In an origins story perfectly tailored for a folk band, Paper Bird formed when a group of friends just a couple years out of high school took a trip to the mountains of Colorado.
“We just started writing songs together, and it felt really organic and natural,” said Sarah Anderson, who sings and plays trumpet in the band. “That same day, we went out busking in Breckenridge and made some money and just decided to give it a try.”
The band relies on its democratic structure, which claims no designated leader, to create a uniquely collaborative sound. Often, three members will sing at once. Unlike most bands in which one person sings a melody and backup singers provide harmony, Paper Bird frequently has all three members singing different — albeit complementary — melodies at the same time.
Usually, the band’s singers are its female members: Genny Patterson (who also plays keyboard), Esmé Patterson and Sarah Anderson. Rounding out the six-piece lineup are Caleb Summeril on electric bass, Paul DeHaven on guitar and Mark Anderson playing the drums.
Sarah Anderson sang in choir throughout school. However, after high school, she felt some confusion about what she wanted to do with her life.
“I took the normal route of going to college and getting all of my general studies out of the way while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” she said. “When we started this band, it was pretty clear to me that was the path I wanted to be on for a while.”
After playing together for about four years, Paper Bird had the opportunity to score a ballet. The band decided at that point to add drummer Mark Anderson, realizing it needed percussion for a more orchestral sound. Anderson also happens to be Sarah’s brother.
“We had to get a drummer,” Sarah said, “and I was like, ‘Well, my brother’s a drummer. Let’s just try that.’ And it was the perfect fit.”
At the end of 2013, the band faced another challenge when Macon Terry, who had been playing upright bass since its inception, left the band. Shifting from seven members to six, Summeril put down his banjo and picked up the electric bass. It was just the sort of experimentation with which Paper Bird seemed to thrive.
“It has been awesome. It feels really, really solid, and you know we were kind of in a place where we needed a change,” Sarah said. “The music has changed, and the lineup has changed. It just feels great.”
Sarah believes the shuffles bode well for the band’s future. After going through the experience of not knowing what she wanted to do with her life, she has found it in Paper Bird.
“We’re to the point where we really want this to be something that will sustain us for a long time,” she said. “We’re in a place where we are going to have to work really hard, and we’re willing to do it.”