Scene and Heard: Paper Shoes

Treading softly through life’s struggles, Paper Shoes creates beautiful sound out of despair

by Josh Thompson and james.i.chung / Garnet & Black

Despite whatever might inspire an artist, creating artwork is deeply emotional. For Marcelo Andrés Pérez, writing honest music allows him to reclaim the sadness or loneliness that once ruled his life and turn it into something enjoyable.

Pérez, a fourth-year international business student, is the frontman of Paper Shoes, a band he founded prior to his first year at USC. Pérez has spent much of his life moving from one part of the world to another. He split high school between Hong Kong and London, then later moved to Columbia for college. He continued traveling and spent three semesters abroad in China through USC’s business school.

After playing solo with a rotation of different band members, Pérez most recently partnered up with drummer and USC alumnus Lee Garrett. As a result of moving from place to place, many of Paper Shoes’ recorded songs are slower and more expressive because Pérez wrote his tracks solo. Pérez calls himself a “bedroom musician,” wherever that bedroom might be at the moment. The loneliness of recording alone undeniably shines through his sound.

Like many musicians, Pérez didn’t find himself musically until college. He and Garrett both admit they don’t think they would be where they are today without having joined WUSC-FM. “People don’t give WUSC enough credit for being a weirdo fraternity,” Garrett says.

While many bands crank out as many performances as possible, Pérez thinks of Paper Shoes as a band that’s “trying to support a bit more minimalism in music.” Paper Shoes is a change of pace for many of the local rock-dominated line-ups, and they’re happy to add that diversity. By acting as a “quiet voice” in Columbia’s scene, Pérez writes to create a connection.

For Garrett, joining Paper Shoes wasn’t easy, but it’s a challenge worth rising to. After being a part of several other groups, including playing as the touring drummer for Elvis Depressley, Paper Shoes is a serious change in sound. Garrett views drumming as a band’s support system, so his primary role is playing along to what his bandmates need.

“The best drummer just plays in accordance to what’s already going on,” Garrett says. “I think if a drummer is trying to be in the foreground of a song, they’re doing it wrong.”

Paper Shoes is gently powerful. Every track has the driving power of emotion through dreamy sequences and light vocals that compliment echoey acoustic melodies. Considering they could be labeled as anything from post-rock to shoegaze or emo, Paper Shoes is hard to nail down. But at the end of the day, it’s not about genre. To them, limiting their music to any single genre can actually be restricting.

“Genre seems to be a critical response, but it’s not really up to the band to fit into a certain genre,” Garrett says. “It’s the role of a band to not fit into a scene. It’s the role of an artist to be true to their own tastes and metric of important musical values. Paper Shoes is a disruption, I would say. There’s not really anyone that’s doing it quite like us in this area, and that’s valuable.”

A band’s signature sound is typically something decided by fans after the fact because it’s usually growing off something that initially inspired an artist. While many groups push away from their musical niche to stand out, Pérez and Garrett don’t see that as necessary — everyone has musical heroes. There’s nothing wrong with learning from role models because “there could never be another ‘Pet Sounds’ even if you had the exact same circumstances,” Garrett says. “We’re experiencing something universal.”

Pérez looks at music from a theoretical — and even mathematical — standpoint, making it possible for Paper Shoes to do individualized covers of anything from Beach House to My Bloody Valentine. By embracing colorful artistic influences, Paper Shoes can cover a track and still provide a unique musical perspective.

“It’s very difficult for you to only have one band in your mind — I think I’ve gotten better at realizing that there’s a time and a place to be really influenced by something,” Pérez says. “When I have the opportunity to sing and write lyrics, my own voice will come through regardless.”

And when it comes to songwriting, the process is cathartic. By channeling emotions into his music, Pérez views it as an avenue to get rid of those feelings. In fact, Paper Shoes copes with feelings of depression by transforming it into something others are able to enjoy.

“I don’t think that has to be in a way that perpetuates sadness, but rather addresses sadness as an important and really relevant emotion,” Pérez says. “The more you write down your feelings, catalog them and listen back to yourself saying things, that helps you process your thoughts. That is what the band is for: so I can take these negative feelings in music and they can stay there and I can enjoy things on my own.”

As a result of bedroom recording, many of his finished tracks are acoustic, bringing an entirely different persona during performances. The atmosphere of an empty bedroom and the energy of a live show can completely change the mood behind the songs. Even playing an electric guitar over acoustic changes the mood.

“These emotions are sad, these emotions are ones I don’t want in my life anymore, but reclaiming them gives you a certain power over them,” Pérez says. “These emotions ruled my life at one point, but they don’t have to anymore.“ 

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