The Paper Kites began as a folk band but their music has never been restrained by genre. Instead, the throughline of their music is the ambience and classic feel of it. Their latest set of songs create a sense of 70s rock and it’s easy to picture the band gathered together in a low-lit bar, laying their hearts bare through their music, stopping occasionally to sip on a glass of rye whiskey.
But capturing a ‘vibe’ in a studio is difficult, so the band discussed recording an album live at a series of shows in the US, given they had a picture of a classic roadhouse in mind. The pandemic made them rethink their project, however, deciding to use it as an opportunity to reconnect with their home country instead. The band began searching for a remote Australian pub that might be similar to a US roadhouse. They soon realised that if such a place existed, it would be far out of the city and they would need to truck out a studio worth of gear.
They put the roadhouse idea aside and began looking into studios which had both accommodation and a recording space. This led them to Sound Recordings, a 100% analogue recording studio in Campbell’s Creek (near Castlemaine), which had been converted from an old stable by sound engineer Alex Bennett and his father. When The Paper Kites visited, lead singer Sam Bentley soon discovered there was more than just the studio on offer:
“Out the front, next to the road, was a rickety building that was originally a mining supply store for the diggers back in the gold rush days. It was a pub at one point and on another occasion, there was a fire but the bones of the building survived. We asked Alex if we could use it to perform these shows … We had a completely blank canvas to essentially create this ‘venue’ we had been looking for and we had a studio behind it that had almost everything we’d need to make the record. And it was in our home state of Victoria! So, instead of travelling to different locations, we decided that it should be a residency where we would build this space, open the doors for a month and just perform and record the album there.”
The Paper Kites lead singer Sam Bentley performing at The Roadhouse
They brought in set designer Matilda Woodroofe to give the space a genuine, lived-in feel. Booths were installed and unique items of decor were added, some brought by the band such as guitarist Dave Powy’s favourite lamp and Sam’s lucky horseshoe, which hung over the stage. The visual elements were important because the event was filmed to create individual music videos, as well as a full-length film of the entire album being played.
All the activity taking place in the rundown digger’s store eventually attracted the attention of locals and word got around about the live shows without the band even needing to advertise. They turned on the red down-light on the front porch and The Roadhouse officially opened, as Sam recalls:
“I know people throw around this term a lot but it was truly like walking into a dream. Everything we imagined this space to be was there in front of us - a real venue - the bar was ready, the stage was set - we just weren’t sure if anyone would show up! But they did.”
The Roadhouse red down-light on the porch, as seen from the road
Sam felt The Roadhouse gave the band a special opportunity to present a show where every element had come from the band, right down to the room where it was taking place:
“It’s the ultimate immersive listening and viewing experience, crafted and intended to be that way by the band. The community that was built around these live performances each night was really something. I think that’s conveyed in the film ... It’s one thing to sit in your room and write a song, but to then play that song to even a small room of people and see it visibly affect them, you suddenly have this kinship and connection with the audience. It’s the ultimate validation for any songwriter to perform their songs and see it change a room of strangers into sympathisers.”
There was still the challenge of recording eight musicians playing live on a small stage, without the sound of the instruments all bleeding into one another. Fortunately, Sound Recordings owner Alex turned out to be handy at building an array of acoustic barriers to block off the amplifiers and trap the sound.
The songs across their new album The Roadhouse range widely, from the gritty, organ-drenched ‘Black and Thunder’ to the sweet country-folk of ‘Midnight Moon’ to the bluegrass inspired ‘Rolling On Easy.’ The Paper Kites also tap into the folk heart of their music with the pin drop quiet ‘Pocket Full of Rain’ and storytelling folk-rock song ‘June’s Stolen Guitar.’ Put together on one album, it could have easily sounded like a jumbled mess but instead there is a strong mood that coheres across all the songs and the listener ends up with the feeling of hearing a live band in a particular space.
Sam believes that one important choice was the song order and also putting some songs aside that weren’t going to work in the flow of the album. He points to opening track ‘Midnight Moon’ as being particularly important:
“I wrote that song long before I had any idea how we would be doing this album. At that point I thought we might still touring dive bars across the US, so that song was really just a romanticised idea about a made-up venue called ‘the roadhouse.’ It goes into little details about the kinds of crowds that gather there, everyone drinking and dancing, but it was just a made up fantasy. When we finally discovered that we would be building our own venue, all of a sudden that song almost became our blueprint for the bar. Obviously, the most important thing we took from that song was the name of the bar. We talked about different ideas but just kept coming back to ‘The Roadhouse’.”
The Paper Kites set list for their performance at The Roadhouse
The lyrics of ‘Midnight Moon’ refer to the bar serving whiskey and wine, which is how the band ended up getting in touch with The Gospel. Of course, if it’s an American style roadhouse, they needed to serve an American style rye, so Sam reached out and The Gospel were able to provide a nice final touch for the venue:
“We had sort of half joked about how great it would be to have The Gospel Roadhouse Rye made up for the residency, fully expecting it to be too tricky to do. I couldn’t quite believe it when the bottles turned up at the venue reading ‘Roadhouse Rye’ with a little horseshoe on it! It became this lovely tradition where we would have a little cheers before we went on stage, then we’d all sit down together after the show, have a glass and talk about the night. If you see the film, you’ll absolutely be able to see multiple glasses swaying back and forth on the stage! Everyone involved in the project were gifted a bottle at the end of it and they sit proudly in our homes. I had some a few weeks ago sitting and watching the finished film for the first time. It’s a lovely thing to take in and celebrate those moments with something like that and that’s credit to The Gospel team for going that extra mile for this project."
The feature-length film At The Roadhouse will premiere in Melbourne on 1 September (tickets) and in Sydney on 4 September (tickets). Watch the trailer here. You can also listen or buy the album here.
The Paper Kites band at Sound Recordings in Campbell’s Creek
MAIN IMAGE: The Paper Kites performing their new album to a small crowd at The Roadhouse near Castlemaine
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