There’s not a genre into which Paper Bird fits neatly, they’re a little Americana-folk with a touch of bluegrass combined with a hint of Motown and something that belongs to the era of speakeasies and flapper dresses. The title of their first album, Anything Nameless and Joymaking describes their sound perfectly.
The Denver-based group’s seven-member roster is made of sisters Esmé and Genny Patterson (vocals), Tyler Archuletta (trombone), Paul DeHaven (guitar), Caleb Summeril (banjo), Macon Terry (upright bass) and Sarah Anderson (vocals and trumpet).
Sitting in the main room of Denver’s Union Station, waiting on the rest of the band to arrive, Esmé muses on how she likes to pretend that it’s her living room with all the wonderful windows. She thumbs through a local music newspaper for “professional research,” commenting on the review of the 46th Bob Dylan album and then saying how she was supposed to call Elvis Perkins In Deerland. Once Genny, Macon and Paul wander into the station, the conversation continues.
To recount the history of the group, they start by offering a word each: ‘mountains,’ ‘breakfast,’ ‘loitering,’ ‘widgets,’ ‘busking,’ ‘band.’ After going round once, Esmé suggests that someone gives a real answer.
Paul explains, “Esmé, Sarah, Caleb and myself went up to a cabin, [in Breckenridge, Colo.] we brought a lot of paintbrushes and paper but we didn’t bring any paints which is why we ended up playing music. Our friend Jason said, ‘Hey, let’s write a song.’
“So we all got our notebooks out and started writing and compiling lyrics, Caleb and I started writing some chords and riffs and things and all the sudden we had four songs – ‘Jesus and Arizona,’ ‘St. Louis,’ ‘I Discovered,’ and ‘Train Song.’
“And then we learned some covers and went down to the streets and started playing our songs and people started giving us money for it.”
The next day they got a gig at a coffee shop, and took things from there.
“The whole time I was thinking, ‘My sister’s got to be in this band,'” Esmé adds. “Genny was just graduating high school.” Met with initial reservations, one morning Genny walked in on a rehearsal and started singing the third part and she’s still singing that part today.
Tyler was added when the band discovered that he played trombone and Macon, the only member from out-of-state (Texas) joined a year later in February of 2008.
Outside the train station on a bench a passerby interrupts to ask if the band as at the Grateful Dead show. “We’re being profiled,” Esmé laughs and then jokingly asks Macon, who is currently wearing two different shoes, if he’s on acid.
Returning to the subject of music, Esmé and Genny grew up listening to R&B and Motown. “Then it was the Beatles, then the Spice Girls and back to ’60s soul again,” Genny says.
“I thought I was going to marry Elvis until I found out he had died 30 years ago,” Esmé adds.
Bob Marley, Guns and Roses, Paul Simon and Ray Charles are cited between Macon and Paul. Sarah wanted to be a country singer and both Caleb and Tyler have bluegrass in their roots.
For the new album, their process is to let “what happens naturally happen and then arrange it in a way that makes it look intentional,” Genny says. “Then be ‘Oh yeah! Of course this fits together, we planned it that way.'”
Touring is a similar affair, for longer trips, like last summer on the Tour de Fat and their festival-a-week plans for this July, they pile into their retrofitted school bus that runs on vegetable oil and head out.
“We’re as much friends as we are siblings,” Esmé says of the group’s dynamic, especially after living together for a period of time and touring so much together. “I’d say Caleb’s the mom – the mom who drinks way too much,” she adds laughing.
And their aspirations? Just to keep doing what they’re doing – putting out music that they’re proud of. And to be the first band to play in space. Esmé sums it up, “We’ve got big dreams.”