For James Mason, creating art is not a choice. Luckily, as the frontman of the alt-pop group Paper Jackets, he has the chance to add his voice more than ever. “A lot of people are tormented with the human condition,” he says, speaking from his home in Los Angeles, “and they want to have a way to express that. For me, it’s this need to use that voice.”
Paper Jackets was formed in 2016 as each musician was rotating through a number of Sunset Strip jam nights. What started as a few random meetings and sessions has since blossomed into a six-piece group consisting of Mason, Emily Dickinson (keyboard, live backing vocals), Jonny Vesely (guitar), Miles Franco (bass, live backing vocals), David Allen (drums) and Aimee Proal (vocals). After releasing the EP Don’t Lose Your Head in 2018, Mason & co. grabbed opening slots for Bishop Briggs and the X Ambassadors, and haven’t slowed down since.
All of this energy shines on their latest project, Souvenirs, due out this summer. For Mason, each song “talks about these relics from our past that tell a story about how we got here.” The album art features many “relics,” from a disco ball to a pink flamingo. “Each of those is telling a story from a specific song,” explains Mason. “Things from your past, a scrapbook mentality. It’s very nostalgic.” Some are literal—for instance, the teeth representing the song “Baby Teeth”—while others, such as the pills and bottle of liquor, are, according to Mason, focusing the broader problem of addiction in its many forms.
In addition to looking to the past for inspiration, the group also added a new member into the fold. Aimee Proal was a songwriter by trade, and was called in to help with some backing vocals for the record through mutual friends, before eventually collaborating in writing sessions. Mason cites her as “one of the biggest changes to the overall project.” “She has added a much different spin on the music, and a fresh energy to our performances” he continues. “She is now so important to the band,” he says. “It just made sense.”
Once Proal was added to the group, the album took shape. From the ethereal pings of “Miss You” to the thudding bass of “Baby Teeth,” Souvenirs is a collection of 10 tracks that stretches and pulls at the genre of alternative rock. Opening track “What They Call A Life” soars with optimism and energy while “Fairweather Friends” adds a dark edge to their brand of pop.
The album’s “scrapbook” feel continues with the creative moments that inspired each song. For instance, the beginnings to “Miss You” were born during a band’s trip to Brooklyn. They happened to find a xylophone in their AirBnb and the subsequent jam session led to the saccharine hook of “miss you!” throughout the song.
Meanwhile, the band remembers “Baby Teeth” as an integral track. Mason describes it as “losing the things you had as a child, and growing new armor,” while Proal calls it a band favorite. “We’re all in our happy place when we play that song live,” she says.
For all members of Paper Jackets, the road to creating this record has been long and not without its bumps. However, they’re more than excited for whatever the next steps may be. “There’s a sense of urgency,” says Mason, speaking to the album as a whole. “There’s this mentality of, we have to do this now, we have to make these songs now…There’s this artistic force that pushes me in that way.” Whatever force they are following, they’re sure to take some souvenirs for the road.