Written by Taco Olmstead
I listen to a lot of music. I Love music, I doubt that my life would have the same vibrance if I lived a life that didn’t have such a rich abundance of music and art. We are constantly having new music submitted to The Jamwich for review. I can’t say enough how much of a blessing this is for someone like me, after all, I listened to the Grateful Dead almost exclusively for a number of years and that was expanded by only a handful of bands for a number of years thereafter.
Occasionally, a new band or project ends up on our radar that is truly groundbreaking while simultaneously appealing to the different elements that make music the most appealing to me. That’s not to say that we don’t receive good submissions, but rather, there is a bit of a homogeneous feel to most of our music received. When we do encounter music that defies the boundaries of genre and labels, it is always an experience that rejuvenates our spirit.
I first encountered Paris Monster when Elise had it served up via Spotify Discover Weekly. The song, “A Vision Complete,” echoed a familiarity akin to sounds heard in my adolescence while introducing noises that while seemingly analog were reminiscent of electronic music. The lyrics were carried on vocals that were robust and clear. A few weeks later, the song was added to some of our playlists and was a regular rotation for a couple years. Paris Monster then came back up on our radar via Kenny Holmes who told us about “the hardest working guys” he had seen.
When I heard Paris Monster was going to be playing The Pie Shop in DC, I figured I should act on it and not only attend, but also try to get an interview for the sake of satisfying my curiosities while simultaneously trying to bring light to a project that certainly deserved it. I was fly fishing at the time when I stumbled across the date and asked Elise to get in touch with them to coordinate an interview. I love a good pie, I love good music, I love DC and I always love a good story. Needless to say, I was elated at the idea of having an evening of this sort.
When we arrived at the venue, a quaint spot in Northeast DC with the venue upstairs and the pie shop on the first floor, both Josh Dion and Geoff Kraly, the band in its entirety, were eating dinner. It was quite obviously pie. Elise and I laid back in hopes of letting them finish their meal. They noticed our presence and we eagerly began exchanging information and figuring out a timeline for the evening. We figured a green room takeover would be our best option. Radii was the opening band, another reason why I was excited to attend, would be having their soundcheck during the interview so I felt even less intrusive. We quickly settled into the green room and began one of my favorite interviews to date.
Taco: What is the creative process like when you are writing the lyrics as well as the music?
Josh: Geoff is the primary lyricist, and I’m the person who writes the music and the melodies. It’s built around the setup that I have, more or less–the keyboards and the drums, and the vocals. Often times it’s a lyric sheet that I take and sit down, and just do it all, or I will create an entire track with vocals and everything and send it to Geoff, and he’ll write the words. Sometimes I’ll have a hook, or like “Andalucia,” I’ll have the title or something. Geoff would either take words that were randomly in there, like maybe it was filler or an idea that he then takes into some other crazy thing that I then get back and work out, then we put Geoff’s sounds on it. It’s quite simple really.
Taco: The song, “Had Damon Caught His Sloane,” I was wondering what this was about, and I googled “Damon loves Sloane,” and it came back with a Vampire Diaries episode. Is that just coincidental?
Josh: Absolutely coincidental. I’m surprised “Damon” and “Sloane” would be near each other in a Google search in any format, that’s so funny.
Elise: Where do the names really come from, if you don’t mind me asking?
Geoff: Actually, they probably came from a demo. I had a bass line that I gave to Josh and he fleshed it out with a melody. It was probably just some words that he was singing that sounded kind of like those names. It will start out that way sometimes — if those syllables work with that melody I’ll find some words to drop in their place and that would get an idea started.
Taco: There’s a great song by Dopapod called “Trapper Keeper” that I asked them what it was about, and they said “Absolutely nothing, it just works phonetically”
Josh: That’s awesome. Well, a Trapper Keeper is something we can all identify with, I think.
Taco: If you could tell something to your 18 year old self, what would it be?
Josh: I would tell myself to start singing earlier, and to go for it, maybe a little bit earlier.
Geoff: Same thing, I would say start writing more songs, earlier. Kind of get to it, you know.
Josh: I would have given myself a little more of a slap.
Geoff: Right, back then there is a lot that you are questioning or not confident about, so your future self could tell you “no, no, you’ll be fine, go fail at that anyway,” or whatever. Just get started.
Taco: I ask that because we have a lot of younger readers that are aspiring musicians, and so many of them are scared and rooted in fear. I’m the older guy and I tell them, you know, you aren’t homeless for a reason. Obviously you know how to keep a roof over your head, you’re not starving. Stop being so goddamn scared and just chase whatever you are chasing.
Josh: You gotta chase it. I think that’s the thing, it really depends on where you grow up sometimes. New York was my first city experience, and I think I was about 18 or 19. It took me about a handful of years to be strong in that environment, and I figured it out, but it’s the same thing with your band and your creativity. It’s like you just said, I always had a roof over my head, and always had a gig, so it’s not like I haven’t had a great life, but you can always go back and say man, I wish I had figured that out 10 years before. Maybe just certain things, too. I would emphasize more things, what really matters, and make it known how important those things are. Maybe people tried that with me, I don’t know.
Geoff: I would just say all the things that my teacher said to me, basically. I would definitely tell myself and other young people to question everything but also to try everything. Trust your teachers and peers and what they are saying when they tell you “try this,” but also to question why and how it relates to what you want to do.
Taco: So one of the lyrics that really set me off yesterday while I was listening was “stay cold.”
Geoff: Oh man, that’s “Winter’s Hard”: “Goodbye, keep cold, I know what I said.”
Taco: Yeah, I’m going through some shit with my own son right now, so that line caused me to really dig deep into your lyrical content. A lot of your songs have these seemingly powerful messages going on in your lyrics, what inspires those?
Geoff: “Goodbye and Keep Cold” is the name of a Robert Frost poem. Google that one.
Taco: I’m a Vermonter so I should have known that!
Geoff: If you check out that book you might find a lot of lyrics.
Taco: The reason why we created our magazine was to create a platform for emerging artists and musicians. What would your advice be to lesser known artists and musicians about getting their word out about their craft?
Geoff: Oh, I don’t know. We need some advice on that, too. (laughs)
Josh: Follow up with everybody. That’s also advice I would give my younger self. And try to be concise, know what you want. We’ve had a few lucky things here and here that have happened. We’re lucky to be well embraced by the music scene in general, kind of worldwide. We’ve made a lot of great pals all over the place who have our back, people who we really respect. So we’re really lucky, but we’re still in that same place of trying to figure out what the angle is to get it really out there.
Taco: It’s interesting because every musician that I know and told about this interview with you, was like “Those guys are brilliant.” It does not seem that there’s a shortage of people that know what you guys are doing, in the music world. Now getting it out to the innoculated masses, or opiated masses…
Josh: It’s a different riddle.
Taco: Yeah, we can’t all be Chance the Rapper, but what you guys are doing, I haven’t had a single musician say “those guys are garbage.” Typically there’s a lot of bands that when they are brought up in discussion, half the musicians are negative and half of them are positive in their reactions, but it’s been a hands down, unanimous talking point with any musicians that I talk to about you guys, that you guys are doing something really special. So pat yourselves on the back when you get the chance, because you guys are being looked at a lot. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens the next couple of years.
Josh: In that respect it’s been great to be introduced to so many different veins and branches of the music community. So many different aspects and people of different scenes have taken to us.
Taco: I’ve always believed there’s an inherent difference between a performer and an artist, and that’s not to say they’re mutually exclusive, but what do you consider yourselves?
Geoff: I’ve never thought about that I guess, I mean we’re definitely performers.
Josh: But how could I not be an artist? I live my life, hopefully, where every moment has to do with art, even if I’m looking at the most mundane thing. When a sentence strikes you that someone said, you’re going to do something with that hopefully, as an artist.
Geoff: I don’t know if it is mutually exclusive, if it is one or the other.
Taco: I’ve heard it said “I’m more of a performer, I don’t consider myself an artist,” and I don’t know if it’s just someone trying to be humble, or something else. I’m a fly fisherman and I’ve heard people say “that’s an art form,” and I say “no, it’s a past time.” (laughs)
Josh: I’ve heard “artist” or “craftsperson,” like is it a craft or is it an art? I’ve heard from musicians who only work in the studio that it’s a “craft,” but it’s the same thing as being an artist. That’s what your art is. You walk in and someone hires you to play something on guitar.
Elise: Maybe it comes down to whether it’s a skill or a vision that decides if it’s a craft or an art.
Josh: That’s interesting to think about. I do notice a difference between people who write songs and those who don’t. There’s a lot of great performers who we love so much who have never written a song, and that’s an interesting thing.
Geoff: It’s almost like the difference between an artist is a slower process versus an a process that’s in the moment reacting on stage. When you’re on stage reacting to that audience who is different each time, there’s something about that that obviously feels more like a performance, as opposed to when you’re sitting down working on the words or practicing the notes. Do you have time to consider a vision, what you want it to be.
Josh: I also like the idea of an artist being like, a life journey. There’s millions of artists, and some of them might just have piles of notebooks, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t an artist just because we don’t know about it.
Taco: Don’t get Elise started on notebooks. I have these plastic totes filled with composition books at home.
Josh: That’s wonderful! I’m finally cleaning my apartment after God only knows how long, and I found so many old notebooks, it’s unbelievable. I can’t believe how organized it all is, it’s almost like a different person. It’s crazy to find all of that.
Taco: So, when did you guys link up?
Geoff: I think it was in 1998, through a mutual friend. We met at a jam session in Syracuse, New York. In the room that’s actually Funk n Waffles now.
Josh: Oh my god, that’s right!
Taco: Are you guys upstate New York kids?
Geoff: I am, he’s from Connecticut. We started to really get to know each other around 2004, something like that.
Josh: Yeah, we’ve known each other for a long time.
Taco: To satisfy all the gear heads, I have to take a minute to talk about your gear. What is the set up you guys typically use each night?
Geoff: Mine,I have an old Fender jazz bass with a couple of distortion pedals and delay pedals, and then I have a modular synth, a Eurorack modular synth, which comes from some different manufacturers who can choose what they decide to put in the box. In our band, at least live, that’s doing random rhythms and pitches that’s different every night. It’s never preset, it’s always random, so we’re always reacting to it. It’s like the third member of the band and we’re always improvising and reacting to it. It’s constantly improvising so to speak, that’s how I set it up, so that it’s always different. It’s a wild card, controlled chaos.
Josh: I have a drum set, I can tune it in any way. I’m using the house drum set tonight because they have stairs (laughs). It’s totally nice and fine, it will be great. I use a Dave Smith MoPho, Dave Smith keys in general, which I feel really comfortable with. I use a little delay pedal, a memory toy to give myself some different sounds if I want to have feedback or a rhythmic delay. “Vision Complete” is a song where I use that. And I sing, and that’s it! And it all melds together somehow.
Geoff: In this band, it’s important that sometimes we can switch roles. So sometimes he’s playing bass on the keyboard and I’m doing something more guitar-istic, but midsong that can flip sometimes. We were talking through that a little bit earlier when we were eating dinner. That flexibility is something that’s built into our sound. Hopefully it makes it kind of fun to watch (laughs).
Josh: It’s actually an interesting thing to try to explain to a sound engineer, especially who we’ve just met. I found ourselves saying tonight “We need DI’s because we both play bass, but we both have high sounds..” we both need everything, even though it’s only two of us. People like the gear aspect of our band, it’s kind of hilarious sometimes.
Taco: Yeah, there’s people that really nerd out on that. My next question is, do you have a particular writer of literature or poetry that inspires you?
Geoff: Wow, I’d say Robert Frost again. EE Cummings, Pabolo Neruda. For literature, Wallace Stegner, John McPhee, Annie Dillard, Cormac McCarthy Evelyn Waugh..I’ll stop there because I could keep going.
Taco: I have to ask, have you ever been to Andalucia?
Geoff: I haven’t, he has.
Josh: I’ve lived many lives in Andalucia (laughs). I love Spain. We’re finally going to be going to Spain as a band in November. I’m ecstatic. That was my first experience in a different country, I was 19 the first time I went. Then I got lucky, one of my first European touring gigs was in Spain. I met a bunch of different people in Spain that became friends, I feel like I’ve been there 30 or 40 times. It’s the only other country I’ve been to where I’ve been to all the different regions. And though it took me forever to learn the language, I can somehow still stumble my way through and feel comfortable enough with the culture. Andalucia is such a beautiful area. That song I wrote on the guitar, with a capo on a Spanish guitar. I believe that’s the only song where that happened and if we were to do a singer/songwriter type set that would fit well. A lot of our songs are just grooves and unison lines, but that’s an actual colorful, classic form of a song.
Taco: Is your song “Malcolm Hart” alluding to the filmmaker?
Geoff: No…we need to get on Google! (laughs)
Taco: And in the song you mention someone named Jean, who the fuck is Jean?
Josh: Who the fuck knows! (laughs) Geoff loves to put names of people in songs. I said the same thing, ‘who the fuck is Jean?’
Geoff: Jean is an older sister.
Josh: Malcom Hart is a painting, it’s the character in a painting that the sister made. But who the fuck is Jean?
Geoff: It just sounded good I guess.
Taco: It just phonetically worked I guess.
Josh: Just wait until the next album, there’s a name in every song. But the places are real.
Taco: I’m beginning to feel like your music is a treasure map.
Josh: I will tell you that where my music is coming from is a more inspirational, philosophical standpoint, and Geoff’s lyrics are like that to me. I used to love that I would have to break down sentences to find deeper meanings, and I find that in general in writing. Some of our songs are like that…like one single line will mean so much, and even individual words have meaning. There’s a lot of density.
Taco: I used to do public speaking a lot and worked for Trout Unlimited, and they would want you to talk about the facts, but people listen so much better when you touch them on an emotional level. All of a sudden there’s so much more power to those words.
Geoff: That’s why I love the writer John McPhee, he does literary non-fiction. He has a book collection about geology called Annals of the Former World, so he deals with subjects that are very dry, but he tells the story about the subject through a person. You could get someone interested in anything that way, because everyone is interested in people.
Taco: Yeah! Well, the next question, which it’s such a typical question to ask “who influences your music,” but I want to know who inspired you to do what you do. Was there a person in your life that inspired you to be a musician?
Geoff: Definitely for you, Josh, wasn’t it your piano teacher?
Josh: Yeah, I mean, first off my Dad is a drummer so that’s a huge part of where that’s coming from. I would say that, and a middle school teacher I had that told me I had to learn the piano. I think about sometimes, what if she hadn’t said that? I was young enough at the time that I took it to heart, and I’m glad that I actually did it, because there’s been so many times in my young life when I was like, “Eh, I’m not going to learn that.” I’m just so glad I was young enough, same with the drums, to learn that. I would also say an old preacher man that preached at a church I went to, just in general that kind of environment is a big part of who I am as a performer.
Geoff: My dad was also a drummer, so I remember hearing him play with his band, when I was supposed to be asleep but I was actually listening from the top of the stairs. He was a professor and had a band with other professors, and they would rehearse at our house. Later after college as I was moving to New York to be a musician, I remember him saying “don’t forget that you love to write.” At that point I wasn’t writing words, but it came back around and obviously he was right about that.
Well, I think that is all the questions I have for you, thank you so much guys! I’m excited for tonight.