Oftentimes when encore profiles bands playing in ILM for readers they range from the newborn freshman hawking CDs from their VW bus to the seasoned nationally and internationally recognized musical icons. Success in the music industry is defined a little differently by everyone—record and ticket sales, accolades, etc. But one thread tends to connect them: producing work for which they’re proud. That’s at the forefront of Wilmington-based band The Paper Stars.
“I think I’ve learned over time you can’t control who gets big,” drummer Kevin Rhodes says. Rhodes is a musical stalwart on the local scene, and has played in many bands over the years, from Lamont Skylark to Onward, Soldiers. Still, what works and doesn’t in the music industry is forever changing among his three-decade musical career, which also included starting up his own label, Winoca Records.
“You can post on Instagram, try to make your video go viral . . . but if the songs are good, if they’re really good, and you can at least get them heard and into the right hands, things will take care of themselves,” Rhodes says. “There are bigger things in the world to worry about [than getting big].”
“Garrison Keillor at the end of his [NPR public radio show, ‘The Writer’s Almanac’] says, ‘Be well, do good work and keep in touch,’” Tres Altman (guitar, vocals) adds. “We’re working as hard as we can with all the other responsibilities in life to do good work.”
Readers may have heard The Paper Stars on 98.3 The Penguin within the last year. Aside from playing many local shows and releasing their first EP, “North Star Sessions Vol. 1,” the band also opened for St. Paul & The Broken Bones at Greenfield Lake in May.
“That was really fun for us,” Altman says. “And it legitimized the band. . . . We’re really grateful for that—they don’t need a local opener.”
Anyone at the show heard new tracks that the band will be recording for their “Vol. 2.” EP. “Althea,” “All in this Together” and “All Around You” are but a few in their arsenal.
“We probably have 20 original songs right now that are fully formed: 15 are wonderful, probably 10 of them are great, and five of them are amazing,” Altman adds.
Altman and Rhodes are joined by Coleman Corzine (bass) and Michael Del Signore (guitar, vocals). Altman and Rhodes are friends and neighbors who first came together when Altman moved from Boulder, Colorado, where he formed the original Paper Stars in 2007. The current version of his band, the “East Coast Stars,” formed in 2014. Once they brought Corzine and Signore aboard, things moved quickly despite having family lives, responsibilities and little time to practice. They jammed for a week as whole band before heading into the studio to record “North Star Sessions Vol. 1.”
“Probably the fastest recordings I’ve ever done,” Rhodes admits. “We literally went in and live-tracked five songs in one evening—meaning we did sound check, got all the drums, bass and guitar sounds exactly how we wanted them, and we played together as a band to basically track all those songs in one night.”
“It was the quickest, most smooth process,” Altman adds.
Named after North Star Post and Sound, where they worked with Brandon Hackler to produce the recording, the EP flows from Americana stylings of down-home reflection to blues-inspired rock that melts into nostalgia. “We all worked together really seamlessly,” Altman continues. “It was one of those quick, magical recording experiences. It just proves the band is a good working unit.”
The Paper Stars tap into influences of Southern blues and soul. Signore adds an element of ‘grass within his flat-picking. Though Rhodes wasn’t quite sure what they were getting themselves into as a new band—or even what they were recording a record for—he really just wanted to document their work.
“We were so happy with what came out of it,” he says. “It was more than what we originally talked about doing, which was a demo, but then we got it done and it was radio quality.”
The Paper Stars have a minimalist approach in everything from music to packaging of “North Star Sessions.” The CD comes in a mere paper sandwich bag sealed with a sticker of album art and the band logo stamped in black ink on the back. “It’s our motto: Keep it simple and do good work,” Altman iterates. “There’s no reason to complicate things—but also keep it interesting. Simple doesn’t mean disinteresting.”
Though the aesthetics parallel the attitude of the band as a whole, there’s a mystical aspect apparent in their unity. It’s audible in every track on the EP; there’s an ease with which the music resonates. Quite frankly, it sounds like the stars aligned perfectly for Altman and the rest of the band gelling through their sound.
“The magic happens when you have good songs crafted, good musicians and a really special voice,” Rhodes says. “I have to take my hat off to my buddy Tres. His voice is unique and he’s got a gift. Not only is he able to craft good songs that have hooks, and we help shape those songs as a band, but . . . when he steps onstage, he’s ready to go and that’s an important thing.”
“I’ll praise Kevin on his superhero powers,” Altman adds. “He has a power that keeps everything ticking on a different level. But the whole band is great. . . . Right now we have a tight four-piece unit and that’s all you can ask for when you’re doing any project: finding the right people and the right team together.”
At the time they released “Vol. 1” last October, The Paper Stars barely had a following on Facebook. Nevertheless, once their tunes began playing on The Penguin, the requests began pouring in. They came so often, it couldn’t be ignored.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds to be added to a playlist,” Rhodes tells. “We didn’t really even mean for it to happen.”
“We still don’t know what’s happening,” Altman jokes—“except that we have fun playing and we’re writing good material.”
Altman, Rhodes and company are heading back into the studio with Hackler to work on “North Star Sessions Vol. 2,” which they hope to finish by the end of the summer. Their plan is to record another five songs.
“We’re not doing a space-electronica album,” Altman clarifies with a laugh. “But we’re paying a little more attention to detail this time. It won’t have that footloose, fancy-free one take. It may be a little more produced, not much, but we’re taking a little bit more time and it’ll probably be ready toward the end of the summer or early September.”
The Paper Stars will play Bourgie Nights on June 24—the songs will be a mix of their “Vol. 1” and “Vol. 2” EPs. “We have a few covers we do,” Altman adds. “What do you think about that, Kev? Busting out a new cover for this show and seeing what kind of surprise we can do?”
“A new trainwreck?” Rhodes quips in response. “Yeah, we can do that.”
The band may start touring regionally at some point, but their ties to Wilmington life are a huge factor in the steps they take now. “We’re raising kids, we have a life here in Wilmington,” fortysomething Rhodes explains. “Not that if we didn’t get an opportunity to do a flight of national shows that we wouldn’t do an East Coast run or something like that, but we’re not really going to go out and get in a van and ride around. That’s not what this band is about.”