Yellow Paper Planes: An Indie Sound Feature

About three years ago, the formation of your new favorite indie/alternative rock group came to fruition.

PC: Yellow Paper Planes
PC: Yellow Paper Planes

Combined with the orchestration of prominent guitar riffs and clever tune changes, Columbus’ very own Yellow Paper Planes serenades us with sobering lyricism that sparks powerful emotion, giving us a true sense of their folk influences.

I had the opportunity to sit down with frontman Joshua James Wednesday (11/16)  to talk about the guys’ story and what lies ahead.

The quartet consists of Joshua James (lead vocal and guitar), Brandon Woods (percussion and backup vocals), Peter Mendenhall (bass and backup vocals), and Jeremy Ebert (guitar, keys, mandolin, backup vocals).

Columbus, Ohio’s Yellow Paper Planes are indie but not cutesy. They can be heavy but not aggro. Power pop for punks who like country. Folk music for folks who kind of hate folk music.

– GhettoBlaster Magazine

The Indie Sound: How did everyone meet? What Inspired you guys to start making music together?

Joshua James: The drummer (Brandon Woods) and I have been together for about six years. I played solo around for a while and he was the drummer for another band. Our bands happened to line up on a gig, actually on New Year’s Eve. He had suggested that if I ever wanted to flesh it out and turn it into a band that he’d be interested. That was simple enough for me, so I said yeah.

We started playing in 2011 and then we put out a record the following year and toured the shit out of it. We couldn’t quite keep the line up together, so it kind of fizzled out. We took some time off and then we came back together about three years ago, and added the two other members of the band. The current iteration of the band has been together for about three years now.

The other three dudes actually know each other from way back, there was this group of musicians that seemed to all come from their hometown that hung out in Columbus, so I cherry picked my favorites from that group and we put the band together.

TIS: How would you describe your sound?

JJ: We keep looking for that. The reason it becomes difficult to do so is not because of any pretension that “oh, we can’t be classified,” we’re just not trying to write the same song twice, so genre wise, or influence wise we might pull from a completely different set of inspirations for any given song. It all ends up coming pretty close to ‘90s alternative inspired indie rock. I tend to write fairly traditionally, so I don’t ever stray too far from that rock and roll set up.

TIS: Who would you say influences that sound?

JJ: Probably the most influential bands when we were putting this record together were the bands we grew up listening to, which was ‘90s indie music.

Bands like Built to Spill, Sebadoh and Modest Mouse to some extent. Those guys that were indie rock before indie rock became a sub-genre. I’ve always loved that music, and I think that sound got louder in our songs as we began writing more. It felt like we were able to call upon those influences further.

As for more modern bands that we’re influenced by, Manchester Orchestra happens to be a big one for all of us. I don’t know if it comes out in our sound that much, but we all really love their records, so it has to sink in there somewhere. Frightened Rabbit, the way that they’re able to play folky music, but really moody and dark music as well.

TIS: What is the origin of the name Yellow Paper Planes?

JJ: So, my name is Joshua James, and whenever we started touring as a band there was another guy called Joshua James already who told us that I wasn’t allowed to use that name, and so we became Joshua P. James and the Paper Planes, I don’t know why. I guess the repeat of the long “a” sound was something that we were into.

When Brandon and I got back together I wanted to just drop my name from it because I didn’t really feel like a singer-songwriter anymore, it felt like we were together to be band.

We tried to be The Paper Planes and got the same warning shot from another band that was already called The Paper Planes. We should probably do our research a little more, but every iteration of Paper Planes was already out there … The Paper Planes, Paper Plane, Paper Airplane … you name it. We had already kind of established that as a theme, and so Brandon suggested putting yellow in front of it because there was an old song of ours called “Yellow Paper.”

TIS: What is the writing process like? What inspires you to write the lyrics that you do?

JJ: I tend to write about the things that I can’t figure out with regular language, usually when I’m stuck on something, whether it’s a feeling or an event that transpired that I just can’t quite get my head around.

I don’t actively sit down and try to write it out, I just like to get it out of my head. I’m also not a very disciplined writer so to speak. Things tend to come to me in chunks. Thankfully, the iPhone has been like a godsend to me because probably half of my memory is filled up with snippets of melodies and lyrics. Sometimes it does happen all at once, I’ll sit down when I get a couple minutes to myself and an entire song could come out. Sometimes it has to be pieced together for eons it seems like.

PC: Yellow Paper Planes
PC: Yellow Paper Planes

TIS: Does everyone contribute to this process?

JJ: I would say the songs probably come to the band about 2/3 of the way done. Definitely lyrically they’re all pretty much finished. The melodies are there, and then usually whatever key or chords we’ll be playing in. The band gets to chop it up and put the structure together when we’re in practice, so yeah while I am the primary song writer, the stamp that the rest of the guys put on it is important.

TIS: What has been the best live show you guys have played to date?

JJ: There’s a few that stick out. One we played not too long ago, there’s a guy who is kind of a Michigan hero, Chris Bathgate. He’s a bit of an NPR darling. We went up to his hometown in Grand Rapids and played his tour kick off show at Founder’s Brewery.

First of all, Founder’s, they make great beer, and their brewery up there is just amazing. It’s this huge open beer hall but somehow also really warm in there. We showed up and got the royal treatment because we were Chris Bathgate’s guests. They gave us all kinds of free food and drinks and we had an artist concierge, all kinds of ridiculous shit like that.

We ended up playing to a crowd of about 600 people who were all just racked in attention. For a small no name band on the road, that’s a pretty amazing thing to hit. We’ve had shows here too where we’ve released stuff in the past and had nice blowouts, it’s always a good time. But that one sticks out in recent memory.

TIS: What’s your favorite venue to play in Columbus?

JJ: We like to play Rumba a lot. We like Space Bar, we really like the people there. It always sounds amazing at Skully’s. I don’t know, I just like to play. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Rumba.

TIS: Your new single “Bottle Up, Explode” is set to come out December 2, is this a preview to a full length album?

JJ: It is. We collectively picked this song to be the first single, and then in January we’ll release the second single, and then the following month, the record. This song was a little bit fuzzy, definitely a throwback to the ‘90s era.

It’s a little bit different from our perspective, so we wanted to throw it out there as a “hey, here’s some interesting thing that this band is doing,” as a first taster. And then we have what probably would be more traditionally the singe coming out in January. The full length is twelve songs, it’s done, it’s in the bag, we’re just waiting for the wheels to turn.

TIS: How would you say your music has evolved since you started playing together?

JJ: It’s evolved a lot since Brandon and I started for sure. Just speaking about Yellow Paper Planes, when the four of us got together, it still started out as me bringing a song all the way done and the dudes just playing a long to it. It took us a while to get out of that. I don’t know if that’s just a natural inclination for bands when they start out, especially with somebody who is already established as a singer-songwriter.

For whatever reason, it was frustrating at the beginning. We got to a place where we recorded the Feather’s Touch EP, which was a bit of a palette cleanser for us because it had been a frustrating year. We got those four songs out and finished up the last few little details of the EP, and once that was over with, we got to take a break from music.

I don’t know what happened, but everything kind of clicked into place after that, which is good. Everyone started writing from their own perspective and I didn’t have to direct quite as much. I don’t know if the music itself has evolved a ton, but the way that we’ve approached writing the music has definitely evolved.

TIS: What is the ultimate direction for Yellow Paper Planes?

JJ: I think the easy thing to say is that we’ll ride it as far as it’ll take us. I don’t know how true that is in actuality. We all have jobs and family around. I mean, I don’t think any of us are going to pick up and chase a dream for no real reason at this point. I also don’t know how realistic it is that some record label will throw us money any time soon.

We’re just caught in that main space of wanting, with this record specifically, to get in front of some larger audiences when we go out on the road. We do circles pretty regularly and we’re slowly building those audiences, but it would be nice to get a bump, like a noticeable bump once the record came out.

Ultimately, if we can make a case to ourselves that it’s worth it to keep putting the time in, then that’s probably all I would ask for. It’s easy enough to get distracted by other things and to start feeling like “ehh, music’s not really doing it for me.”

I think that’s something that we’ve realized, with this record in particular, is that we wanted to do it legit. We took our time recording it, we raised funds, we saved our own money to put into it, and, we got a whole PR group that wants to push it. We’re trying to go big business with it on a small business budget. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of time organizing things that aren’t fun.

The business side of things isn’t always very fun, but as long as we can stay creative and it still feels right to be making music, then we’ll keep going.

Yellow Paper Planes will be performing at Rumba Cafe on Saturday, December 3 for their can’t miss single release show, featuring “Bottle Up, Explode.”

In the meantime, you can get psyched for their upcoming set by listening to the EP Feather’s Touch, now streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp.

I highly recommend checking these guys out. Be on the lookout for their full length album Building A Building early next year!

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