Paper Bird came together without any design. There was no talk about what the band would sound like, who would play what role or how its career might unfold.
Its members didn’t even plan to play music together.
“We were friends getting together. It was just a getaway into the mountains,” Sarah Anderson said of the trip to a Breckenridge cabin she took with a handful of friends in 2006. But the members of the group, all in their teens and early 20s at the time, were all musicians of one sort or another — Anderson, who had been in choirs since third grade, and Paul DeHaven, a guitarist, were “in a little band,” and DeHaven and Esme Patterson wrote songs together — so music-making became part of the sojourn. They wrote two songs, “St. Louis” and “Jesus in Arizona” and were pleased enough with the effort that they performed them on the street in Breckenridge the next day.
“It was kind of crazy how natural it was. It was a moment,” Anderson said from her home in the Curtis Park neighborhood of Denver. “We said, ‘We should do this.’”
A few weeks later, they were joined by Genny Patterson because she was Esme’s sister and because the group thought it would be neat to sing three-part female harmonies. Taking the name Paper Bird, the band — Anderson, the Patterson sisters, DeHaven and banjoist Caleb Summeril — recorded a few songs. Anderson, like the rest of the members, was a college student at the time, at Metropolitan State University in Denver, and had a trip to India planned, a three-month stretch to study sustainable eco-villages. The trip turned out to be as minor an obstacle as school was.
“When I got home from that, we got serious about it. Everybody stopped going to school and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Anderson, who is 27, said.
Serious as they might have been, the members of Paper Bird never plotted a strategy. Their flight plan has been as loose and organic as that initial trip to Breckenridge. The band, which has grown into a seven-piece, has no leader or principal songwriter. The instrumentation is a slightly odd mishmash of whatever talents the individual players possess: Anderson plays some trumpet, so Paper Bird has fit some trumpet parts into its otherwise string-oriented music. The music flits from soft, acoustic folk to stomping indie rock to glistening pop songs. Two years ago, when the group needed a drummer for a collaborative project with Ballet Nouveau Colorado, it added Mark Anderson, Sarah’s brother. He never left the group.
“We never said, ‘Let’s be a folk band,’ or anything like that,” Sarah Anderson said. “It’s just the seven of us that create the sound we make. It’s what each of us individually like. It kind of created itself.”
Even without a blueprint, Paper Bird has taken flight. It has done a string of dates opening for fellow Denverites the Lumineers; Paper Bird will be on the bill with the Lumineers again for a Sept. 14 date at Red Rocks. Paper Bird has played the High Sierra and 10,000 Lakes festivals and been featured on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
The band makes its Jazz Aspen Snowmass debut with an appearance today at the Labor Day Festival in Snowmass Village, on a bill with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Journey. South of France, an indie pop band with roots in Denver, plays the Outside Music Lounge, and Big Dog and the Midnite Badgers, winners of the JAS Band Battle, are on the Village Music Stage.
Even with the growth of the membership — Macon Terry joined as bassist two years in — the rise in popularity and the lack of specific plans, Anderson says Paper Bird functions seamlessly.
“We’re all tapping into the same thing,” she said. “We usually agree on everything everyone is doing. If it isn’t working, we’ll work on other things till it molds into the perfect sound. There are no disagreements. Everyone’s good at expressing what we want.”
When Paper Bird appeared as an opening act in late 2009 at Belly Up Aspen, it was something of a starter band. The three female singers looked like excited girls just thrilled to be on a stage in front of an audience, and the band had no drummer. Earlier this year, Paper Bird put out its fifth studio recording, “Rooms,” which shows a band reaching maturity.
“I feel like our sound has grown up,” Anderson said. “We started out really young. We’ve all come into our own unique voices. It’s more powerful now. Before, it was cutesy, which was great. Now it’s more complex. It feels more confident.”
A major step for the band was working with Ballet Nouveau Colorado. The ballet troupe, now known as Wonderbound, reached out to Paper Bird in 2010, asking if the band would create a ballet score.
“We were pumped,” Anderson said. “We needed that project to shift gears and explore different sounds. It changed us a whole bunch. And it ended up being the coolest project ever.”
Perhaps the biggest change was giving Paper Bird a reason to add a drummer.
“We decided we needed to have percussion,” Anderson said. “Not really with the intent of having a drummer stay in the band. But it worked too well. Adding drums is really helpful for everyone.”
Paper Bird recorded “Rooms” in a studio near Denver’s Larimer Square with an intention to make what it felt would stand up as a good-sounding recording.
“We just wanted more of a full sound,” Anderson said. “I’ve listened to other albums of ours and said, ‘It just doesn’t sound like us.’ This one, I feel really satisfied. We wanted just to sound like us.”
With Paper Bird, feeling like “us” is a good feeling.
“It feels like we’re a family. It feels balanced, a nice balance for sure,” Anderson said.