Today I got the chance to talk to Paper Tiger, a producer who is part of Doomtree, the hip-hop crew based out of Minneapolis that includes Dessa, P.O.S., Sims, and others. With the recent leak of “The Bully Plank,” one of the songs off of his album, Made Like Us, set to release this Tuesday, July 27th, Paper Tiger has been gaining some well-deserved buzz. “The Bully Plank” made it to the top of the charts on The Hype Machine, which, as we all know, draws in thousands of eager listeners every day. I wanted to pick the producer’s brain a little bit to see how he goes about creating his music and to find out a bit more about Made Like Us, his personality, and his future as a producer.
Raised in a Musical World
As it turns out, Paper Tiger might have been born to be a musician. Although he has never taken a music lesson in his life, he grew up playing in different bands – both playing guitar and singing. In his words, “From what I remember, I have always been doing stuff with music […] Anything I can mess around with that makes noise, I am into.” He didn’t start getting into making rap music until he was around the age of 17 or 18, but after graduating from college, he became more focused on hip-hop production.
After hearing that he used to be a singer in bands when he was younger, I asked him why it is that he no longer sings. This led into a bit of a more intimate conversation about his personality, something you may not know anything about if you were only to listen to his music. Apparently, Paper Tiger is a bit of a shy guy. He blames not singing in his solo music on his lack of courage. After hearing this, I remembered reading in a previous interview that he did that the reason he dons the white-rimmed sunglasses that he is known to wear on stage is because it takes away a bit of the stage fright. Without people knowing where he’s looking, he feels a little bit more protected. When I asked him to talk about this, he said, “I am sort of shy, I hope people don’t ever take that as being conceited. The sunglasses still serve the same purpose, and at the same time became sort of a ‘thing.’”
We segued into talking a bit more about his career as a producer and exactly how he describes his music. The way I see it, what he creates is definitely influenced by hip-hop, and maybe that’s also because he is part of Doomtree, which is a group of hip-hop producers and rappers, and it could also be the use of heavy hip-hop kits in his music, but something about it sounds a little bit different than other hip-hop beats out there. It sounds more theatrical, and there seems to be more focus on the instruments behind the beats rather than the drums themselves. His explanation? “Sure, there are hip-hop roots in what I do, but having the freedom of doing songs on my own, I think I took certain liberties to go away from it just a bit also. I have so many musical influences that if I only listened to hip-hop, I am sure I would have made a different record.” He mentioned that his influencers, in direct relation to this album, include DJ Shadow, RJD2, Jel, and Prefuse 73. But on a day to day basis, he listens to 90’s indie-rock (Pavement, Superchunk), late 70’s post punk (Joy Division, The Smiths, The Cure), dance music, soul, funk, rock, metal…all around it seems like he is a flat-out music junkie.
It’s a good thing Paper Tiger enjoys music so much, because after hearing about the process that it takes for a producer to find samples, I realized that for somebody who doesn’t love music, this would be a miserable process. He alluded to the route he took to find the vocal sample for the song “5360,” saying it was found on a record that he got his hands on after spending “hours and hours sifting through dusty old records, listening to bad record after bad record hoping to find that gem.” To some, this could be the most honest form of monotony. To a producer, though, the hours that pass are well worth it when you come across what you are looking for. The way he described it, “the trick is to find certain sounds that can work, and make it in a new way.”
Where’s the Rapping?
So why is it that a hip-hop producer, who is surrounded by talented rappers and spoken word artists, is releasing an album without one hint of rapping on it? When I posted his song, “The Bully Plank” last week, I got great feedback, but also heard from people who were anxious to hear somebody rapping on it. I include myself in this group – even though I am able to enjoy the beauty of the instrumentals, I find myself longing for a story that’s dictated to me, not one that’s left to my own interpretation. Paper Tiger is very cognizant of this – he made sure to point out that the difference between this album and his work in the past is that “the songs [on Made Like Us] can live on their own without needing a rapper on them. Also, the structure of the songs is different – instead of being very conscious of a typical verse-chorus-verse structure, you can kind of build it by the sound. I guess in a sense it’s more personal because it is just me […] and there are only sonic decisions being made as opposed to writing music around lyrics. […] If any member [of Doomtree] wanted to rap on any of the songs on this record I would be totally cool with it, however these songs were not created with that in mind.” So maybe those of us hoping to hear some rhymes will someday get what we’re hoping for.
After the release of Made Like Us, what is next for Paper Tiger? Personally, I am hoping that this album catches the public eye (and ear), because it really seems impossible to ignore the talent this young man of only 29 years has. He obviously has the same hopes, and what he wishes to come of this is something that may please those of us itching to hear some more vocals in his music. “I have a list of dream vocalists who I would love to work with; Lou Rhodes (from Lamb), Beth Gibbons (Portishead),Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes), Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray), and […] maybeBjork?” I sincerely hope he gets this opportunity – the world needs to hear more of Paper Tiger. His ability to blend several instruments into a delectable treat, topped with a kick of hip-hop beats is matched by few others. To allow him to work with artists such as these would only add fuel to the fire.
Signature Fun Question
And last but not least, I like to close my interviews out with a fun question that I let a fan of the blog choose. So today I asked Paper Tiger who he thought would win in a break dancing fight to the death – a penguin or a monkey. His response? “WOAH! I like this question…I would have to go with monkey on this one. I think that the penguin has a pretty good uprock already, just the way they walk, but they are pretty limited in their movements. I think the monkey would be great because they can move around so well. Either way I would love to see that go down.”
I promised that if I was ever able to organize this competition, I would let him know. In the meantime, though, I’ll be here, nodding my head to some Paper Tiger beats, waiting for the day he comes out with a song featuring his own beats paired with Natasha Khan’s breathtaking vocals. And you, you would be doing yourself a very large favor by purchasing his album “Made Like Us,” which will be released to the public this Tuesday, July 27th.