A&E » Music

The Paperboys hawk Mexicali grooves

Vancouver band returns for free concert at the Plaza on Saturday



Listen to anything Vancouver collective The Paperboys have recorded and you'll get the sense those songs are begging to be played live. They leap from the speakers, begging for freedom, as if they are uncomfortable existing on record.

There's an obvious reason for this: The Paperboys are built for the stage. Tom Landa, the band's frontman and primary songwriter, says that the band has spent far more time performing live than playing in the studio. The fact is, after all these years, he's still not all that comfortable recording an album.

"When you look at how many times we've played live in the past 18 years versus how many times we've played in the studio? Oh man! We're babies in the studio," Landa says in a phone interview from his home in Vancouver.

"We're absolutely a live band because that's what we know, you know?"

None of this is to say their albums are subpar or amateur in anyway. Since their fourth album, 2000's Postcards, the nine-piece has made it a point to challenge themselves in the studio, adding new textures and experimenting with Mexican and Celtic styles.

Their previous album, 2009's, Callithump, was a oozing with new ideas while rounding up everything they had done until that point. It's an album Landa is very proud of.

He admits it's time to start working on a new record. No word yet, however, when exactly that will be.

"We're three years without a new record. We need to do a new one and we have a new canvas to paint on. It can really kind of go anywhere," he says.

"We're at a place in our career where we're comfortable in what we do. Who knows when the record will come out? I can't even tell you. Some songs are written, some are not, but there will definitely be some changes there, to push ourselves artistically so it's different than the last."

The Paperboys were founded in the early '90s, at a time when the Vancouver music scene was dominated by the naysaying, flannel-praising grunge culture. Landa was more interested in folk, Celtic and bluegrass music, filtered through the prism of pop-rock. The early incarnation of the band was quite popular with the local college crowd.

In the time since, they've released eight albums and have toured the world on a regular basis. After playing Whistler on Saturday, they'll fly to Germany for a month-long tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of their first tour in that country.

Landa says it's an important milestone in the band's history — after a decade without strong radio play or media support of any kind, they've managed to build a solid fan base and sell out venues consistently year after year. They've reached similar pockets of success in England, Ireland and Denmark. Nothing major: selling out 300-person venues but those numbers keep growing, purely through the hard and tired effort of their touring.

"It's been built up very much in an independent way," he says.

"It started out with playing to 40 people in a club. The next round there's 60, and then there's 90 and then word gets around and you're selling out the venue."

The same cannot be said for the crowds back home. Part of it, he says, is the lack of proper venues in and around Vancouver, which has essentially annihilated the region's music scene. It's an obvious sticking point for Landa — since the mid-90s, nearly all the mid-size venues have shut down and as a result, the Paperboys will play maybe one show a year in the city that nurtured them. Conversely, they'll play Seattle-area venues eight times a year.

Then again, it could be much worse. They travel the world playing music and there are certainly worse ways to make a living. Landa says they've managed to do this for as long as they have for two reasons: they actually really enjoy each other's company and none of them depend solely on The Paperboys as a source of income (Landa plays in the Salsa band Locarno, Geoffrey Kelly plays in Spirit of the West, and so on).

"If we were all depending on this, it probably wouldn't be enough to live on, and it would mean that we're draining the fun out of this," he says. "It's good because it's still creative and fun and we're not relying on it.

"The idea of getting singed and becoming a radio pop sensation is something we've all abandoned a long time ago," he adds.

"So we're making records for ourselves, to gratify ourselves artistically, and for those people who come out to our shows, the fan base that we do have, (though) it might not be massive."