Pop’s obsession with youth is not a new concept. From the glisten of the Beach Boys’ generally-bouncy catalog and the neon-blasted empowerment of Cyndi Lauper to today’s ubiquitous EDM duo The Chainsmokers, the bloom of young adulthood is often embedded in breezy, inescapable melodies and lyrics as incredibly plain as they are intricately distinctive. “You know, you only live once,” presses Stereo Diamonds, lead singer of synth-rock duo Paper Chains, which paints generously with trendy electronic brushes and varied rock signatures, built to slither right into your eardrums. “Do It While We’re Young” is a rippling manifesto, anchoring Stereo Diamonds and Jonny on the Rocks’ most recent EP, a sign of “rebirth and reinvention,” Jonny tells B-Sides & Badlands. Diamonds manifests that notion, explicitly, on “Giving Me Life,” as she coos into the abyss: “You already know it’s like I’ve died and been reborn.”
“I remember when we wrote [‘Do It While We’re Young’]. We were in the studio with our friend and vibing. It was nighttime. Jonny had this amazing track he made. We kept telling ourselves over time, ‘just do it now, do it while you’re young, do everything now.’ I feel like a lot of people our age feel that way. We only have one life to live, so let’s enjoy it now. It’s freeing,” Diamonds details about the song. Jonny adds, “John Lennon or another member from the Beatles said ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’ We’re trying to do the complete opposite of that. If you feel something, do it. That’s what we’re trying to do with music. We’re trying to catch up with our own ambition. This song is a motivation, rather than a celebration of youth. As you get older and pass your 20s, you start to realize how precious every moment of your life is. That’s what it is all about: not to think too much but just enjoy it.”
Diamonds and Jonny, who work in other facets of the industry, too, from fashion design and audio engineering, respectively, first met back in 2005. At the time, Diamonds was taking vocal lessons with Craig Derry in the same New York City studio Jonny just happened to manage. They clicked instantly, but it would be another nine years before the band as they know it would actually form. “I showed up in LA. I had no idea I was going to even be here. I went on Facebook and searched who else was out here. I saw she was out here and was like ‘oh snap,'” remembers Jonny. “New York is a really busy place, and everyone’s got their thing. We never had time to connect, but this was the perfect moment. She was working on music, and I’m always working on a bunch of stuff. We had tracks that we’d made going back to right before 2014, but it really took us time to find the Paper Chain sound. Once we had the name and time, we dove into it.”
During the time apart, both were exploring various creative endeavors. “I was working as an actress in New York City before I moved to LA. I did music, too. I was doing the solo thing for awhile. I did film and TV and commercials. I worked with Laura Linney on ‘The Big C.’ I was part of the Def Jam team back in the day,” says Diamonds. Jonny chimes in, “I started this band with a bunch of my friends called Shinobi Ninja, and I was in that band for about three years. Then, I started another band called Rocky Business. We moved to LA and topped out opening for OutKast, playing Lollapalooza. Then, we took a little break. That was right in 2014 when we started to get the time to work together on Paper Chain. I’ve basically been in bands for many, many years.”
Amidst playing shows and writing, the pair’s first EP began to grow but would not be released until earlier this year. From the piano-heavy “Can’t Help Myself” and the punk-ish “Close 2 Me,” Stereo Diamonds is fresh but familiar. It was only after losing two band members, however, that their chattering brand of DIY/indie-pop would bubble up to the surface. “My original approach was to write everything together in a room–the way bands used to do in the golden era. We wrote about a half hour of music and performed that for a bit. That was the moment we realized we didn’t necessarily want to have a full band,” explains Jonny. “Once everyone went out of town and it was just me and her, we went to look at some beats I had made. It wasn’t that we had abandoned writing stuff together in a room, but we decided that with electronic music, the two of us can be the band. One thing that is really important for our sound, we go and play our stuff live, and you learn if the songs are going to live or die. Once we started playing some shows, we really started to hear ‘oh, this is what works for us.'”
The EP, also including the mystical “Giving Me Life” and the space odyssey opener “I Want 2 Believe,” was written and “recorded it a year ago. It’s really a story about Lynne discovering Stereo Diamonds as a Ziggy Stardust stage persona thing,” Jonny notes.
“I did the solo thing for awhile under my birth name. Then, I stopped music for awhile. I had a situation that wasn’t going to lead me to much. I gave up,” reflects Diamonds. “I ran into Jonny, and he said ‘well, we should do something.’ I said, ‘I’m over the solo thing. Let’s do something together.’ When you incorporate more people together, it creates something magical that you never thought it would. The fact we already knew each other was pretty cool. It’s the rebirth of me coming back into the music industry and having a persona around it. He was Jonny on the Rocks, so I said ‘ok, now, I’m Stereo Diamonds.'”
“It’s a little healthy competition with who has the cooler name,” Jonny laughs.
Paper Chains reminisce about their time in Las Vegas shooting the grainy “Do It While We’re Young” video and discuss their forthcoming follow-up EP and a high-fashion shoot with a bright, new photographer. Dig into our exclusive Q&A session below.
On May 19, you gave your first show in over a year. How did it go?
Diamonds: It was incredible and such a special show.
Jonny: It’s not that we don’t like to perform that we don’t play a lot of shows. It’s just a pragmatic thing. Shows take a lot of time and effort. We’ll be putting together a tour at some point. In the time to do one show and rehearse, we can do a video. That’s what we’re focusing on now. When we do do shows, it’s usually because someone asked us to come. We try not to play just any show.
You have a “Close 2 Me” video coming soon?
Diamonds: It’s gonna be so good. You have no idea.
Jonny: We’re right in the middle of it. Like most of our videos (so far), there’s not too much of a story. It’s really just something that looks cool. That’s kind of the story in itself. We wanted to show people more visuals that aren’t just us. We’re working with an animator, in a minimal way. It’s gonna be prettier projections.
You tweeted recently, you have plans to release new music this fall?
Jonny: Yes! Because of our process of writing together and always doing new material when we play live, we do come up with a lot of stuff. We were able to pick our main two singles for the fall. We wrote a bunch of music, and now, we have two songs that really stand out.
Diamonds: They’re bangers.
Will those two songs lead to a new EP or a full-length album?
Jonny: We’re leaving that open. We have an album’s worth of material. This band is supposed to be really modern in the way we operate. Some people move away from making albums, and then, others are making amazing albums as a response to that. We’re trying to apply on a larger scale. We are borrowing from what hip-hop artists do and getting a real fast turnaround for stuff, so we can see what people respond to. We create so much. It’s more of a game of how we can stand out or fit in in the right way.
Diamonds: A lot of people are doing the singles thing and just releasing a single a month or every two months which keeps things interesting and new. There are options. We’re just trying to roll with what people want from us.
How do you stay motivated in this industry and not become jaded?
Jonny: Well, we both work for other artists. I do live sound and worked with some amazing artists and learned a lot by being an audio engineer. I’ve also produced and been a recording engineer for many years, as well.
Diamonds: I am a celebrity stylist, so I do a lot of that for celebrities and brands. I also do art direction. I have my own company called Conquer Loud. I have a clothing line that’s about to launch. We stay busy in every aspect and we’re go getters. We don’t stop. Plus, I bartend nights. I’m hustling.
Jonny: When we get time to work on the band, that’s an amazing reward. We’re able to do everything out of our apartments or our little studio we have in downtown LA. The reality is, to support yourself these days, at least at our stage, we’re doing a bunch of random stuff⎯even if it is just having to wash dishes. By the time we get to rehearsal or a studio session, we are so happy to be focusing on us. It’s a crazy world. It keeps you busy.
For your new music video “Do It While We’re Young,” you shot it in Las Vegas. How was that experience?
Diamonds: Jonny won a free trip to Vegas. So, he’s like “you want to go to Vegas? We could film some video stuff.” I’m like “let’s do it, that sounds rad.” We went and had a blast. We got drinks and hung out and went out with the camera and shot on the street. The police were even watching us, and they were so chill. They were like “yeah, do whatever you want.” I mean, you don’t want to stay there longer than three days. [laughs]
Jonny: Vegas is one of the best places to illustrate the vibe of that song. It’s definitely “do what you feel, when you want.” And people, whether they are walking around with their guts hanging out and drinking beer, are always crazy. It’s so different. I’m from Canada, and she’s from the East Coast. You go there, and you’ve seen it in the movies. It’s very inspiring and a way we kept it fresh. We had no real plans. We just knew that once we got there, we’d dedicate three days to filming and the magic would happen.
Diamonds: It was funny, too, because we were walking around with our speaker and a camera. Totally DIY-ing it. There was one time where we got lost in the Venetian. I was really hungry. We were on the elevator and it had an interesting name. I was like “we should check this out.” It took us up and when we walked out, it was just a plain rooftop with nothing there but this fabulous light⎯which is the part in the video of the light that kept changing. It was wild.
Was that your first time to Vegas?
Jonny: I played a show there once, but we were in and out. I never really got to walk around.
Diamonds: Yeah, I had been there before. I had never been to Old Vegas. So, it was really cool to go and see that.
What is your timeline for the new music?
Diamonds: Everyone wants the new music! It’s cool. I’m excited that everyone’s excited.
Jonny: Well, we’re probably going to do three more videos for this EP. In an effort to come up with more ideas for videos, we came up with some really great ideas. We have one that’s more of a daytime, outside video, which is something no one has seen. We have another that’s a live performance video in the studio, and then, we have this “Close 2 Me” video which is very digital, colorful and flashy. The new music will probably come out immediately after that. Hopefully, we put out a video a month leading up to October, when we’ll drop a new single.
Diamonds: We just shot a cool editorial that’s coming out soon. We have a remix of “Do It While We’re Young” coming out, too. There are a lot of other cool things going on. There’s a photographer named Eddie Brokha, and his dad is Moshe Brakha, who shot the first photos of The Ramones and Madonna. They’re both incredible. Eddie is still building his own lane. I’m actually helping him. He wrote his first short film. I’m styling that with him. He really loves our vibe, and we ended up doing a shoot with Eddie. It’s about the rebirth of Stereo Diamonds and reinvention. I grew up with Madonna. She is my everything. Madonna and Siouxsie and the Banshees are my soul sisters. If you could put them together, I’d want to be that. [laughs] And Jonny loves Kurt Cobain, so the editorial is showcasing that. Because I’m a fashion designer, too, we have some really cool merch coming out soon.
Jonny: It’s a bunch of different looks. She’s wearing wigs and a bunch of different outfits. It’s a high fashion spread. We want to be doing that, so we’re doing it ourselves. And we’re just waiting for guys like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. We’ll be here waiting… [laughs]