When San Francisco's Papercuts released its second album, Can't Go Back, earlier this year, it was hailed as a kind of time-warped paean to late-'60s pop. And while the loose and bleary-eyed rock of "Take the 227th Exit" and "Outside Looking In" sounds like the stuff of Dylan's jingle-jangle mornings, Can't Go Back is hardly a nostalgia act. As much as Jason Robert Quever—who is, in essence, Papercuts—mines the past for inspiration, his hushed vocals and lo-fi approach to recording are equally indebted to the bedroom aesthetics of the indierock he grew up on.
When I talked to Quever before his next tour, he was busy writing for the next Papercuts album, recording bands at his home studio, and working on a soundtrack of Byrds-like instrumentals for the sequel to Bradley Beesley's Okie Noodling ("about people who catch giant catfish with their hands").
Mercury: So much of Can't Go Back has a '60s/'70s rock vibe. Are you a crate-digging connoisseur of music from that era?
It's true I love a lot of music from that era and especially certain recording sounds, but I never intended for that to be something that people would focus on. One thought I had around that time that may have come out in the record was about not wanting to throw the past away, but instead seeing what you do in the lineage of all eras of music that have been influential and not being afraid to show those influences, if it came about naturally. So that includes the '60s and '70s, but also early gospel, blues, '50s rock 'n' roll, and '80s pop. Of course, I also grew up being heavily influenced by bands like Belle and Sebastian, Cat Power, Pavement, and My Bloody Valentine.
You're linked to a number of musicians, from touring with Beach House and Grizzly Bear to playing piano on Cass McCombs' debut EP. Do you see any prevailing aesthetic among the music you all make?
I feel very connected with Beach House. It has been important to me to have heard and met them; I feel like I'm not alone in certain ways now. If I could join their band, I would. As for Cass and Grizzly Bear, they both have done great things, but I don't really feel we are trying to do the same thing at all. To generalize, Cass is lyrically heavy, while Grizzly Bear is aesthetically heavy, and we are somewhere in the middle.
Your music has such an intimacy to it. I'm guessing writing—as opposed to touring or, um, interviews—is your favorite part of what you do.
It's my favorite thing to do in the world. When songs are really flowing, I feel happy and at peace. But it's a lot of hard work, obsession, and self-criticism. It's the fulfillment of the contract: You owe it to the song to present it the best way you can. But after a while that gets in the way of writing more songs. The dream, of course, is that I might actually like my own record one day. So I keep trying.