Tripped Out Suburbia: SMYTH’s Raw Emotion and Bangers on ‘Paperface!’


Meet Smyth, a Richmond-based artist and founder of Kidz At Play, who we wrote about earlier this week. His latest solo album, Paperface!, serves as his emotional canvas. Drawing from suburban experiences and cinematic influences, Smyth crafts a vibrant, psychedelic world, transforming the mundane into the otherworldly. Paperface! isn’t just an album—it’s an intimate exploration of identity, a character wrestling with societal norms. With plans for video projects and live performances, Smyth is set to extend this dynamic realm, promising a roller-coaster journey through his personal universe. In the world of Smyth, expect the unexpected.

smyth, paperface! album 2023
Image courtesy of SMYTH and Kidz At Play

Smyth: My name is Smyth. I’m an artist from Richmond, Virginia. I started The Creative Collective Kidz at Play. And I’m one of eleven kids that play. I’m an artist, a producer, and do a little bit of everything. For everything I do, I’m pretty much in the editing room, so I have my hand in everything that you see from me.

I produce. It’s myself and Marquis who produce all of the kids’ music, and I produce all of my solo work. And, yeah, that’s pretty much how we run it. Everyone contributes ideas to the production. Obviously, Quincy is part of the three artists, the main music contributors, and leaders in the group, which include myself, Quincy, and Marquis. All three of us contribute to the production, but then everybody is throwing ideas at the wall. Someone will say, “no,” and someone will say, “Yo, we need some,” or, “Oh, let’s put a guitar here,” or “Jacob, let’s do this melody.” Everyone’s contributing when it’s a group effort, and it’s really cool.

smyth, paperface! album 2023
Paperface! album cover 2023

R. Anthony Harris: Where does an album like Paperface! come from?

Smyth: The album Paperface! comes from me listening to a lot of different music, enjoying a lot of different things at the same time, and also going through a lot of different emotions. I don’t have a therapist, so the biggest thing I tried to do in this album was being honest on every single song. I wasn’t making any of the songs expecting them to really see the light of day. When I dropped the album at midnight, the next morning, I woke up, and I had a moment of nervousness and anxiety about people hearing my deepest emotions and feelings. I talked about a lot of stuff on the project that I’m still going through. The biggest theme that I ran with was about happiness and how to maintain it, how to be happy. That’s something I’ve struggled with in the last year. So the album was about recognizing that I’m not as happy as I would like to be and trying to answer those questions, putting it all out into the music, and overlaying it on music that I enjoyed making.

RAH: From listening to it, it feels like you’re also – you speak about your feelings. Like you’re almost fighting for space for your feelings to be heard. I mean, there’s a little bit of emotion, and then there’s some anger wrapped in that. Just listening to some of the lyrics… It’s a bit of frustration and happiness.

Smyth: Yeah, that definitely makes sense. I think it’s like, it’s just trying to… I’m just in a weird place like I’ve said before, where it’s like, we’re starting to see some success out of Richmond, but I still don’t feel like I’m necessarily in control of my life and the places that I would prefer to be, I guess. So, it’s kind of like fighting for control of my own happiness, my own space to be me. I guess that’s pretty much the answer. I don’t know. It’s, yeah… I wasn’t trying to say anything. It was just like getting it out in the moment. So, everything that I said was all just spur-of-the-moment emotions and feelings. All that stuff is in there because it’s real and true to how I have been feeling and was feeling at the time.

smyth, paperface! album 2023
Image courtesy of SMYTH and Kidz At Play, photo by Olivia Foster

RAH: It’s like an album as therapy.

Smyth: A lot of people say that. They say, “Oh, music is my therapy,” like they just get into the studio and let it all out. I always thought that was cliche. I’ve never got into the studio and been like, feeling like I was just letting it go. Especially coming from hip hop and just coming up through the spaces in Richmond, just doing ciphers and things like that. When I did North Chesterfield, which was my first mixtape, it was very bar-heavy. I was trying to rap the best ever. And this time, I was like, okay, I want to make really amazing music. I want to produce every song to sound amazing. I want everything catchy, and I want everything to sound great. But I also just want to be as honest as possible and not even care about bars. I just want to make music that sounds good and is cool to me, and is honest and true to where I am, where I’m at and who I am. I think this is the first time that I’ve ever made a project of music that’s me to the fullest. Like, this is who I am to a tee. If you were to meet me, I really do feel like I accomplished that. That’s a huge accomplishment for me.

RAH: Yeah, it’s tough. And I think that’s what attracted me and I’m sure a ton of other people to give it a shot and look at it, and listen to it. Speaking of pivoting from the music, I love the design work. I’m a designer, and I just love the colors that you picked. It’s like, thank you… some kind of tripped-out suburban anonymous… it’s pretty wild. Where did the promotion and design aspect for this album come from?

Smyth: That’s a good question. But it came from a lot of places.

RAH: Like maybe the idea of paperface in general, like you have a paper bag on your head with cigarettes sticking out.

Smyth: Okay, so we can start at design and color palette and things like that. The reason I really wanted to focus on that was because I always wanted to lean into themes that I feel represent me and who I am. I chose the suburban backdrop because I grew up in the suburbs, I grew up in Chesterfield. Not always as beautiful and lush as suburbia is depicted in the promotion of the album, but I wanted to trip it out. I wanted to take what I knew and completely trip it out, creating this dream-like aesthetic. So from there, I was digging through different media and movies like TV and stuff.

A huge inspiration for me throughout the project was Edward Scissorhands. That movie’s insane. I think in the last month, I’ve probably watched that movie a lot of times. If you watch the movie, you’ll definitely see a lot of my inspiration from the color of the houses to the aesthetic that I’ve represented myself in. But then the actual character and idea of the paper face concept is where it became my own thing and where we kind of off-shot into something more original. I chose to do paper face and the bags and everything with the heads because I had someone say something to me, like, “Can you just put on a face for me?” It sparked something in me. That is how I’m feeling. That’s what I feel like. I am, and like what people kind of put on me. I feel like I have to put this fake face on to maintain a level of, I don’t know…

RAH: …in society?

Smyth: I don’t even want to put it as that because I feel like that’s not the conversation I was trying to tackle. More just, I personally feel like I have to put on a certain face for, this interview, or for my friends, or for my girlfriend, or for my mom. I have to be strong for certain people, I have to be happy for others. I think that was it. I had written down a bunch of things on my phone. Before this was even said to me, I had this vision of a piece of paper taped over my face that just said “happy” on it. And that was where I started. From there, I kind of just kept going. I had a bunch of words in my notes of different titles because I was still playing with titles. I had most of the music done and I needed a title. So, I wrote down a few things like “smiley face” or “fake smile”. And then, something clicked. I saw the words together, just “paper face” as one word, with an exclamation point. I liked it from the other title and it all made sense. That’s how it happened.

smyth, paperface! album 2023
Image courtesy of SMYTH and Kidz At Play

RAH: That definitely fits into the overall “Kidz at Play” brand. In a way, you do seem like a bunch of fun suburban kids who like to get stoned sometimes, like to see what’s out there, like to push the limits a little bit. So, the hyper-real and the analogy to Edward Scissorhands, the hyper-real and fake of that suburban environment and then the outsider role of Edward.

Smyth: Yeah, and I really resonated with Edward. He was somebody that had to be somebody for a lot of different people. Even down to that one older lady trying to make a move on him. That’s the point where he realized, “No, I don’t, I’m not, I don’t want to do this.” He lets his emotions go, which he hasn’t been able to do because if he does show that side of himself, people will see him as dangerous. I enjoyed watching his character be a character similar to Paper Face. I wanted to follow this character throughout. As much as I resonated with Edward, there were a lot of parallels and similarities to what I was trying to do and how I was feeling. I’m also a huge fan of movies and characters. Those characters that you can almost doodle and everyone’s gonna know who they are, whether that’s Walter White or Spongebob or even MF DOOM with the mask. Just something that’s so eye-catching, and you just know what their character is about.

RAH: I love that. So, Paperface!, your album, is almost a concept album then.

Smyth: I don’t know. I guess if you want to take it like that, yeah, that’s cool.

RAH: I mean, the design work so far, is definitely catching.

smyth, paperface! album 2023
Still from Kill You in the U.S.A., courtesy of SMYTH and Kidz At Play

Smyth: That’s another thing though. It’s like, I ain’t… Like, that’s a subconscious thing I’m always going to aim for, wanting to make like a concept out, like bigger concepts. Like, even with you saying, “Paper Face” works for a societal conversation, which is always something I love to contribute, but I also feel like it’s a little, I don’t know, a little narcissistic. I just never want to take on that big role like, “Hey, I’m about to do… I’m about to speak for the entire nation right now.”

RAH: Yeah, it’s a bit of theater. You got a great combination of live performance, design and music. The album, what I’ve heard so far sounds tight, it’s built for performance. And then the content, the design, everything is really cohesive.

Smyth: Thank you.

RAH: Yeah. I only have one more question for you. So, what do you have lined up to promote this album?

Smyth: Yeah, so I’m… I have a big goal set in front of me to pretty much make a video for every single song. I’m working on the Rocket Fuel video right now. So we’re trying to shoot a video to pretty much every song. That’s something that we set ourselves up to do, and we’re getting ready. I have plans to film a live performance and put that out. I think what I’m trying to say through all this stuff, like I can say a bunch of stuff that I’m trying to do, but honestly, like, the biggest thing that I think we’ve talked about today, and like, I think that matters the most, is I just want to keep this world going for as long as possible, as long as it feels right.

Still from Kill You in the U.S.A., courtesy of SMYTH and Kidz At Play

RAH: It seems like you’ve been wanting to do music, and you’re living your dream right now. You just want to keep that going.

Smyth: Yeah, for sure. And like, specifically, the “Paper Face” aesthetic. So putting out different concepts and expanding that world past maybe that suburban neighborhood, seeing what else is kind of out there in that “Paper Face” world. Like whether we explore a stripped-down version of Richmond, or maybe I go to the beach, and we see what that world looks like at the beach. I want all the videos to kind of just bring you further and further into that story, further into that world, from the photo shoots, from, any remixes or anything else that I want to do, which I have had ideas to do stuff like that too. So, I think, like, just continuing to keep this personal world going for myself. And then, the next thing would be the next Kidz at Play album after that. And that’s what my next focus, like, as a huge project would be – the next Kidz at Play album.

Give Smyth a follow @smythfuck
Give Kidz At Play a follow @thekidzatplay

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work:

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