Interview with Jerry Paper

As we downed sketchy seafood platters and sang our favorite songs of yore, Jerry aka Lucas Nathan opened up about his life on the road, D&D, and why he traded in the axe for a keyboard.

Photos by Charlie Rubin

Mauricio Vargas:  Hey how are you Lucas? Or is it Jerry? Do you go by your stage name or real name during interviews?

Lucas Nathan: Ha Lucas is fine.

M: So Where did Jerry Paper come from? How’d you think of that name?

J: I dunno. People always ask me that and it’s one of those things and it happened.  Yeah it started with this one (holding a cassette tape). It says it on this one. All these tapes came out in 2010, maybe this one came out in 2011.

M: What was that project called?

J: It was called Zonotope. This was the first one but there was no info on it. It was just some speech from some alien guy.

M: It looks sick. Great texture.

J: This dude McGreggor put it out, he used to run this blog called Chocolate Bobka and then he had this label called Curatorial Club. He was pretty much the first person to listen to my music who wasn’t one of my friends. Which was cool. But yeah he put this one out. It has formidable packaging. But this one is from a Montreal label called Hobo Cult. And I don’t know why I just wrote in the liner notes ‘all music composed by LWN and performed by Jerry Paper.’ This project was meant to be a part of a four part propaganda series, and then when the fourth part was done, which was this CDR that came out on this French label, and like now I’ve lost it…

M: What was the propaganda selling?

J: It was about this alternative spiritual community in Southern California… basically all of my projects are always trying to glimpse into an alternate reality. (Holding up several cassette tapes) So these I sell to release under the Diane Kensington Devotional Band, and this is a double tape and this is the first single tape, and that’s one of the leaders of the cult. Basically Zonotope stuff was supposed to be a propaganda series by the temple trying to propagate their views and Jerry Paper is a split off of that idea.

M: Was it in any way inspired by Dianetics or just general spiritual new age vibes?

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J: Yeah yeah just growing up in LA that’s the vibe there. So I just always enjoyed that. I don’t know where it is, but on the back of my first record… I sold out of all of them so I only have my copy… it might be somewhere… I feel like I put this up here so my cat doesn’t scratch it…

M: What’s your cat’s name?

J: Ernie. He’s the best. Oh here we go. On the back I wrote this long liner note thing. In the last apartment I lived in the ceiling collapsed and destroyed a bunch of shit. It was insane. I was in my room and my roommate was in his room and there was this explosion and we came out and there was like no ceiling in the living room.

M: What? Jesus.

J: Yeah so there’s still all this debris I haven’t cleaned up yet, even though I moved out of there a while ago. There’s just some shitty buildings in Bedstuy, but anyways so that’s like the story of him, the story of Jerry Paper splitting off from the community and like getting involved in maybe less orthodox alternative spirituality.

M: I love the album art on Big Pop for Chameleon World. It’s my favorite cover. So pretty.

J: Yeah Keith Rankin’s artwork is so fucking good man. Have you seen the other Orange Milk releases? This is one of my favorite covers of all time. It’s from this band Cream Juice.

M: Cream Juice?

J: The album is called Man Feelings. (laughing) It’s so disgusting but that cover is so good. So anyway I’ve just been kinda constructing a story around all these projects. But yeah Jerry Paper was just a name that appeared during that project. And I was like I gotta come up with another name because this music is getting slightly less abstract.

M: That’s awesome how he came up organically, like this drifter that just showed up then went his own way

J: Yeah exactly. Now it’s just a name, and it’s a stupid name but I’m not gonna change it.

M: Did growing up in Southern California influence you to become a musician at all?

J: Uh influence my becoming a musician… I dunno. I always played music in LA. But was never really taken seriously by anyone. Initially my artistic urge was to draw, and I drew a lot, but all my friends were making music so I was like I wanna do that too. so I started to learn… well I took piano lessons til I was five but all I learned was the simpsons theme song. Then I started playing drums, but the band teachers son who was in my class played drums so whenever we would have school band he would be playing drums and I had to play bongos. So you have to do something so you don’t play bongos. They had this other kid who was playing with the snare drums….

M:  What was that guys name, do you remember?

J: His name was Shear.

M: Whoa. Wild name.

J: Yeah I don’t know what he’s up to. I mean he was a nice kid, don’t blame him for his dad not letting me play drums.

M: Politics man.

J: Later on I started to play bass, and the first thing I learned on bass was London Dungeon by the Misfits. I learned it from this dude Sean teaching it to me in Dungeons and Dragons club in 8th grade. I remember that very very clearly, sitting on the floor, I remember exactly the corner of the room. Middle school fucking sucked. So I was really bummed out and the only joy I had was from Dungeons and Dragons club. which was in the basement of the school, the library was in the basement too, and it was next to that in this weird conference room and we would have Dungeons and Dragons club after school once or twice a week. And I remember this kid brought his bass and I was like oh shit I love the Misfits can you teach me London Dungeon, and he was like yeah it’s really easy there are like four notes. I learned it and I remember being like, yeah, music fucking rules. And then I started learning bass and guitar.

M: Yeah I remember around the same time between middle school and high school, a family friend played guitar and I kinda looked up to him yadayada and he taught me a Bush song. Glysterine. It’s like four chords. But you play it with like this nnnananana and you’re like what is happening! It’s so surprising you’re making the same sound… very enlightening.

J: Yeah that you’ve heard before and you’re like wait I can do this?? That’s it? So easy!

M: Yeah yeah the power is in your hands.

J: And then like immediately from there I was like ok yeah I gotta like start recording music. So I started recording in my room. And I played in a couple bands in middle school and high school. Or actually just in high school. But I always had home recording projects on the side. I was really really into like psych folk. So yeah like that was what I was fucking doing. Like super psychedelic acoustic recordings. So I have a bunch of old things from when I was like 15.

M: Is there a band that you consider to be the definitive psych folk band for you at the time?

J:: Oh god I mean I was really obsessed with Arthur Magazine, do you know Arthur Magazine?

M: No, not familiar.

J: I don’t know where it was distributed but all I know is that it was free in LA. There was this guitar store called McCabes, which was a great place, and I would go there and hang out, they would have shows there every once in a while, I saw white rainbow there when I was a teenager.

M: That sounds like an ideal place to hang out as a highschooler.

J: Yeah and I would get Arthur Magazine there and that showed me just a lot of like noise music, I remember getting really into a band called, do you know Growing? And Delong? I remember like reading bout them in Arthur magazine when I was 15 and thinking This Fucking Rules! Their genre was life metal, it’s just like drones with guitars. I haven’t listened to this thing in so many years.

M: You said it’s kinda like drone, like sleep or something?

J: Yeah it’s like this… (music plays) This is like when I was 15, 16. So yeah Arthur Magazine turned me onto a bunch of stuff and I was interested in weird psychedelic music. I remember hearing the first Devendra Bernhart recordings, like the 4 track ones, and was like yeah this is fucking cool shit. So yeah I was doing stuff like that. I had a four track and Sony Acid, it was just an old recording program on Windows. yeah Sony Acid! A really ugly recording program.

M: This is driving music. Straight road trip tunes.

J: Exactly! At this point I was 17 and started dating my now girlfriend.

M: Ha I’m imagining you with a handlebar mustache, flying down the highway.

J: Ha yea I basically was like a pretentious teenager and refused to listen to anything that wasn’t 1966 to 1968. So I did not listen to new music. I was like this is fucking bullshit, THIS is the good stuff. And that’s it. Then I started to branch out into like Krautrock and 70’s psychedelic music and free jazz, and started to get a little more opened, and gradually opened up, and now I am open to listening to anything. I’m curious. Actually a lot of my project is me challenging my prior decisions that I’d made musically. I challenged that.

The reason I started making electronic music was I hated electronic music. but I was playing with my friend’s synthesizer, he had a Juno HS60, and I was playing with it and I was like the sounds this is making are really cool, but I hated it because I decided that as a part of my personality so I was like I guess I have to make electronic music. It all started because I had to challenge myself. And I was like, “I have to do this, I have to find a way to like electronic music.”

M:  Are you a loner type? How come you choose to play solo rather than with a band?

J: I definitely didn’t choose it. My whole life was me trying to take control of the bands I was in and everyone being like no, you’re not gonna. I remember there were these cool kids, they were my friends, but they were in like the cool band and I was in the goofy comedy rock band. They were like, “Oh yeah it’s a great genre.” And they needed a singer and I was like “I can sing, I’ll be your singer.” They were like, “no dude, you have glasses and a weird chain, you’re not going to sing for us.” They didn’t want a nerdy front man, and I was like, “oh what? I guess you’re right.” I remember it was at summer camp too, I was like “ah fine, ok.” So I was like constantly shut down. I wanted to write songs and sing, and I was a fucking nerd guy I guess, at least that’s how people saw me, I didn’t see myself that way. So I had to record by myself since no one else wantsed to record my music. So I kept doing it, kept doing it, kept doing it. Untimately I was a solo act, and I was like “fuck, I’m a solo act.” But I’ll be working with a band to record in May. So that’ll be good.

M: That’s great! Will this be the first time you’ll be recording with a band then?

J: Yeah. It should be cool too. It’ll be all analog. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say who the band is so I won’t. But they are like a real band.

M: The Roots.

J: Yeah my friend Quest Love!

M: Ha. That’s what’s up,

J: Yeah they are just really nice guys who have been supportive of me since the beginning. I recorded with a bunch of guitar demos. I guess it was ultimately a way to challenge myself ‘cause I hadn’t written guitar music since I was a teenager. So I recorded this record in two months.

M: Do you have a favorite guitarist?

J: Favorite guitarist? I have no idea. I always really liked Sid Barret because it sounded like shit. In high school Sid Barret was my idol. My favorite bands in high school were Sid Barret, not a band a human being, but I was obsessed with Sid Barret, and then obsessed with Soft Machine and Gong. Soft Machine, Gong, Robert Wyatt, all the Soft Machine offshoots, like Kevin Ayer’s solo records, Robert Wyatt’s solo records. It was the Canterbury scene, The thing with the canterbury scene is that they were goofy and weird. But they made fucking really far out music. (music plays) Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers would sing, this is robert wyatt singing, he also played drums, and it was just  a fucking far out band, really good. It was just organ, bass, a little guitar, but it was more organ based, drums focused. (Gong plays)

M: Whoa! I feel like I just got let out of school for summer break. It’s kinda a Zappa vibe.

J: Yeah Zappa! When I was 13 I was in the first band I was ever in, which was called The Corrupt Ice Cream Vendors, which was actually a comedy rock electronic band. We named it that because a friend, who’s super straight edge, his ice cream vendor tried to sell him weed, and he was like that’s fucked up! We’re going to call ourselves corrupt ice cream vendors! I was like ok. And then my dad was like, “Oh you’re making this weird comedy rock, have you ever heard of frank Zappa?” I was like “No who the hell is that?” I’m like 13 I don’t know what the fuck is going on. “Oh you should check him out, I think you would ilke it.” So I then became obsessed with Frank Zappa. I don’t even think my dad really likes Frank Zappa, but he was like you might like this. I remember being obsessed with this record, I loved it at the time.

M: Which record?

J: We’re Only In It For The Money. It’s the best record ever. So I only really really could appreciate it after I’d studied music concréte and I knew more about Pierre Henry and the French avante-garde movement of like cutting up tape.

M: yeah my friend told me about it not long ago. She showed me some cool old videos about their process. It’s pretty interesting. The limitations of technology at the time and the things that came out of experimentation are pretty great. These people were getting weird with it.

J: Yeah the Italian futurists and all that… but what really blows my mind about this record now, now that I understand music concréte, is it’s a music concréte record masquerading as a pop record. So it’s insane. So every song is a minute long and switches, or is 30 seconds long… Here I’ll play you my favorite part of the record. but the record has to be taken as a whole just ‘cause every song is 30 seconds or a minute long, it’s just like boom boom boom…

(music plays, “…what’s the ugliest part of your body…”)

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J: I remember I had the lyrics to this written on my door when I was a teenager. This is the best part, the next  part where he goes into this weird (unintelligible)… it’s the best fucking lyrics. This part… yeah I gotta write on my door. Serious shit. ‘all your children are poor unfortunate victims of systems beyond thier control, a plague upon your innocence, for the great despair of your ugly life’. It’s so dark, this record is fucked up, its super dark, super critical of both the establishment and the counter culture at the time and how stupid it was. while also being like a pop worshipping musical crit rock record. so yeah it’s insane. It blew my mind when I was 13, and it still blows my mind now, I still listen to it.

M: You got a European tour coming up, you looking forward to it? How do you feel about touring? What’s been your favorite place you’ve travelled to?

J: Ummm, I mean it’s rough there are really great people all over the world. I’ve been really lucky recently to be able to travel so much. Japan was amazing, just some of the best shows I’ve ever played, amazing audiences.I was traveling around with my friend Peter and Eddie, and we just had a really really great time meeting really really wonderful people. I also recently played a show in Aruba which was insane. It blew my mind that I had a fan in Aruba who was so dedicated. Basically I got an email from this dude where the subject line read “come play on my tiny island.”

M: Whoa. Sounds like the start of an adventure for sure.

J: I was like, what? I gotta check this email right now! I opened it up and this guy was like, “Hey I’m a huge fan, I live in aruba, and do you wanna come play a show here?” and I was like yes I do, lets figure out how to make this logistically possible.

M: Who is this guy? I’m imagining Marlon Brando’s nephew or something equipped with little sidekick and everything. So he just grew up there and acquired an island?

J: He didn’t own the island, he’s just a 20 year old kid who works at a cargo place who really likes my music who wanted to see me play live and didn’t know how to set that up. so he emailed me … and I was like ok yea, that sounds like such a crazy experience for me, that sounds wonderful let’s try to figure it out. so I was playing this festival in mexico city at the end of february, and they are paying for all of my travel. so if I go to aruba before this then we only have to pay for a one way ticket. I was trying to make it the cheapest thing possible so neither of us has to spend a lot of money, so I was like ok can you find out how many of your friends want to see the show. and he emails me back a day later like ok I have 22 people who will come to the show

M: That’s awesome.

J: And then I checked online, ok tickets are 200 bucks. if each one pays like 10 bucks then it pays for my ticket and like maybe a taxi. or I’d get like 50 bucks. And he was like ok everyone will pitch in 10 bucks, buy your ticket, we’ll do this.

M: Damn. That’s such a magical little collaberation.

J: yeah so we stayed with him at his moms house, I had a couple friends come to shoot a video, ‘cause they wanted to make a music video. I told them I was gonna go there and they were like can we come shoot. and I was like yeah I’ll ask Luis. And so Luis’s family was nice enough to let us sleep at his house, and his family was really nice. He was such a wonderful person, he grew up in Venezuela and Caracas, and then moved to Peru. He ended up setting up this show, and I got to meet all his friends. It’s great to have this experience on an island, near the equator, kind of crashing with people, and everyone’s super nice.

M: So, tell me about the new album and what you’ve got going on, and the transition to a band, and where you’re going there.

J: Yeah, so this record Carousel is kind of a continuation of what was going in Big Pop, but a little less mystical.  Like Big Pop was straight mysticism, very conceptual. It was the first successful concept album I’ve ever done. Every album I’ve tried to do was supposed to be a concept album and has failed, but that was the time that I did and was like “yes! I finally fucking got it! Done!”

M: You got any new music in the works??

J: So the next album is similar in sonic pallette, although a little more…So basically since my analog synth broke on tour, and I haven’t been able to get it fixed since it’s expensive, I’ve basically just been relying on these digital synths. And the sounds are fucking hilarious! So I’ve been having a great time coming up with hilarious sounds.  So the lead single, I was just trying to come up with the funniest sounds to go together – like tubular bells, and standup bass, and harpsichord, and then it goes into disco funk.

M: Your like one of those chefs that puts like oreos and fried chicken together. At first it seems like madness, but then you try it and you’re pleasantly surprised.

J: Yeah, like taking ingredients that aren’t supposed to go together and figuring out how can they sound good? And that’s a fun challenge for me. And then to write a good song, and it turns out that’s what my label wanted as the single.

M: Mmm oreos…

J: And then it fills the sound, and it’s all like anti-war, and very anti-Sheldon Adelson, basically. Ultimately this record, I worked really really hard on it, but it didn’t take me a lot of time, because it’s the same songwriting style I’ve been doing for a while. Like as soon as I started the Jerry Paper project, it’s layering synths and drum machines and singing.

M: So more layers to the general structure you’ve been building in past records?

J: Yeah, I’m layering things more with lyrics here.  Like the song, The Big Fight, I layered lyrics more there, and I’m really proud of that, and that’s a big part of the new record. It’s been part of my live set for a while. I could play it for you. I’m just proud of the lyrics, they’re just vaguely cartoony and surreal, but deal with kind of serious issues.  The record I’m working on now…

M: It’s definitely got a Zappa-esque approach to it.

J: The album I’m working on now, like every song is a cartoon. I can’t play you stuff from the next record, but I’ll play you this one now.I just kind of got sick of relying on the analog synth because it sounds good all of the time. I just thought it sounded too good all of the time, and now I got to make something that sounds bad so other stuff can sound good.

M: Cartoons are awesome. Did you have a favorite cartoon growing up?

 

J: I was a really big Tex Avery fan. Actually have recently rekindled my love for Droopy and Wolfie (the really horny wolf).

 

M: So for this album, your exploring some of the stuff that might be happening in alternate universes, or situations.

J: That’s a lot of the idea – like this is the last song I recorded for this one, but trying to create some of the complexities of human life but transposed onto a cartoon.  Liek anthropomorphic animals dealing with human trauma.  So that’s the idea for the next one.  This album was easy to make more because I’m used to the process, so I’ve started now writing a lot of guitar music to try to challenge myself.  Like I’ve never written demos and then recorded real versions before, because I’ve never worked with anyone else, so this is gonna be a new experience for me.  Especially to be working with a non-digital studio, all reel-to-reel, Bayonette is the label.  Just really nice wonderful people.

M: Just musicians who want to make music.

J: They know how to run a label, how to treat artists, it’s just great.  Like my first contract-signing record label – the ones I’ve been with before have been great and run by great people, but it’s definitely interesting to see it, it’s nice that Bayonette spends a lot of time trying to sell the record.  Instead of just putting out interesting music, they’re aso interested in trying to sell the records, which is  great for me. I could use some money!  Especially because I quit my job so I could focus more on music, and I want to tour more.  It’s been going well, and I’m still feeling like I’ll probably have to get another bus-boy job as soon as people are like “Jerry Paper, that fucking sucks!” Bus boy job.

 

 

M: Who would be a dream collaboration you’d want to do?

J: Definitely either Leticia Sadie or Time Gain from Stereolab.

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M: So if Lady Gaga came up to you and was like, write something for me, would you ever?

J: It’d probably be great money, so I’d try it out. In the spirit of challenging myself, I’d give it a shot. It would definitely be super outside of my comfort zone, so that would be great.

M: Can you walk me through your morning ritual again?

J: So yeah, I try to do it every day, not every day, but I try to.  So I wake up, take a shower, then make myself tea and a very small breakfast.  Maybe like a banana and some raw goat kafir, or a piece of toast or something. And then I meditate for as long as necessary, I don’t set a timer, but it’s usually about 20 minutes. There was a period where I was going for longer, but usually it’s about 20 minutes.  Then I exercise a bit. My live set involves more dancing lately, so I try to exercise so I don’t get tired on stage.  Then I get lunch, and then I go to work.  So it usually takes me about two hours to get through the whole routine.  I just started there when I quit my job so that I have this structure, like I’m not unemployed, I just have this ritual where I get into the space to work.  Lately I’ve been getting into working on songs for video games or films, and that’s been good to have a routine to get into the working mindset. Usually I make enough for rent by shows and selling music on my bandcamp.  It’s fortunate that my rent, by New York standards, is really cheap.

M: Can you tell me more about this raw goat kafir?  Is it like black market stuff?

J: The US has health codes that aren’t necessarily based on fact.  Like in California you can get most dairy products, but in New York you can’t sell dairy product that’s not pasteurized. But unpasteurized dairy products are actually better for you, and have more flavor.

M: So you get them all from the same supplier? Who is it?

J: I can’t really say, since technically it’s illegal.

M: So they’ve got goats in a basement somewhere?

J: It’s a network of suppliers, mostly upstate I guess, but I get a weekly delivery.

M: Wild.  I’m gonna go try and find some. Thanks for chatting Jerry. Much love

 

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