But to Quever, the music isn't such a downer. "People seem to react that way," he says, "but I really think of it as upbeat and happy, at least in places."
A listen to Papercuts' resplendently somber brand-new album, Can't Go Back (Gnomonsong), is proof that sometimes it feels good to feel bad. But like a four-track recording of Brian Wilson, his catchy vocal melodies and whip-smart arrangements make these self-produced songs shine warmly.
"I recorded it at my house in the Excelsior (District in San Francisco)," he says. "It's all 2-inch tape, analog and old stuff." Helped out by Vetiver's Andy Cabic (who runs the Gnomonsong label with Devendra Banhart) and bandmates David Enos, Matt Stromberg and Trevor Montgomery, Can't Go Back is intimate and immediately engaging, thanks to Quever's analog obsession. "When you see tape rolling, it's exciting, and it's really easy to make it sound good," he says. "I don't like to spend too long getting sounds."
Songs like the Dylan-esque "Take the 227th Exit," its melody line sort of an updated "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35," recall the moment when folk went electric and divided the purists. "It's not intentionally nostalgic ... just the way I like to record," Quever explains. The excellent opening track, "Dear Employee," conjures scenarios of failed relationships, as drums and bass softly thud under a driving cello line: "You're just my employee now, I don't need you," Quever sings.
But the songwriter maintains that this record was more storytelling than autobiography: "None of the songs are about me," he says. "I wanted to get away from random stream of consciousness, and write from specific points of view that I could relate to in some way, closer to narratives, what it feels like to be someone at some specific time or event." His writing process is not that of the emotionally tortured artist, although he can't always pinpoint what drives him. "Maybe I was mad about something, I can't remember," he says. "I'm usually happy when writing, though, so I don't know what my problem is."
Papercuts are on a high-profile tour with Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear (see Rhythm & Views on Page 68), who Quever met at a show at the Independent in S.F. Though his Bay Area musical roots run deep, having collaborated with bands like Vetiver and Skygreen Leopards, he's also worked with like-minded out-of-town friends, including Cass McCombs and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.
This Bay Area communion of friendship and music suits Jason Quever just fine, as Papercuts continue to thrive in the underbelly of the indie scene. Though perhaps now poised for bigger and better things, he's not about to leave his hometown.
"I love San Francisco. I've moved away a couple times and came running back," he says, before extolling the virtues of the region's musicians. "There are lots of bands I like: Vetiver, Skygreen Leopards, Gris Gris, Kelley Stoltz, Alex deLanda, the Finches."
Papercuts will take the middle slot between The Crowd and Grizzly Bear at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Friday, Feb. 23. Cover is a mere $8, and the show starts at 9:30 p.m. Call 798-1298 for more information.
Yeah, that's a big statement, especially about an old beat-era folkie who spent as much of his life re-creating the mystic of the cowboy as he did sparking eventual icons. But if even half the myths about Elliott are true--from his mentoring of Bob Dylan to his accidental inspiration of Mick Jagger, from his influence on Bruce Springsteen to his odd pairing with the Velvet Underground--then we're all so deep in debt to the guy, there's no way to pay him back.
After 50 years of driving music forward while reminding it of the past, all he wants to do is sing the songs that matter to him. The rest is meaningless; even the failings of his 75-year-old body don't matter much. So what if his voice is scratchy from years of eating range dust and highway exhaust? Or if his guitar style, learned right from the hand of Woody Guthrie, is as ripe with imperfections as it is emotion? Elliott just wants to get to the heart of a song.
He does exactly that on I Stand Alone, his latest album (ANTI-, 2006). Elliott is more shaman than scientist. So when he pulls enough emotion out of "Old Blue," a simple song about a dog dying, that it makes your gut hurt, you know there's something magical about him, something that makes you want those myths to be reality. Same goes for "Driving Nails in My Coffin," a honky-tonk classic that features Flea's bouncing bass and Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker doing her best West Texas drawl. But it's "Leaving Cheyenne," a track as much about family tragedy as it is a horse, that sums up Elliott the best: He's the Old West with new America complications. And even if he's nearing his final ride, he's still pointed forward, creating legends and pushing music.
Catch the legend himself at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., next Thursday, March 1. Tucson legend Howe Gelb will also perform. Take note: This is an early show, with the doors opening at 7 p.m. Admission is $17.50. For more information, call 622-8848.