Photos and interview by Stasia de Tilly.
I was put onto Palm a few weeks ago by a friend and die-hard fan. When I hear they were a Bard band my mind jumped to the likes of Palberta and I wasn’t far off in thinking. Palm is an eccentric four-piece reshaping how audiences hear traditional rock instruments — most of their songs rely on timing and synchronicity over technical skills. They also challenge common conceptions of experimental music by producing music that doesn’t brag the ‘acquired-taste’ label. Palm produces beautiful sounds in simple ways.
What attracted me most to Palm was pinning down the evolution that I began to hear in their music. They claim that they were “a really bad band for a long time.” Who are these people that can hypnotize a sold out show at Baby’s All Right? There’s something so satisfying about watching them live, hearing Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurtwarble croon into their mics and Hugo Stanley dances around his kit as if a puppet on a string, not to mention Gerasimos Livitsanos (Gerry), center stage and calmest of them all.
Trading Basics was Palm figuring out the elements they liked and experimenting with them. Shadow Expert is that satisfying-as-hell moment where you can hear Palm pulling the elements that they love together and essentially bottling up the essence from their post-graduation writing period.
I came across their Reddit AMA they did recently and I couldn’t get the mention of their new music out of my head. Palm’s new stuff, heard live at Baby’s All Right as they kicked off their tour, can be described as the band challenging themselves. With their new music Palm has mastered their preferred elements but has also learnt to to play tricks on your ears by exploring duration, rhythm, and dynamics. Palm creates within a self-established musical space. They use these boundaries to then compose music that challenges their ability to listen to each other. There’s a great video made for the Baby’s show and (at 14:30 & 19:30) where you’ll hear some of their new songs. Listen for yourself and read their take on it below.
I’ve been reading the Reddit AMA you did last week and this album is one that you wrote a long time ago and is just now being released.
Eve: We recorded it a year and a half ago, but a lot of it was written before that. It feels old to us but we’re pretty impatient. We’ve also grown a lot.
How do you feel about this record compared to the last one and also compared to the new stuff you’ll be playing tonight?
Hugo: I think the EP (Shadow Expert) compared to the last one (Trading Basics) feels like there’s less extraneous stuff. It’s more the elements that make up the songs together and that’s maybe because we had, at least, a little bit more of an idea of what we wanted them to be than the previous one. Trading Basics felt more like, it’s probably time to make an album and then we kind of called together material. This one was a bit more concise and spent more time editing the material.
Eve: I think it was a good step forward compared to the first record. We were more direct with our song writing and I think we made more melodic songs too, which was something we wanted to do.
Just because of the nature of your music and maybe the people that you are. The first record felt like you guys trying everything and figuring out all the things you could be as a band and then Shadow Expert feels like wow we kind of know the things we’re good at and what we like and this is the trade and here’s five really concise songs incorporating these elements. So I’m curious to see what you’ll be playing tonight because it feels that you’ve mastered the ideas you laid out in the first record so what’s the next evolutionary step?
Eve: I think we’re more excited about it for sure. We mostly play new stuff. I don’t know if we’ve had enough time to think about it because it’s not finished. We’re still working on it.
Kasra: I feel like the material is maybe more diverse and more deliberately constructed. We talked a lot about what we wanted the next record to sound like. Whereas Shadow Expert was closing the book on the previous year/year and a half of writing.
Who is young Tony?
Hugo: [laughs] That was my friend making fun of me.
Eve: We didn’t know what to make of the Reddit AMA. We weren’t embarrassed but we were concerned about doing it at first. It was cool.
Hugo: It’s also kind of embarrassing to be in a position where you’re supposed to be assuming that people even give a shit about what you do. We all kind of struggle a little bit with interviews as well.
Well I guess being a journalist you think about this kind of small details a lot and try to decipher it.
Hugo: We think about this shit, but not in terms of the audience.
Eve: We think about this shit for hours but we don’t have a clear way of describing it to other people.
Hugo: I think most of us are nostalgic people as well. So there’s an amount of taking stock. 2 years ago we were making this and sounded like this and lived in this place. But not necessarily in terms of band mythology.
Kasra: The new stuff is much more realized in my opinion. It feels like the culmination of what we’ve been up to over the last five years. I feel like the EP was a stepping stone to get there. I’m proud of it but it was in limbo for a long time. It was finished for over a year before it came out. When we were writing that material, we had just graduated from college and we had no conception of what any of this meant. We had been on one tour.
I sensed a bit of boredom on the Reddit AMA
Kasra: I wouldn’t say we’re bored of the EP. If anything I’m more excited about it now than I was six months ago because now I just haven’t listened to it. We had to relearn material to play it live.
Eve: it’s a healthy thing once you’ve finished something to feel, what’s next? We’ve had a while to think about that. To the audience who has only heard trading basics it sounds like a lot better Palm to me.
Hugo: One thing that is worth saying between Shadow Expert and what we’ve been working on since is that the EP is very much a capturing of us as a live band. Our instruments and playing live takes. Since then we’ve been more into building things element by element. What we’re working on next, the result isn’t as different as what you might expect but the methodology is more piecing together disparate elements instead of…
Eve: Just sounding like what you sound like in the practice room but cleaner.
Eve: It’s not as if we couldn’t strum or anything
Hugo: we’d all been playing our instrument, except Gerry, for some years before
Kasra: none of us are technically trained in the instruments we play in the band.
Eve: I can’t remember exactly, but we were all at a similar level of understanding. First and foremost it was about communication with each other. A lot of what we were doing was making a bunch of racket. Going into weird tunings and jamming a ton. Everyone does that but eventually you shave off shit and sculpt something.
Kasra: We’ve developed our own language of communicating musical ideas even thought none of it is technically true.
When you came together was it learning together?
Hugo: I don’t think it was talked about as such it just happened. But I feel that more so than the technical development we just learned together how to, less about making music but rather how to do shows and not totally blow it. When we first played I used to played really quietly and the amps were really loud
Eve: The vocals were really quiet. We would just tell the sound people, keep our voices really low in the mix and bust out amps up because we were insecure.
Hugo: No real talking to or addressing the audience.
Kasra: we had our backs to the audience for the first year we played. I think the majority of bands aren’t technically trained but for some reason people assume our music is harder to play than it is. What we’re each playing is rarely challenging its more everything together it sounds more complicated.
Eve: I can’t do crazy shit.
Hugo: I have terrible drum form
Kasra: I’ve never learned scales.
I ask because you have a very unique synchronicity.
Kasra: We were a really bad band for a really long time.
Eve: I definitely recognize when we were getting more of a signature vibe. It was more in the song writing than in my playing, personally. I felt that we were developing at the same time in terms of songwriting.
Hugo: trying to turn up the elements that we bring respectively to it. And make it one specific thing. We all like different types of music and would not be averse to playing in other projects that sound nothing like we do. But without ever wanting to over think it, try to recognize people’s response to what we do and see what we should focus more on, less on.
Obscure tuning, more or less of a priority as the music developed?
Eve: definitely less. We have a little bit of a better understanding of standard tuning in general and at first I had none and going into them and a nice pretty chord came out we would work with that. We’ve figured our that a lot of these songs can be played in standard and it’s not that hard. It’s also just annoying.
Kasra: I think it started as a way for us the think outside of the box. If you can’t even play basic chords you’re relying on your ear instead of hand habits.
Eve: I was really into Sonic Youth in high school so that’s how I started playing guitar by using alternate tunings and making sounds.
After hearing you guys speak I feel as if your music just came into existence by a happy coincidence.
Kasra: yeah, playing a lot and practicing a lot.
Hugo: All of us having overlap in the music we like but also having different things that we’re respectively excited about. Less and less the more time that we spend together. But when we first came together we all had different things and maybe if we all knew each other before we played music and were on the same page we would sound like music that already exists.
In the recording and writing process what’s a moment you really like?
Eve: for me, there’s a moment where a song is coming together were we can play the same thing forever and still feel really excited to do it again. That normally happens when a song is working out. There’s this moment where things are coalescing that it’s hard to replicate after you’ve written the song. It’s a specific moment in time.
Kasra: Often the songs begin with me and Eve figuring out the basic melodic vocals and chords. Then we’ll start playing with Hugo and Gerry and they almost always take it to a really different place where me and Eve had it or intended for it to go. Which can be frustrating but almost all the time I end up being like totally, into where they take the song. They essentially edit it and cut it up and do whatever to it. It’s frustrating when it stops being frustrating and I get what they’re up to now and It’s really cool and I never would have thought of it. That’s my favorite feeling. When it feels like it’s something that none of us could have made alone but that could only have been made by all of us having ideas that kinda clash.
Hugo: For me the thing that comes to mind is when we’re paying in different fields to each other one top of each other and we come up with the idea and sometimes its two time signatures sometimes its something turning around or a weird pattern. Often it starts as, we’re not sure if this is going to work but of course anything can work if you make it work. Anything can work if you hear what it’s supposed to sound like and are able to recreate it. So when we’re working on a weird cross sections of different fields and suddenly I’m able to hear it as music and not as just parts that we’re trying to fit together. As an entity, rather than these disparate parts. It’s a really satisfying feeling.
Can you describe the different between now and when you started playing together? Have you reached a pinnacle?
Eve: I hesitate at fully answering that because the only way we can continue as a band is if something new is being invented.
Kasra: We’re always going to be an exploring band. As soon as we feel like we’ve done something already then we’re ready to do something else. The thing I like the most about being in Palm is that I really admire musically and personally the three people I play music with. It feels like there’s not anywhere that we can’t go creatively. In a sense Palm feels like a group of people that I can exploring making music with. Hopefully we’ll keep changing forever.
Shadow Expert is out now on Bandcamp and Palm will be going on tour through July.