Former WSU students Marcus Stoesz and Jeff Vedricksen of local band Paper Airplanes ended 2005 in an unusual way –– late in the year they traveled to Los Angeles to perform for executives at Capitol Records, the same label that was once home to the Beach Boys and the Beatles. It’s the kind of opportunity musicians dream of and, Vedricksen and Stoesz say, came as a surprise, considering that the group had barely been together a year at the time of the showcase.
Formed by Stoesz, a music composition major, and friends Anthony Piazza (bass) and Nathan Wilder (drums), with whom he’d played in the band Scenery, Paper Airplanes initially saw Stoesz reworking ideas he’d written for both Scenery and his previous project The Music Wrong.
Stoesz, Piazza and Wilder recorded the album Boyhood as a trio, using session musicians to add strings and other instruments. The group released the album on the independent label Mayhaps last spring. Material from the record required more than three musicians in a live setting, so Stoesz, who composes all of the band’s songs, decided to augment the band. He recruited one of his idols, Les Easterby of the band And Academy, and his Scenery bandmate Adam Phillips. He also brought in Vedricksen, who he’d seen perform in the now-defunct band Soul Machete.
“I saw him play and thought, ‘He’s a really good guitar player,’” Stoesz recalls. “I had watched him play and knew that he’d studied music a bit and thought he was a good candidate to help fill out the live band. I think it worked out really well. He’s a fun guy to have around.”
Vedricksen had seen Stoesz perform in Hanoi Chevrolet with WSU students Dan Davis (of Ricky Fitts) and Chris Trenary (a visual and hip-hop artist as well as owner of Wichita’s sole independent record store, Rewound Sounds). Although he didn’t follow Hanoi Chevrolet much at the time, Vedricksen says he became much more interested when Stoesz assembled the live band for The Music Wrong, which included another former wsu student and Vedricksen’s current bandmate in the band Arms For Hands, Phil Ross.
“The light went off for me then,” Vedricksen says. “Marcus was writing songs that spoke to me personally, and it seemed to be very personal yet universal and very technical, which I like. I got to know him and the other guys in Paper Airplanes better, heard the tapes of what they were doing and was blown away when they asked me to join, though I didn’t take them seriously when they asked me. By January of 2005 we were practicing together.”
By the fall, the band had toured the west coast and was about to get a helping hand from friend Micajah Ryan. A producer and engineer who has worked with Bob Dylan and Guns ‘n’ Roses, Ryan passed along a copy of Boyhood to a friend who works at Capitol’s Nashville offices. The friend responded enthusiastically and helped create buzz about the band at the label’s Los Angeles offices. Capitol executives flew all the members of Paper Airplanes to Los Angeles to perform the showcase.
“It was all expenses paid,” Stoesz says with a laugh. “We were pretty happy about that.” Although the label passed on the record, the band members were hardly crushed. “I don’t think we ever took it that seriously,” says Stoesz. “For a while we didn’t think it was real. We thought, ‘Why is this happening? This doesn’t happen to people.’ It was a good opportunity, though, and I think we were pretty level-headed about the experience.”
Vedricksen, who studied both philosophy and music, adds, “Going from nobody knowing about us besides our local friends and a few other people to getting attention from a major label caused us to have some real mixed feelings. I felt conflicted when I heard about it. None of us were jumping for joy at the beginning. If you’ve seen That Thing You Do, you know that Hollywood makes it seem like everyone snaps their fingers and says, ‘This is our big break.’ We were very skeptical about it because we’ve all heard stories about musicians being taken advantage of and losing everything.”
At present the band is working on material for a second record and mulling offers from larger independent labels. And, Vedricksen notes, everyone has come away from the Capitol showcase a little wiser. “Nothing bad could have happened from that experience,” he says.