Talking Philosophy With Jerry Paper Amid New Record
How can one describe an album so interlaced with a multitude of thematic imagery that it doesn’t encompass just one thought, just one intention? The answer is: one cannot, so I won’t even try to characterize the overwhelmingly bizarre yet strangely accessible workings of Jerry Paper’s new studio album, Like A Baby, out October 12th via Stones Throw Records.
Instead, I’ll let Lucas Nathan, the man and mastermind behind the J.P. moniker, take a stab at that ambitious task: “You can’t really pinpoint one thing,” he told me at the Flaunt headquarters in Hollywood.
According to Nathan, Like A Baby encompasses ideologies surrounding children and babies (one could’ve guessed), shopping malls, intense emotions, and a move back to his hometown of Los Angeles after spending seven years in New York City. After returning to L.A., Nathan said, “I was going to a lot more malls, and I was thinking about malls a lot. So that was kind of the germ of the album.”
But malls weren’t the only thing Los Angeles that inspired Like A Baby. “There’s this interesting thing in L.A. It’s so beautiful, you can go outside all the time, and also, a lot of the time it’s on fire. It’s got this beautiful and apocalyptic thing about it, and that marriage was definitely in my mind when I was writing those songs.”
And for an artist who makes music as quirky as it is encompassing, Nathan’s personal philosophies about life and the world seem to stand as tall in his music as he stands in real life, which is very tall, I came to learn.
Read our conversation about life in L.A., non-binary beliefs, and many other topics below.
Flaunt: How has your homecoming to L.A. been, and what do you feel looking back at your time in New York? JP: It’s been real good. My life is better, I’m happier. I mean, I’m really glad I lived in New York for the time that I did, and I feel the best thing is that now everything is better. Everything is less painful. Painful is not the right word. Everything is less difficult. There’s something about New York where everything is just a little harder to do, which is super good when you move there when you’re eighteen and you’re like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, I’m just going to live my life.’ And then you get used to everything being really hard. Moving [back to L.A.], I’m like, ‘Oh, life is pretty good.’ I can be happy, and go outside. I would say that my time in New York was really fun and I really enjoyed it, and then I just got to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to not do this anymore.’
How did returning to L.A. influence your new record, Like A Baby? I mean, it definitely did. A lot of things influenced Like A Baby. You can’t really pinpoint one thing, but that definitely had a lot to do with it. I was going to a lot more malls, and I was thinking about malls a lot. So that was kind of the germ of the album. There’s this interesting thing in L.A. It’s so beautiful, you can go outside all the time, and also, a lot of the time it’s on fire. It’s got this beautiful and apocalyptic thing about it, and that marriage was definitely in my mind when I was writing those songs.
And what does the title Like A Baby actually mean to you? I was thinking a lot about babies, and children. I’m an uncle and I was hanging out with my sister and her kids. I was watching one of my nephews and my niece have this child-style argument. I saw something in that. [It] reflected a lot of adult behavior to me. And then I was thinking a lot about how there’s so much raw emotion in so much we do, and we justify it in all of these ways, and there’s so many words that we put around it. But ultimately, we’re just feeling these feelings and responding to that. I feel like there’s something valuable in feeling them and listening to them, and then something valuable about analyzing them. I was thinking a lot about that and thought that that was a nice sentiment. That [idea] seemed like a nice nucleus for a lot of the ideas.
So do you feel like you’ve undergone a lot of change recently that’s led to this project? Because all of your projects seem to have very distinct themes or styles, including Like A Baby. Yeah, I definitely am always changing. I just get bored. Like, as soon as I feel I know how to do something, I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m done with that. I have to do something else.’ So there was definitely a lot of change going on in my life personally and in the country. I moved here, I got married, I’ve been spending more time with my family, making new friends. My life has been changing a lot in a lot of positive ways. And also when I was writing the record, I had some friends but I was also feeling super lonely and there’s definitely some dealing with that [in the record]. There’s a lot that’s responding to the political situation, the world. I was writing scenes that I felt depicted how I felt. Most of the lyrics are depictions of scenes, or snippets of scenes, or little bits of dream-like interactions. And the point was to create scenes that give the emotion I was feeling at the time.
And from what I’ve come to understand, you believe in a very non-binary world. Yeah, I feel like every time I get into binary mindsets, I always end up torturing myself. I know it has value and there is value in certain kinds of binary mindsets, thoughts, and ways of thinking. But also, to put all of your stock in that is so misguided because the world is so much weirder than that and so much more interesting. To look at it in a binary way is to shut out so many parts of the world. I found that in my life, to look at things as whole experiences that encompass difficult things and also joyful, wonderful things will always be a more whole and more perfect picture of the world. I went through this radical redefinition of my idea of perfection. I used to think of perfection as leaving out the bad things, something that was perfect, like a perfect sphere or something that only incorporates the best of something. I came to realize that that is just as imperfect as looking at only the negatives of a situation.
How would you apply that new view of perfection, and that wholeness, to Like A Baby? I worked on the record for two years. It’s been done for like, a year. This only happened a few months ago, but I can apply it to everything. It definitely applies in the sense that I was unconsciously working. That’s ultimately how I work on things, anyway. I’m always trying to incorporate humor and more difficult emotions. Together, it’s a more complete picture of the world. There are jokes on the album, and there’s also some heavy shit. That combo, it’s been a part of my work the whole time. I’ve just had a re-articulation of what it means to me.
And to continue on the note of your beliefs, do you see your personal philosophies or personal spirituality permeating your music? Definitely. I’ve gone through so many different shifts in my ideas. I feel like spirituality is so not the right word because there’s something about the word ‘spirit’ that makes it seem like there’s another entity. Whereas all of my encounters with other entities have been revealed to be my own unconscious manifesting that way. But I guess the ultimate thing that I’ve held onto for my entire life, or at least from when I had my first experience with the weirder aspects of the world, [is] just that there’s a limitation to the human mind. There’s a limitation to the things you can understand individually and even all of humans together. The world is so much weirder than whatever the sense data going into your ears and eyes and mouth and skin and nerves and comes together in your brain and is put together in this way that we experience the world. That’s one narrow view. To think of your smallness in the world is a really beautiful thing, and doesn’t in any way diminish the huge, intense feelings we have all the time. The joy of experiencing the world is very important even if it’s a small, human thing. If that makes sense.
Just to fuel my own curiosity, how do you view stereotypical society and this mundane, American-dream style of trying to live your life? The way I think of it is, if you’re not doing any harm to anybody, do whatever the hell you got to do. I definitely think there are so many unconscious ways that we harm each other and harm the world, like ways of thinking and ways of acting. And there’s a lot of value in interrogating every kind of lifestyle. But you’ve got to have compassion for people because I truly believe that everyone has an idea of what’s good. And some of those ideas of what’s good are like, being a bad boy. You know what I mean? There’s so many different ideas of what is good, and I think people get lost in that, and they don’t see that everyone has a different definition of that. Everyone is trying to be good in their own way, at least that’s what I choose to believe. Also, whatever I believe, I don’t necessarily take as fact.
And to move back to Like A Baby, how did Matthew Tavares get involved and what was it like working with him this time around? Matty has been a friend of mine for like six years now. We started working together a few years ago for my last record [Toon Time Raw!]. Then, this record, I tried to do on my own and I did the whole thing and was just like, ‘You know what, I don’t feel good about this.’ I was on the phone with him talking like, ‘Oh my god, I feel so lost and confused, I just feel like a failure.’ And then he’s like, ‘Come to Toronto and let’s work on it together.’ I went to Toronto and we did probably about eighty percent of the record there. The rest I just did at my house. But it was super intense and really fun. I mean, we did it over the course of like twelve days, I think. Fourteen days, maybe. I can’t remember. It was super intense, like we were both going through really intense periods of our life at that time so it was a lot of heightened emotion and also just trying to get this thing done in a specific period of time.
So how do you think Like A Baby stands among the discography of Jerry Paper? How is it different from, say, when you started making music under the moniker in 2012? I think about my first releases as snapshots of my life at that time. And this one in particular, I had this shift a few years ago of how I viewed making music. In all of the messy ways, I’m just making snapshots of my life at that period. That’s what each album is. I’ve started to see the value in layering snapshots and demoing out, then re-recording things, and there is this kind of depth that is added because I feel I’m putting different experiences in my life on top of one another. So it’s still kind of the same thing but I feel like they grow into more interesting things. And collaborating with people makes the work become more of what it’s supposed to be rather than just like me trying to do it all with my limited skills.
And what was it like working with the features from this new record? Charlotte Day Wilson, Alex Brettin [of Mild High Club], Weyes Blood. Great. I mean, Charlotte is a good friend of Matty. I’d never met her before but she came in and it was super fun. She has such an amazing voice. And [working with] Weyes Blood and Alex Brettin was kind of the same thing. At that time, I was working in my basement which is like so fucked up. It’s really short, like I would constantly hit my head. They came over, we were insanely high. For Weyes Blood, it was like, ‘This is the part, here’s me singing it, will you sing it [instead]?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ And she just did it. It was perfect. Then we were like, ‘Cool, do you want to go get some food?’ And with Alex, it was kind of the same thing. Super high, he did a bunch of passes of a solo and then I cut them up and put it into something coherent, and it sounds good. And working with the BadBad guys, it’s very natural and super easy. They’re just so talented. I have such limited musical vocabulary, like [I’ll say] ‘I want you to doodely-doo-doo,’ and they’ll just know what I mean by that and know how to bring the music out of my ideas.
And did you use any instruments out of your ordinary arsenal for this record? I bought an electric sitar for it, so there’s a bunch of that on the record.
Did you know how to play that beforehand? I mean, it’s basically just a guitar with a funny bridge. And I don’t know, it was the first time using some midi instruments, it was definitely branching out production-wise, but it was still just me playing keys and guitar and stuff. Oh, there’s fretless bass on almost every song. I definitely had a clear idea of the sound that I wanted, so that manifested through my instrument choices.
So you’ve already experienced a fairly prolific career as Jerry Paper. Looking forward, where do you ideally wish to see your music going from here? Uhm, I don’t know. I have an idea, but I don’t know. I’ll see what happens. I feel like that’s the only way I can do it. I mean, I’ve been demoing some stuff for a few months, so I have little germs of ideas, but I don’t know what that’s going to turn into. You’ve got to let it become what it’s supposed to be.
Yeah, you seem like a very go-with-the-flow kind of guy. Yeah, I try to be.
Jerry Paper started touring for Like A Baby on October 7th. He’ll be playing a record release party at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles on December 13th, and a complete list of his tour schedule can be found below.
ALL UPCOMING TOUR DATES:
Stones Throw 2018 Tour
* = w/ Kiefer, Stimulator Jones, Prophet
% = w/ Kiefer, Stimulator Jones, Prophet, and Mndsgn
10/12/18 - Minneapolis, MN - Icehouse*
10/13/18 - Chicago, IL - Virgin Hotel*
10/14/18 - Toronto, ON - Adelaide Hall*
10/16/18 - Montreal, QC - Bar Le Ritz*
10/17/18 - Burlington, VT - Nectar's Restaurant*
10/19/18 - New York, NY - National Sawdust*
10/20/18 - Philadelphia, PA - Everybody Hits*
10/22/18 - Washington DC - Union Stage*
10/23/18 - Raleigh, NC - Kings Barcade*
10/24/18 - Atlanta, GA - 529*
10/26/18 - Austin, TX - Vulcan Gas Company*%
10/27/18 - Dallas, TX - RBC*%
10/30/18 - Tucson, AZ - 191Toole*
11/1/18 - San Diego, CA - SPACE*
12/13/18 - Los Angeles, CA - El Rey Theatre*
Written by Kyle Huewe
Photographed by Daniel Mutton