A little while back, I had the chance to sit down for a quick bite with Eve Alpert, vocalist and guitarist for one of our absolute favorite bands, Palm (for the locals, we were at Skytown Diner in Bushwick just before this show at Palisades). We talked about the origins of the band, playing music without formal training, moving to Philly, how they got to work with Exploding in Sound and Inflated Records, and a bunch of other stuff while wolfing down some chicken sandwiches.
Palm's new album, Trading Basics, comes out next Friday and is already easily one of my favorite records of the year. Check out the interview below, along with some old photos we have of the band from this other, equally awesome show at Palisades. And if you're in NYC next Friday, make sure to check them out at their album release show at, you guessed it, Palisades. Palisades Palisades Palisades.
Eve Alpert: Big Neck Police
ThrdCoast: Big Neck Police? That’s a great name for a band.
EA: Really good.
TC: Awesome. Well I guess we should start the interview. Can you tell me a little about the origins of Palm?
EA: I meet the other guitar player, Kasra, in London, and we became really good friends and started playing together right towards the end of our senior year of high school. We were always sharing music and stuff and going to shows together before that. Then we both went to Bard and would just play in his dorm room every day. Just the two songs that we had. We eventually met Hugo, our drummer, when Kasra took a class with him and we showed him our two songs in this practice space and he was like, “Yeah! I like it” [laughs].
TC: So you all went to Bard?
EA: Yeah, he’s the grade beneath us though. But yeah, we just started being a band from there. The three of us. An instrumental band where we’d play the two or three songs that we had. Hugo and Kasra I think became friends just from both of them knowing and liking this band that was really obscure at the time called This Heat. That’s how they connected and how we started playing. Then a year later, maybe six months, we realized that a bass would be really good maybe even integral. At first we were like, “Oh! It’d be cool to have just two guitars...”
TC: But then you added a bass and thought, “Oh wow!”
EA: No, we were more like, “It needs bass” [laughs]. You can't just have low-end guitars. So Gerry was already living with Kasra, but he had never played bass before.
EA: Not really, no [laughs].
TC: Was he a guitar player?
EA: No. Piano, actually.
TC: Oh, wow. Was there a major learning curve or did he just pick it up in a snap?
EA: There was a learning curve for all of us at the same time, pretty much.
TC: All in it together.
EA: Yeah. Well, we kind of grew together. The band didn’t really start in London, it started with the addition of Hugo and Gerry. Before that we never had more than like three songs. And we didn’t know what it meant to have the songs we made until we meet them.
TC: So in those early days it was just straight-up experimentation?
EA: Pretty much, yeah. At the end of high school Kasra and I were really into Sonic Youth and stuff, so pretty much everything we wrote was in some obscure tuning or pretty heavy, like Slint-influenced I would say. And yeah, a lot of experimentation because Kasra and I weren’t guitar players, we just started playing guitar together. So the reason we were going into different tunings and stuff was because we didn’t really know how to make a song in standard tuning [laughs].
TC: I love that. There's a certain genuineness to it, you know?
EA: [Laughs] Yeah, I see what you're saying. We would only play like four songs at a show early on, because it would take us so long to tune in-between songs.
TC: I don’t remember you guys tuning that much the last time I saw you.
EA: Well, we started using standard tuning. Actually, now I guess we use like two different tunings. Two or three including standard. We don’t really play any of that early stuff anymore.
TC: Listening to your back catalog was really interesting because it's obviously the same group, but this new album you guys have coming out is just way more refined.
EA: Yeah, for sure.
TC: How long did you guys work on it?
EA: Well... We wrote and recorded an album last summer that was sort of in the vein of the previous stuff. Which I think was more of us trying to figure out how to play together. I mean, we're still doing that now, but that album was less of a distinct sound that we were comfortable playing. So we scrapped the album and just wrote a bunch of songs that felt a lot better than what we had just recorded. We decided to keep working on new songs, and it all happened kind of naturally and abruptly that we just got tighter together as a group.
TC: You had your "ah-ha" moment?
EA: Yeah, it was just easier to write songs for some reason. It had always taken us so long to write a single song. We’d wait until the last minute to write vocals and stuff, but it all got easier after we recorded that album that we weren’t that happy with. Then we recorded this album the following December, after we came off tour with a band from Hudson called Buke and Gase. They’re a bigger band and asked us to be one of there supporting acts for like ten or twelve dates.
TC: How did you guys know each other?
EA: They were friends of ours in Hudson. I had been going there a lot while I was in college and worked at Basilica, which is this venue in Hudson, and I just met them there and we became friends. We started rehearsing in the same building, so when it was time for them to go they just asked us. Out of the kindness of their hearts, maybe? I don’t know [laughs]. At the time we were trying to decide whether we wanted to keep that first album we recorded or not, and then this engineer came up to us a at Buke and Gase show and offered to record what became Trading Basics. So yeah, we decided to record it. The guy's name is Eli Crews, he just started a studio in Prospect Heights with a guy named Shahzad Ismaily.
TC: Another awesome name.
EA: Yeah, The studio is called Figure 8. Eli had previously recorded Deer Hoof and Tune-Yards and a bunch of other people. He was really hyped on us, so we took the offer to record with him in a really good studio. When we went it was brand new. I think we were one of the first to try it out.
TC: Christening the studio.
EA: [Laughs] Yeah.
TC: So after you guys had that revelation and songwriting became easier, how has that changed how you guys work together?
EA: I don’t know if it’s really changed that much, but it usually starts with a seed and then everybody brings something in. And by the end, its usually completely different from what the seed was. It’s changed a little more recently. We all grew up playing different instruments and none of us are musically trained—like, Hugo was a guitarist originally. Kasra’s a drummer. And Gerry was originally a really good piano player. I just dabbled [laughs]. But I think that has informed our approach to how we work now. Kasra has a very rhythmic approach to things, so I'd say a lot of the guitar playing is very percussive.
TC: Yeah, I’d definitely agree with that, and as a corollary it seems like Hugo’s drumming is kind of melodic.
EA: Yeah, totally. It’s an interesting idea to think of how the bass and drums can take a more forward role than the guitars, and carry the melody while the guitars are more of a rhythmic tool. We’ve thought about that a lot with songs we’ve written.
TC: Where do lyrics come in?
EA: That’s usually the last thing and we pretty much split them up. Whoever sings them writes them, for the most part. But, you know, each thing is different.
TC: So there’s no central influence for the lyrical material?
EA: A lot of it is very abstract. Vocals are the hardest thing to feel comfortable with for us. It’s always left to the last minute because Kasra and I aren't that confident of singers. Now we’re trying to make it more like a tool and less like a traditional vocal part.
TC: I really like how you guys use your vocals as an effect.
EA: Yeah! Totally. And it’s really helped getting the vocal effect pedal.
TC: Yeah, it sounds great live. What is it?
EA: It’s a doubler, basically. A TC Helicon. We just put it on a fixed setting and depending on how wet or dry you make it, it distorts itself.
TC: How long have you guys been using that?
EA: Since about November. After we went on tour with Buke and Gase, who use a lot of vocal processing—it’s such a part of their set.
TC: You know who else has great vocal effects?
TC: Laser Background.
EA: Oh yeah, definitely. Andy’s great.
TC: I just saw him the other day with Mild High Club, and was amazed at how lush his vocals were. Especially in Silent Barn. He’s in Philly too, right?
EA: Yeah, that’s not where I know him from but I've seen him since moving there.
TC: How did the move go?
EA: Great! We’re living with a band we love called Banned Books in two different houses. We went on tour with them in May, and also met them on that Buke and Gase tour in October. They played the Philly show. We became really good friends after that, and decided to move to Philly and live together.
TC: Nice. Like a musical co-op.
EA: Yeah. It’s really good because we both have basements, so we can practice a lot.
TC: What's it like living with all musicians?
EA: It’s not, like, as crazy as it sounds [laughs].
TC: I could see it being very creative, though.
EA: I hope so. It’s still very new, so we’ll see. That’s the dream [laughs]. We want to record another album soon, like in December. It was so long ago that we recorded this coming record, and now we don’t even play more than, like, two of the songs from the album.
TC: Already moved on to new material?
EA: Yeah, we kind of get antsy. We like to play new stuff.
TC: Well, that’s not a bad thing. So how did you guys get involved with Exploding in Sound?
EA: Dan Goldin just asked us if we wanted to before he had even heard the record.
TC: I’m starting to see a trend here.
EA: [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t know how that happened. Maybe somebody had told him that we had just recorded? But regardless, he was just like “I want to put it out!” Another guy also wanted to put it out at the same time, Dan Donnelly of Inflated Records. So they split it. Dan Donnelly fronted the LP cost and is doing physical distribution, and Dan Goldin is doing the tapes and the PR. But yeah, I don’t know how it happened [laughs].