"The smaller the room, the closer people are and the bigger the connection you have with everybody there. That’s the magic." - Matt Rider
After officially launching back in February, Paper Mill have just released their debut EP 'Past The West Way'. A short, sharp shot of classic British rock that reminisces on days past while also probing at the present, it's a wonderful example of how all you need to make great music is a group of mates and whole lot of heart.
We spoke to guitarists Matt Rider and Ben Sansom about the roots of the band and what they want to achieve moving forwards...
So how did the idea of this band come to fruition?
Says Ben Sansom: "It was only in May last year that we thought about really giving this a go. It was supposed to be a side project around the end of Lower Than Atlantis. By the end of LTA, and I think I speak on behalf of all four of us, it became more of a business. You lose that spark to create music and really want it. We did some mad things in our time, like we recorded a session at Konk Studios, and we were just like ‘Don’t really want to be here’. We lost that drive and passion and a lot of that stems from where it had gone. You start to cater to your fans rather than catering for what you really want to do.
"I’d known Matt for years. Matt was in one of my favourite bands growing up, The Holiday Plan. We met when we supported them at a show put on by Frank Carter strangely; this was a year before Gallows, and from that followed them around going to shows. Then when LTA started picking up we became friends and kept in touch. When I decided I wanted to go back to those roots of not trying to reinvent the wheel but have a fucking solid good time, I knew what Matt was like as a songwriter.
"So when it came to writing songs, it all came together pretty quickly. The EP really shows that and really shows what we’re about in the space of six songs."
Says Matt Rider: "It’s like if you listened to LTA, there are elements of Paper Mill where you go ‘I can see parts of Ben’. He’s got a unique way of playing and I’ve got a unique way of song writing and singing. We’ve just taken our musicianship and put it together and it works. We’ve grown up listening to the same sort of bands, we’ve grown up going to and playing the same sorts of shows, it all just works."
It’s interesting when you’re pursuing that feeling you originally got from music at a completely different age and place in the world. You’re not that same kid anymore. How is it for you from the positions you are now where your lives have taken on these different paths to then ultimately lead back here?
Matt: "For me, it does feel very different. We started this as adults and the last time I was invested in a band I was a kid. I think the brilliant thing about this band is that there’s a level of enjoyment where every aspect of my life doesn’t have to be defined by it. I have a lot of different things going on in my life and I can enjoy this band for what it is. You’re doing it because you want to."
Ben: "When you’re doing a band and it’s a business, you say things like ‘We need to do that tour because we need to pay wages’. You make decisions based on what’s best for the band. With Paper Mill, we are all very conscious about not overplaying when we are able to play shows again and very conscious of making all the right choices. We’re all a bit older now, we can’t go out and play 100 shows and forget about our lives at home. At the end of LTA we would be going and playing shows that may not have been the best but they would have paid for us to keep going."
Matt: "You were employing people as well. You had crew who were relying on you."
Ben: "Yeah, absolutely. It’s really refreshing now having that responsibility and having that pressure on you. I had definitely lost the fun. When I think back to LTA, the best shows were the little sweatboxes. You can fist pump someone who’s right in front of you and then you go play Brixton and you’re ten metres away from those people."
Matt: "When you think about what a live performance is about and what makes it special, it’s that connection to the audience. What you’re doing is getting a response from the audience and that’s bouncing back on you. The smaller the room, the closer they are and the bigger the connection you have with everybody there. That’s the magic."
Has thinking about that side of things influenced you when it came down to actually writing songs then? How did you go about capturing that energy?
Matt: "I don’t think we really thought about it that much. We didn’t sit down and say ‘Let’s write a song that does this’. It was more honest than that. It was about what we were feeling and just what came out from that. There’s that feeling of when you’re growing up with your mates, getting pissed and having a good time, like how a song like ‘(Motor) Way Of Life’ conjures up those images of just living, and then you all grow up. I think about jobs that I’ve done and you realise you can’t live that life anymore, but that doesn’t mean you don’t miss it.
"The period we’re at in our lives where Luke [Sansom, bass] has just had a daughter and people are getting married and everyone is entering different stages in their lives, these songs serve as a reflection on that. I am changing and my life does look different but it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to honour how it used to be."
Ben: "I was just conscious of people getting it and getting us. I’m 32 and when I’ve played it to my friends of the same age they’ve said ‘This feels like what we listened to growing up!’. Someone who is 16 may listen to it and go ‘This is weird, I’ve not heard songs like this before’ and that’s because the were probably too young to be there and in it the first time round. When I picture what a Paper Mill show will look like, when we get to do it, is people like me with a beer in hand escaping their lives for a bit. We had it with LTA when we would play the old songs and they would be there at the back having a good time. If we could capture that feeling at one of our own shows, then that would be amazing. I don’t know if there are many bands who are doing that at the moment."
A lot of that must come from the shape a band has to be now. Those things which made you fall out of love with LTA are in some cases the only way to actually function. It’s much harder to capture that energy when the landscape is different…
Matt: "You couldn’t just be finding new music all the time in our day. You would read reviews and then go out and pick up the CD and listen to it for weeks and weeks. And you loved it!"
Ben: "I remember when ‘Take Off Your Pants And Jacket’ came out in 2001. It’s Monday and I’m in school. The moment school finishes I ran down to town to Virgin and grab it and buy it. I’ve spent £12, which for me at the time was a lot of money, so I’m doing everything I can to like it when I’ve only heard the one song that’s already out. Now I can put something on and go ‘Nah, don’t really like that, I’ll just listen to something else’."
Though to bring those tingles you had back then into the modern day in such a way with your art is a really special thing…
Matt: "There’s a risk of that too, because you’re relying on people to give you a little bit of time and dig a little bit deeper. But then because that’s what we all wanted to do and it’s all the things we have loved, it really doesn’t matter if this is massive."
So Paper Mill ultimately represents that feeling of doing something for you and only you….
Ben: "That’s exactly it. We could have done something similar production wise to what we did with LTA and appealed to that sort of fan and brought them over. But if the guitar sounded right and wasn’t out of tune, we kept it and moved on."
Matt: "You know, we don’t make music because we have a obligation to anybody else. We make music because it’s something that we enjoy. It’s like self-care. Being put through the big machine of the music industry, it’s not good for your mental health. It can be really draining and difficult to maintain. We’re doing this because it’s great and we enjoy it and it would be great if people came along and enjoyed it with us. The main thing though is that we’re having a good time."
Ben: "I don’t want to ever lose that feeling again. If we’re not feeling this and feel like we shouldn’t be doing it, we’re not going to go ‘Oh, let’s just keep going’. From my experience I really want to stick to that."
Check out the full EP right here: