Paragon Cause, the ethereal electro-rock duo from Ottawa, did not let 2020 slow them down. Fresh off the successful release of their prior two albums, the duo is set to release a collection of singles and a new album that further highlights their desire to create music that is both compelling and artistically fulfilling. The due further expanded their palate by bring some iconic and surprising collaborators on board, Liam Howe (Sneaker Pimps) and Eric Avery (Jane’s Addiction). Although the duo is known to lean towards the darker side of music, this collection of songs provides a welcome sense of optimism.
With a style that combines a warm, enveloping electronic sound that at times borders on post-punk and shoegaze, Paragon Cause bring melody and excitement to the forefront, defying labels. Combine that with Indie influenced vocals that stand up to the best you can think of, Autopilot feels that creatively the gloves are finally off.
Though written and recorded before the world went into lockdown, this new album has been cast in a new light due to the pandemic and the combination of longing and optimism in each song feeling more acute.
Autopilot also represents two musicians—Michelle Opthof and Jay Bonaparte—continuing to make the most of their time, and because of that, taking chances they might not have otherwise. It’s that embrace of risk that brought them to their most trusted collaborators, Sune Rose Wagner, leader of the Raveonettes. Wagner helped produce the previous two Paragon Cause albums, and returned once again to the duo’s studio to help craft the new material on Autopilot.
“He’s kind of a third member,” Bonaparte says. “He’s incredibly engaged and really encourages and challenges us. He performs and sings on the new album as well as being responsible for co-writing much of the music. During the making of this album, he gave us these little tasks—homework. He’d say, ‘I want you guys to go listen to Bananarama, The Ramones and Richie Valens and use that as inspiration.’ Not to copy them, but to get motivated by the feel of the music.”
With Wagner collaborating on every step of the process, Paragon Cause banged out all the songs for Autopilot in 10 days—a spontaneous outpouring of creativity where the music and melody would spark lyrical ideas and vice versa. While they came into the initial sessions with dozens of small ideas for potential songs, the duo estimates that those resulted in minor elements for two tracks. The rest came via flashes of inspiration.
And what the three created with Autopilot is a swirling, buzzing, deeply felt collection that is a perfect evolutionary step for Paragon Cause. Tracks like “Disconnected” and “Two To Play” draw from the primary colors and clean angles of classic New Wave and shoegaze, while “Denied” and “Play Me” have the seamy feel and fuzzy grit of jukebox favorites from Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse. And through it all Opthof sings of wasting and taking advantage of time—trying to get back to doing the things you love amid a world of distractions, wasting time fretting over negative situations without doing anything to change them, realizing that time is going to move on without you, unless you act now.
“In my spare time, I write a lot of my feelings down and I write a lot of poems,” Ophtof says. “I probably have 15 different journals and notebooks around the house and in the car and at work. Then when I hear Jamie write a riff or he and Sune put something together, all of a sudden that feeling and that emotion appears in my head, and I rifle through all my papers to find it. Sometimes it’s piecing together two different ideas, but then, boom, it’s there.”
Paragon Cause took some even bigger leaps of faith in the making of Autopilot, cold calling Liam Howe, one-half of cult ‘90s trip-hop group Sneaker Pimps and a current collaborator with FKA Twigs, Jessie Ware, and Lana Del Rey. Initially, the duo contacted Howe with the idea of him remixing one of the tracks from Autopilot, but he was so excited and inspired by what he heard that he wanted to make some new music instead. Howe produced two unique visions of the track “Think I’m Going Crazy Over You.” Although the songs share the same lyrics, the represent very different visions of an idea. “We actually produced five different versions of this song. The idea is that the lyrics and meaning of the song change dramatically with the emotion of the music. I doesn’t even feel like the same song. One version is about Lust, another about retribution while another is about loss. It was a fun experiment and we think people will be impressed and intrigued” Howe’s vision and guidance provided the opportunity for Paragon Cause to be pushed out of their comfort zone and produce music that feels at home at a club or relaxing at home.
“We sent him some songs and he loved them,” Bonaparte says. “Then we talked over Zoom and our personalities just gelled. He gave me some ideas and said he wanted to do two new songs. So we sent him some stems and he spent some time with them and we did these songs across the ocean on social media during COVID!”
Another call Paragon Cause made during the making of Autopilot was to Eric Avery, the musician best known for his tenure in legendary alt-rock group, Jane’s Addiction. A longtime fan of Avery’s former band, Bonaparte reached out to him to see if he’d have any interest in working together. As everyone does when they hear Paragon Cause’s music, Avery was an instant convert, adding bass parts and, with the help of other Los Angeles musicians, drums to music on Autopilot.
Paragon Cause are making the most of their time this year in advance of Autopilot’s release, with plans to drop seven singles from the record over the course of 2021, leading to the full album unveiling in early 2022. Kicking things off is the appropriately named lead single “Making Up For Lost Time,” a track that Bonaparte says was an attempt to combine the feeling of a Jesus and Mary Chain tune with the structure of an Everly Brothers song. And it was this song that Wagner helped bring across the finish line by encouraging to spend an evening listening to Bananarama. After that, the song wrote itself, with lyrics of taking chances, making mistakes, and acknowledging those same missteps.
“It’s happy, but there is a sense of longing,” Bonaparte says about “Making Up For Lost Time.” “It was initially meant to be about friends but after the last year with COVID, I think it can be applied to our current life in general. We want people to either sit in their car or put on some headphones and close their eyes. We want people to hear the song and remember what it was like living the last year and then feel the sense of optimism as life will start to come back to us. By the end of the song, we want people excited to begin the next chapter in their lives. It is meant to be a glimmer of hope through the long fog of isolation, whether it be from a past relationship or life.”
Paragon Cause certainly have a lot to be excited about. On top of this new album and the many singles that are to come this year, the duo will have the distinct honor of remixing a new track from classic new wave band Berlin (“No More Words,” “Take My Breath Away”), and will surely be working on more new music along the way. There’s no time to waste.
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