands — this is something we've worked on. Old bands broke up, these new bands appeared. Kindercore has always had a roster that included different bands. The only difference people are noting is volume. But the Mendoza Line never sounded like Japancakes.

"As for why we signed Paper Lions, it was the excitement we got watching them. It reminded us of when we started getting into bands."

And as for Paper Lions, Smith says the band members are looking forward to sharing songwriting duties to develop a sound that's darker — but with a gleaming melodic edge.

"I can't not be in a band," Smith says. "The feeling of people feeling you is worth the work."


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