“It was kind of a fiasco because I don’t really have the musical chops to play five instruments at once,” admits multi-instrumentalist Ryan McCullagh, recalling his sole show under the name of The Paper Cranes. Having written and performed music solo before it was this particular show that drastically changed the fate of The Paper Cranes. Recounting the gig Ryan continues, “I had a drum machine, a digital recorder with some loops in it, an electric guitar and a synthesizer and I was just kind of switching between them.” Not an easy feat. Around that time current keyboardist and wife, Miranda Roach, saw a signature eclectic performance and “when we were dating, suggested that I try to find some musicians to play with and I did,” explains the frontman.
They met guitarist Braeden Paterson, bassist Alex Bodman and drummer Jeff Mitchelmore through the music scene in their hometown of Victoria, B.C. as well as through mutual friends. When their initial drummer, who’s featured on the band’s first album, Halcyon Days, left “he gave us some names to some people he recommended and we got in touch with them and it worked out pretty well. We’ve been really lucky we’ve gotten to work with a lot of really great people,” says Ryan.
Enquiring about the effects of a husband-wife dynamic at the core of a band, Ryan immediately replies, “I definitely think it has a positive effect. When I’m writing, I’m usually writing for Miranda […] in terms of songwriting, she’s almost like an editor. I write stuff and if she likes it then I know I’ve got something.”
The quirky indie pop band’s moniker is based on a book by Eleanor Coerr entitled Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and Ryan explains this choice: “I had to read that story when I was in primary school and it kind of stuck with me, it’s just really sad and beautiful.”
The song-writing process is a somewhat standardized one and usually begins with Ryan “playing around with the bass or the piano.” Elaborating, he continues, “I’ll come up with, usually, just a hook or a melody and I’ll record that and once it’s recorded I’ll play along to myself and try to come up with something else and sort of keep adding layers like that.” And when it’s time for lyrics Ryan admits it’s a timely process where perseverance is key: “I kind of sing out vocal melodies and sometimes phrases that are just coming out will actually stick and I’ll use them as lyrics. Most of the time I end up writing and rewriting the lyrics for a song about 20 or 30 times before I reach a version that I’m happy with.” Showcasing his attention to detail even further, Ryan recalls working in the studio on their recently released album, Chivalry’s Dead: “We were at a studio in town so after work I’d drive my scooter out there and stay for four or five hours. And you know, three of those hours might be spent just trying to find a guitar tone.”
Asked to compare their first full-length album, Halcyon Days, with their follow up, Chivalry’s Dead, Ryan explains the first was “approached like we were kind of doing a live performance. We recorded the whole album in three days,” while this time around “we really wanted to take our time and get our ideas developed fully.”
Picking his favorite track on the album he opts for the closing track, Ice-Burgs, but quickly adds, “I really enjoy all the songs on the album. I know that’s kind of a trite response but I really like the whole album!”
Naming someone they’d love to collaborate with comes more easily and more precisely: “Morrissey, but I don’t think he’d have me,” he laughs and adds, “I really love The Deers too […] or Paul Weller!”
When The Paper Cranes hit the road Montreal is always a highlight, “I just love that city,” starts Ryan, “and both times we played at Pop Montreal were amazing. We’re hoping to play this year so our fingers are crossed.” Other highlights include playing with Pretty Girls Make Graves and Wolf Parade and the appearance of their song Rabbit in a Snare in a Nissan TV ad.
Working as a musician has countless perks but it also “can be pretty hectic and pretty demanding when you only sleep like five hours in a weekend,” admits Ryan. However, he quickly adds “there’s no other thing I could ever want to be staying up all night doing […] it’s like an impulse – I have to keep writing songs and keep trying to play them.”
For more on The Paper Cranes visit: www.myspace.com/thepapercranes and www. thepapercranesmusic.com