The stunning debut album from Paper Beat Scissors has generated a whirlwind of praise, leaving many critics dumbfounded in its wake. There’s an intensity to it that is utterly captivating, coming from the core of Tim Crabtree’s intimate vocal delivery and acoustic, creating a quiet storm peppered through with emotion. At times the songs like Forgotten and Keening suggest raw and frayed nerves, the former with its strange discordant looping, the latter with its jarring rhythms and squalling lead guitar lines are verging on disquieting. Elsewhere, however, there are moments of melancholy bliss through the likes of Tendrils, Once or Be Patient
Paper Beat Scissors is not how the game goes and to some extent there is nothing here that is ordinary. Paper Beat Scissors suspend the rules yet perversely everything has its place. Tim’s pervasive artistic vision creates it’s own logic and sets its own parameters and once snared all you can do is succumb to the way things will be from now on. The careful layering of instruments adds to the atmosphere and where Tim’s lyrics lack narrative sense they more than compensate for that with shape and texture, suggesting things profound, or even access to a world that has so far been hidden in some sort of dream state.
Even Tim’s career has been far from conventional, growing up in a musically inspirational family in the North West of England, his own music has only truly taken shape having relocated to Canada. None the less he seems to have made the most of the strange advantage that being an Englishman on the wrong side of the Atlantic can sometime open up. He has found his voice, the people and a scene that offers an enviable level of support. Although it may not be the obvious route to musical fame and fortune, it seems to have suited Tim very well indeed. He’s looking forward to his imminent UK tour and has a very interesting story to tell.
Forgotten (Live at St. Matthew’s Church)
When did you move to Canada and why? How has it been, do you regard yourself as settled there or still drawn by the lure of ‘home’?
It’s been 9 years, now, that I’ve lived in Nova Scotia. I originally moved there for university – to be specific, I never went there with the intention of moving. I went to do a masters in International Development Studies. The plan was to be there for a year, but timelines on degrees in Canada are much more flexible than the UK, and by the time I’d finished the degree it was two and a half years later. I’d found myself pulled in by the amazing community of the place, and really wanted to stay.
I’m definitely settled in Canada these days. I got my permanent residence a couple of years ago, and I love the lifestyle and mindset here, and I’m very connected to the music scene across the whole country. The pull from the UK is still huge, though. Practically all of my family still live around Burnley, and I miss them massively. I also love the landscape around there. Canada’s famed for its natural beauty, but the countryside around Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Lake District is very dear to me.
The geography is so different – I delight in my back of a fag packet estimation that the USA has 40 times our surface area and 6 times our population, while Canada is even bigger with half our population. Does that immediately pose a different set of challenges? If so what are they?
I assume here that you’re referring to the challenges of touring, and yes, touring in this country is completely insane. I’ve done the national tour thing 3 times. I’ve done it by train, bus and car, and there’s just no getting around the fact that the middle of the country is huge and practically empty of human population. If you’re driving west from Toronto, it takes you 2 days drive to even get out of the province. And then pretty much another day to get to the next big city, Winnipeg, which is itself only around a million people. It’s fun, and completely amazing the first time, but seeing the same landscape pass you by for days on end gets old pretty fast, and the last time I did a full national tour I vowed never to do it again, and have been doing things more regionally. But there are ways that musicians and audiences make it make sense. There’s a whole house concert scene that really allows you to make it make sense to play in small remote areas. And these more remote communities are often incredibly excited to have music passing through, so, even if you’re only playing in a small town, people can come out in full force. The indie music scene is also incredibly supportive, and musicians share resources like crazy. When I was first getting going over here, other more established artists went out of their way to put me in touch with all the best venues, promoters and other acts to put a tour together.
What is the music scene like when compared to the UK? What is your own personal musical history and what have you grown up with?
In my experience, there’s a world of difference between the music scenes in the UK and Halifax/Canada. I’d say the number one difference is the level of focus and interest in local music. Growing up playing in bands around Burnley, Manchester and York I found that you were lucky if you could even get your friends to come out to your gigs. People over here love the small local artists as much as the big famous ones. There isn’t that same divide between local bands and bigger acts. The local media is hugely supportive of the local acts – the free weekly paper in Halifax has a huge readership and there’s a local musician on the front cover practically every other month. The national radio stations are actively seeking new music, and I had my music played on the national radio before I even had a CD out.
In terms of my own musical history, I come from a really musical family. My dad’s involved in the technical side of the industry, so there was always music blasting at full volume when we were growing up. Most of the Beatles catalogue was lodged in my brain before I was even old enough to understand what it was. I remember hearing a lot of Peter Gabriel over those years, too. Our parents really supported my siblings and I in any musical paths we were interested in pursuing, so I learned a lot of instruments over the years, though it wasn’t until I picked up the guitar that things really came together. My brother (who these days is the regular drummer for Wishbone Ash) taught me how to read guitar tablatures, and my dad showed me how to finger pick by teaching me how to play the Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel. I just taught myself from there by looking up tablatures on the internet. I listened to a lot of REM and Radiohead in my teenage years, played in various grunge and rock bands growing up. In more recent years, the most significant acts for me have been Sigur Ros, the Notwist and Sun Kil Moon. I have a pretty broad taste in music, though, and listen to a lot of old soul music, electronica and have recently been listening to a lot of 20th Century Modern Classical music.
Do you think the change of environment has helped you to develop artistically? Has your music changed since moving?
My music has definitely changed significantly in the last few years, but it’s hard to peg where that shift has come from. Whether it’s some kind of natural maturing, or the people or landscape around me, or something entirely different. Getting access to a whole national venue scene where there are lots of great quiet rooms to play in has definitely allowed me to explore the quieter side of music, and has also taught me the power of playing quieter to get people’s attention. I’ve also been massively inspired by, and have collaborated with a lot of Canadian artists.
You must have had to work quite hard to establish yourself and get noticed in your new environment, I imagine it’s quite a cultural shift in the way you are received.
There’s no question that over the last few years I’ve put a lot of work into establishing myself on the national scene, but it doesn’t feel like it was exactly difficult. Coming from a musical environment in the UK that had basically been pay-to-play my expectations were incredibly low. Moving to a place where people were so excited about new music, so willing to investigate bands they hadn’t heard before, and where you could make decent money playing shows was a revelation. I’m also lucky that there’s an immediate interest to audiences created by the fact that I’m from the UK. Canadians are well aware of the sheer volume of amazing music that has come from, and continues to pour out of the UK, and often they’re a little confused about why someone from the UK would decide to pursue a life in music in Canada, so it gives me an immediate leg-up over other Canadian acts.
Tell me about recording the album. How did the process unfold? Who are the other people and musicians involved?
The album had been brewing for quite sometime before we went and hit the red button. I felt like I could have stretched the process out indefinitely, so I forced myself into a corner booking studio time and roping in a producer to light a fire under my ass.
Mike Feuerstack was definitely the key ally in the process. Mike is practically an institution in Canada and I was a big fan of his music (under the name Snailhouse). He’s played in so many indie bands in Canada over the years – Bell Orchestre, Land of Talk, more recently in the Luyas. He produced the album and played lap steel and electric guitar on it.
Diego Medina engineered a lot of it, and his studio – a crazy old wooden building with an old theatre inside of it, in a little fishing village on the south shore of Nova Scotia was a really inspiring place to record. Jeremy Gara, who’s the drummer in Arcade Fire mixed the album in his kitchen and put so much care and attention into it. He always outlasted Mike and I, energy-wise.
There are a lot of players on the album, and they all did such amazing work. A lot of the time we would bring them in and just give them free rein to create their own arrangements, and I think they all absolutely killed it.
Was there a particular sound that you were aiming for, or did the songs evolve as the record was made?
In general I write and create best when I’m not trying to intellectualize things too much, when I’m trying to be more intuitive and try to do what feels right for a particular song. It’s a difficult thing to talk about, but I try to just play the songs and as the demos develop add layers and instrumentation that seem appropriate at the time. 3 of the songs (Forgotten, Ends in Themselves and Tendrils) were entirely written after we’d begun recording, and almost emerged fully-formed.
There’s an intensity, everything sounds tightly coiled, with the occasional release of a euphoric line or snatch of melody. It makes the songs sound deeply personal, almost confessional. Is that true?
The songs are definitely deeply personal, but I don’t know if the word confessional would be the best word to describe it. Music is a form of communication for me, but that communication happens through the feel and sound of the music, the textures and intention behind the voice as much as, if not more than, the lyrical content. I feel like the songs are often ‘about’ different things than the words suggest, in the sense of the emotion conveyed by the sound. It’s definitely a cathartic process.
Where do you find your inspiration to write? Do you mostly write on acoustic guitar? It seems to be the constant amongst a careful layering of a variety of musical textures.
I mostly write on acoustic guitar, but it’s an open relationship :) . I’ve been writing a lot more on electric, these days, and I do quite a bit of electronic production which is becoming a lot more central in the new material. Whatever instrument I’m playing the vocal melody and words pretty much always arrive at the same time. I tend to just sit around playing, improvising and at a certain point some kernel of an idea will come out and I just build from there.
Are you looking forward to your UK tour? Will it just be you? What does the next year hold in store if all goes to plan?
I’m really looking forward to the UK tour. Although it’s a pretty short one, I’m going to some cities I’ve never been to before, and the venues are all so perfectly suited to the music. It’s going to be the perfect environment to play to new audiences. I’ll be travelling solo for this tour. In the next year, the big focus is on finishing the new record. I’ve been working with an amazing engineer by the name of Dean Nelson (who’s worked with Beck and Bat For Lashes amongst others), and the plan is to burrow myself away over the long winter months to finish writing and recording. There will also be plenty of touring, though. The plan is to get back to Europe in late spring, and then I’ll be back through again for festivals during the summer.
Interview by: Simon Holland
Nov 30: London, UK – The Borderline
Dec 01: Bristol, UK – Cafe Kino
Dec 03: Norwich, UK – the Bicycle Shop
Dec 04: Leeds, UK – House Show (email for details)
Dec 05: Manchester, UK – Fallow Cafe
Dec 06: Durham, UK – Empty Shop HQ
Dec 07: Newcastle, UK – Head of Steam
Dec 08: Stockton on Tees, UK – The Waiting Room
Dec 09: York, UK – City Screen
Paper Beat Scissors is out 2 December via Forward Music
Photo Credit: Nick Wilkinson