Influenced: Paper Holland's Andy Kosanke on the Sonic Bliss of The Cure
In Influenced, we talk to
Milwaukee musicians about the artists that shaped and inspired them, both as
performers and listeners.
Milwaukee’s Paper Holland came seemingly out of nowhere last year with their album Happy Belated, although as it turns out, the band had been working on the album for nearly four years prior to its release. Since then, the band has built a healthy local following, made the trek to SXSW and started work on a follow up. In this edition of Influenced, Guitarist Andy Kosanke chatted about his love of a band synonymous with goth and messy lipstick, The Cure.
Assuming that you didn’t listen to The Cure from birth, what lead up to you discovering their music?
My dad played guitar, so really early on I got exposed to a lot of stuff he was playing, like The Beatles and the Stones and The Doors. I was more familiar with him playing them than the actual recordings, so it wasn’t until years later that I realized who a lot of those songs were by. I think I was around 11 or 12 when I got a CD player for Christmas and along with it my sister gave me a bunch of CDs, stuff like Offspring’s Smash and Green Day’s Dookie. This was like my first time ever having the option of like… having my own music. So I listened to all those a lot as well as the radio. A few years later I got into skateboarding pretty heavily and that exposed me to a lot of new music, specifically through watching skate videos and playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Around then I started hearing stuff like The Misfits and Dead Kennedys, but also more contemporary bands like Alkaline Trio. I heard Alkaline Trio do a cover of The Cure’s “Exploding Boy” and loved it, and when I found out it was a Cure cover, that was what kind of did it for me. A lot of the bands I was listening to at the time, like Alkaline Trio and AFI and whatnot, they all cited The Cure as a major influence. Hearing that cover made me decide to cut out the middleman and finally check them out.
Did you have an idea of what you thought they might sound like prior to hearing them?
Yeah, I think even before I ever heard The Cure I had definitely seen Robert Smith on TV or whatever, so I maybe thought they were going to sound a certain way.
In my head I think I was expecting them to sound something like how Bauhaus actually sounds.
Yeah, I was definitely surprised by how tuneful they were. I was imagining them to be something much darker, which I guess they are in a way, but those songs are such sweet, beautiful pop songs. A lot of their lyrics are very heart-on-your-sleeve and the songs are beautifully written, but yeah, it’s kind of crazy how different the visual and sonic aspects of The Cure are. You just wouldn’t expect those kind of songs out of them.
They have quite a large breadth of work to choose from. Where did you start?
This was back in the glory days of Napster, so I think at first I downloaded things here and there until eventually downloading that Galore collection of theirs. It’s most of their singles up until a certain point, so I got a pretty good idea of what they were like.
By that point they had over 10 studio albums, plus a ton of other releases. What album did you end up checking out after getting into the singles?
Disintegration, and it was actually because of that “South Park” episode where Robert Smith defeats the Mecha Streisand. When he leaves, Kyle says “Disintegration is the best album ever.” The timing was right as I had just started getting into them, and so that actually made me want to go deeper into their catalog.
Did it deliver?
Yeah definitely. There’s a lot of singles on that record like “Lovesong” and “Fascination Street” and “Lullaby,” so it was like a handful of awesome songs I already knew surrounded by other songs that were just as good.
It’s definitely their opus—their “album as a singular work of art” album.
Absolutely, I was just floored. I remember listening to it and just being blown away immediately. It’s an outstanding record from start to finish.
Speaking of “Lovesong," are you familiar with 311’s cover version?
Um. I heard it.
Sometimes the politician’s answer is the best one.
One thing worth mentioning about The Cure in relation to the more modern bands you were listening to at the time is that they never really have been a band that relied much on heavy distorted guitars. Was that something that you had to get used to?
That was something that drew me to them, actually. A lot of their songs prominently feature a chorus effect on guitars. Previously I had heard the effect on a lot of ’80s hard rock and heavy metal, and generally didn’t care much for it. Hearing The Cure was the first time where I heard it used in a way that I thought sounded good. It didn’t sound overdone, it sounded much more natural as far as an effected guitar sound is concerned. Since then, chorus-y guitars have become pretty synonymous with The Cure for me. Synthesizer, too. Prior to them, I hadn’t really listened to much music that featured synthesizers or electronics.
Do you think that’s why they never suffered by not having heavy guitars? Do you think all the other kinds of instrumentation served a similar purpose?
Definitely. I think all that additional stuff really fills out their sound. In most of their songs, especially the singles, there’s usually a synth mixed in the back that just fills up the space and makes it a Cure song. They also have this kind of “swirling” quality to them, which the guitars also have, and those two combined really fill out their sound as well.
You mentioned earlier that you used to listen to the radio a lot growing up. Did you listen to 102.1 back then?
Yeah, I did. A lot.
They used to do this thing in the mid ’90s called Retro Lunch where they’d play ’80s “college rock” for an hour and it was all stuff like Cure, Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen. I was really into Marilyn Manson at the time, so I hated it with a passion.
Yeah, I think we had similar attitudes at the time, just because of all the music we were hearing around then had those huge distorted guitars and stuff. I remember hearing a lot of that around then and just thinking “Clean guitars? I’ve got no time for this.” Obviously as I matured that changed, but I think it just didn’t really fit with all the other things I was into at the time.
So The Cure have obviously had an influence on you as a listener. Have they impacted you as a musician as well?
I’ve taken a lot of influence from The Cure as a musician for sure, specifically as a guitarist. They got me into thinking about what more I could do with a guitar, like playing without distortion or adding effects or what have you. They made me look at guitar playing through a different lens and the endless possibilities that existed.
Do you think you’ll continue to be a Cure fan in years to come?
I think so. It’s just very honest music, you can hear it in Robert Smith’s vocals. I’ve always had a love for unpolished vocals—everything from Elliott Smith to Against Me! to Call Me Lightning all have this “shaky” sincerity that I’m particularly drawn to. It feels more personal and engaging to hear a human’s voice and not what a computer program thinks a voice should sound like. I think they’re always going to be a band that I’ll find interesting.
Paper Holland’s debut Happy Belated is available for free download via Bandcamp.