With his high, fragile falsetto and gently fingerpicked guitar, Los Angeles singer Ryan Nealon details the universality of crushing loneliness and doubt on “Paper Town,” a beautiful and emotional song that tenderly conveys the nervousness and insecurity of being the new kid in town.
I miss the days when I wasn’t afraid when I
Stood in the rain and I didn’t care if it could kill me
Nobody knows I don’t sleep anymore I just
Lay on the floor thinking of the ways this place could kill me
It only lets me down, I live in a paper town
“I really wanted to write something about my anxiety, especially with it pertaining to my life living in Los Angeles,” Nealon told American Songwriter. “The phrase ‘Paper Town’ just felt very organic and raw so I wanted to run with it.”
“Paper Town” is the fourth track released in advance of the San Diego native’s upcoming debut EP, set for release in November.
“I had been sitting on a chorus idea along with the lyrics ‘I live in a paper town, in a house made of cardboard and walls of sand’ for a few weeks prior to the session, and when I brought the idea to co-writers Kylie Rothfield and Haleigh Bowers, we flipped my idea a bit and actually turned my chorus into a verse and kept my lyrics.”
Though the lyrical theme is decidedly introspective, the session between the three friends was a more collaborative, positive can-do scenario.
“Honestly, we all kind of balanced off of each other! Normally I’m more of a melody guy in a session compared to lyrics, which is why I really enjoy working with strong lyricists to fill in the gaps. Kylie and Haleigh are two of my favorite writers and they’re both so strong lyrically and melodically. In this particular session, I came in with a few melody and lyric ideas, then the three of us refined them.”
When it came time for production, Nealon wanted a more modern meets classic pop ballad touch, while still retaining the folk feel the acoustic guitar carries throughout the song.
With Rothfield and Zack Djurich (Kanye West, NAS, Teyana Taylor) at the board, the team referenced “when the party’s over” by Billie Eilish, and “Hey Ma” by Bon Iver for feel, while retaining a sound that’s wholly their own. “We also wanted to feature real instruments on the recording which were played by my friends Bret Paddock (keys) and Yasmeen Al-Mazeedi a.k.a. YAS (strings).”
A musically talented performer, Nealon moved to Los Angeles in 2013, and received a BA in Jazz Studies from UCLA in 2017. After graduation, he remained committed to staying in town to “pursue this crazy dream of mine,” crafting pop-oriented music that also incorporates his love of soul, R&B, and jazz.
With “Paper Town,” Nealon says, “I wanted to write something that was raw and vulnerable that described how I was feeling at that moment. Every time I hear the song it still stings the same way it did when I heard it the first time.”
Photo credit: Chris Greenwell