Two weeks after the release of Shadow Expert
are on the move across the country to play the new EP along with old Palm standards and some new tracks as well. Last week they kicked off their tour in Brooklyn, and I had a chance to talk to Kasra Kurt, vocalist and guitarist of Palm, before they headed out for the rest of their tour.
PETER HAMMEL: So you all met at Bard College. What were your first impressions of each other? What year did you all graduate?
KASRA KURT: Me and Eve actually met in high school, so when we were 13/14. I don't remember my first impression of her but we became buds pretty quickly because we both liked music. I think I was still mostly into new metal (Deftones, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit) and she turned me onto Radiohead and Arcade Fire and The Strokes. We'd make each other mix CDs and towards the end of high school we started playing together a little.
We both ended up at Bard where we met Gerasimos and Hugo. Ger and I became friends fairly early on - I think we felt a connection over being mixed race / having confused multicultural backgrounds (Ger's half Greek, half Filipino and I'm half Iranian, half German). Winter break of freshman year, me and Ger were both flying to our respective homes for the holidays but there was a huge blizzard and the airport was completely shut down. In the middle of the chaos we bumped into each other. We didn't know anyone in NYC so we ended up camping out in a little corner of JFK terminal 3 for three days - just hanging around listening to music… damn he showed me so much good stuff.
I met Hugo in a history of Italian film course and we got paired together for a project. I had seen him play at a show (with Lilly of Palberta actually) and asked if he'd wanna play in a band me and Eve were starting. He's a year younger but he was way more ambition about music than any of us. Like there was no question for him that music was his priority. That really inspired me. We all graduated between May ‘13 and May ‘14.
PH: Although I've read and heard this a number of times, I just need to confirm that it's true. None of you had formal instruction, training, or lessons on your current instruments in Palm?
KK: Yeah. Well nothing serious at least. Some of us had one or two lessons when we were young.
PH: What about other instruments? I know that Gerry played piano, Hugo played guitar, and you played drums. Were those self-taught as well?
KK: I took drum lessons for a few years. Ger took some piano and was in the school band for clarinet in middle school. Hugo took a couple guitar lessons.
PH: Did Eve play any other instruments before picking up the guitar?
KK: I just asked her and she said "no not really".
PH: When did you and Eve begin singing?
KK: A year or two after Palm started. We were looking for a singer for a long time and when we couldn't find one, Palm ended up being an instrumental band and when we got tired of that we reluctantly started singing. Neither of us had ever sang in any capacity before so it was a really slow process, and initially we'd turn the vocals down really low and turn the guitars up cause we were shy. Honestly still shy about singing. I hated singing as a kid, never liked the sound of my voice and was terrified of performing so it's rather strange to me that I now routinely get up in front of a group of people and make sounds come out of my mouth. That was pretty much my nightmare as a child. But it's also fun sometimes, ya know? It's confusing.
PH: Could you imagine any of yourselves switching instruments in the future, returning to familiar ones or adventuring to something new?
KK: Yeah. It depends where we go creatively. I don't think we would arbitrarily decide to switch things up, but if the music necessitates it, maybe in the future we'll decide Palm could use two drummers and one guitarist, and then me or Eve would play drums or something. Not that specifically necessarily. Maybe we'll all get real into bagpipes and all of us will play bagpipes. It depends what sounds we want to hear. Does that make sense? On recordings we're a little less wedded to the instruments we usually play. Ger lays down some clarinet on the new record that isn't out yet.
PH: The vocals in Palm have more of an atmospheric role than melodic. Is that intentional, and how much time do you invest in writing lyrics?
KK: I see where you're coming from but I think that's becoming less and less true to some extent. Vocals began as more atmospheric cause we were really insecure singers. Now we're trying to get better at singing hooks cause we like pop music. Same with lyrics - I definitely give more time to them now. All the songs I wrote lyrics for on the Shadow Expert
EP have pretty specific meanings to me but I don't think we'll ever be the kind of band that is like "this song is about this or that" cause that can take something away from the experience of listening to a song and building your own relationship to it, you know? That's why we don't publish lyrics - mishearing the words is valid.
PH: Though Shadow Expert was just released, it seems that these songs have been in your discography and repertoire for a while. What are the origins of these songs and how long did it take to perfect them?
KK: Yeah, Shadow Expert
is really old to us — we wrote most of that material in the first half of 2015. We're proud of it but we've changed a lot as a band since then. As far as origins go: I think we were starting to get into electronic music around then. We were living in Hudson, New York at the time and we had a windowless practice space in an old school building a few minutes away from where we lived. I remember spending hours trying to make my guitar sound like some of the CD skipping-esque things I was hearing in electronic music. Looping without looping. At the same time I think we were intentionally trying to make more concise and melodic music. The music we were listening to was slightly less abrasive - less This Heat (though boy we all love that band), more bossa nova. I'm not sure how successful we were in realizing those ideas on record but we tried.
PH: When I hear Palm's music, I'm shocked as to how rhythmically tight it is. Does playing these polyrhythmic songs with odd time signatures feel natural?
KK: It's one of those things where if you hear something enough times it feels completely natural even if initially it's a little difficult. That being said - we want the rhythms to sound natural and to groove. If they don't then we'll scrap whatever we have and start over. We don't play in odd meters just for the sake of it - it's more to disorient.
I'm remembering now that at the time we wrote Shadow Expert
I started getting into the idea of making music that was really melodic and harmonious but rhythmically unsettling. Sometimes a groove (and don't get me wrong, we all love the groove music too) can act as a safety blanket and it stops you from getting lost in the melody, so I think we wanted to try pulling that safety blanket away. Suddenly all you have is the melody because the groove has fallen out from under you. Does that make sense? Again, I'm not sure if we quite achieved what I had in mind and now that I think about it some of the EP tracks groove - sorry it's been a while.
PH: At the moment, what's your favorite song to play on the EP?
KK: Honestly we had to re-learn some of them cause it's been a little while and we stopped playing a bunch of the EP material by the end of last year. We've also been working on changing the songs up a little which feels good - we're not very good at playing the same thing every night for months on end. I like the new version of the title track we're working on right now so I'll say that.
PH: Lastly, what are you looking forward to most and least about the upcoming tour?
KK: Most looking forward to seeing Palberta play every night and seeing old friends. Least looking forward to leaving my spring hibernation and going to the desert because it scares me.