Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Paris Texas Oct 2021 Wunmi Onibudo 05

On the Rise
Paris Texas

22 December 2021, 09:00
Words by Sophie Walker
Original Photography by Wunmi Onibudo

As Paris Texas, LA-duo Louie Pastel and Felix have created some of 2021's most exciting music - and they don’t sound like anyone else around right now.

If there is one thing Paris Texas have learned, it’s that art is better when you’re confused: when you understand something, it’s almost pointless.

So be comfortable in the dark, because that’s where you’re staying. Forget being ten steps ahead - Paris Texas are operating through a dimension you can’t fathom, let alone predict. Named after a place which, to the ear, is incongruous, Paris Texas, too, reside deep in the genre uncanny valley. Their music casts a reflection of familiarity we can understand, and then they smirk from afar as we discover, with sickly surprise, that this reflection does not align. It moves on its own.

In a world of tangled outcomes, where what’s reasonable and what’s impossible remains to be seen, I can’t help but laugh at the chain reaction of events that have brought the curious South-Central LA duo, to a kitchen table in Peckham only a matter of minutes from my house - and around 5,000 miles from theirs.

Producer, Louie Pastel, is transfixed with a Kinder Egg toy which he’s just bought from the corner shop (until recently, the US had them outlawed), too distracted with it to head outside to light the rollie that hangs characteristically from his lips. Rapper Felix, the second component to this madness of two, carries himself with a cool, shrug-of-the-shoulders composure: well, of course they would be here, right now, of all the places in the world – I mean, why not?

It’s the same somewhat dazed indifference with which they regard their warp-speed success with their debut single, “HEAVY METAL”, which seemed, for all the world, to have emerged from god-knows-where, whipping up virality with an ease that, if you step back far enough and squint a bit, could pass as accidental. Shrugging off the constraints of genre by stirring up a cocktail of guitars that hit with the sharp shock of being plunged into a plug socket with stomach-in-throat flows, “HEAVY METAL” followed the dotted line from nowhere. YouTube comments saw instant fans short-circuiting, frothing at the mouth with hype. Some were swearing that Paris Texas were destined for greatness, while others were going so far as to believe the track represented the second coming of rock music, smuggled in through hip-hop’s trojan horse.

This measure of success, for the duo, is something of a poisoned chalice: it might go down sweetly, at first, but it leaves a bitter aftertaste of frustration. The wires have been crossed between their intentions, and a Paris Texas mythology has been created which they’ve had no hand in building. “The one thing people always assume, or put in our mouths, which is very weird, is that we’re trying to break new ground,” says Louis Pastel. “That’s the one thing they always miss. The anti-argument is always like, ‘These dudes aren’t ground-breaking! What are you talking about?’ The fans might be saying this, but we never said that – ever.”

In a desperate attempt to digest what Paris Texas are doing, which shapeshifts from track to track, project to project, people have been cramming them into a context that they can understand, sure – but it fits several sizes too small. “Oh my god… I don’t even know,” sighs Pastel. “I don’t wanna bullshit people. If we tell people what we’re supposed to sound like, they’ll make comparisons and I hate that shit. I’m never like, ‘Oh yeah, you got it!’ Very few times do people actually get it. They’re just like, ‘Here’s a world you’re in, and we’re going to put you together with everyone we know in the same world.’ It’s a little lazy, don’t you think?”

“People don’t know what playlist to put us in. They don’t know what to do with us. There’s just no fucking way.” - Louie Pastel

On this, he is firm: “Nothing we’ve done so far – and I don’t care who says what – sounds like anyone else. I can say that confidently. I don’t even know if that’s a good thing. It’s kinda backfiring on us. People don’t know what playlist to put us in. They don’t know what to do with us. There’s just no fucking way. I’ve never heard any of the songs we’ve made before – and I have tried to sound like other people, and I’m not good at it. And neither is he.”

The second jarring conclusion people arrived at was that people thought the production on “HEAVY METAL” was so polished, so clean. “We were like, ‘What the hell? No!’”, says Pastel. “Don’t you listen to pop music? There are way cleaner rap beats right now, way cleaner… There’s still shit, production-wise, that he never got to fix,” Felix laughs. “People tell me that, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ I don’t wanna get mad, but dude, there’s so much cleaner, tighter stuff out there. This is… lo-fi…” Pastel emphasises. “But I mean, I appreciate it now. Live, it slaps hard.”

It’s October and Paris Texas are in London because they’ve just performed their debut headline show in the dingy sweatbox of Colours in Hoxton. They wore suits and wings, unsuspecting angels fallen from heaven landing with a thud on the asphalt of the city. It’s one of the few times they’ve been able to perform their debut mixtape, BOY ANONYMOUS, to a real audience. Before that, their fans appeared to them only as a flurry of pixels. “I think, a lot of the time, we didn’t get to see beyond a YouTube comment. It’s not a real reaction. I can see look people in the eye and know, ‘Oh, you’re fucking with this? Then you’re gonna fuck with this’”, Pastel tells me. “At shows, it’s that realisation of, ‘Oh, people really do fuck with this music’. It gave me more confidence that what we’re doing is right – even if it’s old.”

Old? Gasps from the audience. The truth is, BOY ANONYMOUS had already been released long before 2021, with a small pocket of ride-or-dies remembering tracks like their offbeat, narcotic groove “FORCE OF HABIT” as early as 2019. Their second EP, a whiplash-inducing five tracks flushed with an indie-rock influence, was their first fresh offering. “It was about adding more music to the arsenal,” explains Felix. “Sometimes, you’re allowed to be late to your own party.”

After Paris Texas signed to management, they wiped almost their entire discography – all except for one project: i’ll get my revenge in hell. “The people who know, know, bro,” shrugs Felix. “That’s all that matters. When ‘HEAVY METAL’ dropped, everyone was like, ‘Where did they come from? Out of nowhere!’ – but that was a crazy thing to say. It’s like, ‘What?! 2018 is right there!’” Pastel sighs, “I’m sorry, this always bothers me, but people are still so lazy they don’t know that project exists.”

Listening back to that first project which now lurks in the trenches of SoundCloud for those intrigued enough to find it, you’ll find it’s an eclectic, lo-fi experiment in sound, approach and genre. It’s both humbling, for Felix and Pastel, and a document of just how far they’ve come. So, no – they won’t delete it. “It was a special time,” remembers Felix. “The thing about it was before that project was posted, we were already around a bunch of people who wanted to hear our music. We’d never posted it before. Before that, we were just doing random, hole-in-the-wall shit with our homies and meeting people that way. People would be like, ‘Oh, how do we find your stuff?’ and we were like, ‘You can’t.’ But that was the first imprint, the first footstep, so what would we take it down for?” Pastel adds, “It’s like a high school yearbook. It wasn’t until we dropped that project that we got the confidence to do what we wanted to do next. But we knew, even then, where we wanted to go artistically.”

Everything Paris Texas have done is intentional. Because, of course, it’s about way more than just the music: it’s the look, it’s the story. For “SITUATIONS”, their count-the-pixel visuals are brimming with nostalgia that wouldn’t feel out of place on your first Play Station, seemingly ripped from the earliest, glitched-out incarnation of GTA. One minute, a Nokia brick is ringing – or should that be waving? – and the next, the duo are hacking at a Skeletor-type villain with a shovel. For “HEAVY METAL”, Louie Pastel is bloody, drifting in and out of consciousness as he’s being dragged, Vans-first down a cookie-cutter suburban street, while Felix is tied to a chair, tortured with guitars.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the DITCH MADE cinematic universe: a series of six vignettes that tie each video together in a wider story that brings together Tarantino-style contradictions in shocking casual violence and hilarity. In the first video, “ORIENTATION”, Pastel and Felix meet as early as 2014 after being recruited by a furtive body-disposal company that cater to “the underworld”. The pair are selected because of their qualities which the company values most: “lonely, amoral, and an overall low life.” There are scenes where the two, emotionally blasé as ever, are prodding a body floating face down in a pool with nets to fish it out. They practise rapping to each other on their work breaks. There’s even a guest appearance from comedian Zack Fox. But there’s also a scene where Felix bludgeons a child-killer to death with a brick they were hired to assist, declining an automated voice call while on the run from work which says: “Hanging up at this time would be advised against highly, as it would be a very poor choice if you had any future plans on breathing in the nex-”

“Early on,” shares Pastel, “we got into fights with people because we were like, ‘We’re not doing a video. That’s stupid.’ From the gate, we knew visuals were so important. The only thing that made us seem like we came out of nowhere was because we weren’t so thirsty to be popular that we’d just put out anything. I will tell anybody that’s making music to work on the music alone, because some people just want to put out videos and be seen. It’s not about that.”

I ask them about the future of DITCH MADE. “It’s already ended,” shrugs Pastel. “The ending happened the first time we dropped a video. It was shot backwards. It’s already done.” Felix adds, “Once the story is complete – because it’s about to be finished - everything with start making sense. But if you already have the merch and shit, then you’ll understand.” Pastel offers, “I kind of already gave the answer, I don’t know if people saw that.” He posted a timeline of the sequence of events on his story. He pulls it up on his phone to show me. There’s still one gap left, one final release, and the story falls into place.

But what’s coming next? Forget the overalls: the suits and wings are here to stay. “What we’re doing next, I’m really excited about. I had that idea even before the DITCH MADE stuff. Everyone that I’ve known has been on board. The DITCH MADE stuff, it was just like, ‘Oh, let’s get this out of the way.” Felix tells me, “I like stories with endings. Any type of media I have, I need it ended.”

I ask if their ideas are always so ambitious. “All of them”, Felix answers. But the pair are always quick to lavish credit on their friends and fellow creatives who have stepped in blindly – and often as a favour – to help execute their vision because of their belief in Paris Texas. “People invest in us as people, more so than the brand,” says Pastel. “With all of our ideas, it’s: ‘How do we get this to not look stupid’ – on a budget,” he continues. “Because we’ll be sat up for days, thinking, ‘Oh my god, how are we doing to do this, or find this.’” Felix chimes in, “I think that’s why directors fuck with us, because every director we’ve worked with has been like, ‘Okay, let’s go. The job is already half done.’”

There’s something to be said about how Paris Texas have invented all of this – even themselves. Louie Pastel and Felix aren’t their real names, but just another layer to their creation. Originally, they wanted to take carving new identities for themselves further still. “I’ll say this,” begins Pastel. “The original idea with Paris Texas was to be on some Gorillaz shit, and every time we had a feature, someone would come along and be a different person than they usually were.” Why did they abandon the idea? “It was gonna take a while,” he shrugs. “But it’s for sure possible.”

When it comes to their music, reality is not invited. “Who the fuck wants reality anymore?” asks Pastel. “When we’re on our phones, and we’ve been raised by TV and the internet, reality is so fucking boring.” Listen to their lyrics, a concoction of one-ups to make your eyes water, weird stunts you’d only write at delirious hours with your mates (“I used to cum in a sock”; “My dick is a few miles long”) - and, of course, mixed in somewhere, the truth - and you’ll discover that Paris Texas is a kind of escape. Felix admits, “We struggle to rap about real shit sometimes.” Pastel adds, “But it seeps its way in there. I think naturally it’ll come out, trinkets of life stuff. But for the most part, it’s like creating a character, almost. Well… not really, but you’re just not thinking about the world that you’re in.”

Pastel and Felix crack up at the thought that people couldn’t tell the difference between them. “I think on this last project,” says Pastel, referring to their latest EP, , “people know exactly who the fuck is who.” It’s a miracle, in fact, that the project crossed the finish line. “We lost a hard drive which got fucked up in Chicago, and I locked myself out of my phone like an idiot. I had to erase a bunch of shit. I try not to think about it,” shares Felix. Pastel had been on a beat-making day for ten hours a day, so those, as well as notes for lyrics as well as delivery references had been lost to the cloud. One of those references was for “girls like drugs”. Felix says, “I’d been working on that verse for a while because everyone was thirsty for it, so when I finally did it, I recorded it on my phone and thought I’d just go back to it – and it was gone. And then we lost the song on the hard drive. There’s an OG version that sounds way crazier… like, really glued in the weirdest way.”

And of course, Paris Texas are rarely satisfied. “It’s always the songs that take the shortest amount of time that I’m most satisfied with. Some songs take so long to make because I’m not happy with it, like “RHM”, that’s still one I’m not satisfied with. I mean, it was tight, I know it’s good,” Pastel shrugs, “but it was a fucking headache to get that shit done.” But when it came to “FORCE OF HABIT”, they knew they were onto a winner, and it’s their most played song to date; same thing with “A QUICK DEATH”. Pastel says, “Although that’s the one people stream the least, I could play it at any time and know there’s nothing wrong with the song.” When they stop cringing, they tell me, is when they know they’re done.

“People think we’re doing crazy shit, but it’s like, ‘Bro, we could fall off tomorrow’. I could end up working in a random coffee shop in the middle of Kansas." - Felix

Despite their protests that life hasn’t changed all that much (“I ain’t got no credit. I’m just out here with no credit thousands of miles away from my house, which is nuts – I’ve got, like, weird health insurance right now,” says Felix), they’ve still a long way down the road from when Pastel was living out of his car, making music by connecting to McDonalds’ Wi-Fi – or even when they had no equipment at all. “For two or three years, we’d just write lyrics to a beat and perform it to each other. It was like, ‘You’re my recording, you’re my interface. Help me,’” Felix explains. Pastel went through the motions of being an Uber driver, working in a shoe store, and still bears the scars of being scratched up by a cat during a brief stint as a veterinary assistant to make ends meet. When he sighs, “It’s been almost, fucking… ten years,” you realise how ridiculous it is to think they just appeared out of nowhere. For those keen enough to find it, their solo work is still floating in the SoundCloud ether.

“I keep it in my mind that I could be right back in that place,” Pastel tells me. “It makes me work harder and smarter.” Felix says, “I tell that to people all the time. People think we’re doing crazy shit, but it’s like, ‘Bro, we could fall off tomorrow’. I could end up working in a random coffee shop in the middle of Kansas. I don’t want people to be like, ‘Man, remember that one year? That was crazy. Remember that video with the blood? Let’s revisit it. Ha-ha-ha. Irregular guitars? Weird!’” Even with some of their friends, the way they talk to them has shifted. “It’s what they wanna talk to me about, or how they hit me up,” Pastel explains. “They’re like, ‘Oh man, that’s crazy! Super proud. I’m working to be just like you’ – and I’m like, ‘Dude, just a few months ago we were roasting each other!’ I wish we could go back to that, just a little bit, because that’s where I was getting my creativity from: my friends being my friends. It’s like, ‘Bro, relax, neither of us are anywhere yet.’”

After BOY ANONYMOUS dropped, Paris Texas needed to stop for a second. “My ego got set the fuck off, so I had to do a quick reset for my mental state,” remembers Pastel. “Like, let me just figure out who the fuck I am for a second. I called my mom the day the ‘HEAVY METAL’ video dropped, like, ‘What do I do? It’s working. It’s never worked before.’” He doesn’t like the term ‘imposter syndrome’, but he says this was the closest feeling to it. The understanding that success is flimsy and fickle underpins everything they do – and that’s why, while they have it, they’re going to pay it back to their South-Central LA communities.

Neither of them felt, growing up, that there was a creative they could look up to and relate to. “You feel kind of isolated for a long time, just not seeing anyone older who looks like you, doing the things you’re doing. There comes a point where you lose confidence as you get older,” says Pastel. “I had to find it my own way. Shout out to my mom, because she was very much that person for me. It was really fucking difficult. I want to be that for the people from the place I’m from, who look like me. I know there’s more than one person like me in the place I’ve come from – I’ve seen them.”

When I ask Paris Texas what they want, they are: “One crazy album. A classic.” Felix says, “I want one that you can run back and be like, ‘Damn…’ If I don’t cry, then fuck it. We need one of those, because after that, it just gets crazier.” Pastel explains, “We just wanna make our little plant in history. It doesn’t have to be a worldwide sensation. I just want people to remember us.”

Their next project, they promise, is their most ambitious. “I don’t know how we’re gonna pull it off,” laughs Pastel. “I mean, this will be big,” says Felix. “Compared to what we’ve done before, it’s more calculated. We had to really sit down with it.” But it’s the one after this upcoming project that they’re fizzing with excitement about. They have to speak to each other in trailing sentences. “The one after this one, I don’t wanna say the name, that’s gonna be fucking…” pauses Pastel. “That one is gonna take some time. We’ve had the idea for years.”

But make no mistake: for now, Paris Texas are just warming up the engine. “There’s still people I aspire to who have done way more than what we’ve done,” says Pastel. “There’s still a lot more I want to reach. Imma get there eventually. I’m gonna fucking body the game. But right now, it’s like, ‘Dude, fuck, no. Relax’. Just give us a second. We’re gonna get there, but just grow with us. That was the point of BOY ANONYMOUS: just grow with us. Everything is still sloppy, and if you think it’s not, I don’t know what the fuck you’re saying.”

The Red Hand Akimbo EP is out now
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