WRBB’s Paige Ardill had the chance to sit down with Philadelphia band Palm before their performance at NxNU to talk about jam bands, The Beach Boys and the confusing nature of backwards rock.
Paige Ardill: How did you all meet?
Eve Alpert: We met at Bard college in Upstate New York and formed there. There was a big music community and we were all looking to play with people. Kasra and I asked Hugo, the drummer, to try working with us and it worked.
PA: Your music utilizes lots of dueling melodies that The New York Times described as “teeming with unorthodox time signatures, unexpected bursts of guitar noise, and other trapdoors and tricks.” Would you consider this to be your signature style and how do you go about doing this?
EA: I don’t know if we’re ever aiming for a signature style. I think we’re always trying to push ourselves to do something new, and we’d get really bored if we were always going for the same thing. But a lot of our songs have similar elements in them, and they keep us on our feet when we’re playing them.
Hugo Stanley: In a way I think, going off what Eve was saying, we’ve tried to avoid one specific style, but in a way that is probably seen as a style in itself, because most bands kind of have the one thing they do in terms of how they structure their songs, and the types of compositional tools they employ tend not to change that much from song to song. We kind of make a concerted effort to change our songs, but I guess there’s a continuity in that.
PA: Could you speak a little towards the different head spaces you are in during recording versus performing these songs live?
EA: I would say when we’re performing live and we’re on tour, we’re just thinking about performing as well as we can to keep the audience engaged. When we’re in the studio, we’re really serious about how the song will be translated into something recorded and something that is interesting for the ears rather than a club experience. They are two different things unless the approach to a song you recorded, of course, is meant to get everyone to dance on their walk home. In the studio, our intention is to think about every aspect of how it should sound, whereas live we’re just trying to throw it in their faces and be abrasive and not care if we mess up or anything.
Kasra Kurt: There’s more freedom when you’re doing it live because it’s over in a flash, so you can do whatever you want. When you’re in the studio, you are making something that will be the same way every time you listen to it.
EA: It’s much more performative to be playing live. You might be trying to make a performative recording on the track, but it’s very intentional in that regard.
PA: You all stretch songs out and experiment while on stage. Would you say classifying Palm as a jam band (a band that elongates and improvises interludes) may be the only true classification?
HS: Somehow we really haven’t gotten that so much, I’m kind of surprised. I’ve definitely thought more people would say that about us. I don’t know if its always clear to people seeing us, especially for the first time, what of what we’re doing is written and what is improvised, so that might play into it. I don’t think any of us really listen to bands that would be classified as “jam bands,” so we really have much authority to say if we are one or not.
KK: I wouldn’t say we’re a “jam band,” but I would say that we jam.
HS: We don’t do hour long improvisations, but certain passages on the recordings might be 15 seconds but live end up being 45. We’re a jam band if that’s included in the definition.
PA: Your style has been described as “rock music backwards” or “inverted rock music”—Do you feel as though the positive response to your music is helping you pioneer your own genre?
HS: I think we’re all interested in doing something new, and have been. That was part of what got us to start and keep playing together. A positive response to something you’re doing is kind of like training a dog; it signals you to keep doing what you’re doing. Definitely the support that we’ve gotten has encouraged us to indulge some of our more outlandish or less-precedented musical ideas.
EA: A couple of times in Europe, people who had read that quote and saw us play and came up to us saying, “I don’t understand, was the music backwards?”
HS: More than once.
EA: They literally thought that we played music backwards.
HS: What would that even mean? Do you play your music backwards, or other people’s music backwards, or like, lefty guitar?
KK: I don’t think that any of us have a grand enough sense of self to think that we created a new genre.
HS: Still, there’s definitely plenty of stuff we could point to when people ask us after a show saying “I’ve never heard anything like you guys before, what do you guys listen to.”
PA: Such as?
KK: I guess it’s to do with the fact we listen to a wide range of stuff, it’s not always as easy to trace our influences. But there’s a band called This Heat that was a band that we, early on in meeting each other, discovered and shared in common, which is a weird experimental post-punky band from the UK that started in the late 70’s. We like a lot of psychedelic rock from the 60’s like the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Kinks – I don’t think that any of us have the idea that what we’re doing is as influential or important as that, but I think we’re inspired by the spirit of it, trying to make music that sounds new or interesting.
PA: Which Beach Boys song do you listen to most frequently?
KK: I like “Don’t Worry Baby,” that’s a good song.
HS: “Caroline No.”
PA: I know in the Fader article profiling Palm, you mentioned that most of the weird, auxiliary sounds on the album are all guitar-based, how did you approach the selection of textures for Rock Island?
EA: They’re a mixture of guitar based sounds and drum sounds. We also put triggers on the drum pieces and then either pre-recorded different progressive sounds and blended them or replaced the acoustic drum sounds for them. That was more experimental I would say, the way we approached that; if we wanted a bassy sound, we’d go and record a sample that suits the pattern.
HS: It was almost like paint by numbers, is that the right analogy? The drum kit was set up with midi-triggers and the guitar as well, so we were able to go in retroactively to the session and punch in sounds. There were some sounds that came from sound banks with minor alterations, but most were sounds we made on site when we were listening to the recordings and we’d try to plug in different sounds into the midi-code and see what worked or if there was a sound we liked the vibe of. But if we didn’t want to use the sound bank we’d try and almost replicate it.
PA: In terms of new music, I read that this album has been more or less concrete since 2015. So what does this mean in terms of future projects? Is it going to take another 3 years for an album or is there something else in the works?
KK: We’re writing new music and seeing how it goes, we don’t have a lot of time because we’re on the road so much.
PA: Do you write on the road?
KK: Little ideas and soundcheck but no, it’s really difficult. When we’re back in Philadelphia we definitely put our energy into that. Nothing’s coming out very soon. We just did an EP and an album pretty quickly back to back, so we’ll just see how it goes. I’m excited about it.
Want to hear the full interview? Give it a listen below and make sure to keep up with Palm on their Facebook and Bandcamp!
Photos by: Christian Triunfo, Maya Dengel, Sarah Sherard, and Emma Turney
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Listen to Palm below: