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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Take 5 With French of Palmerston



If there’s one thematic principle to the music of Hollywood alt punk band Palmerston (pronounced Palmer-stone, for the record), it’s to live in the moment. Even with a debut album that carves slices of life sometimes wedged out of a nostalgia pie, the here and now serves as the proverbial Cool Whip dome, served only slightly chilled with a not-too-thick sugar coat. Some of Palmerston’s songs are brisk and edgy, others airy and melodic. Lead singer French will attest that Palmerston’s primary mission is to usher their listeners into an experience, one culminated beyond mere music, which is constituted in their deliberately awkward CD packaging as well as their animated live performances, which reputedly features onstage painting and spoken word litany from French. A one-time bad boy now fronting a trio of pop-minded rockers with his woven articulation, French and Palmerston have discovered a nurturing unity that conjoins unconventional media together to propagate an in-the-moment experience for their audience.


MM: I understand you had a bit of a rough background coming up. If you could, take us a little through your journey growing up into an artist.

French: Life’s an interesting deal, you know what I mean? (laughs) I started reading a lot of poetry and more expressive writing, plus I was drawing and painting from a really early age. I was starting to get into music pretty early on, playing guitar and writing songs since I was 11. It was probably 13 or so, early teenhood, when I started getting into drugs, into crime and some of the other alternative and illegitimate ways of making cash; I got pretty heavily into that. I grew up around Santa Cruz and the Bay Area in general and I ran with a couple different crews of some crazy ass kids! (laughs) I was making music and working with a couple of different bands and we’d write songs and play shows, stuff like that, but the rest of my time was pretty much taken up by my illegal acts! You know, being a crazy ass kid, it just started getting progressively worse with the need for cash especially with music and the ability of what I was trying to do, growing and creeping, so I was trying to compensate for that. I pretty much kept at that, I dropped out of high school in sophomore year, though later I got my GED. I was basically doing my stupid ass thing! (laughs)

MM: (laughs)

Music and art in general--I’ve been writing and painting for a long time--they’ve remained my passion. I kind of just got lost in the drugs and crime, but I was always into art, especially in the heart of the Bay Area where the Bohemian culture migrated to after the sixties. I grew up with the idea of freedom, total liberation and just doing whatever the hell you want. It was a bit of a confused deal, but I ended up getting caught up in some other stuff and I did about a year in a couple of different facilities. I came out of that, did some house arrest time, whatever I had to do to get out of that and continue on with what I’m really passionate about to begin with. I ended up making it out of that period of time a little bit more unscathed. The way I see it, if you’re passionate about something and you can continue to follow that, even with the craziest shit, you can end up alright through it.

MM: In Palmerston’s lyrics, I feel like there are a lot of moments in time or nostalgia themes, if you want to use the song “Death of the Real World” for example. Do you feel that’s an important part of the band’s lyrics, much less your own personal writing?

French: Absolutely, man, especially with this record. It was an interesting process, because some of it had come from stuff that I had written prior to Palmerston and stuff that Fernando and Gabriel had written prior to this culmination of Palmerston. It’s all kind of stuff that had come about from a specific period of time. A lot of my personal writing on this record is also a lot of what Fernando and I are especially inspired by, a specific moment and then bringing the moment to life and kind of expanding it to be something you can really get into and figure out. A song like “Misery” or “Death of the Real World” or even a song like “Addicted,” it’s very specific to a certain experience as opposed to kind of putting something together that ends up talking about a whole bunch of stuff. For example, a song like “Misery” being in the moment of a relationship that has just gotten too damned difficult or “Death of the Real World,” where you’re talking about struggle and you’re talking about the efforts to overcome a journey or a part of life that’s a pretty intense kind of experience. I think that’s probably what a lot of this record comes down to; it’s an interesting mosaic put together of different little moments. I see them covering the majority of the range or the spectrum of life.

With “Misery” you have something like bliss, in a way being the opposite sort of deal, like rising above everything, whereas “Addicted,” you’re talking about an intense ordeal, an intense relationship kind of thing, dark but comfortable. It’s pretty interesting; one of the things I love about this record is it’s so diverse. The songs are all fairly different but it all kind of just ties into the moment itself. I would say that’s what the majority of my writing comes down to. I carry around a notebook with me most of the time and if there’s some stuff going on or I’ll be going through something, I’ll just throw it down poetry-wise. It mostly comes down to the experience of a moment.

MM: “Black and White T.V.” is a song I can relate to since I spent a lot of my childhood with a black and white television in my bedroom. What I detect here is the theme of an era lost in reminiscence.

French: That’s one Fernando had a fair chunk floating around in his dome piece for awhile. We sat down and revisited it and I lent my influence into it and we just really got into it. It’s an interesting song, because some of “Black and White T.V.” is fairly literal. Fernando had lived across the street from this girl in central Hollywood and a buddy of his would come over and hang out and they’d drink some beers out on the balcony and this girl lived across the street who had this black and white t.v. going constantly. They didn’t have their own t.v. or something like that, so they’d watch the t.v. through her window! They’d check in with whatever she was doing so it’s pretty interesting. So then I went with the song in a sense to where it’s kind of about this whole window into another life. Sometimes we meet people for an instant or we’re walking past people on the street and we don’t necessarily have all that much of a chance a lot of the time to get to know anybody or to take a look into other people’s lives and share parts of our lives. It’s kind of coming down in a way to the idea of pausing and opening up or taking a look into someone else’s life and grabbing somebody’s hand and just running with it. It’s kind of breaking down the social barriers and just sort of connecting with somebody in a bit of a dark way!

MM: I love how you guys inverted your lyrics on the CD inlay where one mostly needs a mirror to read along! It challenges the listener, depending if they’re just there to consume the music or to actually spend some time with it. I was wondering if you guys were intentionally trying to make listeners work hard for the lyrics so they could discover all of the elements of this album.

French: Yeah, that’s funny because originally Gabriel came up with that idea. We were talking about artwork for the record because I’ve always been the kid that would get a new CD and I’d spend more time looking through the inlet of the record than listening to the record itself! (laughs) You know, really getting into what people are doing and the other aspects of the mediums available with music in the inlet. I’m a big fan and believer in the hard copy CD as opposed to digital downloads. It’s all good since digital downloading makes things easier for the listener, but as far as really being able to get the picture, in order to get the whole idea of what a band or what an artist is saying, to be able to really look in and check it out, the record artwork and everything is a big part of that. Whenever we work on a record, every aspect of that gets attention and of course the songs and the actual production of the album, but we really wanted to be able to put some time and effort into what we’re really saying, how we can exemplify what we want to say with this. So we took our time and put some ideas together and Gabriel came to me with this idea that he’d had for quite some time about mirrors and how there’s a necessity of mirrors in our lives and being able to reflect upon ourselves. It’s also about how all of those aspects affect us, the idea that in the end you’ve got some interesting photos of moments in time or moments in people’s lives. The lyrics being backwards kind of ends up making you have to look at yourself and the moment you’re in, the life you live as a person. It’s kind of this hall of mirrors thing where moments are very reflective and then being able to reflect upon yourself, even by reading the lyrics. I was blown away by the concept, so we just went with it. In a way, it kind of ends up working to having the listener make that extra step towards listening to what everybody’s saying, and it all ties into the reflection.

MM: I know you guys have a reputation for theatrics onstage. Tell us a little about that.

French: (laughs) Our main objective--as I like to say--is that anytime we get onstage, we want to destroy it completely. As we’re getting up onstage I’ll look at everybody and get a little bit of a pound going and I’ll just say “Destruction!” (laughs) Really what we roll with in that sense is to completely bring the moment to life to the point where there’s nothing standing in the way whether it’s monitors or what-not. I’ll end up crawling around the stage like a fucking animal or Fernando will end up jumping off his speakers and kicking some crazy shit around or something. We really intend to allow each show to take us in a way, and it ends up working well because we’re getting that across to the audience and it allows them to be taken by the show as well. It ends up being this kind of beautiful moment where the audience and us as a band are all at the whim of the moment. We end up doing some different stuff at times when the ability allows itself as far as specifics and technicality goes. I’ll set up and paint during a show or a lot of the time I’ll toss some poetry out here and there and really let that everybody feel in that moment. It does get a little bit strange, like chicks up front I’ve made out with! (laughs) It’s kind of one of those who knows? things. Every show is pretty different and that’s part of what we try to do. Part of what ends up being beneficial as far as my experience goes is that I used to use a lot of psychedelics growing up and one of the things I ended up learning from my experiences is that life is an improvisational deal. Nothing can really be expected in a certain way, so it ends up floating into our music in a way that the songs are there, the new stuff we work with is there and everybody just lets go so the experience can really take hold.

When you’re out there touring and playing the same fucking songs (laughs) over and over again for two-to-three months straight, it gets a little bit tough. It’s different every time, the audience is different, so you let those differences roll, whether you’re in Boston or Wichita, Kansas. You figure if every place is different to lend enough of itself to a different kind of a show, it ends up making much more of a difference than you would’ve expected. It definitely keeps it fresh enough for us to love it each in a different way.

Copyright 2008 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

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