Suspended Reality: Meeting Paris Texas

The LA-based rap duo blend post-punk beats, psychedelic visuals, and heady sh*t-talk into a one-of-a-kind sound.

Rap duo Paris Texas
Photo by Saru Hagher
Rap duo Paris Texas

Wim Wenders’ 1984 film Paris, Texas is widely considered one of the best arthouse movies in the history of cinema. Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, and Nastassja Kinski, shot by Robby Müller, and scored by Ry Cooder, the film from the German auteur is a masterclass in the various tools certain artforms can use to tell stories. It’s a film about being adrift, separated, and unseen. It’s a film built around otherness, which is perhaps why the duo of Louie Pastel and Felix decided to name their freewheeling, sort-of-rap-but-also-everything-else group after the film. Paris Texas as a duo explore the themes in this film, but more importantly, they embody them. 

Adrift as teenagers in Compton and South Central, respectively, neither Louie nor Felix felt akin to the worlds around them. As 21-year-olds, they found kindred spirits in each other, and began hanging out first as friends and eventually as musical collaborators. By the time they released their debut EP, BOY ANONYMOUS, in 2021, the rap world was more open to departures from tradition and in tune with the outré leanings that Paris Texas had always searched for in the art they consumed. So, when it came time to release that project and the ones that came after—Red Hand Akimbo and now, their debut LP, MID AIR (out this Friday, July 21)—they decided to do what they looked for in their favorite art: push the limits as far as possible.

On an extremely smoky, apocalyptic day in New York City, Pigeons & Planes decided to take Louie and Felix to the famed repertory theater in Dimes Square—née Chinatown—called Metrograph. After all, what better way to introduce the cinematically-inclined duo to an afternoon of interviews than with an arthouse flick in line with their namesake? We had initially planned to check out Paris, Texas, but the limited showing at the theater ended before the duo arrived. We settled on Goodbye Dragon Inn, a staple of the Taiwenese new wave and a self-referential film that probably only made sense if you were in on the winks and nods. 

This writer fell asleep, Louie may or may not have peeked at his phone, and Felix’s bathroom trip may or may not have lasted longer than an 1/8th of the 80-minute run time. I felt like the plan was a bust, unsalvageable as we emerged back into the dreary smoke and towards another Dimes Square staple, Clandestino. And while the reviews weren’t raving, the ways in which the duo were able to find joy in the mesmerizing, innovative aspects of the film helped illuminate the way they see art as songwriters, MCs, producers, and storytellers. The abstract narrative of the film actually aligns with the group’s vision for the sprawling, expansive visual universe of MID AIR.

“All our videos reflect this idea that you're not accepted and you want to leave. But where is the other thing at? Is it that great? What’s better?” asks Louie. “At the same time though, they’re very abstract. I know why we wrote the videos like we did. The music is literal, but I want viewers to watch our videos and interpret them for themselves.”

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The creation of MID AIR began in September of 2022, but its origins emerged much earlier, during the previous March. Felix and Louie decamped to Mount Shasta, a small city in Siskiyou County, CA at the base of the possibly active volcano that lords over the town. The mountain is considered sacred ground by Native Americans, but the city was most popular during the gold rush and has now become a destination for adventurers and climbers of the famed peak. After the arrival of RED HAND AKIMBO, which solidified the group as one of the most exciting rap acts bubbling in the independent sphere, Paris Texas tried to find some mountain quiet and prep their highly anticipated debut full-length. If that had gone according to plan, MID AIR might sound much, much different than the brilliant record they ended up creating, but a death in Felix’s family forced the excursion to end abruptly, and the MC’s world forever changed with the passing of his father.

In many senses, the album is shrouded by tragedy. But it’s opaque and hazy, a fog the album lives in. It doesn’t necessarily dictate many of the album's themes, but the record wouldn’t have sounded the way it does if Felix didn’t have to deal with the emotional burdens and traumas of losing a family member, especially a parent. While Felix retreated back to Los Angeles, Louie considered the possibility of working on the album by himself, to hone the duo’s vision as a solo artist, but he said it was like “trying to push a car up a hill.” So, Paris Texas did the hardest thing they ever had to do. They waited.

After taking the spring and summer of 2022 to take care of personal matters, Felix and Louie created the bulk of MID AIR from September through December of that same year. Louie had created tons of beats during that time, and Felix was able to get back into a creative, songwriting mindset. “I always have phases where I'm trying to understand the voice or identity I want to have,” Felix explains. That’s why the time away was so crucial. “I always think about writing. What do I want to write? How do I want to approach things? I had to ask myself those questions independent of the things I was going through.”

Despite the struggles the duo were going through, they still wanted MID AIR to stay true to the Paris Texas mission. They wanted raw beats and heady raps, a space for strange ideas to not only survive but flourish. Says Louie, “There are a lot of kids and a lot of people who just don't feel normal. They need something that doesn't feel normal as well. There's a demand for that everywhere. There are so many people that feel off-putting and feel like they don't belong."

"There are a lot of kids and a lot of people who just don't feel normal. They need something that doesn't feel normal as well. There's a demand for that everywhere."

These are Paris Texas fans, and they exist everywhere. “We supply that demand. It's like we're showing that there's success in being kind of off-putting, but not in that weird internet way where it’s all ironic and self-aware. You can be exactly who you want to be and have a career,” Louie adds with a grin.

On MID AIR, Paris Texas wanted to dispel the notion that they don’t make rap music. Sure, there are elements of punk, electro, funk, and even pop, but they are a rap duo who love rap music and consider themselves hip-hop artists. Aesthetics are merely window dressing, and for too long critics and audiences alike have mistook accoutrement for the thing itself. “We don't expect the Black kid at our show to wear skinny jeans and big boots, because we don’t either. I don't even consider us punk or rock or anything like that,” says Louie. “There are guitars and stuff, but we're saying the same shit as other rappers. We dive into a lot of topics, I guess that makes us different, but on the majority of MID AIR, we’re talking about getting money and fucking bitches.”

I met the duo and we immediately walked into the movie theater, so I didn’t get a good read on either of them until we sat down at Clandestino. Most people describe Felix as the group’s talker and Louie as the more introspective thinker, but during the beginning of our conversation about MID AIR, Louie guided the discussion. Felix served as a hype man, seconding Louie’s musings and rarely interjecting. It wasn’t until we touched on concepts of lyricism, perspective, and originality that Felix began to take charge. He was most animated when I posed a question: So, if Paris Texas are doing the same shit as everyone else, why do they sound so different? 

It’s in the way they openly flirt with styles almost antithetical to the way rappers are projected in mainstream media, and it’s also the moments they choose to zag when the safe move would be to forge on ahead. On “Everybody’s Safe Until…,” they bring a sense of doom and despair over a propulsive bassline and drums that sound like they were recorded in a metallic tube. The song is claustrophobic, eerie, and paranoid, the perfect foil to the freewheeling highs of MID AIR. Felix raps, “My heart is like a drum, rrdd-umpum-pumpum-pum/ I can't say what I want, my conscience weighs a ton/ There's nowhere I can run, I thought it would be fun/ If I grabbed everyone inside the room and/ Decided they're all donе.” It’s a far cry from getting money—or fucking bitches, for that matter—but it’s moments like these that give MID AIR its emotional heft.

Perhaps another cinematic analog that could be of use is the POV from which Paris Texas rap. They use the same equipment, the same tools, the same editing software as every other filmmaker, but they shoot from canted angles, they cut quicker than anyone would expect, and they refuse to match dialog with accompanying shots. Formalism is dead, and in its absence Paris Texas have rewritten the rules. “Everybody can talk about the same shit, but people are going to be interested in how you choose to say it and the words you choose to say. We shine through in our personalities,” says Felix.

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Even the title itself, MID AIR, depends on perspective. It can either be on the way up, or on the way down. The duo felt it was a perfect title for a pivotal moment in their career, where they could either jump up the ladder and ascend to new heights or come crashing down to earth. It’s in jest, but Felix and Louie are very aware of the stakes that come alongside this album. Says Louie, “Everything changes so quickly, we don’t know where we’ll be in five years. I just know what I'm capable of, what Felix is capable of, and that’s all we can control.” To deal with the pressure, they have to remind themselves of the task at hand.

Even the title itself, MID AIR, depends on perspective. It can either be on the way up, or on the way down. The duo felt it was a perfect title for a pivotal moment in their career.

In that sense, MID AIR is less a reflection of where Paris Texas fit into the world, but rather how the world will bring itself to Paris Texas. The landscape is desolate, but there’s plenty of room. If you find a nice patch of shade, it’s quite a lovely place to spend some time. Refreshingly, Louie and Felix view their work as entertainment, as a way to help people pass the time until they do the next thing or find a new album to spin. “I don't ever play with people's time,” Louie says. “If people don’t like MID AIR, it’s like, ‘Alright, I'm in the service industry. I gotta do better.’” The duo view themselves as artists, certainly, but they’re also entertainers. 

Paris Texas are used to being outcasts; doubted and defeated, ignored and disliked. But things are changing. And changing fast. Tyler, The Creator is a fan, and they’re at the precipice of a step up in their career. They thrive as the underdogs, though the label isn’t lasting for much longer. Despite this, their mentality is to continue courting the outcasts and outsiders. MID AIR is great—Paris Texas’ best work to date—but even if things don’t go as planned, Louie and Felix aren’t stressed. Music is what they know, and nothing can stop them from making whatever music they want to make. “If they don’t like it?,” Louie asks rhetorically before downing his Aperol Spritz. “Well shit, next time, we’ll just make something even better.” 

Rap duo Paris Texas