origami ghosts
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origami ghosts

Seattle, Washington, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2001 | SELF

Seattle, Washington, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2001
Band Folk Alternative




"Album Review"

John Paul Scesniak, founder of Seattle�s Origami Ghosts, did not learn to play the guitar until his late teens, but the quirky lyrics of the sophomore album, Short Momentum, make it seem as though musical ideas have been floating in his head since he was a kid.

Scesniak has a childlike imagination, which makes a wonderful partnership with the band�s wacky and colorful approach to pop music. His words could paint the pictures to a children�s book, while also provoking thought.

On �Rearranging Furniture� Scesniak sings, �If I was an iguana, you�d wish you could be a chameleon / You could hang out with all my pretty green friends / And then you�d know a lot about me�.

The nature metaphors also dominate on �Thai Frog�, �Trees they fall like spring does into summer when I�m in winter / I like the sound the trees make when they are first discovered�.

Scesniak bends his vocals to afflict different emotions, but instead of coming out obscure and pretentious, his voice and music create a warm and humble atmosphere. At times, the vocals sounds similar to Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses and Carissa�s Wierd, while at other times, he sounds like a male version of Kimya Dawson. Scesniak is not afraid of showing his curiosity and love for exploration, as displayed on �Story?�, �Where do thoughts go when you forget them?�, he asks.

Vivid lyrics make Origami Ghosts a contender for being labeled a straightforward pop band, but cello and fuzzy guitar add some edge. The cello sits around the edges and creates a tone similar to that of Cursive and Joan of Arc � although Origami Ghosts does not necessarily sound like either of those bands.

Likewise, if the band were stripped down to its bare bones, it would sound a lot like Death Cab for Cutie and The Shins, but the styling of Origami Ghosts is more lighthearted and zany.

� Karla Hern�ndez - Soundcheck Magazine

"Playful Minimalism"

Origami Ghosts are neither complicated nor scary; discuss


Playful Minimalism
Origami Ghosts

John Paul Scesniak decided to call his band Origami Ghosts, because he liked how it represented the idea of complicated nothingness. The Seattle native was teaching English in France and playing music with dulcimer player Joel Hanson.

Explained Scesniak, "The music sounded a little bit complicated because of the dulcimer. Well, to me it did. It probably wasn't that complicated. So I had this idea for a band that was complicated nothing--there's all this stuff going on, but it doesn't really mean anything."

Hence, the idea of folding a ghost made of paper. How would one even begin to approach that?

"Origami is really complicated and hard to do. I really hate origami, because it's frustrating," said Scesniak.

But in actuality, Origami Ghosts' music is not complicated nothingness, and it's far from frustrating--it's actually quite the opposite: minimalist everythingness, if you will, easy to listen to and surprisingly playful.

On Short Momentum (Hand to Mouth), the band's second album, Scesniak picks out melodies on his guitar as cello, and drums ebb and flow. (Dulcimer player Hanson no longer plays with the band.) It sounds vaguely punk, but at the same time, something like a calmer Pavement or even early Built to Spill.

"I'm not trying to make standard music," said Scesniak. "It's a little bit different, but it can also be a little pretty and nicely done."

Scesniak's lyrics tell stories, delivered with his earnest, not-quite-singing voice--stories which in some cases were written while Scesniak was teaching English overseas.

"Traveling really helps me write. When I'm not traveling, I find it a bit harder to find inspiration. Traveling is definitely a big part of my creativity," said Scesniak, who has taught English to people of all ages in places like Japan, China and France. "I think it's just being out of your comfort zone and being in places where you don't know what to expect, so your senses are really alert. It's fun traveling and writing about what you're seeing, because it's new. It's hard for me to sit there and write when I'm sitting in Seattle, a place that I know so well, and the people are pretty much the same."

Naturally, Scesniak has plenty of stories about playing music for his students. In France, for example, he and Hanson played in the school talent show. "Nobody got it, because the kids are all into the Carpenters and all this weird, cheesy music from the '50s. They're like 30 years behind, and we played our kind of weird ... well, it was weird for them, and we got a smattering of applause. It was funny."

When Scesniak was teaching in China, he taught his students Built to Spill's "Car."

"It was pretty conservative there," Scesniak explained. "A lot of the kids that I taught, their parents were growing up during the cultural revolution, so they couldn't really express themselves at all, and they didn't have a choice of music, and they couldn't even really explore everything they wanted to. So teaching them a song like 'Car,' where there are some lyrics that are pretty out there--actually talking about getting stoned and stuff like that--was pretty fun."

Clearly, Scesniak has no qualms about having fun with his music, and on Short Momentum, he wanted to make the songs more upbeat and happy than they were on his first record, Solving My Own Puzzles (Hand to Mouth, 2007).

"I just want to move around and have fun and get people moving around," he said. "Sometimes, people are dancing at our shows--that's really fun. It's fun to get people involved instead of just sitting there listening to the music. I don't want that. So I guess it was a conscious choice to make happier music."

And there are plenty of happy, fun moments on Short Momentum, like the cello intro on "Part and Feather," the bubbly "East Station," and the drums on "Story?" On the otherwise somber song "Dying Bulls, Dancing Gulls," Scesniak sings, "Think about the action before you stick your butt down into an accident," which is then followed by the word "butt" echoed several times.

Even the album title, Short Momentum, is playful. Maybe this playfulness comes from the fact that Scesniak started playing music later than most serious musicians, and played just because it's fun.

"I was never one of those rock 'n' roll kids who was, like, 10 years old in a band," said Scesniak. "I kind of missed out on all that. I played sports." - Tucson Weekly

"Intelligent-pop musicians make their lyrical impressions"

Intelligent-pop musicians make their lyrical impressions

By Tony Sauro
Record Staff Writer
February 08, 2009

John Paul Scesniak has a genuine appreciation for language.

He taught English for four years in China, Japan, Brazil and France.

He disdains - as in doesn't "take seriously" - grammatically incorrect Internet mavens and blogsters who can't even spell his name. Of course, he does variously deploy Jean Paul, JP and John Paule de Bellevue.

He was inspired by the lyrical Scrabble of Stephen Malkmus, the Tokay High School graduate who helped form Pavement 20 years ago in Stockton.

Scesniak, whose similarly quirky band from Seattle - Origami Ghosts - plays tonight at Stockton's Plea for Peace Center, is eloquent about Malkmus and Pavement. St. Pierre, a young acoustic band from Stockton, opens.

"I love Pavement," said Scesniak, 32, whose group will be introducing its second album, "Short Momentum," tonight. "They're like the godfathers of stuff I'm trying to do. They just broke down boundaries about how to play music.

"They just did what they wanted to. People would be throwing stuff at them at Lollapalooza (a 1995 rock festival) and they just kept doing their thing."

Scesniak didn't start that musical process until taking a guitar class at the University of Washington.

Pavement, which Malkmus formally formed with fellow Tokay grad Scott Kannberg at Gary Young's Stockton studio in 1989, became one of the most influential independent rock bands of the '90s.

Before the beginning, Malkmus and Kannberg busked briefly at Stockton's Blackwater Cafe.

"I was impressed and humbled - honored - to share the same stage," said Scesniak, whose 5-year-old band played at the Blackwater on Sept. 14. "I like stream-of-consciousness, throwing words together and seeing how they sound.

"They don't always mean what they look like. That's what Stephen did. And also he was really smart."

Not a bad self-analysis.

The Origami Ghosts - "the name came from my idea to name a band something like 'complicated nothings,' " Scesniak said - play an intelligent style of edgy, folk-based pop music built around his free-form, slightly alienated lyrics and often vulnerable, bemused vocals.

Though the band's formative stage and first public appearance at a Seattle art gallery included hammered-dulcimer accompaniment (from Scesniak's friend Joel Hanson), its sound now revolves around Scesniak's angular, inventive guitar musings.

"It wasn't really a plan," Scesniak said. "My friend had a dulcimer and I didn't really have a sense of music. Now I really like cello."

Obviously. The cello inflections of Ki Johnsen, 33, add an intriguing, engaging element to the basics of drummer-guitarist Amir Estakharian, 27, and drummer James van Leuven, 37.

Scesniak developed some of the lyrical impressions on "Short Momentum" while he and van Leuven were living in Paris. Scesniak got stuck in the suburb of Elancourt (source of the new album's name), where he taught English to second- through fifth-grade students in 2006-07.

"About half the songs I wrote in that suburb," said Scesniak, painting a grim tableau that invoked Fyodor Dostoyevsky. "It was really isolated, really lonely. It was just kind of concrete. Like suburbs in Paris and other places, it's mostly people who are working in the city and there's nothing's going on.

"I lived in some old housing for teachers. It was concrete. Just really undesirable living conditions. But it was a good experience. I feel I write my best stuff when I'm in the worst places. It's good inspiration."

So was that college class taught by an "amazing" classical guitarist.

"I got into playing music late," said Scesniak, a native of Bellevue, Wash. "I always loved music, but I didn't think I could play. I wasn't pushed into music. No one said I had talent or anything."

Then came Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."

"We had to sing and play it and he (the professor) was gonna grade you on it," Scesniak said. "I was nervous and shaking. I did well and he said I had a nice voice. It was the first time somebody told me I had a nice voice, so I just kept going."

Now, too many people note his vocal and stylistic relationship to Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse, from Issaquah, Wash.

"I'm just trying to be different," said Scesniak, whose music also reveals influences from Built to Spill (from Boise, Idaho) and Pavement. "I'm not really conformist. I'm not really the traditional kid who grew up shredding the guitar.

"I love Isaac Brock. I listened to them (Modest Mouse) all the time. I don't think I sound that much like him so that people have to compare me every time. I wish people would write about what I do, not about Isaac Brock."

Scesniak, who also creates the band's album art, said he'd like to write a book and, maybe, a "gypsy jazz song." He'd like to lighten up. Just a bit, though.

"I'm also trying to be funny," he said. "Someone called me morose. I really don't want to be morose. I like happy, good times."

And Stockton-born Pavement

"My brother turned me on to it," Scesniak said. "Now I listen to all their stuff. It amazes me. They did, like, 40 songs to a CD or something. I love it. My girlfriend has it on her iPod. So I can jog to it for an hour and 20 minutes."

Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or tsauro@recordnet.com. - Stockton Review

"Show Preview"

(Valentine's, 232 SW Ankeny) Origami Ghosts have been described as Modest Mouse with a cello, but their sound is warmer and friendlier—which I suppose you can partly blame on the cello, from which Ki Johnsen draws out smooth, glowing lines that soften the edges of J.P. Scesniak's angular guitar playing. Origami Ghosts' second album, Short Momentum, is pleasing, unpretentious pop that can't be bothered with any of Isaac Brock's morose abyss gazing. There are a few white-knuckle moments, but Scesniak's songs are like a good cup of tea: soothing, gentle, suitable for both the morning and evening. NED LANNAMANN, PORTLAND MERCURY - Portland Mercury

"Album Review"

Origami Ghosts is the brainchild of Seattle-based singer/songwriter John Paul Scesniak. The music is ultra-melodic indie rock with a healthy dose of jangle and just the right amount of underlying drone and strings to smooth things out. The opening number is an up-tempo number called "Endless Corridors," and the album has nice variation between tempos and feels. "Rearranging Furniture" is a more thoughtful and evocative creation that conjures visions of raindrops running down the windows of a claustrophobic apartment - a lonely sanctuary tinged with quiet desperation. Violin and plucked guitar lead into "Harlem," another song dripping with melody. Scensniak's voice is high-pitched; droning cellos sneak in to offset that quality. Short Momentum is a contagious collection of well-crafted songs and well worth a listen.

Bob Howard - Synthesis Magazine

"Album Review"

short momentum
(Hand To Media)

Release date: January 2009

With the Pacific Northwest producing indie pop bands like Battle Creek once produced breakfast cereals, there are bound to be a few overlooked on the shelf. Seattle’s Origami Ghosts, with its 3-minute, cello-spiked works of quirkiness, is trying hard not to be one of them. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist John Paul Scesniak, the band sometimes sounds like a less Helter Skelter version of Modest Mouse, strings and ringing guitars punctuated by slightly off-kilter vocals. Its songs are propulsive, some (“East Station”) resembling Chutes Too Narrow-era Shins. Certainly not the most original songsmiths — the aformentioned acts are the more obvious regional influences — Origami Ghosts are nonetheless a worthy addition to the cerebral, folk-tinged purveyors of the Portland-to-Puget Sound.

Grade: B+
PAUL LAROCCO - Mean Street


solving my own puzzles... (LP)
Short Momentum (LP)



What is antifolk? Irreverent trance pop? Twee? Origami Ghosts have been shapeshifting and genre-bending since 2004. The tunes are soulful punk jams crafted by Seattle, WA’s own Jean Paul de Bellevue: an existential alt-folk-rock lad.

Origami Ghosts can be one -- JP Scesniak -- or many. The latter arrangement currently combines the sweet storytelling and songwriting of Scesniak with the magical synth, flute, and melodica! playing of Cassandra Wulff, and the blazingly ambitious cello and drum shreds of Jacob Leavitt and Ben Kendall respectively. Experience the mind-bending hypno-folk of Origami Ghosts.

Current Origami Ghosts lineup Scesniak (guitar/vocals), Cassandra Wulff (piano/synth/flute/melodica/vocals), Jacob Leavitt (cello), Ben Kendall (drums). 

Origami Ghosts is the musical project of Seattle native John Paul Scesniak -- traveler, teacher, and musician. Since 2004 “JP” has surrounded himself with some of Seattle’s finest and most creative musicians to produce highly entertaining performances and unique recordings, all under the Origami Ghosts moniker. The group’s light, playful, and thoughtful sound draws from folk, pop, and rock, among other inspirations. Scesniak began writing "bedroom pop" songs in the early 90’s and began studying the guitar at the University of Washington in 1996. Throughout the following decade, Scesniak performed his songs at open-mics, house parties, artist lofts, art galleries, cafes, bars, and clubs around Seattle, Japan, and France – under the names: John Scesniak, Paper People, and Jean-Paul de Bellevue. When Scesniak collaborated some of his songs with friend and Dulcimer player Joel Hanson (first in 2000 but later more seriously in 2004) the two formed a duo and had a show lined up at Seattle's Neumo's venue -- where Origami Ghosts were born in March of 2005.

Now consisting of a revolving cast of players, Origami Ghosts is a musical vehicle for songs of J.P. Scesniak and the talented friends whom he surrounds himself with who play: synths, flutes, melodicas, basses, drums, trumpets, cellos, accordions, ad infinitum.

JPS is constantly reshaping and recreating his voice and style, and has gone on to write and make hundreds of songs and recordings -- with only a chosen few documented on Origami Ghosts releases. Origami Ghosts has performed at artist lofts, open mics, dive bars, street corners, prestigious clubs, bowling alleys, squats, living rooms, and college auditoriums across the US, Europe, Japan, and China for more than a decade. Scesniak’s style drives the Origami Ghosts engine -- finger picked, jangly and angular guitar playing (often with a swinging tempo) coupled with soulful, personal and heartfelt vocal melodies and lyrical content. 

These are some bands that people have compared OG to through the years and some words that people have come up with describing the sound: Built to Spill, Pavement, Modest Mouse, Pinback, The Incredible String Band, Band of Horses, the Shins, the Beach Boys, David Byrne, singer-songwriter, anti-folk, twee, punk, post-punk, Americana, irreverent pop, Appalachian hip-hop, and urban.

Band Members