Paper Tiger: On the Prowl
By Fred Mills
Sweet dreams are made of this: from the opening seconds of Me Have Fun (a sample — vinyl-sourced, natch — of regal horns, followed shortly by a slinky, downtempo bass/percussion throb), the listener can’t help but sense he or she is in for something special. Indeed, as the next 50-odd minutes unfold you’re transported into a hazy-yet-glistening universe of blissed-out beats and dense, trip-hop textures; of sensual keyboard lines and deft deployment of head-turning samples; and most important, of riveting, deeply soulful female vocals that are simultaneously seductive and vulnerable.
Meet Paper Tiger: singer Molly Kummerle and beatmaster Isaac Gottfried, who are helping to transform Asheville’s electronic/dance milieu into something akin to the vaunted Bristol, UK, scene that gave the world Massive Attack and Portishead.
“We are definitely of those bands, and honored,” says Kummerle, also of local jazz/soul outfit RubySlippers, when asked if the Bristol comment holds water. (Reviewers have often compared her vocals to Beth Gibbons of Portishead.) “Some of my favorite music comes from the European electronic scene, and we also have a great love of old school hip-hop mixed in with Motown.” Adds Gottfried, aka DJ Mingle, “There’s no escaping the fact that our collective tastes from the past have melded into our current style. That being said, I also hope we can be seen as something a little different, and I think this will become more evident as Paper Tiger moves forward.”
No question there. Formally together for about a year and a half — Kummerle and Gottfried met in 2002, and first collaborated on a cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”; they later tested the live waters as simply RubySlippers/Mingle — Paper Tiger’s trajectory tilted skyward several notches last fall when the band performed at the three-day MoogFest in Asheville, putting them in front of an international audience. Glowing reviews for Me Have Fun have furthered the momentum, and plans are in place for a new video and an EP of remixes while they work on material for the next album.
There’s also to be an uptick in concert appearances, including a set at this summer’s Bele Chere festival, although intriguingly, Gottfried will be dialing back his live activity to concentrate on the production side. Drummer David Mathes, from Sonmi Suite, has already been working with the band, so he and Kummerle will form the core touring version of Paper Tiger, with selected other players sitting in when possible. Explains Gottfried, of his decision to remain in the studio, “It can be difficult to decide how your music is going to be played live, simply because of the sheer number of ways it can be done. Molly and David have been tweaking the live show to allow for sounds to be triggered and played by the both of them.”
Both musicians are quick to point out that there’s an exciting creative vibe surrounding Asheville these days, and that MoogFest in particular raised the bar not only for them but for the local music scene as well. And for her part, Kummerle can’t wait to showcase Paper Tiger in front of new faces. “We want to challenge our own art and not get too comfortable,” she says. “And I’m also a live performer, so there is a huge opportunity to be able to present your music and connect with a live audience to share in that energy created.”