When a friend of mine suggested I listen to a band called Palm, I asked what genre they fell under. My question was greeted with something along the lines of: “Uhhh, I don’t know. I think they’re kind of DIY? Maybe Art Rock?” At that point, I still didn’t know what to expect.
Then I actually listened to Palm, and I understood my friend’s ambiguity. With so many different influences present — lyrically, sonically and rhythmically — it’s a little overwhelming at first, but in the best way.
A quick Google search for the genre “art rock” suggests artists like King Crimson and David Bowie. To me, those artists are drastically different. Even some of Bowie’s later work (see: Blackstar) is quite different from any of King Crimson’s material. The only common denominator is some elements of their music are derived from rock music. So, I guess, in a way, you could say Palm is art rock because of the fact that they borrow so many elements from rock but view those elements through an avant-garde approach.
The more I listened to the group, especially after the release of their newest full-length studio album, Rock Island, the more I wondered how the band was able to develop that signature sound they had. Luckily, I had the incredible opportunity to not only see the band live, but speak with bassist Gerasimos Livitsanos and guitarist / vocalist Eve Alpert about their sound, and how they developed into the genre-defying band they are today.
One of the best aspects of the band’s sound is just how unique it actually is. With Brian Wilson-sounding vocal lines, prog / math rock influenced rhythms and an overall sound that could be described as almost island-infused indie rock, they seem to sound like every band I can imagine, and, at the same time, like none of them at all.
“We all listen to tons of music. It’s where we get our pleasure from,” Alpert said. When working on their latest album, however, Alpert says the group listened to a lot of Footwork, a movement of music based out of Chicago involving spastic rhythms and beats accompanied by, at times, extremely lush soundscapes.
“This label called Orange Milk was really inspiring. Not to say that it rubbed itself into our songwriting, but it did in weird ways.”
When it came to writing the record itself, the group attributes a lot of their songwriting process to practice.
“We practice all the time, and generally there’s one core idea that comes in, and then we jam to it,” Alpert commented. “And then once it clicks, it clicks,” Livitsanos replied.
In another interview, the band mentioned using a drum machine as a compositional tool; putting on a random pattern while the guitars dissect it between the two of them and drummer Hugo Stanley plays a contrasting beat overtop. These rhythms written over the drum machine “felt integral to the song,” Alpert explained. But in regards to their sound, Rock Island features a variety of guitar sounds that don’t really sound like guitar. Using a MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) guitar effects controller, the band incorporates guitar tones that sound like a variety of other instruments, most notably steel drums.
“We started incorporating the MIDI guitar when we started writing the record,” Alpert explained, “And we just used the sounds we had on the synth module. We were just using the equipment we had.”
But the band sees themselves taking this sound in a slightly different direction in the future. As Livitsanos discussed: “We’re trying to program more of our own sounds. We kinda started with just what we had, but going forward, we definitely want to try generating things to sample, and sounds like that.”
Hearing Palm live, I was amazed at how close they sounded to the record. Every nuance present in the record was also there in the live performance. Many groups view live performance and recorded performances as two different things entirely. There are things you can do in a recording studio that you can’t do live on stage, and vice versa. Palm seems to be somewhere in the middle.
“I think we all want our live performance to be pretty raw. We’ve come up being influenced by a lot of punk or noisier music, so we want our live performance to be a little bit more unpredictable,” Alpert said.
Livitsanos responded, saying: “On Rock Island, there were certain things done for certain tracks, like some sort of drum loop in “Dog Milk,” for example, and then after it was recorded, we were like, ‘Oh, maybe we could try this a little bit differently for the live show’.”
“My hope is that we can write a record and then reinterpret it in a more raw way live,” Alpert said.
The band seems to be gaining traction in the music community. Audiotree was one of the band’s first festivals and it seems to be a new experience for them, but one they’re treating just like any other.
“I want us to always make mistakes,” Alpert said. “Sometimes it winds up working and sometimes it doesn’t. It makes it all more worthwhile.”
“Both for us and audience members, I think it makes it more fun,” Livitsanos replied.
“We’re definitely not a conventional festival band, and I think we’re still figuring it all out, you know?”
For a band that’s still figuring things out, Palm certainly seems to be a well-polished chaos machine, putting out material that’s pushing the limits and putting on one of the best live shows I’ve seen in recent memory.