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"2020 and 2021 divided opinions, stoked a disconnect across generations and bought racial tensions to a peak. But at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. I wanted Paper Masks to reflect the turmoil. And carry a message that whoever we are, whatever we do, if we pass the buck on responsibility then karma wins the sweepstakes."
You'd think writing a song about a pandemic is easy, right?
Not so for me, though. The problem I have is I write all my songs about people I meet, places I visit and the things that happen while I'm there.
So when we entered the first lockdown, I was screwed. I couldn't get out and meet anyone, and we couldn't record the songs I'd already written.
But I thought fuck it, I'm going to keep an eye on the news, write about what's going on, and see how it pans out.
I had plenty to write about. We had the cruise liner ghost ships moored in the bay with nobody on them — the politicians in their Savile row suits fighting in the commons. People got ill, businesses went bust, and racial tensions hit an all-time high after the George Floyd killing.
But the biggest thing for me is how blind so many of us were to the risks of the virus early doors.
Every time the hospitals got overwhelmed, and we had a couple of days' notice of new restrictions, everyone stormed into the pubs to get the last beers in.
It's mental, and that's what I mean by 'karma wins the sweepstakes'.
People got a bit more sensible by the third lockdown. By then, it started getting close to home for everyone. I know people who ended up seriously ill and are still suffering now.
So I wrote Paper Masks in between the first and second lockdown. At that point, the message was clear:
Forget what anyone else is doing — play by the rules — get a jab when it's available and wear a fucking mask.
The lyrics and basic melody song came together quickly. And I gave the home demo to Dave Griffiths, the producer I worked with on the last single, I See You in the Dark.
Dave's a big 80s fan. And he has a great ear for the direction I'm taking with the current sound.
It also helps to have a producer with the ability to put band guide tracks together at home.
You hear all these stories about how making music at home is easy, but I struggle. I don't have the kit. Also, I record songs in a studio where the band feed off each other, and everything is spontaneous.
You just can't do that in a bedroom.
The first thing that happened was doubt crept in.
We'd started another song before the pandemic called Rebel Hero. And the team was buzzing about this one.
A couple of the guys felt that everyone was pissed off at the time and nobody wanted to hear a song about the pandemic.
I felt differently, but I got a bit rattled. And started to question whether we should make Paper Masks.
Plus, we only had enough budget to make one single. I mean, recording a song isn't the end of the world. But you have to think about making the video, hiring a publicist, a playlist promoter and a whole load of other stuff that costs a ton of money for a release.
So we parked the song for three or four weeks and went back over Rebel Hero. But it really started to eat at me, I couldn't let Paper Masks go.
Then, my manager called it.
He said, "Look, Drew, Paper Masks isn't a cheesy lockdown song. It's a serious song with a message. I don't think we'll be out of the mess this year, but if we wait until 2022, then yeah, it might not be right. Let's just make the record, and if it doesn't work, then so be it."
So we started back on Paper Masks in February and worked around the one-to-one rules. We couldn't get the band in a studio together, but they recorded their parts in solo sessions.
It wasn't the best way to work, but the song started to sound great.
So how did the finished track nearly never happen?
We started getting concerned about the time taken to finish the song. Getting everyone’s parts down with the restrictions felt like it took an age.
Then things really blew up at the 11th hour:
Midway through the Derek Chauvin trial, one of the production team pulled out. He didn't want to be associated with the project unless I took a verse about the George Floyd killing out of the song.
Apparently, the verse is contentious, and I'd probably split my audience. Especially if Chauvin got acquitted.
No fucking way was that verse coming out. I'm not anti-police but in my opinion, Floyd’s killing was racially motivated and it shouldn't be forgotten.
I stuck to my principles but the whole thing hit me like a train. The track was overdue. And everything we'd gone through making this song hung in the balance.
My nerves were shredded, and I started thinking if the song was even meant to happen.
But it was, and it did, thanks to a fantastic guy called Barny Barnicott.
I approached Barny and asked if he'd listen to the song and take it on for mixing. Barny worked on Sam Fender's Hypersonic Missiles album, and there's a similar-sounding vibe in Paper Masks.
Barny ended up mixing Paper Masks and did an amazing job. I'm eternally grateful for his support.
So what should have been the most straightforward song to write and record turned out to be my biggest challenge.
But thanks to everyone involved, we're there now, and I hope people like what they hear.
Paper Masks is scheduled for release on Jul 30, 2021.
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