Going back

Pub date April 15, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Pay no attention to the feathered and paisleyed, freaked-out and gentled-up flower child batting his bejeweled lashes behind the ruby velvet curtain. Despite the neo-glam-hippie network enmeshing his label, the Devendra Banhart– and Andy Cabic–owned Gnomonsong, and the narcotic dream-folk wafting around his San Francisco indie pop project Papercuts, songwriter-producer Jason Quever would never call himself a hippie, though heaven knows he’s tried to be one. "I have too much anxiety to be a hippie," the thoughtful Quever free-associates as he settles into his Excelsior District digs, now that his springtime rambling — spent performing with and opening for Beach House on their recent national tour — is done.

"There was a moment when I was younger when I thought maybe that’s what I am," the 32-year-old continues, sounding a wee bit wistful. "But no, I’m not very free. I have to be moving and wearing shoes — I’m just not relaxed enough to be groovy with anything. I have too much inner turmoil to pull that off, and bummer hippies are the worst — so negative."

He knows of what he speaks, as the child of "burnout hippies" who retreated to Humboldt County ("Yeah, it was funny. To get away from drugs, they lived on a Christian commune"). And though he’s always admired genuinely, "extremely relaxed" folks, Quever, by his own admission, only gets truly blissed out while writing songs.

The music making started at 5, when Quever and his friends wrote their first song: a video game ode titled "Dragon Slayer." "I still remember banging on an LP cover with chopsticks," he recalls. Songwriting became an anchor of sorts when he bought a four-track at age 15, following a summer spent adrift and alone after his mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

Still, the past — and sounds redolent of tube amps, ’60s pop, magnetic tape, and a certain exquisite melancholy ornamented with chapel chimes, shivering strings, arpeggiated guitars, and thumping toms — pulls him back, although Quever appears to have built a kind of community around his current home studio, unofficially dubbed Pan American Recording "just to make it sound classy." There he’s tracked or mixed such local players as Vetiver, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, the Skygreen Leopards, the Finches, the Moore Brothers, and Still Flyin’ — artists, Quever says, who "can handle analog recording and don’t need editing, and people who are into that sound too. People who want perfection — I can’t give them that."

Quever sounds a little dejected, much as he did while discussing reviews of Papercuts’ most recent full-length, Can’t Go Back (Gnomonsong, 2007), and writers’ focus on a perceived ’60s-vintage sound. But the singer-songwriter just as quickly cheers up: "That’s the fun thing about analog — it automatically weeds out a lot of people I don’t want to deal with. Most people who come over are relaxed and just want to have fun. The OCD obsessives just can’t obsess about it, and I do. When I mixed my last record, I obsessed over it the way you shouldn’t with analog."

Quever will have to see what the future holds now that he’s back home and writing songs, after his April 18 show at Cafe Du Nord with Papercuts’ current lineup, which includes filmmaker David Enos and Lazarus’ Kelly Nyland and Trevor Montgomery. Taking a cue from the title of Can’t Go Back, he knows there’s nowhere to venture but forward. "I’m just keeping out of jail," Quever says cheerfully — so every day, he agrees, is a success.

For more on the Papercuts’ April 18 show, see "Not for Locals Only," page 30.