Once in a while, a new band or song will bounce into my ears and feel alien yet very familiar. This is the best way I can describe when I first listened to Philadelphia’s Palm.
On their most recent EP, Shadow Expert, the group deftly navigates the sometimes treacherous spaces between noisy dissonance and traditional pop harmony. Combining the raw sounds of no wave, the technicality of prog or Rock In Opposition and the hooky accessibility of pop, Palm is definitely making music that feels fresh and innovative even after repeat listens while still being catchy and accessible.
Palm returns to Richmond at Strange Matter on Tuesday July 25th with tour mates Palberta and local support from Lance Bangs, and Private Cry, and I was to catch up with their guitarist/singer Kasra Kurt to talk about their influences, new music and more while they were on the road. He also gave a pretty hefty list of music he finds inspirational and influential, so I took the liberty of making a Spotify playlist of some of those artists as well, look for it below!
One of the things that’s always drawn me to your band was the feeling of being in between. A lot of the time it feels like many elements of your sound lie in the murky middles between established musical and emotional pillars. I think this is best exemplified by the fact that I’ve heard people refer to Palm with so many seemingly contrasting descriptors, yet they all seem to fit. What draws you to inhabit musical grey areas and to buck the “rules” we’ve been socialized to maintain musically?
KK: Thanks Micah, that’s a really nice thing to say about our band. I’m gonna go a fairly round about way in answering that question. I think the bedrock of what Palm does is that there are four of us making the music. The longer we do this, the more I realize that that’s pretty rare. In the vast majority of bands, there’s one person who writes the song, and then they’ll more or less tell their bandmates what to play or at least some vague direction. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that at all (most of my favorite artists work this way). We’re conditioned to think of rock and pop music as being the product of one voice, one person – the mythos of some tortured genius with a magical unique vision (almost always a guy), but I suspect that if Palm sounds different (outside of some boxes, between the lines, etc.) it’s because there’s not one voice, but there are genuinely four voices. When there are four voices it’s hard to maintain a coherent vision or follow some master plan, so we just follow ideas as they come.
In preparation for this tour, we had to relearn some of the Shadow Expert material. I was listening through the EP for the first time in a long time, and I was reminded that there’s something necessarily clumsy about our music (and I don’t mean this in some kind of self-effacing way); parts that don’t make sense together or unexpected jumps or whatever. Perhaps that’s what we do: a series of mistakes disguised as intentional and creative differences embedded deep into pop songs.
In Palm, many of you are not playing the instrument you learned to play first. As musicians who are (for the most part) not performing and composing on their first instrument, how do you think this affects how you write? Do you all still play your first instruments regularly and since you are multi instrumentalists, do you help each other come up with your individual parts at all?
KK: For sure it’s had an impact. I think it’s probably fair to say that Hugo (Stanley, drummer of Palm) often plays the drum set as if its a guitar – or at least he doesn’t treat the drums as some kind of subservient backing instrument. They’re front and center – in the role that guitars often play in rock music. On the other hand, I’ll often settle into some kind of rhythmic phrase that’ll continue throughout a track. I also think my playing drums has an effect on the way I write vocal melodies – as a sequence of notes that can be mapped like when you’re programming a drum machine. And, to me at least, Gerry’s (Gerasimos Livitsano, bassist) unusual note choices on bass reflect the years he spent on keys and clarinet. None of us are formally trained on the instruments we play in Palm so we’ve kind of been making it up as we go along – and stealing ideas from artists we love.
And you’re right that it helps us write parts together. Me and Eve are able to communicate drum ideas better because we both play drums, and Hugo or Gerry can help us with vocal harmonies or guitar ideas, but we rarely tell each other what to play.
With your new EP Shadow Expert, it seems like you’ve made your sound more concise; the music is not simpler, but it sounds more streamlined while still existing beyond boundaries. Can you give us any insight into how you thought about writing these songs that may have resulted in this shift?
KK: Hmm yeah for sure. Maybe the easiest way to explain is that we just became a little bit more accepting of our love of pop music – that indescribable feeling that listening to a good pop song can give you – and we wanted to try our hand at it. When we all met we built our friendships for the most part on a love of somewhat discordant or abrasive music: This Heat, Slint, the No New York compilation, early Sonic Youth, etc. Gerry and I got into black metal together too. Palm started off as a pretty bland regurgitation of some of that stuff. Perhaps we’ve become more open as we’ve grown as musicians. That’s pretty important to us; being open to change, creatively at least.
When I’m listening to your music, I hear so many different pieces of things I’ve absorbed over the years. What are some of the most significant examples of music or sounds you’ve come across that have really made you think differently about composition or musicality, either in the sense of how you write or how you listen?
KK: Hmm this is tough to answer cause I feel like almost all the artists I like have changed the way I think about music in some way. If you don’t mind maybe I’ll just list some that come to mind who have been especially influential:
Chris Weisman, DJ Rashad, Haruomi Hosono, Jlin, The Sediment Club, Suffer Dragon/ everything Ada Babar makes, The Cradle/ everything Paco Cathcart makes, Palberta/ everything Lily Konigsberg, Nina Ryser and Ani Ivry-Block make, Red Sea, DJ Firmeza, Women, pretty much everything on OSR Tapes, pretty much everything on Orange Milk, DJ Nigga Fox, the Ann Steel album, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Old Table/ Climax Landers , Yasuaki Shimizu / Mariah, DJ Paypal, Horse Lords, Andrea Schiavelli/ Eyes of Love, This Heat, Warehouse, Mothers, Group Stretching, Brave Radar, Micachu, Captain Beefheart, Cate le Bon.
I always love thinking personally about what influenced me when I was cutting my teeth as a young musician vs. what is influencing me now, and how I can not only trace both of those kinds of influences to what I’m writing now, but see what they have in common and how they differ. Could you maybe give us some examples of both some musicians or groups who were influential to you as an up and coming musicians and some really recent inspirations?
KK: I was really really into nu metal growing up. Like at eleven years old, I thought it was the culmination of western popular music because it fused hip hop, (which I grew up listening to, and rock, which my friends listened to.
Obviously, I no longer have that opinion at all, but I still hear the influence. Especially from a band like Deftones. Even though I didn’t start singing until much later, Chino Moreno has been a big influence on me developing a style as a vocalist, as well as my guitar parts. And as much as it pains me to admit, maybe some of the odd meter stuff can be traced back to my love of Tool. I met Eve (Alpert, singer/guitarist in Palm) in high school and she saved me by showing me Radiohead.
The last time we spoke, you or Eve mentioned the band wrapped up recording another set of songs that have yet to be released. Is there anything that you all as a band have noted about these tracks that distinguishes them from the work you did on both Trading Basics and Shadow Expert? Is there any way you all approached writing them differently?
Kasra Kurt: Yes we’re finishing up a new full length now. Hmm, it’s definitely different, a progression from either of our previous releases. It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly is different, but it is noticeable. We made Shadow Expert two years ago and we’ve toured so much since then, gotten into new music, etc; so change is maybe inevitable. Something tangible is that for a little over a year I’ve been using a midi pickup on my guitar so we’re starting to incorporate some sounds that are not in the traditional rock vernacular.
It seems like you all not only plan to come through Richmond on many of your tours, but you’ll also hop on bills with late notice or add shows that were not on your original tour schedule. Is there something special about playing Richmond?
KK: For sure. Richmond is always a good time on tour. We played a handful of house shows there during our first few travels as a band, and people were really sweet and supportive – also people go hard! We’re not a party band, so our early experiences in Richmond were eye opening in that regard, but I guess that’s less noticeable at a venue. We definitely try our best to play Richmond every tour and we like swimming in the water by the train tracks.
Palm performs at Strange Matter with Palberta, Lance Bangs and Private Cry on July 25th.
Tickets are $12 and available here.