“Yogi hippiography, sell us immortality,
PhD without a gig, dirty, broken drill rig,
Bible basher black belt, bankers buck a short sell,
Kurzweil on a pill-kick, handing down a pink slip,
Missionaries at the door, bleeding out at every pore,
Democratic fail safe,
Money gets you in the game,
Money gets you in the game,
Money gets you in the game . . . ”
– Faded Paper Figures, “Not the End of the World (Even As We Know It)”
Faded Paper Figures is a Californian trio that went its separate ways yet remained together as a band, writing, composing, and recording at a distance while pursuing demanding careers in medicine, academia, and the music profession. Their fourth album, Relics, was recommended here in the Voice. Recently band member (and Yale prof) R. John Williams took the time to talk to Wanda Waterman about their name, their sound, and telling the truth so beautifully it hurts.
Has anything funny or bizarre ever happened to you while working together?
FPF: Recording is always a potentially hilarious experience, as some takes are just really, truly awful. Luckily, none of these ever make it out into the world, but Kael will sometimes put one of our really bad takes on a loop in our headphones, with lots of reverb or something, and we’ll get to collectively enjoy our awfulness. But no, we’ll never let anyone else hear this badness.
How did you come up with your band’s name?
FPF: We liked the image of the “palimpsest” (which has interesting literary and musical connotations), but the word itself seemed too academic and hoity-toity, so we settled on its every-day equivalent, Faded Paper Figures.
What influence has Los Angeles, or California in general, had on the development of your sound?
FPF: Both the band’s sound and its lyrical ethos are no doubt an expression of our working in California. Some songs (for example “Metropolis” or “Lost Stars”) are direct reflections on southern California.
Your songs project a certain persona: that of a reserved, bookish person capable of examining his or her personallife—as well as the world at large—with wisdom and objectivity. Was that deliberate, an organic development, or both?
FPF: Very organic, and probably unavoidable. John’s lyrical style is very much informed by his intellectual life, and Kael’s musical compositions are the result of having explored and mastered hundreds of different musical styles with his work. And the fact that Heather comes to the microphone sometimes after, literally, saving lives at the hospital just a few hours before, means her voice is informed by more than just one’s typical emotional state. So we’re all thinking through the process very objectively as we go along, even if, at its core, the whole thing is driven by an uncontainable passion.
If your band’s life were a movie, what kinds of scenes would fill it?
FPF: It’d be something like The Matrix, where things seem normal for a while (work), but then suddenly unravel and seem strange and beautiful (the band).
What do you feed your muse?
FPF: Time is the most important element (and it’s always, unfortunately, in short supply), but we also read, watch, and listen to everything—often obsessively. We love so much current music, but quite often revisit brilliant bands from the distant past (post-punk Liverpool, for example, has been haunting us recently).
If you had an artistic mission statement, what would it be?
FPF: To tell the truth so beautifully that it hurts.
FPF: A few more videos for songs from Relics will be released soon, as well as an EP with a few remixes and B-sides. And we’re just sitting down to start thinking about ideas for the next album.