Joshua P. James and band build a studio and close out 2018 with a five-part singles series
As Yellow Paper Planes wrapped up 2017 — a year that saw the local rock act release its debut full-length, Building a Building — the four musicians thought about what they loved doing most. It wasn't endlessly tinkering with songs in the studio and then sitting on them while they waited for the record to come out. And it wasn't pushing the album. It was the writing process.
And so, in 2018, frontman Joshua P. James and his bandmates — drummer Brandon Woods, bassist Peter Mendenhall and keyboardist/guitarist Jeremy Ebert — decided to invest in themselves by creating Jerbil House Studio. “Jeremy lives in an old house in Grandview,” James said in a recent interview. “We just turned the entire house into a working studio. We cordoned off the formal dining room and turned it into a drum room. Then we have blankets and foam in the basement to isolate guitars and vocals. We ran 50-foot XLR cables through the vents to get to the next room. All the controls are on the first floor. It's awesome.”
The band also planned to record a series of seven-inch singles throughout the year and release them with the help of a hobby record cutter in Oregon. “We were super pumped about that,” James said. “Then he completely ghosted us when it came time to cut the first one. We still haven't heard from him.”
But Yellow Paper Planes stuck with the singles plan, recording and releasing a song digitally every two months or so (plus a four-song cassette) in a five-part single series the band dubbed Quincunx. If Building a Building was a departure from James' previous Americana-inflected project, Joshua P. James and the Paper Planes, the Quincunx series goes even farther down the rock road.
“One of the things that's been fun about this project is that the songs don't have to be cohesive at this point,” he said. “We haven't had to look back and be like, ‘Well, does that thematically make sense?' It's freeing. We've been able to jump around a bit in our musical tastes.”
On July's installment, the deliciously distorted and downtempo “Spending Time,” James explores his seeming inability to chill out. “Spending my days like I'm running out of time/Look back in fear that I'm not spending them right/No one really knows why I'm wound up so tight,” James sings.
“I always feel like I need to be directed toward something, some goal. And the goals aren't always concrete. I'm just anxious about getting somewhere,” he said. “I can't sit around and do nothing. I gotta be working at something. It's a common theme in my life. I think it probably annoys the people around me. It annoys me sometimes: ‘Why can't I just relax? Why do I always have to feel like something is being achieved?'”
The Quincunx series, which finishes this month with forthcoming single “Fading Line,” also gave James the freedom to write his first song that's explicitly about being a dad, and the sacrifices that come along with that responsibility. “I've been trying to quit damaging my brain/I mostly don't take jumps I'm not sure I can make,” James sings over layers of raucous guitars on May single “Bleed.”
“The whole idea of that song is about trying to fix some of the things that are a little more dangerous about yourself — some of your idiosyncrasies and behaviors that you can't keep up because you got somebody else depending on you,” James said. “But then you still find ways to screw up. I still eat truck stop pizza and burn the shit out of my mouth. You still find ways to be a doofus about things.”