After throat surgery, singer/songwriter Ryan Horns uncovers 'Too Many Words'
Following a seven-year hiatus, power-pop band Paper Airplane is again ready for liftoff.
The group has a new album, Othello, arriving later this year, and will tease the recording with a single release and accompanying concert at Rumba Cafe on Saturday, Aug. 25. (A second album, In a Great Big Field, is expected to follow in 2019.)
Despite the lengthy absence, primary singer and songwriter Ryan Horns never stopped making music, writing and recording full demos both at home and in a practice space he shares with the Japanese B-Sides, a cover band in which he sings and plays guitar, and which has been his primary live outlet the last six years.
The hiatus coincided with a procedure Horns underwent in 2011 to deal with his uvulitis, a swelling of the uvula in the back of the throat (Horns described the uvula as “that punching bag thing”), a condition that often caused him to feel as though he was gagging while he performed.
“I went skiing in Colorado, and I was dealing with the swollen throat and the high altitude, and I remember lying in bed feeling like I was suffocating,” Horns said of the moment that drove him to pursue surgery. “[The doctors] knew I was a singer, and they told me, ‘There's a chance you could sound like Fran Drescher after the surgery if we do it wrong.' Really? You're telling me that now? But there was really no option when it feels like someone constantly has their thumb jammed down your throat.”
During the recovery — Horns started performing with Japanese B-Sides almost immediately but said years passed before he regained full confidence in his voice — the musician wrote and recorded relentlessly, filling digital recorders and iPads with fully formed demos, many of which centered on issues of anger and learning to let go.
Previously, Horns, a onetime journalist, approached songwriting as a narrative form, building songs that unfolded like dark, true-crime dramas — shadowy tales that often ran counter to the sunny, pop-oriented delivery.
“There was always that sense in Paper Airplane where it was laid-back music, very melodic, but the songs were about a guy getting murdered, or a guy getting in a car crash and going over an overpass,” Horns said. “When you're a crime reporter, or that's part of your beat, you're just fascinated by what people get away with, or what they don't get away with.”
Othello, which includes songs like “Too Many Words,” a rowdy earworm that will be released with an accompanying video this weekend at Rumba, however, is more personal, shaped by social and political ills Horn witnessed working as a journalist, as well as the difficulties he experienced transitioning from a profession that long offered identity as much as a paycheck.
“I didn't have a voice anymore, and then I stopped being a journalist and you're feeling like, ‘What am I doing all this for?'” Horns said. “‘Too Many Words' is about a lot of things. There are aspects of being overloaded and wanting people to hear you, but do I have anything to say? And is it even worth it?”
After years spent considering these questions, Horns, with a pair of new Paper Airplane albums in the can, finally appears ready to answer in the affirmative.