When Tom Rawles, lead vocalist of Sydney band Papa vs Pretty, sits down for coffee and a chat, he exudes an effortless cool, sort of like a young Lou Reed. If Lou Reed had swapped his whisky for green tea, that is. Tom’s all leather and skinny jeans and artfully unfussy hair – exactly as you would hope a future rock legend to look. You know, before all that tea.
Contrary to their origins, these guys aren’t as fresh-faced as their youthful age might indicate. “It started off with me when I was 15, but I’d been recording music since I was seven. I played drums since I was four,” Tom explains, “because my Dad used to be an engineer and there were always instruments and recording equipment everywhere.”
It was during high school at McDonald College that Papa vs Pretty first came into being. As he puts it, Tom met a dude in math class, and then a band was born. At first, Tom was writing all the music but leaving the singing well and truly out of the picture. “I was too self-conscious to sing. I used to sing in my bedroom. I would put the acoustic guitar up to my chin so it would reverberate into my head,” he admits. But fate was to get in the way of Tom’s attempts to sit as far away from the microphone as humanly possible. “[The lead singer at the time] left a week before we had this school studio session – so I had to learn to sing in about a week.”
The name Papa vs Pretty goes back to those early days. “The guy who I started the band with said his first word was Papa and I was Pretty, and the versus came out of us joking about what would happen if he left the band and had some massive conflict. It’s kind of ironic because the band he ended up in had the word ‘ugly’ in the name. Anyway, the name just kind of stuck.”
They have worked hard at learning and honing their own sound, never being content to rest on über-rock style or sexy record production frills and layering. “You can try and make things from sounds in production and layer things up or you can build those dynamics through the music. It is really hard; we’ve only just reached a point were we can do it confidently now,” Tom explains. He attributes this approach to a very exciting moment; a moment which then very quickly brought the band straight back to earth: “We got booked to do a tour with Howling Bells and we freaked out because we realised we couldn’t afford to take all this stuff on tour, and none of these songs were going to work on tour because all the gear we’d need to do it would cost us so much money. So a few weeks before the tour I wrote a whole bunch of new songs that would suit a three piece. And we all worked hard on getting our harmonies right so our voices would blend like a keyboard almost.”
Expect to hear big things from Papa vs Pretty in 2011. All the usual radio stations have already taken note and started giving these guys a regular spin. A new album is due out very soon and in the meantime, you will not be wasting your pennies if you pick up the Heavy Harm EP (from the usual places), from which you will almost certainly know and love the title track. Papa vs Pretty are playing at The Factory Theatre in Marrickville this Thursday with Hot Hot Heat. You can also catch them at Big Day Out, if you managed to snag yourself some tickets.
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