If there’s any lasting stigma around the band-geek stereotype, let Asheville, N.C.-based trip-hop outfit Paper Tiger put an end to it. The group — a duo onstage and a trio in the studio — creates a lushly layered song that’s at once languid and danceable. Wrench-tight precision meets a dirty downtempo feel. But that method comes from a background in symphony and marching bands.
Singer-songwriter Molly Kummerle played trombone, piano and guitar. Producer Isaac Gottfried got his start on clarinet. Percussionist Dave Mathes has a degree in music and has marched for Carolina Crown drum and bugle corps. From those beginnings, Molly became jazz singer Ruby Slippers and DJ Molly Parti; Isaac launched his career as DJ/producer MINGLE; and Dave performed in electronic bands Sonmi and Hi-Alta. “We all approach music in a different way,” says Molly. “But we all have enough live musicianship to where we’ll take a clean sound and dirty it up, reverse it or give it something unexpected. A little bit of angst.”
“This Time Around,” from Paper Tiger’s new album, Daylight, begins as a shimmy of a beat that melts into horns and keys. Coolness layers and blankets this song, coloring and texturing it in near-palpable ways. It’s jazz stripped of edifice, soul pared back to its thrumming essence, and R&B boiled down to its heavy-breathing intent.
This new collection of songs fits in the Paper Tiger arc while also demonstrating the band’s directions. The project formed, initially from a meeting of the minds — Molly and Isaac’s minds, to be exact. Her songs and his beats together fashioned a dreamy, dance-y sonic tapestry. On stage, Paper Tiger produced a multimedia experience with visual projections and Molly’s expressive fashion designs. Their debut, Me Have Fun, was voted into the top 20 Regional releases on WNCW; the band toured with OTT and shared stages with Bonobo, King Britt, Gift of Gab, Mark Farina and Eliot Lipp among others. In addition to traveling the Southeast, Paper Tiger played MoogFest, Camp Bisco and Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit. Molly has collaborated with Midelixer and Emancipator. The band signed with booking agent Autonomous Music in 2011 and released a self-titled album the same year.
The addition of Dave to Paper Tiger’s lineup energized the live show. For the stage, he replaces many of the electronic drum parts with dynamic, real-time percussion. “I’ll always make sure there’s enough space made for the live renders,” he explains. “It also still translates to the album version, but with a more visceral quality.”
As Isaac’s role shifted to that of behind-the-scenes producer, Molly and Dave honed their performance into a duo. The streamlined setup is highly mobile, but takes nothing away from the band’s sonic intensity.
“For the new record, I like having a combination of sounds that are pretty and sounds that are old and gritty,” says Dave. He darkened produced drums with filters and overdrive. Vocals are roughed up.
“We all really love vinyl and the band started out as mostly vinyl samples and vocals,” says Molly. Lately, however, she’s been inspired by synthesizer sounds and native instruments. “But we all want to keep that analog warmth,” she says.
Those high-low and alt-pop sensibilities find a happy medium in Paper Tiger’s approach. “I try to have something in every track that’s unique in the way its produced,” says Dave. Layered instruments and vocals share space with reversed tracks and prominent beats.
The sound design is complex, say the musicians. But it’s not complicated.