Most of us measure time in terms of memories, photo albums, diaries, social media posts, and so on and so forth. Faded Paper Figures measure time in songs. The Salt Lake City, UT trio—Heather Alden [vocals], R. John Williams [guitar, vocals], and Kael Alden [keys, guitars, drums, production]—stamp life’s ebbs and flows onto a soundtrack of lush alternative, cinematic electronic, and unassuming pop. This approach enlivens the group’s fifth full-length album, the aptly titled Kairos – meaning: a propitious moment for decision or action.
“Kairos represents the moment or ‘The now’,” states John. “In some ways, we’re saying, ‘Here we are. We’ve finally re-emerged. Our heads are back above water’. This idea shows itself in various places on the album. Music is a time art. It relies on your willingness to engage with this object. You have to sit with a song and allow it to occupy a duration in your conscious experience. And as with music, so with life. Things change and emerge with time.”
The band moved through life together since 2007. Along the way, they built a robust discography, spanning Dynamo , New Medium , The Matter , Relics , Remnants EP , and Chronos EP . In addition to amassing over 10 million streams independently, they attracted acclaim from NPR, New York Post, Paste, BULLETT, Clash, and Wonderland UK, to name a few. Their music has appeared on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and MTV’s The Real World as well as programming across NBC Sports, E!.
Simultaneously, these musicians hold down seriously “adult” day jobs. John works as a tenured English professor at Yale with two books under his belt. Kael writes music for a production house called Robot Repair, regularly landing syncs in films, television shows, and advertising campaigns. Heather is a full-time physician of family medicine.
During the process of recording Kairos, Heather and Kael moved their family to Salt Lake City as a myriad of changes followed.
“We had our second child, and Heather got a job as a doctor in Salt Lake City, so we left Los Angeles” recalls Kael. “For us, the biggest difference was the move.”
“My life is almost unrecognizable from what it was,” confesses John. “I got divorced. I have a transgender daughter who was raised as a little boy and came out as a trans female. I ended up in a new relationship and remarried. I got tenure at Yale. I was also flying out to Salt Lake City to record with Kael and Heather fairly often. The last EP Chronos was written during the height of our lives becoming chaos. Kairos is a special moment we’re seizing together.”
Over the course of a year, John made ten trips to Salt Lake City. Heather and Kael built a studio in their basement, which became their de facto creative hive. As they absorbed a myriad of modern influences, they also widened the soundscape, drawing on an arsenal of vintage synths and “strange little machines Kael finds on eBay.” John incorporated his academic research on time into the overall theme.
Representative of their evolution, “She’s Walking Out” struts forward on cello—performed by Kael—as a funky groove takes hold. Meanwhile, the lyrics pay homage to none other than Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Lyrically, the song emerged from a different place,” John reveals. “I’d just watched RBG, and I was feeling the energy of the #MeToo movement. There’s something powerful about women who recognize when to stand up. It’s an anthem for women saying, ‘Enough is enough’.
The opener “Bones” glides on shimmering synths towards fits of falsetto as it kickflips back to the field recordings of skateboards scraping concrete.
“It’s really nostalgic,” Kael continues. “It’s a throwback homage to the golden age of skating, our childhoods.” “In 2018, I reconnected with skateboarding,” recalls John. “Skaters have a really interesting relationship to public spaces. They take something specifically designed for safety—like a railing—and turn it into an object of precarity and danger. You cannot help but think differently about space and time as a skater. Simultaneously, the song references the concretization of the planet and global warming. In the seventies, the California drought emptied the swimming pools, so skating took off. It’s an odd love song to this history.”
Kael initially sketched “All That We Feel” following the death of his sister. The track’s manipulated orchestra underscores a gorgeously melancholic falsetto from Heather. Elsewhere, “Unambiguous Love Song” offers reprieve as it transmits a love letter to the possibilities of new life. “The songs touch on loss, change, and relationships, but they’re all laced with a sense of hope,” explains Kael. “The hopeful side is subtle, but it’s there.”
In the meantime, Heather brings real hope to those who need it most. In the midst of the global pandemic, she continues to make a difference on the frontline coordinating coronavirus testing for her patients.
“We debated moving forward with the release, because of everything going on,” admits John. “However, Heather was game to get this out and let the record do its thing while civilization tries to get the world under control.”
In the end, Faded Paper Figures soundtrack the times you want to cherish the most.
“This band has always been our release,” Kael leaves off. “It’s our escape from everything. With this album, we have a new love for life and what we do together. I think it shows.”