After eleven years together, the Denver Americana band Paper Bird hit rock bottom.
The members had been touring in support of their new self-titled album, which was produced by John Oates of Hall and Oates fame. Things should have been looking up — but nobody was coming to shows.
“We were all just super-defeated,” guitarist Paul DeHaven says. “Spirits were low. We had put a lot of hope and attention into what we were doing for a long time, especially with that record.”
On a day off from the tour in March 2017, they went to a house they had been renting, put their bags down and went off to their separate rooms. DeHaven went to his and wrote “No Gold” and “Blow It All Away” and the riffs for “Fountain of Youth,” all songs that appear on his solo debut album, King of Gold, whose release he’ll celebrate on July 5 at the hi-dive.
DeHaven had been working on his own material for a while, and when he penned those three songs, he realized he could “craft everything into a tale, I guess, of loss and disenchantment and the modern life, whatever…”
After Paper Bird broke up later in 2017, that story became an album. DeHaven, who played most of the instruments on the tracks and produced and recorded them, says he didn’t want the release to just be his sob story about how Paper Bird didn’t work out. “I was trying not to have too much specificity in the lyrics — at least about that,” he adds.
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While writing songs for King of Gold, DeHaven says he was also dealing with the current political climate and the challenges of growing up — “like the loss of being in your twenties and then realizing that you’re in your thirties and you still haven’t anything figured out.”
The album, as he tells it, is less about concrete politics and more about the pursuit of value.
“That seems to be the theme that’s in question,” he says. “What’s important and how do we let go of the things that aren’t important, even if we’ve spent so much time working on them. And even if we were wrong about that or if we were right about that, how do we make them seem even more valuable?”
On “No Gold,” the album’s spirited tom-tom-fueled opener, DeHaven sings, “The secret to being a man is pretending that you have something other than a fistful of sand that you hold as tight as you can…”
“It’s just like this struggle, this grappling, this fearful energy of holding on to things because you build up your identity around them and you create value in that,” DeHaven says. “And then when that falls away, when that bubble gets burst and things don’t go the way you expected them to, you’re left with yourself, and you have to figure out how to make yourself the thing.”
DeHaven says the members of Paper Bird are all still friends. He shares a house with drummer Mark Anderson, who plays on two songs on King of Gold, and multi-instrumentalist Caleb Summeril. DeHaven and vocalist Sarah Anderson also have a new project called Heavy Diamond Ring and just finished an album that’s scheduled for release this fall. But since the demise of Paper Bird, DeHaven has also been working on finding his own identity outside of the band, and part of that process has been letting some things go and realizing that there isn’t a set path to making it in the music business.
He says the myth of musical success works like this: “You put out the single first, and you make a video, and then you ask this person to manage you, and then the person produces it ...and then you’re rich and you’re famous. It just doesn’t work like that. That’s something I had to let go of, for sure.”
The new solo album is filled with references to gold — and while the precious metal has long been one of the most valuable things in the world, DeHaven notes that the value we place on it is a false construct.
“It has value because we say it has value,” he says. “It is the gold standard. We as a society have decided it is the most valuable thing, or among the most valuable things, on the planet. And yet owning gold does not improve your life in any way. If I had a gold watch instead of a plastic watch, or if I had gold chains instead of no chain around my neck or something, the value that we put into that is a fallacy.
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“And I guess that’s kind of where I’m going with the record — it’s just a search for value,” he adds. “It’s me looking at myself, looking at my situation, looking at the world that we live in, and just asking the question: ‘What has value?’”
But DeHaven says he can’t really give a universal answer to that question because it varies for everyone.
“As long as you examine yourself and evaluate that value for yourself and within yourself, then you’re right,” he says. “Then that is the thing that you consider to be of value, that gives you purpose in life, maybe even a sense of identity that is good. If you can stand behind it and say it’s good, then you’ve found your gold.”
Paul DeHaven album release
With Porlolo and Anthony Ruptak & the Midnight Friends, 9 p.m. Thursday, July 5, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway, $10.