By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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It's a late night at Nomad Studios in Carrollton, where The Paper Chase's John Congleton works as a sound engineer. At the moment, he's sitting in a studio with one of his clients, gospel popster Kirk Franklin; Congleton, who worked with Franklin on 1997's God's Property, is acting as an adviser while Franklin writes new material. When Congleton hands over a CD-R copy of his band's first full-length record, Young Bodies Heal Quickly, You Know, it catches Franklin by surprise. "I didn't know you were in a band!" Franklin squeals as only a five-foot-nothing gospel singer can. Congleton rolls his eyes from embarrassment.
Sweep the Leg Johnny and The Hope 12 also perform.
Dressed as inconspicuously as possible, sporting a white T-shirt tucked into khaki pants and loafers, Congleton looks like just another sound engineer--at best, a weekend warrior with an insignificant band of his own, spending his days working out the guts of other people's records. It could be so easy for the band to be mediocre, pretentious, and uninspired. The Paper Chase could be just another band on the North Texas circuit, playing three-chord, three-minute songs about girls and beer. Their newest record, which, Congleton insists upon presentation, is "meant to be listened to as an entire piece," could be just another mock concept album put together by a bunch of kids trying to make their own version of the White Album. Or, more likely their own version of Enema of the State.
Thankfully, none of the above happens to apply. The Paper Chase is in a league with ...and you will know us by the trail of dead and Centro-matic as the best this state has to offer, and joins the ranks of Carbomb, the Butthole Surfers, and the Big Boys before them as the kind of punk band only Texas could spawn, melding bored ambition with whacked-out, fucked-up Texan fervor. Their live show is consistently inspired, at times nearly improvised, with Congleton directing the show as he dances with his guitar, until the microphone stand cuts in.
The Paper Chase's soon-to-be-released Young Bodies Heal Quickly, You Know, is miles ahead of any expectations, the rawest album to come from Texas since Trail Of Dead's Madonna hit stores last year. It's a concept album, sadly enough, but one so good that it's not at all sickening when Congleton says, "It's a record that's a commitment, like The Wall, where you don't just skip around to your favorite songs. You have to listen to it all the way through."
Sitting in a chain Tex-Mex restaurant in Richardson, the band--Congleton and drummer Aaron Dalton, both 23, and bass player Bobby Weaver, 21--scarf down meals consisting of side orders of tortillas, beans and rice, guacamole, and cheese decidedly not from Wisconsin. Dalton and Weaver smoke before, during, and after their meal, as the conversation turns to Coen brothers movies and Joyce Carol Oates novels. Congleton's the first to respond to any question; it's understood that he's the mastermind of this, but the three are in total agreement as to how they want their music made. Although relatively young, all three have paid dues in mediocre bands: Congleton, for instance, was in Bad Hair Day, and Dalton moved from Arkansas to Dallas with his teenage band. "We played one show here and broke up," he notes, somberly.
From out of a cloud of cigarette smoke, this picture emerges: The Paper Chase began in 1997 as a project they all considered temporary, playing experimental songs Congleton had written "as a result of being in that kind of [boring] band and gaining the confidence to do something more adventurous." The group clicked somehow, resulting in the best work any of them had produced. In the three years since they formed, The Paper Chase has taken an ideal path for a young band with other obligations, gradually building a solid body of material and an audience in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Denton, then playing regularly and gaining a following in college towns within a 400-mile radius, such as Norman, Oklahoma, and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
After a week in the Midwest with [DARYL] this past spring, the band is setting out for most of October in part with Sweep the Leg Johnny. "We haven't done a full tour, but we've done the region pretty well," Congleton says. Weaver is enthusiastic about touring, saying, "We really don't have an excuse [for not touring] now that we have the full length." Congleton, however, is doubtful that touring is the best thing for the band, or its members, right now. "The work I do is really fickle," he begins. "I feel that there is a medium between this band and my job, and Aaron's job, and Bobby's...life. I don't wanna come home sick of two of my best friends, sick of my own music, and out of work." Dalton cuts to the heart of the matter: "Anything over two weeks is sickening."
Both on tour and in Texas, they've built ties that have led to getting their record heard by audiences in different parts of the country. Young Bodies will be released by Washington D.C.-based Beatville Records and the venerable Chicago-based Divot Records will release an EP by the group in the fall. "That [record] is so important to us," Congleton explains, indicating the label's and Chicago's potential as a stepping stone for building a following nationwide. "So many bands--Sweep the Leg Johnny, Braid--got their start on Divot. It was so surprising and so great to be embraced in Chicago the way we were."
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