By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
No one's really sure how Bobby Weaver got in or what, exactly, he's doing on the couch. Well, besides sleeping. But here he is, sprawled out in the living room of John Congleton's house just off Northwest Highway, 6-foot-something of beard, boots and black clothing. The three other members of the pAper chAse--drummer Aryn Dalton, piano player Sean Kirkpatrick and singer-guitarist-producer Congleton--take turns shrugging their shoulders and laughing quietly as Weaver happily dozes.
It's Sunday morning, and The Sopranos are on tonight, so it's on my mind. The sight of the burly bassist rings a bell. He's kind of like that bear that kept showing up in Tony Soprano's back yard this season. You weren't sure exactly what it was doing there, but it symbolizes something, right?
Not really. Weaver knew he had to be here this morning for an interview and wasn't sure he could make it on time after a late night on the town. So he came here instead of going home. But maybe it does work on a different level. Let's see: Weaver and his bandmates aren't sure how they got here--with a new album, God Bless Your Black Heart, on respected indie label Kill Rock Stars, after years of toiling in shadows--but it has to mean something, right?
They're still not sure.
"It came out of nowhere," Weaver says of the band's new label, once he's been roused into an upright position. "We were going crazy trying to find one. That's probably the one label we didn't send stuff to." He laughs. "It didn't cross our minds."
To the pAper chAse, Kill Rock Stars was "untouchable," the kind of label they wouldn't even bother approaching. They weren't friends with anyone at the label, and they weren't from the Pacific Northwest, where most of Kill Rock Stars' bands are based (including Sleater-Kinney and the Decemberists). Why bother?
But as it turns out, KRS owner Slim Moon was a fan. The long, hard process of finding a good label to put out their music turned out to be fairly easy. "At the same time, it being painless was the result of the pain," Kirkpatrick says.
He's right. For years, the pAper chAse has released increasingly complex albums into a void, supporting them with shows in a country where people either didn't get it or didn't care. It was different when they were in Europe. They had a respected label (Southern UK), a growing fan base, even a hit song ("Don't You Wish You Had Some More," a track from 2002's Hide the Kitchen Knives, which was in heavy rotation on MTV Italy). Over here, they had none of it. Just the familiar spot on the wall they were beating their heads against.
"Everything happens for a reason," Congleton says. "Maybe those albums that we put out on smaller labels weren't the albums that would be right for Kill Rock Stars. I'm extremely cynical about those things now. I mean, it's like you have to be indie-rock coolsville before people will even listen to your album. When I was a lot younger and a lot more ambitious, I would say those things didn't fucking matter to us. We were just going to go out there and play as hard as we possibly can. And that's exactly what we did do.
"At some point--two, maybe two and a half years ago--I remember saying, 'You know what? We have to be on some cool label before anyone's going to give a fuck,'" he continues. "It almost does not matter how good the albums or the shows are. And that goes for a lot of bands. Bands that blow me away that are still nobody, probably because they're on a no-name label."
Maybe that will change now that the pAper chAse is on a label with the kind of name recognition that prompts some fans to buy anything bearing the Kill Rock Stars logo. The band has certainly delivered a record that will reward people who take that kind of chance, another step up for a band that gets more ambitious and more capable with each successive release. God Bless Your Black Heart is just the latest high point.
The disc is rock and roll in form if not function, using the standard setup and comfortable conventions in the kind of ways most bands would be too scared to attempt; each song is like an episode of Celebrity Mole, with one instrument working against the others. With Kirkpatrick on board now--he took the place of Matt Armstrong after Kitchen Knives--the band is more adept at turning the sound in Congleton's head into the sound on tape. The result is severed symphonies that capably play hype man to Congleton's fractured fairy tales. At times, it's like a Tom Waits album of Slayer covers, with evil on its mind and whimsy in its heart.
More than anything else, God Bless is the kind of record you have to listen to the whole way through to enjoy properly. (Though "enjoy" might not be the right word.) After all, you wouldn't read just one chapter of a book over and over, watch only one scene from a movie. It's a story with a beginning, middle and end, told from a pointed point of view. Congleton hesitates to explain what God Bless Your Black Heart means, exactly, preferring to hear the rest of the band's take on his ideas.