“There are two sides to this song. It is very uptempo and seems upbeat on the surface, yet the lyrics are dark. Contrast is a key theme for the EP. I wrote “Evil” from the perspective of someone like me (though not necessarily me) who is in a toxic relationship. There’s a real push-and-pull in a relationship like that: I need to reject this person, but I also really love this person. But the song also applies to anything in life that can be both positive and negative. There are stretches in our lives when we latch onto things that may bring us happiness and joy, yet they’re not good for us long-term. Thinking back to my upbringing with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was raised in an extremely specific way of thinking that had both positive and negative moments. But I reached a point when the turmoil became too much, and I needed to take life in a new direction.” -Allen Orr
An immersive mix of swirling psychedelia, breezy indie rock, and sweet synth-pop, Paper Pools’ debut EP It’s in Our Mind is a visionary travelog charting the life of the project’s founder Allen Orr. And what a life it has been. The talented multi-instrumentalist was born and raised in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a millenarian Christian denomination he left behind, before setting out on a winding journey of self-exploration. It’s been a long, strange trip, but it’s all right there in the music: the peaks, the valleys, and the years of the soulful longing.
From Paper Pools’ inception in 2019, Orr knew It’s in Our Mind needed to express the highs and lows of his journey. “A key theme is the contrast between light and dark,” he says. “From a spiritual standpoint, the first half of my life thus far was completely opposite from the second half. There were many struggles to get to a more positive place.”
Setting up shop at 64 Sound, a classic L.A. studio with a cache of vintage gear, Orr meticulously baked the theme of contrast into the EP’s six iridescent cuts. Songs like “Evil” and “Familiar” ingeniously walk tightropes between danceable indie pop and singer/songwriter introspection. Then there’s the contrast between the contemporary and the classic. While “Turn on Your Lights” and “Portraits” would fit perfectly on a playlist featuring modern artists like Tame Impala and Jim James, their analog textures also reflect Orr’s love of Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac, and Pink Floyd’s more vaporous moments. “Music from the 70s and 80s has so much sonic depth,” he explains. “I used that same kind of depth to draw listeners into my life and all the things I’ve gone through.”
Because of the music’s intimacy, Orr handled nearly everything himself. Doubling as producer, he sang and played every note, riff, and synth part, save for a few backing vocals care of Kim Kelly (Amazombies, Mal de Mer) and the mesmerizing grooves. Those were handled by Adam Christgau, who has worked with the likes of Troye Sivan, Sia, and Miley Cyrus. One of the drummer’s coolest contributions can be heard on “Flying Friends.” It’s the moodiest of ballads, yet thanks to Christgau’s hypnotic pulse it evolves into a luxuriously cosmic shuffle inspired by Kate Bush’s 1985 landmark “Running Up That Hill.”
Bush is no mere influence. Throughout Orr’s upbringing, her music provided refuge from the uprootedness of growing up a Jehovah’s Witness. He moved around a lot, from Atlanta to Ireland to Prague and then back to Atlanta. As a young adult, he landed in New York, where he broke free of his religion and dove into his twin loves: music and visual art. The latter took precedent for several years, netting him a career in design in L.A., where he moved in 2013.
Music lured him back, however. And Orr had the perfect name for his budding project: Paper Pools, an allusion to artist David Hockney, legendary for his shimmering paintings of LA pools. Like his hero, Orr considers the city a muse. “I’m lucky to live on a hill overlooking the city,” he says. “I wrote the music while staring across the skyline, which felt psychedelic.”
As a consequence, It’s in Our Mind is—on top of everything else it expresses about Orr’s unique life—an indelibly LA record. It’s suffused with both the gleam of sunshine and the glitter of nighttime lights; it feels natural and free, yet also electric and otherworldly.
Hockney once said that “what an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course, art is about sharing.” It’s a quote that Orr clearly takes to heart on It’s in Our Mind, a vibrant, passionate record on which he shares nothing less than his entire life.
Photo by Ryan Strongin