Soundtrack: Jerry Paper

Stones Throw’s Jerry Paper AKA Lucas Nathan shares the records that shaped him

Trying to figure out just one recording to write about as a formative record for me is… difficult. Should I write about Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean”, one of the first songs that truly blew my mind? I still remember where I was when I first heard it, 11 years old in the passenger seat of my mom’s car on the way to a friend’s house… Should I write about Syd Barrett’s Madcap Laughs? I remember hearing it when I was 14, realising I didn’t actually have to be a particularly virtuosic instrumentalist to make affecting music, realising that performance “flaws” can actually layer the emotional content of music. I felt set free as a musician for the first time, free to pursue my personal expression instead of worrying if it was conventionally “good”. Or should I dig into Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter, exploring the revelation of hearing “Dealer” for the first time and becoming enamoured with it’s minimalist, sparkly, unsettling drama? Chico Buarque’s Construção? Steely Dan’s Aja? There is truly too much music that has had a profound influence on my idea of beauty, creativity, and music to focus on one thing. So rather than talk about one record that guided my journey as a young person, I want to talk about an album that has recently clarified something central about all the music that I love.

That album is Prefab Sprout’s recorded-in-1993-but-released-in-2009 album Let’s Change the World With Music, and if you’re familiar with it and think it’s corny as hell: please, bear with me here. This album fucking rules. Now, I think a lot of millennial Sproutheads are in the same boat as me when I say that when I first started listening to Prefab Sprout the only album I could really get into was the 1985 classic, Steve McQueen. It’s a masterpiece; moving, catchy, funny—everything I could want from a record. Gradually I expanded my horizons and developed a taste for other entries in the Prefab catalog, but I never quite got into anything released after 1990’s Jordan: The Comeback. That is until the guitar player in my touring live band (and my close buddy) Christoph Hochheim played the song “I Love Music” in the van on a tour last year. The song is funny as hell right off the bat. There’s a synthesised upright bass walking around, synth organ stabs, and Paddy McAloon singing extremely sincerely about how much he, as the title suggests, loves music.

As I subsequently listened through the whole album, I found myself simultaneously laughing and dancing. After a few spins, the uniqueness of the music and shameless sincerity of the lyrics really sunk in. It got me thinking, this music is so corny, so goofy, so sweet but why does it hit me so deep? Why is it so satisfying and affecting to me? The more I reflected on this I realized the thread that holds together all the music that I love the most in the world is personality. This album sounds like nothing but Prefab Sprout and it could come from no other person than Paddy McAloon. I can hear him in this music, expressing himself. Maybe the way they express themselves involve metaphors about music being a princess (see the song “Music Is A Princess”) or the almost unlistenably saccharine “Last of the Great Romantics”, but it is very much the sound of someone’s true expression.

Maybe this is some warped bit of American mythicism, romanticising the individual and all that, but music is such a weird and wonderful way for people to express themselves. I love people, and I love the sounds that people make when they need to affirm their existence. I love the myriad ways that people think through problems when they make art. I love the peculiarities in each of our ways of thinking, the fact that we all make different choices when confronted with the same 12 notes, the plethora of timbres, and the words that make up our experiences of the world. I love music.

Jerry Paper’s latest album Abracadabra is out now on Stones Throw records and can be listened to here