Capturing Truth in Storytelling and Adult Conversations With Simon Paparo
"For me, the truth is very important for the fact that there’s something about honesty in song that cuts through more directly to the listener and affects them. I’ve just noticed that when I’ve played songs with an audience over the years," Simon Paparo says, sitting inside his car last Thursday night.
That desire for genuine connection hasn't waned since the Melbourne-based artist, originally from Perth, first started making music aged 14. He was drawn to the songs his dad introduced him to growing up, particularly Tracy Chapman's gritty 'Fast Car' (1986), which captures the harsh reality of a poor working woman trying to escape the poverty cycle in Cleveland.
"Those great artists like Neil Young and Leonard Cohen… he’d bring those back," Paparo remembers. "All the best songs I think have an element of truth. You listen to Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’, and that’s just so powerful."
That combined with Paparo's immersion in the vibrant busking culture of Melbourne's Bourke Street Mall helped cultivate the authenticity of debut album More Like A Memory Than A Dream, released October 12. When he first came on the podcast in June, he didn't know whether his next release would be an EP or full-length record. Yet after catching up with him five months later, it's clear that the pieces for the latter fell into place after he'd spent a while sitting on a collection of old recordings.
Recorded and primarily self-produced at his own studio, Four Doors Studios, the album thrives on a variety of sonic textures, from the alt-pop feel of second single 'Flesh & Bone' (co-produced with Charlie Heart) to the meld of harmonica and intricate acoustic guitar on 'The Drifting'. Laughing appreciatively at the mention of infectious tune 'Keep On Keepin' On', which features drums by his good friend and bandmate Jon Ritchie, Paparo says, "That song came about because my mum was giving me some advice when I was having a downer of a day."
"She was like, ‘You’ve just got to keep on keeping on’. It’s such a mum thing to say," he chuckles here. "I thought it was a great idea for a song, so I wrote it. I was having a lot of fun with that one in the studio. I just went with the feel. I laid down the basis of the song – I wrote it on an acoustic guitar, did the vocals and threw in a harmonica – and from there listened to it and felt it out. The breakthrough in the recording was me finding a place to fit in a little funky guitar lick. Then I got a little funkier with the bassline, and realised, ‘Hey I should start it with that, why not?’."
The track brings back more than one special memory for Paparo, with the artist dedicating the song to his mum at his record launch show at The Toff, two days after the album's release.
“It was wonderful having my parents over from Perth for the launch. I was able to dedicate a song to each of them, and I did ‘Keep On Keepin' On’ solo for her. Dad’s was ‘The Blue Duck’, which was written about a conversation with him at a café in Perth. That conversation felt like my first real adult one as a younger gentleman."
Describing the gig - a double launch with fellow Melbourne artist and bandmate Daniel
Shaw - as his favourite to date, Paparo reflects, "The whole band were on point, and the sound guy at The Toff's really good."
Being able to share the night with Shaw, who he met a year ago at a dusk-til-dawn event in Melbourne called White Night, was also a highlight, and he delves into the moment sparking their friendship.
“I just saw him with a massive crowd around him and loved his stuff. It wasn’t long after that that I applied for a Bourke Street Mall permit, and he was doing busking there quite regularly too. So I suggested to him one day at a busking meeting [a weekly get-together to choose spots] that we do a double EP launch. I thought I was going to release one at that stage. He loved the idea and was happy to play keys and do some backing vocals for me as well, which was awesome. It was a really cool idea that we put together," he laughs lightly.
“Daniel’s only a young guy, but he’s really fluent on the keyboard, and his songwriting’s really good. I think he’s going places, you know? That’s the way I see it."
He then praises the night's support acts, describing fellow Bourke Street Mall outfit Cheeky
Chalk as having "a great presence", and lauding Beth Winter's beautiful blend of female harmonies and sounds inspired by her Black Irish roots. Speaking about his fellow musicians inspires Paparo to raise the obligation artists have to create inclusive spaces for every act playing at a show.
"I felt like just being there and supporting my fellow musicians, I wasn’t hiding in a room before the gig and smashing beers. I watched everyone’s set beforehand. I wanted to create an atmosphere of support, and I’d like to see a bit more of that within the industry. I think quite often, a lot of bands do hang out in the back room and not watch their fellow support acts. I’m trying to set an example to change that actually," he says.
A boost in self-assurance for Paparo leading up to the gig was also a big element of its success. "Lately when going busking, I’ve been working a lot on my vocals," he continues, just as a motorbike passes by. "I’ve been ejecting a bit more confidence into them, and also really focusing on the breathing side of things. I just let it rip on the night, which helped a lot, because I was getting a lot of people saying, ‘It was your best performance to date’. So it was that plus having an awesome band that makes you look better," he laughs deeply.
While some vocalists are heavily focused on the technical side of singing, others aren't particularly conscious of it, and the musician admits, "Yeah, and I wasn’t very aware of it for a long time. Then I started analysing it a bit more, and I feel like I’m teaching myself how to sing again. It’s bizarre."
It's this attention to detail that feeds into the people the multi-instrumentalist chooses to work with. As the conversation turns to what makes for a strong music video, with Paparo having released two for singles 'Gold At Midnight' and 'Flesh & Bone', he says, "The imagery has to relate to the music, that’s a huge part of it. Also getting an awesome director. But I think the first thing’s essential really. I like creative and unique visuals, and that’s why I went back to Clare Nica (360, Thundamentals) for ‘Flesh & Bone’, because she did such a good job of portraying the story of ‘Gold At Midnight’. She made the actors feel at ease."
"Then we decided for ‘Flesh & Bone’ that it was probably good if I was in the clip this time," he continues with a belly laugh. "A lot of the time we were filming it, we were on the footbridge over the top of Hoddle Street [a bridge in southeast Melbourne between Richmond and South Yarra]. Clare had some really nice archival footage that she blended into the video. I trust her judgement because she’s got a really good eye for it. You could just be walking past a tree, and she’ll see an angle of it where you go, ‘What? How did you make that look good?'. She was all over it."
Pick up a copy of Simon Paparo's More Like a Memory Than A Dream here, or stream the album below.
Also, revisit our podcast chat from back in June: