Paper Gliders Meets the Objective with "Squad Goals"

Paper Gliders
Paper Gliders Photo by Jean Velez, courtesy of Paper Gliders
There are perfectly named songs and then there is “Squad Goals,” the new single from Houston indie rockers Paper Gliders. The track’s title, and its buoyant vibe, capture this specific moment for the band and the city, making it slightly better than perfect.

Freshly-pressed vinyl copies of the single will be available for fans at a release party dubbed “The Black Friday Ball,” November 25 at White Oak Music Hall. The band’s guitarist/vocalist Vaughn Chung said there’s never been a better time than now for Paper Gliders to refocus on its objectives.

“We felt, just like a lot of bands felt, that we were robbed by the pandemic. We had recorded in studio a couple of months before the pandemic really took place, or before we all knew. We had recorded a couple of songs that we’re really proud of and we had played at White Oak in 2020, it was probably a February or January show, and it was a great turn out, it was like 200-plus people,” Chung said.

“Honestly, so many things happened to us in our personal lives as those two years went by,” he continued. “I gotta be frank. You know, we lost some focus, and as a result we really didn’t do much, if anything at all, those couple of years. But, when we rehearsed again for the first time after things started to reopen, we realized, hey, we actually like doing this, we actually enjoy this as a group. It’s funny how that works out.”

That realization came with the addition of a couple of new members. Paper Gliders has long been a six-piece, with Chung joined by guitarist Jerick Alegarbes, Henry Dillard on vocals and keys and drummer Adrian Grammer. In 2017, past members Latoya Johnson and Daniel Campos parted amicably from the group, making room for Abby Burell (lead vocals and keys) and bassist Moe Lerma. So, Paper Gliders remains a sextet.

“I feel like this is the best representation of us as a group,” Chung noted. “I feel like, with the addition of these members, we’ve been able to get the sound that we’re looking for.”

“When Squad Goals was created, I wrote the main melody and the chord progression in response to the fact that at the end of 2017 I was so joyous to work with a group where I had so much belief in the team and I also enjoyed working around these people. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, in sports or whatever, you can be in a really talented team, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to like everybody you work with, but you understand that there’s a mission and a task at hand.

“In this case, I feel like we’re really lucky because I feel like we genuinely do like each other,” Chung said. “So, ‘Squad Goals’ was created from a place of pure happiness.”

It also is a bit of an anthem for the group as it takes a fresh approach to breaking through to larger audiences, veering away from counting streams and building a fan base through Patreon.

“I think that music is already a really tough living and for a lot of bands you see the countless cancellations of groups because they’re just not making money to support themselves, it’s like the bare minimum for a lot of these groups,” Chung said. “I knew a band that was like a mid-level group years ago and I chatted with the guitar player and I remember talking to him – this was before the pandemic – and he was like, ‘Man, this isn’t my full-time job, I still have to do coding for a living, but I wish I could do this. But I just can’t afford to do it.’ They had millions of streams on their Spotify and stuff. I thought they were doing pretty well but a lot of these groups are not doing as well as we think we are, just based on optics.

“I feel like we’re taking control, we’re trying to take back control of what we have left,” he continued. “I don’t want to use the phrase that we’re ‘going against’ these big tech streaming companies. I think that they serve a purpose ultimately. I think streaming in general serves a purpose, as a social media platform – Spotify, Apple Music, whichever people listen to music from – but, I don’t think that they’re really the end all, be all for artists, especially for up and coming artists.”

“For us to kind of combat that we thought, you know what, let’s pivot towards content creation. Let’s honor the city as well by doing something different as a group and really, truly make something out of this, which is a big reason we thought it was justified to start the Patreon content. We’re doing audio and video podcasts, we’re doing music videos, we’re doing covers. We’re also using other different aspects of content and repurposing them in different ways just to kind of keep the engagement more interesting for the patron.”

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Front to back, left to right: Grammer, Chung, Dillard, Burell, Alegarbes and Lerma
Photo by Jean Velez, courtesy of Paper Gliders

The band is releasing new content on Patreon every Monday. A minimum pledge of $3 a month gets fans access to new music up to two weeks earlier than its streaming release date.

“If you’re spending $3 on the band, that’s equivalent to like 600 streams of a song. You’re directly supporting the band much more immediately, much more impactfully, by giving us three bucks a month than listening to our song 600 times,” Chung said.

A larger monthly contribution includes the opportunity to earn a producer credit on future Paper Gliders releases. Not too shabby considering “Squad Goals” was mastered by one of Jack White’s mastering engineers and pressed by White’s state-of-the-art pressing plant, Third Man Pressing. Alegarbes designed the cover art.

“To see it come home with the cover and the envelope, it just felt real and I think this is what every band kind of dreams of. There’s this physical aspect – I don’t know what it is but there’s something about seeing your music come out on a disc and especially on vinyl,” Chung said. “There’s a B-side and the B-side I feel like isn’t just the B-side. It’s the acoustic version of the song ‘Birthday Candles.’ It’s a more stripped- down version and anybody that buys a vinyl from us gets that song exclusively. That’s not going to be available for digital audiences. If you buy that vinyl, that’s yours and you only get to hear that version of the song. We’re very happy that anybody that owns a piece of us hopefully gets to feel the love that we put behind it and also feels a little special as well.”

Like any hit song, “Squad Goals” is getting a remix, courtesy of producer Mark Drew. Drew is a longtime Houston hip hop artist and producer who recently went viral freestyling about the Houston Astros’ latest championship run. Because the song fits so perfectly for moments when teams like the ‘Stros come together, and because of the band’s friendship with Drew, a remix seemed like a no-brainer.

“Henry and Mark have had a relationship, professional and friendship, for a long time now. Henry’s played keys in Mark Drew’s solo project in the past and Henry is just a music connoisseur, he likes it all. Hip hop, R&B, it doesn’t matter,” said Chung, who called his friend and bandmate “a pure music lover.”

“When Henry took notice of Mark’s success of capitalizing on the Astros’ insane playoff run and seeing all the videos he put out, he was like, ‘Hey, this is a guy I know and I like him as a person. Let’s have him do stuff.’”

That stuff includes a studio video pairing Drew with Paper Gliders to celebrate the World Series champs and Drew singing and rapping an original verse on the remix, which is soon to be released.

“It sounds really cool. I’ve actually jammed it a lot more than the original as of late. I think it’s awesome and I think it shows the edgy side, if that’s the phrase I really wanna use. It just sounds really cool. I’m a music theory guy to a certain extent and I could hear what he was really trying to do and I was nerding out when I was listening to it,” Chung said.

“Squad Goals” is a good song to dial up when reflecting on the Astros' recent success. Chung is an avid fan of the team.

“I’ve been following them since 2004 when I was 12 and they were in the NLCS and lost in seven against the Cardinals. So, I’ve been there. I was there and I was a young guy. I didn’t really know much about baseball. My parents are Vietnam War refugees so I didn’t grow up watching baseball,” he stated. “That was something that I saw on TV and thought, this looks really cool and I identify with them. So, it’s kind of all come full circle that we win a championship, we exercise all the demons and we bury all the narratives and we get to do it as a city. And Mark and I are probably equally fanatic of the Astros, we’re just coming from different backgrounds but we have more things in common than we don’t and we wanted to show that, that we could have some fun. And we were happy to have him aboard.”

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Squad Up! Paper Gliders is preparing for a big year in 2023
Photo by Jean Velez, courtesy of Paper Gliders

He'll be aboard for the Black Friday Ball, as a special featured guest, along with support from Terra Coast and No Rehearsal.

“We kind of snuck him into the set because of how things went down and we thought there wasn’t going to be a bigger opportunity for both acts to kind of combine and be a part of each other for that night. I mean, squad goals, right? That’s the idea.

“We’re really excited to have him on board especially in a show that’s promoted with some indie rock bands, to have a Houston act like him to be welcomed into the fold, I think that alone is going to be exciting,” Chung said. “I think that he fits well and I think that people that would potentially enjoy our music would also enjoy his music as well.”

Chung also said Drew’s current success is the result of putting in the many hours it takes to break through, the same route Paper Gliders is taking and the path to success charted by folks everywhere in all sorts of endeavors. That makes “Squad Goals” a theme song for anyone uniting to meet a goal.

“It’s well-deserved,” Chung said of Drew’s recent kudos, “and I think we all share that kind of fuel of the American dream. If you just keep working hard and be good and kind to everyone, good things will eventually happen. That’s the idea.”

Paper Gliders celebrates the release of its new 7-inch vinyl for “Squad Goals” at The Black Friday Ball, Friday, November 25 at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main. With Mark Drew, Terra Coast and No Rehearsal. Doors at 7:30 p.m. for this all ages show. $10.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.