When you think of Canadian music, who are the first contemporary artists that come to mind?
Is it a globe-touring sextet that, in a single set, can be counted on to stomp through Celtic reels, traditional Mexican folk, fiddle tunes, New Orleans brass band music, classic pop songcraft, bluegrass, and even a philosophical waltz or two, before bringing it all home with a Latino/West African singalong?
I didn’t think so.
Is it a fearless, freewheeling band sometimes referred to as the “Los Lobos of Canada,” veterans of an estimated 4,300 shows since the band’s 1992 formation?
What if I told you that this band doesn’t just exist—they flourish, and have been converting full concert halls of indifferent strangers into devoted fans for the last 30 years?
The name of this musical collective is The Paperboys. They are a Canadian treasure.
The heart of The Paperboys is a trio of gifted songwriters and musicians: Founder Tom Landa, a fedora-hatted vocalist/guitarist/bandleader who immigrated from Mexico to Canada in his teens; Kalissa Landa, a lifelong fiddler/vocalist with a preternatural command of melody; and Spirit of the West’s flautist/guitarist/vocalist Geoffrey Kelly, already a Canadian musical icon when he hopped on the P’boys bus in 1997.
Though by no means a jam band, The Paperboys reinvent their show every time they step onstage. Once the band agrees on the opening song, there is no set list. The song finishes, the crowd reacts, Landa reads the room, and the journey begins. Every night. The world has changed seismically since 1992, but The Paperboys fan base has stuck with the band, and grown.
“It goes beyond perseverance,” Landa says about the band’s legacy, “and into some kind of connectivity and resonance we have with people. We’ve created a community.”
Though best known for their live show, The Paperboys also have another ace up their sleeve: A deep and impressive discography. The band has released 10 recordings—including the Juno Award-winning Molinos—receiving accolades from MOJO Magazine and fRoots Magazine along the way. They’ve been two-time recipients of the West Coast Music Award, composed scores for two films, and been nominated for a Leo Award for best original song in the Hong Kong/Canada film release, Lunch With Charles.
Although perennially adored and praised by alternative media and national radio networks NPR and CBC, commercial success has eluded the band. Undaunted, The Paperboys have kept in perpetual motion, building a cult following through the impact of its incendiary live show and proud DIY spirit.
Even the pandemic couldn’t silence The Paperboys. Tom and Kalissa maintained a warm connection with their homebound fans by posting their now-legendary Slipper Sessions online, playing gorgeous, stripped-down versions of their repertoire, with their kids and cats sometimes wandering through the margins of the videos.
"There are many ways to define success,” Landa says. “ I get to make music with people I love, tour and see the world, and connect with people through song. I can hang my hat on that."