The Paper Kites released their new album, 'At The Roadhouse' today. Vocalist and guitarist Sam Bentley has taken us track-by-track behind the record.
This song was the first song that I had written when we’d first talked about a new album. This was long before the roadhouse existed in Campbells Creek, and the original idea was to try and tour multiple small bars as a house band and make a record - we even talked about doing it across the U.S. - but Covid quickly shut down that idea, and we slowly started to realise that it needed to be done here at home in Australia.
So the idea was there, but we couldn’t find the right places to do it. I had a good idea of how the band should sound though, and wrote this song which was at the time just a story about an old dive bar called the Roadhouse (which didn’t exist at that point) - we couldn’t have known that this song would essentially become the blueprint when we realised we had to create the venue ourselves. There was a vacant building in Campbells Creek that used to be an old gold mining supply store that had a recording studio behind it - and so we travelled there to take a look at it.
Alex, who owns the studio, showed us around - it was an incredible old building right on the side of the main road. After spending some time in the space, there was definitely a sense that this was the kind of place we’d been looking for - and that we shouldn’t do these shows as a tour but actually just stay and play a residency in a place that we could turn in to our own venue. So Alex was kind enough to let us use it and create this bar where we could perform for the month and make this record. So we worked in the weeks leading up to the residency to create what would become The Roadhouse - we even took the name of the bar from this song.
We were very fortunate to have Matt Dixon join the Roadhouse band for these shows - he’s an incredible pedal steel player and guitarist in Melbourne. I had bought a pedal steel guitar myself because I’d wanted to learn how to play - at least enough to be able to write these songs and show how I imagined them sounding. I was really intent on recording these songs as a live band - and started to realise when the songs were coming together that we would need to find some extra musicians to be able to play them live.
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I asked around if anyone knew any steel players (and trust me they are few and far between in Australia) but Matt’s name was suggested by multiple people so we tracked him down and asked if he wanted to come and play with us. I remember when he first came to rehearse with the band, I heard him play for the first time and realised how little I knew about the pedal steel - and how skilled he was not only in knowing his instrument - but such a beautifully sensitive and intuitive player which goes beyond just being proficient at your instrument. His work on this album lifted the whole band - I’ve never heard anyone play like him. We were incredibly fortunate to have him involved, and this song is just one of many examples of the magic he brought to this record.
There was a woman who would come to The Roadhouse - I think she came to almost every show. We had to have a fire going in the venue because it was so cold and the middle of winter, so she would come and just dance by the fire all night in her own world. I always think of her when I hear this song. The best thing about these shows is that we didn’t announce or promote them; it was pretty much just locals coming and telling their friends about it and so on - very much a word-of-mouth kind of thing - so there was no pressure or expectation of what the shows should be - and with that, there was a lot of freedom and a lot of joy.
The band was so great, such a cool and soulful group of players - so songs like this really take me back to those nights and the togetherness of the band; we spent a lot of time making sure we sounded like a band that had been playing together for a long time - and I think that’s how it sounds. I’ll also say that Dave is an incredibly soulful guitar player and I think sometimes people are surprised and the level he can jump up to - I remember seeing a lot of nods around the room from people listening to him play. Honourable mention to Chris Panousakis’ percussion performance - one of the most talented singers and guitarists and we put him on the bongos!
Marietta is a song about a man trying to come to terms with why his partner has left him; he feels that he’s done nothing wrong - but as the song goes on it becomes apparent through him trying to understand it that he knows exactly why they left - and why he didn’t try to stop them.
I’ve always had a love for bluegrass music and wanted to include a song that tipped our hat to that kind of music - none of us were raised on bluegrass so our skill set is somewhat limited compared to the great players that grew up in it and can pick a solo like you wouldn’t believe. I chose to go with a waltz which felt a little easier for us to handle. I think it’s the only song that we used the mandolin on. The narrative of the song is around a character that moves from town to town, leaving nothing but memories of her.
This was the first song that I showed the band when we talked about the direction of the record. As such I think it holds a cherished place for all of us because we all connected with it and understood it - and in a way, everything else on the record was sort of held up against that song. You might say it was one of the pillars of the record - it signalled the tone of what the music should be, and if we felt like we were getting too far away from that feeling, songs like this were a directional beacon guiding us back to the vision of the record.
This song was actually an older song; it was written with the ‘On The Corner Where You Live’ demos - we even recorded it with the rest of the album songs in Connecticut but ended up deciding that it just didn’t fit on that record. I really loved the song though, and when this album started coming together, I wanted to revisit it because I felt like it deserved a place on this record.
We added parts like Hannah (Cameron’s) piano and Matt Dixon’s pedal steel which really helped it fit with the other songs - and it really took on a new life and became something else. I’m possibly a little biased because I held on to the song for so long, but if you continue to come back to a song years after you’ve written it and still think it’s a good song, then there’s probably something in that. As I mentioned, we brought in extra players to be able to perform these songs live, and our friend Chris Panousakis was one of those three players. He mostly sang and played guitar and a little percussion, but I’m smiling thinking about playing this song at The Roadhouse because he has a long guitar solo at the end that I would always talk up every night just to lovingly put some pressure on him - but every night he would blow our minds.
He’s so musical and has such a great feel to his playing - and his solo was always different every night; he’d often make me laugh out loud just from the direction he’d take it or play something really beautiful that I didn’t expect. That’s what musicians seem to do when they’re impressed - they laugh at how great something is. One of my highlights was hearing Chris play this every night - and you’d look around the room, and everyone was appreciating his playing.
As a band, the way we’ve usually approached new music is I’ll generally take some time to write the songs, and then we’d listen to them and choose what we think is right to work with. I think I had written enough for an album, maybe 20 or so songs - but still felt like we needed more. I think I’d come in to practice one day - and we’d been working on learning these songs for a while because it was really important that we knew them really well - but we just took a break, and I said let’s try and write a song together.
I think when you play with a group of people long enough you start to see that there’s an understanding or a sort of common ground in what you all agree to be a good song - and I felt like maybe there was some untapped potential in seeing if we could write together. I’m definitely quite protective of my process and space when it comes to writing, but I think for me it was a great reminder that it’s not the only way to write a song.
So we sat in this room at the farm we rehearse at, throwing ideas back and forth and talking about moods and feelings and chord movements - and by the end of the day, we had this song. I think we were all really proud of it - outside of the song itself because it was the first time we’d done it together - and it didn’t feel difficult or laboured at all. There were a few other songs that came together in a similar way, but this was the first one, and I think for me marked another way of being able to write songs for the band.
I think the thing that grabs people about the folk music of the 60s and 70s (and still today) other than the beautiful melodies is the storytelling element - these characters that are written into legend. The rock music of that era was the same - power in the story but also power in the music and the delivery. That’s why I think there were so many great folk-rock crossovers, and poets wielding raucous electric guitars but still singing the same kind of lyrics.
June’s Stolen Car is exactly that - it’s a folk tale about a girl who steals a car and takes it on a joyride across the country, but we wanted a song we could slam out a little, and so it came together like this. I think it’s also the first song Dave (Powys) has sung lead on - he has such a cool voice, and we thought wouldn’t it be great to tell this story with duelling vocals. It was always really great to play, we’d open the second set with this song, and it would often blow a few hats off.
This is a song about a girl who has an unplanned baby on the way - and working out how she’s going to make it work.
I mentioned we rehearse on a farm - out in the Yarra Valley. It’s a really inspiring landscape; even on the days that it rains, it’s still very beautiful. I had this chorus that I’d written and a chord progression, and I brought it in and wanted to get some help with the verse lyrics. I think my brief was that I wanted to write something lyrically in the vein of a traditional Scottish or Irish folk song - which are generally based around themes of lost love or tinged with sadness in a similar way.
The structure was important, so it was actually a great literary exercise in looking at how those traditional songs were structured, thematically but also in terms of phrasing - and we just wrote to that. It’s a really beautiful song - if you were to just take the lyrics and change the melody to a more traditional-styled folk song it works just as well.
This song was very nearly not on the album - when we were talking about whether 16 songs was too much, this song was the first one on the chopping block. It wasn’t because we didn’t like it - I always really liked it as a song, but I think there were questions about whether it served a purpose on the record.
I think sometimes simple songs - and this is certainly a very simple song - can seem unworthy of a place amongst other songs that you might say are more exciting from a compositional point of view. So the simplicity of it almost makes you miss the effectiveness of it. We weren’t always able to see it but had multiple people commenting on that song. As a result not only did it stay on the album but it was also the first song we released. It’s simple, but I think there’s something important in it if you care to spend some time alone with it.
Our favourite song on the record. Enough said.
I won’t go too deeply into the subject matter - but it’s just a song that affirms that it’s okay to carry around those little pockets of sadness. We all have painful things that happen to us, and everyone is carrying something. I think we got this song in one or two takes - and it always felt like a slow breath around the room when we played it.
This was a late addition to the song list - I think by the end of it all we had twice as many songs as we needed and had a hard time cutting them down for the shows. We decided we’d play 16 songs at the Roadhouse; we’d record them all but then cut down an album from there. When we finished the recordings and listened back to everything - we couldn’t really bring ourselves to cut any of the songs - it just felt wrong to separate them, or like it wasn’t being true to the shows.
I think my main reason for wanting to keep all the songs was that I felt like if we cut anything we’d be taking songs away from people that gave more width to both the performances and the band. There were so many great songs like ‘Mercy’ that may have been cut for no other reason than the album was too long. We’re lucky to have a team that supported making it a double album and didn’t push us to cut anything. I’ll also say of this song that one of the main reasons we added Hannah (Cameron) and Chris (Panousakis) to the Roadhouse band is they’re such strong vocalists - and you can really hear them at their best on this song.
This is the final song of the evening we would play - and it’s also the final song we recorded too - so there was always a lot of good energy around this song, sort of the last moment before the roadhouse closed and everyone drifted back out into the night.
After the recording finishes, there’s a little extended bit of just the voices singing that we ended up keeping - I think at the time we were just layering some vocals, but it was the very last thing we recorded, and we were all standing in a circle trying to sound as soulful as we could - but everyone was just laughing at the volume and intensity we were singing it at - it was so hard to get the notes out because everyone was holding back their laughter.
It was the end of the session so there was probably a little fatigue around too - but it was a great memory and moment of joy, and I’m glad we included it right at the end there. We all loved playing this song at the end of every night. It seemed fitting to close the record with it.
At The Roadhouse is out now via Wonderlick. You can listen to the album below and order it here.