Paper Lights, an alternative-pop duo from Atlanta, have been touring over the last two years in support of their album Great Escapes, and have opened for acts such as The Fray and Miike Snow.
Their music has been described as “atmospherically electrifying” and their cinematic sound has set the scene in commercials for companies such as Coca-Cola, Land Rover, ESPN, and Outdoor Magazine.
We spoke with lead vocalist Dan Snyder about their recent experience traveling among America’s parks in “Rudolph the Red Adventure Van” while developing a new album.
You are recording a new project inspired by your visits to over a dozen National Parks across the United States. How did this project come about?
A few years ago I got to take a backpacking trip with some friends through the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks. I had never thought of myself as an outdoors person but what we experienced in our eleven days there was so moving. I remember leaving there just thinking: this is it, this is what I’ve been missing my whole life.
For a long time I struggled to figure out how to merge a new found love for the outdoors with a music career. So one day I just decided we would apply to Guinness and set a world record by playing the most shows in National Parks.
There’s definitely a spiritual element to it that I’ve never found anywhere else, almost like therapy. When you experience something so much bigger than you, the perspective causes everyday stress to just fall off.
After waiting for nearly six months Guinness rejected our application on the basis that the record would be hard for someone else to beat. At first the National Park Service was hesitant to back the project too. I don’t think they ever grasped that we were asking for their permission to promote the parks without them giving us any money. Plus we played primarily electronic music and people didn’t really understand how that meshed with the outdoor vibe.
All the adversity was really getting to us but I felt like if I had to lay on a deathbed someday having not done this thing, it would be a regret. That’s when we decided to just do thirteen parks with a small crew and record tons of samples from nature to incorporate into our next record. So after nearly a year of planning and securing some really important gear and food sponsors, we were able to pull the whole thing off in two months of traveling.
How did the experience of spending two months camping out change you?
The first week was rough mentally for me. Not in a sense of experiencing the elements but just in questioning my decision to drag a team of people out for this big dream that I was unsure of. I remember waking up one morning in the middle of the New Mexico desert and thinking, what does this have to do with music? What if I’m just wasting everyone’s time here?
About the fourth week of the project, we seemed to have a good routine rolling. Once we started processing some of the sound samples I think it boosted morale a bit. When we started hearing the results of our work we were able to justify the project to ourselves and it made everything else a lot easier. I’m not sure I even know all the ways the experience has changed me yet. Sometimes I’ve found that the reflecting on these trips is almost as inspiring as experiencing them in the moment.
What is it about the outdoors, and being in the elements among the landscapes across the country that particularly inspires you?
I’m not sure. There’s definitely a spiritual element to it that I’ve never found anywhere else, almost like therapy. When you experience something so much bigger than you, the perspective causes everyday stress to just fall off. Maybe some of it is that, maybe it’s because sometimes we have to work really hard for inspiration at home but in these places it flows freely.
Can you talk about some of the other influences on your music?
Josh (Stewart) and I both listen to a mix of film composers, singer-songwriters, and pop. Outside of other music I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration from writers as well. John Muir and Charles Bukowski have been really inspiring and have changed the way I think about music.
What can listeners expect from the new music and when will the album be out?
The great thing about the National Parks project is that we’ve never given ourselves so much time to write a record so we have a lot of material. Everything we’ve tracked so far has a lot of natural elements to the sound. Lyrically I wanted to use the parks experience as a filter for themes we would normally write about versus writing about the parks themselves. We are really excited to share it and we’re hoping to have a February 2018 release date.
Learn more about Paper Lights, listen to some tracks, and see Rudolph The Red Adventure Van at paperlightsmusic.com.