Brooklyn’s paperwhite is a “dream pop” brother and sister duo, Katie and Ben Marshall, about to drop their second EP, Escape, well-teased by the catchy and airy “Unstoppable.” More of-the-moment than some of their previous work, it makes one wonder where they might go from here—more EDM, more Ting Tings, or more Julee Cruise? While Ben’s other band, Savoir Adore, played several shows at SXSW this year, paperwhite had a single showcase at the Hilton Garden Inn on the eighteenth floor, which boasts the best view in Austin.
Paperwhite dropped right into it, Katie immediately dancing into the groove of an ’80s key backbone with sea-foam washing overtones. Ben’s drumming is tight, hi-hat focused, and the pair were aided by a red-haired woman behind a stack of synths, leaving Katie free to focus on singing and fronting the act, though she spends plenty of time on her own keyboards as well. And Katie is gracious, expansive—she has natural stage presence, and was eye-catching in a glittery, short shift. Her voice has the quality of a ringing bell from the far side of a meadow—it’s just lovely.
Paperwhite is like the music you hear in your dream just before waking up. On a Sunday. Katie sang it this way: “I’m drifting through the waves of emotion, so help me I’m on my own.” I caught up with the band last weekend via email to talk about their surreal lives, their evolving music, and fighting like siblings.
I love this quote that you gave Billboard: “While dreaming up what paperwhite means to us, we found that a desire for adventure and surrealism feel very at home in our world.” Is it “surreal” to stand on stage while people stare at you? Or more to the point, what adventure and surrealism do you seek in other compartments of your lives?
Katie: It is definitely a little surreal to perform in general but it’s especially surreal when you lock eyes with a stranger who’s singing along to your music. It’s such an immediate connection. Every time we meet or connect with an audience member, it feels like our little paperwhite world just got a little bigger. It’s really exciting for us. As far as adventure outside of the music itself, we really want to tour and reach more people so that we can continue to grow.
People are always asking you about being siblings and how you started working together, but no one seems to ask the obvious: Don’t you fight? The way siblings can, with deep ravines of history that fall back into cloudy childhood emotional memories.
Ben: Haha! We honestly don’t fight at all. Maybe we have moments of frustration, but it’s always very fleeting. Our personalities are very complimentary. We’ve always gotten along, so the only thing that has really changed is that we’ve gotten closer on a creative level. I think we’re pretty lucky to work together!
You describe yourselves as “Dream-Pop,” and there’s no question that some songs (like “Take Me Back”) have a straight ’80s synth line. But “Unstoppable” feels a little more Ellie Goulding — is there a conscious desire to push your sound more mainstream?
Katie: We definitely feel that pushing our music a little more mainstream can be a positive thing, but I think the main reason that we’re veering slightly away from the ‘80s style isn’t because we want to be purely pop musicians, but because we don’t want to get trapped in a trend. Our music falling within the ‘80s theme recently was exciting, but more of an accident. We strongly believe that the song comes first, so it would be a shame to focus on what is trending and not on writing quality songs.
Ben: Yeah, it’s sort of just a natural progression of what we’re into right now. Production-wise we’ve been going for a more supernatural kind of sound, so we’re using a lot more soft synths and things that can create surreal and new sounds. Songwriting-wise, we’ve just been focused on writing really simple ideas (which is very “pop” I think) but that have a lot of depth emotionally when you get deeper into the song.
Now that you’ve dipped a toe into the remix business. Will you keep pushing on that angle? Seems like it could be very lucrative with the EDM explosion.
Katie: Remixes can give such a boost for so many reasons. Whether we’re releasing a remix of one of our songs or doing an official paperwhite remix for another band, it helps create a support system for musicians. It often merges two different styles or genres of music together so we can reach new audiences.
I caught you last year at SXSW— it was a great set in an odd venue. This year you’re playing on the 18th floor of the Hilton—and closing out the night. Is this a big step up? How excited are you?
Katie: We’re very excited for this year! We’re not quite sure what to expect because sometimes being the last band of the night means people are ready for bed, but we’re grateful for the opportunity and we will DEFINITELY be dancing and the making the most of it!
Katie: I’m going to be following Savoir Adore around all week because Ben is playing with them and because they are fantastic! They’ve just begun releasing new music and I haven’t been able to catch a show yet so i’m really looking forward to that. As far as food goes, we had some amazing breakfast tacos at Torchy’s last year so I hope to stop by there again!
Ben: I’m definitely looking forward to tacos and BBQ, but also for discovering new music. Last year my favorites were Christine and the Queens and Jack Garratt, but who knows what this year will hold!