don't be afraid of the
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: Nov. 21, 2001
John Congleton, the frontman behind
Dallas' The Paper Chase, knows that listening to his band's music can be,
well, challenging at times.
"I get a lot of e-mail that says, 'Your music frightens my
cat,'" Congleton said. "Scary music in the wrong genre is an
unexplored territory. Goth isn't scary to me; then you have all the hate
songs, which get tiresome as well. But you don't hear people terrified at
how life can be at times. I certainly don't consider myself to be a dark
That may be true, but there are some pretty "dark" moments on
The Paper Chase's last non-soundtrack LP, Young Bodies Heal Quickly,
You know. Take the opener, "This May be the Last Song You Ever
Hear." The track begins with strange electronic clicks that sound
like footsteps in the rain played backwards, then along comes a dissonant
sustained piano chord, then eerie almost industrial rhythms quietly
layered on top, followed by another pounding dissonant piano chord, and
"Throw Your Body on the Apparatus" again starts with quiet,
scratchy industrial-style noises layered with garbled backward tracking
and tinkling madman piano sounds. Eventually an AM-quality radio voice
repeats dates and the phrase, "In the next war, we shall bury the
dead in cellophane." The track ends with the sound of shattering
glass. It promises to drive anyone from the room.
Before you write this off as just another ambient creepshow, there's
a method behind the sonic madness. "Young Bodies is
sort of a concept album," Congleton said. "Ever since
I was 16 I've suffered from ridiculous panic attacks all the time.
I went to the doctor but didn't take anti-depressants. It was something
I had to work through on my own, and it inspired me. The album is
a panic-ridden journey."
It's not all spookstuff. There are also a
number of straight-forward, punky, angular rockers on Young Bodies
that highlight Congleton's distinctively Eno-esque writing style and
exceptional voice. "Can I Pour You Another Drink, Lover?" and
"Off with Their Heads," are intricate King Crimson-styled
rockers with stripped down but complicated guitar lines and thick rhythms.
"Apple Pies and Alibis" -- which can be heard occasionally on
MTV's Jackass -- is a dark, funky piano number that will get any
Congleton said don't expect the scary treatment Nov. 23, when The Paper
Chase opens for Cursive at Sokol Underground. In fact, it was the
continued progression to more straight-forward songwriting that resulted
in the band's current line-up.
A successful freelance producer and recording engineer in the Dallas
area, Congleton has worked with a myriad of pop acts, ranging from R.
Kelly to Erykah Badu to U2's Bono. The Paper Chase started as a trio three
years ago, with bassist Bobby Weaver, drummer Aaron Dalton and Congleton
on guitar and vocals. "I asked those guys if they could come in and
play rhythm on songs I wrote," Congleton said. "They agreed, but
we weren't a band. Soon the demo recording circulated and we started
touring. The live show is different than the CD. We shy away from the
soundscape songs. It reaffirms my belief that the album is one thing and
the live show is another -- I draw a sharp distinction between the
Young Bodies, released on Washington, D.C.'s Beatville
Records, was followed with Control-Alt-Delete-U on Chicago's
Divot Records, a soundtrack to a movie that has yet to be filmed
and a recording that Congleton says is an even more challenging
listen that Young Bodies. The intricacies of Control Alt
resulted in the addition of Matt Armstrong to the band's line-up.
"There was no way we could reproduce what we'd been working
on live," Congleton said. "Matt's an old friend and fan
of the band who cared a lot about the music. He's basically our
utility man who plays piano, extra drums and samplers."
"It was something I had
to work through on my own, and it inspired me. The album is a
"It was healthy getting
that gross emotion out and reliving the anxiety every night. When I
get off stage, I feel better. I feel like a new man."
Just as music can stir fond memories of
better times, Congleton said playing songs off Young Bodies brings
back recollections of his painful panic attacks. "I don't believe
anyone who says music isn't therapy," he said. "It was healthy
getting that gross emotion out and reliving the anxiety every night. When
I get off stage, I feel better. I feel like a new man."
Now past the worst of his panic episodes, Congleton said he's
frustrated by the stigma that accompanies mental health issues. "It's
time people speak up," he said. "It's pretty damn debilitating
at times and I'm sick of feeling stupid about it. It's common, and it
doesn't have to be this ominous thing in life that you can't talk about. I
know many people have similar problems. Maybe they will relate to what I'm
doing in my music."
Published in The Omaha Weekly Nov. 21, 2001. Copyright 2001 Tim McMahan.
All rights reserved.