Like a Baby, the latest album from Los Angeles-based artist, Jerry Paper, came out in early October through Stones Throw Records. The 13-track album sits comfortably at the peak of Jerry Paper’s five-year trajectory from DIY bedroom recording to full-band creative collaboration. The new album consists of contributions from a talented cast of musicians, including members of BadBadNotGood (BBNG), Charlotte Day Wilson, Mild High Club and Weyes Blood. The tracks were written in Los Angeles and recorded at BBNG’s Studio 69 in Toronto. I recently chatted with Lucas Nathan — Jerry Paper’s “host body” — about the new album. Excerpts from that interview are included in this post. The hour-long broadcast featuring the full interview is available for a limited time here.
Like A Baby contains several themes, all of which are examined against the backdrop of Nathan’s move from New York City to Los Angeles. “It was just kind of the different landscapes and different times in my life. New York is an intense experience on its own. Going through my early 20s there was, you know, intense and good and crazy and difficult. Then moving back to LA, I ended up spending a lot more time in malls and, you know, driving. Also, hiking a lot — a lot of time outdoors,” Nathan said.
SoCal imagery is particularly prominent on track three, “A Moment.” The track is inspired by a day of emotional dissonance in the San Jacinto mountains. “A few of my friends were in town to play Coachella, and I didn’t really want to go to Coachella. But they were going to chill in the desert before. So we all drove out and did the Palm Springs aerial tramway, which takes you up to the San Jacinto mountains, and you can see the whole desert. It was really beautiful. I just remember going up there, and then my friend turned to me and was like, ‘Hey, looks like Donald Trump just blew up the Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan.’ He was just like testing some big bomb or something, but it was such a bummer. I remember feeling these feelings of like, ‘Oh, I’m having such a good time right now, but there’s so much messed up stuff in the world.’ From that I kind of wrote this song about the brief moments that you forget the horrible things in the world — where you’re just on top of a mountain with your friends and you’re enjoying yourself, and it’s the moment that you forget that there’s some psychopath dropping bombs for no reason,” Nathan said.
Sections of “A Moment” take place in a mall — a recurring image on this album. Nathan explained, “The chorus is based around being on a bench in a mall next to another mall, and basically just how you get so lost in the capitalist hellscape of America that you don’t even really think about how you’re just kind of playing along, and you’re just doing exactly what you’re supposed to — you’re being a good consumer — and how you ultimately have no freedom in your life.”
Anti-capitalist sentiment — often in the form of mall imagery — is prevalent throughout Like a Baby. “It’s definitely something I think about a lot...My original idea for this record was to make a concept album about living inside of a mall. But it didn’t seem like I could go as deep with that theme, so I branched out. There’s definitely a lot of mall imagery. I mean, I feel like it’s a good arena to explore the cycles of desire and gratification and desire and gratifaction — like, endless need. Being a consumer is something that we all are and something that we all do...But we don’t always think about it like that; we don’t always step out of it and look at it as an odd historical phenomenon that’s going on right now,” Nathan said.
Many of Jerry Paper’s music videos feature strange, surreal imagery, and the videos accompanying the release of Like a Baby are no exception. “I think maybe the easiest one to talk about would be the video for ‘My God,’ mostly because it’s very much taking the lyrics and expanding on them. That song is about dying and going to meet god and explaining to the god-creature how much money you made while you were alive, and presumably that would help you get into heaven; the richer you are the better the chance you have of getting into heaven. It starts with me looking at my corpse in a bed, and then I take this wad of receipts and go on this journey to this tax office, where there’s this disgusting god creature that I go over my finances with.”
At the end of the “My God” music video, the god-creature discovers that Jerry misspelled his name on a form and, therefore, must start over as a baby. On the album, “God” is followed by “Baby,” which opens with the lyrics, “I cry just like a baby,” referring to the album title. Nathan explained, “The idea for that song and, ultimately, something that I’ve found to be interesting, and that I thought encompassed both the album and also just being a person: My sister has three kids, and I was at her house and I was watching two of them interact. They were having this kind of silly fight over a boot, and it made no sense at all. But there was just such raw emotion in it that I just felt like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of how we’re all going around in our lives. It’s just more complicated because we have all these words and ideas, and we spend so much time rationalizing our feelings, when a lot of the time they’re just kind of arbitrary. Which doesn’t devalue them in anyway. But something that I found interesting was thinking of adults as babies with a lot of words attached to their emotions, and also the experience of seeing someone that you really dislike or someone that you have a negative idea of, and then thinking of them as a child, and thinking of them in this helpless way as kind of divorced from their responsibility as a person. Of course everyone has a responsibility as a person, but, ultimately, there’s so many contingencies in a life that I just found it to be an interesting thing to explore.”
Like a Baby and Toon Time Raw (2016) stand apart from the rest of Jerry Paper’s seven-album discography due to the contribution of BBNG — a Toronto-based jazz-fusion outfit. Nathan and Matty Tavares, keyboardist for BBNG, co-produced the album. “This [album] was more of a one-on-one collaboration. They’re all my songs, but, like, he helped come up with the chords for Everything Borrowed. You know, the production was definitely a joint effort.” In addition to production from Matty Tavares, Like A Baby features contributions from Chester Hansen, BBNG’s bassist, and Leland Whitty, BBNG’s saxophonist. “But mostly this one was just me and Matty,” Nathan said.
Natalie Mering, the mind behind Weyes Blood, and Alex Brettin, the mind behind Mild High Club, make appearances on “Grey Area” and “Did I Buy It,” respectively. “I was working on Grey Area, and I just really wanted Natalie’s voice on it. So I just texted her and she came over and sang that part, the backing vocals and that little lead line. I wish there was a more interesting story.” Regarding the Mild High Club feature: “I made the song, and then I was like, ‘Damn, I think Alex playing a guitar solo over this would sound really sick.’ So I texted him, and he came over and kind of noodled around on guitar, and then I cut it together into the solo,” Nathan said. Aside from this most recent cameo, Mild High Club has collaborated with two other projects since his latest solo release, Skiptracing (2016). In 2017 he co-wrote an album with King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, and that same year he appeared on “I Wish I Could Fly” by Wavy i.d. Brettin’s collaboration with Jerry Paper makes sense; Brettin also lives in Los Angeles, Mild High Club is also signed to Stones Throw Records; in fact, Jerry Paper supported Mild High Club on a national tour in 2017 shortly before joining the Stones Throw roster.
Jerry Paper is tentatively coming to play in San Antonio in spring 2019.