There’s a sharp angularity to Palm’s music that belies the warmness of the people behind it. After relocating to Philadelphia from Hudson, New York close to two years ago, it seems that the quartet have finally hit their stride, putting out music that straddles the line between post-rock and California surf tunes. Beloved by critics and their growing base of fans, Palm have entered a purple patch of creativity perfectly captured by their latest release Shadow Experts and the newer, more experimental sound they’ve been exploring during live sets. But speaking to bassist Gerry Livitsanos reveals that has always been part of the plan:
“In a way we are more ambitious, in the sense that we are trying to write within these odd meters, but more concisely as well.”
Livitsanos is at his house in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia – an artsy, creative epicenter that is also home to several musicians including Sandy (Alex G). And it seems like the creative environment pushes everyone to new heights.
“We’re doing weird structures within a pop parameter,” he adds with a full laugh. “Our ambition lies in trying to achieve that.”
Palm play Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right June 23, Chicago’s Beat Kitchen July 6 and Washington, D.C.’s DC9 July 26. Shadow Expert is out now on Carpark Records
Brightest Young Things: How do you like living in the Fishtown area?
Gerry Livitsanos: It’s nice. Hugo [Stanley, drummer] and I live together, and Kasra [Kurt, guitar and vocals] and Eve [Alpert, guitar and vocals] live about a seven minute walk away, so we get to practice in their basement. One of their neighbors also play music, which means we don’t have to worry about it. It’s probably the best part of living in Fishtown.
BYT: Why Philadelphia? Are any of you guys from there originally? I know the band met at Bard College, and Kasra and Eve had met in London while they were in high school, but what made you relocate there of all places? Beyond it being extremely affordable.
Livitsanos: [Laughs] I mean, you just hit it right there – that’s pretty much it. It’s affordable and it’s a great location for touring and everything on the east coast. New York City is actually closer than it was when we were living at Bard. It just makes sense. There’s a great music scene in Philadelphia, with really good bands and a lot of shows happening. And New York is just a bus ride away. But it’s mainly the affordable thing.
BYT: I’ve noticed this trend where some of the most interesting and unique-sounding bands I’ve spoken to over the last few years all happen to live in these super affordable cities like Montreal, Philadelphia, Berlin, and Baltimore. Cheap rent is the one thing they all have in common.
Livitsanos: Yes! And that’s a huge part, because this is what we’re doing. None of us are working right now, and we can only do that in a place like Philly where we can focus on making music and pay our rent with whatever we make from our art. It would be impossible to do it in New York City, or anywhere with high rent.
BYT: You’re all self-taught and started playing your instruments when you started playing with Palm.
Livitsanos: Yeah. I’m from LA originally, and it just so happened that a friend of mine played bass, and he was going to study abroad for a year. He offered to let me borrow it while he was gone, and I was like “sure.” Kasra, Eve, and Hugo started playing together like a semester before I joined the band, but I knew Kasra from like my first week at Bar, and he put forth the idea of me joining to play bass. But to be honest I was kind of hesitant at first – they were a different band back then, and I thought they sounded so good. They had really low tuned guitars, in weird tunings, and it had so much low end already. Then I came in and we began to write different kind of stuff. So yeah, I learned to play bass for the band.
Hugo is actually a really nasty guitar player, and he sort of picked up the drums while playing with other bands. Kasra used to be a drummer. [Pauses, laughs] Yeah, he played drums in bands in high school, and then started on the guitar. I guess Eve has been a guitarist for a while now, but I don’t think any of us had any formal training or lessons of any sort.
BYT: Have you seen a noticeable improvement in your own playing?
Livitsanos: Um, yes – yes. There’s definitely been an improvement. It’s weird. And I think a lot more rhythmically now, and it reflects in my playing. I don’t play drums but everyone else can, and in a way we’re all doing rhythmic stuff. That’s the one thing that has really developed – getting a better sense of working with different, weird rhythms and stuff.
BYT: Your music has been described as math rock, a label I know you disagree with. A YouTube commenter described your Audiotree session as sounding like “if you were floating in the bathtub high on acid and could hear The Beach Boys playing from the next room over.” What are your thoughts on that description? Accurate?
Livitsanos: Um. [Laughs] Sure, I guess? I don’t know – it’s hard for me to say, really. Woah. It works. We enjoy playing in these weird time signatures and stuff, and it is technical to an extent, but we’re not trying to do be too jarring or anything – we want to make pleasing music. None of us really listen to math rock – the only stuff in that space we ever listen to is Slint, and that was before we started playing. We don’t listen to any music like that, and we’re not very familiar with what that genre connotes, specifically.
BYT: That goes to show that you put your music and your art out there and people will immediately try to categorize it.
Livitsanos: Yeah, but that’s natural. And I’m not offended or anything like that, it’s just interesting that’s how people take it.
BYT: You started off making instrumental music, and only incorporated lyrics into your music later on. Do you still start off with the music and add words later, or has the process changed?
Livitsanos: The process has changed. When I joined it was still instrumental, and it stayed that way while we were still in college. We would write without taking the vocal melody into account. But since the last album [Shadow Expert] and the material we’re working on now, I’ve noticed that changing. We’re going in there with a [vocal] melody in mind instead of just retrofitting it.
BYT: Were you ever a fan of these post-rock bands, like Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Ros, or Godspeed! You Black Emperor? What’s on rotation for you now?
Livitsanos: Yeah, I was really into Tortoise, and I think Kasra was a big fan of Godspeed! I definitely listened to all of those bands when I was younger, but I’m not sure we play much of them now.
I’m trying to speak for the band here. [Pause] Maybe for myself also. Do you know Jlin? We listen to a bunch of stuff in that footwork space, but she’s doing it in her own way and pushing it in a different direction. She just released this album, Black Origami, and she’s been really inspiring. I personally listen to a lot of Brazilian bossa nova. João Gilberto, João Donato, Tabino Bonfa – I’ve been listening to bossa nova since the middle of college. Kasra got me into these albums and that’s been really influential for me when it comes to bass playing. It’s a nice mix of being a traditional bass but also holding down the chords. They explore in a very concise way I really enjoy and try to do.
For sure. They do some really interesting stuff on the bass and have some incredible ad libs. [mimics walking bass]
Yeah! They did some really incredible stuff with melodies that underpinned everything really nicely. And they do weird stuff with rhythm which I enjoy. I like listening to that.
BYT: It seems like a lot of established bands and artists have been moving out to Hudson – and to the Catskills – more generally, including Albert Hammond Jr., Yeasayer, Eleanor Friedberger. What do you think draws creative types out there? Having lived there for a while, what’s your take on that migration?
Livitsanos: We moved out to Hudson after college, and I get it. It’s really cheap, and peaceful, and you kind of get into your own world out there. There’s not really much to do, you know? It’s not like New York City. It’s conducive to making things.