On a cross-country tour last summer, the members of Paper Bird say their time was divided between playing a show a week, skinny dipping and answering to cops who were worried they were cooking methamphetamines.
The group of free spirits — comprised of vocalists Genny and Esme Patterson, vocalist/trumpeter Sarah Anderson, guitarist Paul DeHaven, banjo/harmonica-man Caleb Summeril, trombonist Tyler Archuletta and upright-bassist Macon Terry — was actually burning the vegetable oil necessary to make their eco-friendly tour bus run.
The vegged-out vehicle is just one example of the band’s off-kilter existence, full of their music — which their manager Brian Schwartz deems “timeless” with its Americana/folk roots and simple but blended harmonies — their camaraderie and their “intentional community” lifestyle.
The band of 20-somethings took shape in 2006 after a random post-high school trip to Breckenridge for four of the members and, after taking on all but Macon, who joined a year ago, the group moved into a Denver house they named the Sarlacc Pit, paying homage to Tyler’s Star Wars obsession.
The troupe opened their home to the community around them, sharing food and music and taking in up to 12 random stragglers at a time, says their former roommate and close friend Allison Shelley, a Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design graduate.
Paper Bird’s underground fan base sprouted its roots from the collection of wanderers who’d fall into the easy, classic sounds that came to embody the house on Emerson Street. Since then, the assembly of Colorado natives who first played street corners for dinner and beer money has become the band to see live, with critics such as the Denver Post deeming them number three among Denver’s top 10 acts.
Long gone are the days that the ensemble could only play on their porch stoop. Now, they’ve scored gigs with the Flobots at the Gothic Theater and, last month, forced Fort Collins’ Road 34 to shut its doors to the lines that stretched out into the street to see the quirky septet of often barefoot hippies, whose vocalists’ twirling sundresses match the sway of their light choruses and whose instrumentals, now nearly obsolete in modern music, give them an edge they’ve made all their own.
Refraining from scouting record labels and courting corporate America, Paper Bird chooses to live as a band without a backup plan, save for juggling, says 23-year-old Tyler, shaking his long, scraggly brown hair out of his eyes.
Skipping the standard
It’s easy to see the band members are into each other as they converge on the artist’s room set up for them in the small venue off Broadway and East Yale Avenues in Denver on February 28 and coalesce around the Patterson sisters, full of curly hair and candor, who are seated at a little wooden piano.
Sliding into a rehearsal round of the first song they’ll play that night at the Swallow Hill Music Association’s concert hall, the smooth vocals sound like they belong in a church chorus.
But it’s clear they’re no Christian revivalists with lyrics like those from “If and When a Yes or No” — “I feign holiness in the morning with hymns, I’m a devil by the evening with gin; hope the Lord don’t see my sins, and if he does, there’s no telling when” — off their first album, 2007’s Anything Nameless and Joymaking.
Sporting what she says is the only outfit she brought for the four-day tour that the group will begin that night, a $3 matching light blue plaid vest and jacket set with jeans, Esme jokes with Tyler about how they’ll be hitting the thrift stores when they arrive in Portland.
“We live on as little as we can,” Tyler says, as the seven gnaw on the fresh fruit the venue’s provided them, which Caleb says they haven’t had in months. “We’d probably live on more if we could, but not too much more.”
This lifestyle gives Paper Bird a “relieving” quality, say fans like Brendan Bonds, a junior restaurant and resort management major, who met the band in 2007 through the Pitchfork, another Denver home assigned a name in the interconnected mesh of those living “intentionally.”
“Their style really goes against the standard,” he says, noting that the band “isn’t fake” about their passion for music. “They’re so much different than what college kids are used to because they go through life without so much stress. They know there’s no point in having a plan.”
Paul says part of his goal in spreading Paper Bird’s music is relating the word that there’s no reason you can’t make “doing what you love” a career.
“We have tons of supportive people around us, but we were all told that you have to go to college and you have to finish and you can’t drop out and join a band and be successful,” says Genny, one of the three members who skipped after-high school studies.
“That’s a big part of what’s wonderful about doing what we do — it’s just simplifying things and showing people that that’s way more efficient most of the time and that it really makes you happy, too.”
Esme says the band was formed on accident, citing the way the original four, Paul, Sarah, Caleb and she, met Tyler — at his going away party on the eve of the day he’d leave Denver to move to Portland three years ago — as proof of its random start.
Tyler eventually returned after the group took a Greyhound bus west and biked from Portland to Seattle to visit him, later mailing him their original recordings. Genny joined upon his homecoming.
Even the band’s name is random: Paper Bird is the name with which the group replaced their former, White Tiger, and it’s the spawn of a night of free association word play.
“We never had any expectations (for success), so we’re constantly exceeding them,” Paul says.
The seven are recording their still-untitled second album, which is tentatively set for release this fall.
“We’re just taking our sweet time to make it perfect,” says Esme, co-writer of half the band’s first album, whose songs, she says, were inspired in large part by the romantic relationship she and Paul shared at the time of its recording.
She calls the “joyful” songs more of what the world needs, and Sarah says that each of the band members contributed to the song writing process on the second album.
The group is spending most of this year touring, while Sarah spends Tuesdays and Thursdays at Metropolitan State College in Denver. Paul and Caleb have already secured their degrees from CU-Denver, and Macon from a university in Texas.
Already having hit Boise, Portland and Seattle in early March, the unit will head to Arizona and New Mexico later this month.
“We want to get the music out to as many people as possible, and it’s awesome to feel the way we feel in Denver in other cities,” Genny says.
However, where the band travels greatly depends on the people they’ll get to visit — and sneak into their shows, and the network of friends canvassed across the country is a big part of how the word about Paper Bird spreads.
“We’d love to go overseas, and all that stuff’s starting to be on the horizon, which is really exciting, but I don’t really know that we’re trying hard to be on billboards or be a national band or sign with a label or anything big and scary like that,” Genny says.
“Whatever happens happens.”
News Managing Editor Elyse Jarvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.