The Paper Chase: Interview with John Congleton

If The Paper Chase frontman and de facto leader John Congleton was found reciting the lyrics of his latest masterpiece, Someday This Could All Be Yours Vol.1, to passersby on a city street, he would probably find himself in a padded cell. If instead he recited his prose on public access in a cheap suit with an 800 number below him, he might have a few million followers. Luckily, Congleton, known for his producer credits on Modest Mouse, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Marilyn Manson and The Mountain Goats is not a T.V. Evangelist or a homeless crackpot (that I know of anyway). Instead, for the past 10 years he has been the driving force behind The Paper Chase, mastering their brand of jagged, dissonant indie-pop.

The Paper Chase’s latest offering is a two-part concept album centering on natural disasters. With our culture’s morbid fixation on death and destruction, from global warming, swine flu, this weeks riots in Iran, etc., the album appears to be a direct response to our society’s collective neurosis. Each song lyrically explores the human response to death and forces they cannot control. I decided to get Congleton on the phone to find out whether he is a prophet, troubled artist or just batshit crazy.

So have these songs been around for a while? When did you first get the idea to do a natural disaster themed concept album?

The honest answer is that I really don’t know exactly how the genesis of the idea came around. It came up a long time ago and it’s something that I’ve been batting around in my head for a while. Like, originally the songs were not written for Paper Chase. It was written for some other band or project. It seemed like, not that it was spoken, but it seemed like Paper Chase was going to run its course and probably wouldn’t be very busy or functioning as a band in the same capacity. So this was sort of my escape hatch. This will be my music that I’m working on the side, so that I will have some material ready to go.

That makes a lot of sense; this album is a lot different from past Paper Chase albums. The older albums flowed into each other almost seamlessly, with common musical and lyrical themes carrying on into each song. This album still flows really well and there are common themes, but each song kind of stands on its own. Was there something done differently in the writing process that brought around these changes?

Not exactly, I think the guys in the band felt the same way that I did. That we had explored the idea of the flowing concept album-I mean we had done four albums that were very intensely like that and very aware that they were like that-I just wanted to not do that again. At this point I don’t think anyone would hold it against us to try something differently. And this album is obviously a concept album, there are concepts behind it. But I didn’t feel any need to tie the songs together with recurring melodies. I wanted to make 10 really good songs that stood on their own. I’ll be the first to admit that on past Paper Chase albums there are some songs that don’t make a ton of sense on their own. I just didn’t want to do that again.