Image : Jonathan Kerr [Used with permission]
Michael from Belfast-based alt-rock band Paper Tigers on the soundtrack to his life
The last song you listened to?
The last song I listened to was Hiss the Villan by Sparta, I’m having a bit of a Sparta resurgence at the minute. They were a band born from the ashes of At The Drive-In, I love their mix of melody and still keeping that punk rock feel to their songs which is something that I’m always aiming for with Tigers. It can be a tightrope to walk! I love Jim Wards approach to guitar he uses a lot big open sounding chords and writes a killer hook! Those first two records, Wiretap Scars and Porcelain are unreal.
What is your earliest musical memory?
I don’t come from a musical family, in fact I don’t think anyone else in our immediate or extended family plays an instrument so I don’t have the classic flipping through my parents record collection or there was an old guitar in the corner kinda story.
I think the first time I really sat up and paid attention to music was the end of primary school I had a friend who was into music, no one else was at the time but he played me Madness and Oasis. I remember being really into ‘Whatever’ by Oasis, I enjoyed the rebellious sentiment in the lyrics, the statement of independence which hearing it at that time seemed apt. Again weirdly enough, many years later me and my school friend ended up in a band together. Also I cant stand Oasis or Madness now!
Do you have a favourite song that was featured in a film or tv show?
Apparently as a kid I was really taken with the theme from Airwolf, the show about the helicopter. I used to lose it when it came on, singing along and flying round the living room pretending to be the helicopter. Its pretty dramatic, definitely a precursor to some of the havier music I got into later on!
What’s weird is in one of my older bands we actually got to go and record an album and EP with the guy who wrote and recorded the theme tune! I’ve a photo of me looking very proud beside his gold record for it, I don’t know why I’m so proud looking though its not like I wrote it!
Is there a song that instantly reminds you of a particular person?
Awww Im going to get all soppy on you now, Particles by Nothing but Thieves will always make me think of my girlfriend. She introduced me to them with that song, its her favourite so now it’ll just always make me think of her. Cant believe you made me get all soppy, that’s not rock and roll!
Is there a song whose lyrics resonate with you and why so?
So many, I think that’s part of what makes music so great and healing. You listen to a song and a lot of why you’ll like it or not is what you bring to the song, music is very participatory, it’s not just a one sided thing. You listen to a song and you’ll pour as much of yourself into the music and lyrics as whoever wrote them did. Rearviewmirror by Pearl Jam always makes my hair stand up on end, seeing them play this in Belfast was as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had! It’s a song about just getting the hell outta there, get in your car and drive, remove yourself from that situation. I think everyones felt trapped or hemmed in at some stage by a number of different things, this song reflects both the feeling of helplessness and the feeling of freedom.
Similarly ‘1979’ by Smashing Pumpkins, that’s my all time favourite song, I love how its both a little mellincollie (no pun intended) and also feels so hopeful like theres an infinite (I should stop) horizon ahead, with a million opportunities and a million other horizons that’s all there for you if you want it. That’s what I take from it anyways, its probably just about Billy Corgans shoes or something.
One last one, theres a Converge song ‘Aimless Arrow’ and theres a line in particular in it ‘it’s the curse of restlessness and the weight of your mistakes’. I read something before ambitious people will never be happy, I’m always striving for something more, to write a better song, make a better video, reach more people. That and being driven by whats come before, the mistakes I’ve made and the desire to be better than my mistakes. That line hits hard, its pretty brutal.
The band/musician that you grew up listening to?
I would say the first band that I really fell in love with was Nirvana. They were and in many ways still are the epitome of what a great rock band is to me. Obviously you grow up and discover new things and expand your horizons but that mixture of melody, noise, volume and intensity in Nirvana is something I will never grow tired of. They really opened me up to this whole other world that I had been oblivious to before. I used to sit and pour over the record covers, reading who produced the records, where they were recorded, what the publishing companies were called.
I was a little late to the party having only been born in 1985 but as soon as I heard them I kind of became obsessed with all things grunge and would read everything I could about Seattle. Looking at Charles Petersons photos of that scene was just so thrilling, before I’d ever even been to a show but I was so drawn to it. The way he captured the energy and seemingly reckless abandon; the blurs and colours in his photos really seemed to make it all come alive. I remember when I got to see a Nirvana live video and Dave Grohl was just killing it behind the kit and Kurt was trashing around the stage, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So they’re to blame for this whole mess I’m wrapped up in now!
What song do you wish that you had written and why?
I kind of feel this question should have a caveat ‘No Stairway’ like in Wayne’s World ha! That’s a tough one though. I mean a ton of them and then for a whole bunch of different reasons. I think I’ll keep it pretty basic and go ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ it’s just a perfect song. It really embodies that mixture of melody, volume and intensity, the lyrics are fantastic, it ebbs and flows perfectly, the guitar sound is phenomenal.
I’ve this weird thing were really good distortion makes me think of chainmail armour, that’s how it sounds to me. I know that doesn’t make any sense at all, maybe it’s the medieval version of synaesthesia but this song is a perfect example of that, its sounds so thick and full and impenetrable. Plus who wouldn’t want to be responsible for starting a teen revolution?!
What song transports you back in time and why?
So this song always makes me think of this one specific time, my friend and I went to Glasgow to see Fu Manchu, I think we were like 17/18. It was the first time I’d ever travelled anywhere on my own or travelled to see a band. So we flew over and spent the day walking round Glasgow and checking out record shops. We got bored and decided to go to the venue and wait outside to try and meet the band. So it’s like 5pm or something and the roadies are loading in, coming from playing punk shows at home you always ask if people need a hand with gear so I just thought I’d offer. So here comes this red eyed grungy teenager approaching some road hardened rockers to try and help lift gear. I’m pretty sure they seen through my not too veiled attempt to get in and hangout before the show but they were nice about it and politely declined.
So were still sat there an hour or so later and this guy opens the door sticks his head out, “You’re the guys that offered to help carry gear? C’mon in.” So myself and my friend go inside and it’s just us, the crew and Fu Manchu. They tear through 4 songs back to back for sound check opening with ‘California Crossing’. So we got our own private mini set from them. Then they came off stage and said hi, thanks for travelling to see us, signed stuff and said to come hang out after the show. These days bands would make you pay like £100 for a meet and greet, they were supercool and just done it for free. After the show we went and hung out a bit, had a few beers. It was super cool, so ‘California Crossing’ will always remind me of that time.
Which song makes you sad when you hear it?
You know I don’t really get sad listening to songs, I think it’s pretty hard to bum me out like that, maybe I’m dead inside?! I love Lana Del Rey and people always say that she writes super sad songs, I don’t take that from them at all. Maybe something like ‘Wildest Dreams’ by Taylor Swift, which is weird because that’s pretty much Taylor trying to be Lana. Weird.
I’m a big Tay Tay fan, 1989 is a total masterpiece. I went to see her in Dublin and it was hands down one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. I got introduced to Taylor during a very transitional part of my life and that record really reminds me of then actually.
Which song makes you happy when you hear it?
‘Speakers Push The Air’ by Pretty Girls Make Graves, this song is about the pure joy of music and how amazing it is ‘do you remember when you could not put it away, do you remember what the music meant’. All delivered over this post punk dual vocal, dual guitar attack. It’s an amazing song.
Pretty Girls Make Graves are one of my all-time favourite bands, when I heard them I had been really into like stoner rock stuff and it was getting so dull, repetitive and formulaic all the bands just sounded the same then my friend gave me a tape with this song on it and whammo! It sent me on this whole other musical path, I was like ‘I DO remember when I couldn’t put it away!’. I’ve a Pretty Girls tattoo I love them so much and they’re probably the biggest influence on my song writing for Paper Tigers. I actually went to see them in Glasgow too but that’s another story for another time..
What was the first gig you went to?
The first show I remember going to was this free outdoor show in Belfast that Red Bull put on, Reef (remember them?!) played it, I’m sure there were other bands as well I just can’t remember. I only knew that Put Your Hands On song by Reef but I was psyched for it, I remember I wore a pink tie dye Foo Fighters long sleeve and I’d started growing my hair, I felt like a bad ass!
A bunch of us went down and kind of milled about, I was a little less excited when it was the writhing mass of bodies, hair and sweat I had saw in Charles Petersons books but I still managed to destroy my neck from head banging to Reef. Poor neck didn’t know what lay it store for it over the years! I wish I had a cooler band to say for my first show, I took my brother to his first show which was Raging Speedhorn. It’s not exactly Kiss at Cobo Hall but it’s better than Reef!
What was the first song that you ever performed?
I’m like 90% sure it was a cover, Drain You by Nirvana. My mum and dad booked us our first show in this punk collective place. My mum was a mature student in art college and her friend played in this amazing band from Belfast called theKabinboy. So they asked this amazing band from Dublin called The Redneck Manifesto to play.
So were on a bill with these really amazing bands, were like I dunno 14/15 maybe, they’re considerably older and can actually play their instruments and here we come doing our Nirvana and Silverchair covers. I hate Silverchair so I don’t know who convinced me that was a good idea. I actually have a video of that first show, I should dig it out and dust off the old VHS, relive what I’m sure is a horrible, horrible cover!
What was the first album/single that you bought?
Well I actually bought a single and an album the same day so I can kill two birds with one stone here. On what was a very productive shopping trip I bought Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit digi pack single, with Aneurysm, Drain You and Even In His Youth as the B-sides and I also bought Therapy? – Troublegum.
That’s a pretty great one two punch right there! I remember trying to placate my dad by telling him that Therapy? We’re a Christian rock band cause they sang about Jesus in one song. The song is called Hellbelly and the line is ‘you just wanna be Jesus without the suffering’. I’m not sure if he bought it or not but I played both those records all day and so loud. Just started learning the drums to every song, it was a great day.
Is there a song that you always listen to whilst travelling in the car or on the bus/train?
The song I listen to when I’m driving is Voodoo People by Prodigy. It is a dangerous song to listen to driving or an awesome song depending on how you want to look at it/if you’re sitting in the passenger seat. It all kicks in and then next thing you know you think your Johnny Lee Millar in Hackers and you’re yelling ‘mess with the best, die like the rest’ at cars while you zip in and out of traffic somehow now doing 20 over the limit. It’s especially great if when it breaks down a little and your approaching a red light then as it kicks back in the light goes green, then heel down and watch the needle climb. My hands are sweaty just thinking about it.
Is there a particular song/band/singer that made you want to be a musician?
I think it was really Nirvana that made me want to do this, hearing the records and seeing them albeit on video and delving into that whole thing really set me on this path. I tried to play guitar in the beginning but I don’t know any music theory whatsoever, I still don’t to this day, and so guitar just didn’t make sense to me. I sat down behind the drums and played and it all made sense to me, just hit the drum when they hit the drum on the record and so I taught myself drums playing along to Nirvana records.
I’d go further to say that Dave Grohl would be a definite prominent figure in my musical journey. From drums to guitar to his approach to the Foo Fighters career, just making things happen, making documentaries, playing with a bunch of different people, his outlook and approach to it and seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm. It certainly made me think about how I wanted to go about things, do I sit back and let someone else MAYBE do something or MAYBE something will happen. No, definitely not. If I want it then it’s out there I just need to go after it, pursue it, chase it down and when I find it grab it with both hands and don’t let go.
No one will hand you anything and if you want an opportunity then go create it for yourself. Write the songs, come up with videos, design merch, art work, write drums, lyrics..do it all if you have to just to make it happen. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing in bands for the last 20 years.
Paper Tigers’ new single “No Ghosts Walk” is out now – listen here
Michael – Paper Tigers – Spotify Playlist
Paper Tigers – Social Media