FAN CLUB is not typically a platform for band interviews, but I saw Palberta at a house on their home turf of Bard College and knew I just had to speak with them. Their music made me wonder about what it would be like if the whole landscape of popular music looked completely different. What if the Beatles never made it big? What if 'The Shaggs Anthology' was a six part TV series in the 90s? What if Chalk Circle or Morbid Opera were the single most influential band to come out of the post-80s American underground?
Watching Palberta is sort of like watching incredibly imaginative children paint in another dimension. What's striking isn't so much any youthful naivety (I'm sure they know exactly what they're doing) as it is a total abandon and foreign approach to their craft. I really like Palberta's debut "My Pal Berta" on the very excellent OSR Tapes label and enjoyed speaking with Nina, Ani and Lily about how they write songs and what informs their art, favorite music, and whether or not Minor Threat is the ultimate boy band.
Katie: Can each of you tell me your name and your role in the band?
We each have the same role in the band. Each of us switches off between guitar, bass, and drums. We all do vocals and write all of our songs together.
Nina: Palberta is my first serious band -- "serious" in terms of regularly practicing, playing shows, recording, etc. Before meeting these chixxx I was involved in several different two-man projects, like a garage-rock band called High Tide with my friend Michael where we switched between drums, guitar and vocals. But I grew up playing piano and mainly use keyboard in my solo music -- a few years ago an awesome artist/musician David R. Cornejo (Play Tonto) released a 7" of some of my tunes on his label from Mexico, The Horse We Want To Hang (http://ninaryser.bandcamp.com/album/september). Besides that, in school [at Bard College] I compose classical-contemporary stuff for different instruments.
Ani: Palberta has been the longest and at this point, most serious project I've been in. In the past, I played amplified accordion in a band called Ray with members of Big Neck Police. I also played electric guitar in a band called Plankton with Lazar, member of Sediment Club. Other than band stuff, Accordion is the main instrument I play. I've done some solo accordion shows which are a mix between music and performance...I guess it's hard to describe....
I'm also working a lot with video right now thanks to the school's endless resources!
Lily:: My name is Lily and I write solo music though I haven't released anything for a few years. I played bass in my friend Paco's band, The Makers. I also used to play guitar and sing in a band called Mantis with my friends Hugo and Paco of Big Neck Police. I'm planning on coming out with a cover album this summer and hopefully going on a tour where I'll perform my unreleased solo music who knows who knows.
Do you have a specific idea of what kinds of sounds you're trying to make when you're writing songs? Are there distinct influences (whether music or something else), or is this just coming out of you in a really primal or intuitive way?
Ani: When writing songs we definitely pay a lot of attention to sound as character and texture. It seems to be a larger part of our creative process than riff writing. A lot of songs come out of performative gestures that we do on the fly when goofing around during band practice and from there, we work them into songs. Of course, we also love to jam! We have tons of influences and the three of us combined makes for a very eclectic mix of sounds but honestly, this music seems to be very intuitive for us in its creative process.
I don't really draw from other musical artists when approaching Palberta. This is probably because I never really learned how to play songs on the guitar or really any of the instruments that we play on. I like to think of them as more of a textural element than a song-writing or riff-making element. I honestly draw from the performance of musical artists and other artists rather than the musical qualities but this is only speaking for myself here.
Lily: Our songs begin with someone playing something mindlessly to themselves during practice. Then we jokingly start playing to the original bit of music and somewhere along the line, we end up making it into a song. Honestly, most of our songs have begun as jokes. I think we all came into this project with a definite style and a ton of influences, but I personally do not think of my influences when I write for Palberta. My influences are Nina and Ani. At this point, we are able to work off of each other in a way that seems very intuitive to me.
Nina: I agree with everything said above, so I'll try to refrain from being too repetitive...we all listen to a crazy eclectic and conglomerated mix of music, we're constantly exposing and sharing different things with each other, and we each came from very different musical backgrounds before starting Palberta--but honestly all of that seems to be irrelevant when we write music together. Our writing process is incredibly intuitive and never seems to stem from any specific artist or influence (although we did recently do a cover of "Hot Cross Buns"). Like Ani and Lily said, our songs almost always start by us fooling around, then they become more serious as they develop.
Can I ask who came up with the genius lyric, "when I come I can't be late"? (Assuming I heard that right, correct me if I'm wrong)
Lily: I came up with "when I go I can't be late", which has a completely different meaning than "when I come I can't be late". I don't know how "when I come" came into the equation. We just started alternating between "when I come" and "when I go" because and we like them both.
Ani: The original lyric is actually "When I go I can't be late" but a while back, a friend of ours had misheard it as "When I come" which took on a whole new and different meaning. I like to switch back and forth between go and come.
This all makes a lot of sense. What really struck me about you at your show was this really unbridled energy in the way you're playing and in your body movements. I was having a conversation recently with another musician friend about "performative abandon", that is Palberta in a nutshell, it seems. You were all sticking your tongues out while you were performing, and it didn't really seem like a "punk/fuck you" or a cheeky "Miley Cyrus" tongue, it just seemed kind of organic, like maybe that was just what felt right on the moment. Does Palberta just sort of roll out of you all without much filter, are you self-editing very much? Or is it more in line with the logic of "first thought is the best thought"?
It seems to be a mix of both. There is a lot of initial "rolling out without filter" but over time, we self-edit. Like, for instance, that song "Smile Song", the one with the tongues, has gone through many different gestural elements. We tend to mix up the performative elements over time otherwise they seem to get a bit stale.
Do you all spend much time listening to music together? What are some records that have made a big impression on you and the way you make art?
We spend a lot of time in the car listening to new tapes we pick up at shows (the benefit of having a car with a tape player) so, when together, we are usually listening to current music from our peers. While we are always recommending new music to each other, the car is the only time we actually listen to something all together.
Lily: Roman Candle- Elliott Smith, Let It Be- The Replacements
Ani: Uhh all Minor Threat.... The complete discography. I heard them in middle school and they are still one of the most important and influential bands for me. And then, hmmm maybe that song "Wicked Games" by Chris Issak which taught me about the full realizations of ham or that song "Doo Wop (That Thing)" by Lauryn Hill which taught me how to non-stop dance.
Nina: I had a Siouxsie & the Banshees discography that I listened to nonstop growing up--Siouxsie always inspired me to turn up the spunk, ESG's album A South Bronx Story taught me how to get funky, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death by Dead Kennedys was a big one for me growing up too, made me full of piss n vinegar.
Lily, What is your favorite track on Let It Be? That is my favorite Replacements record. I used to like it all except "Black Diamond", but then I heard a story about Gene Simmons walking into a Replacements show at CBGB's, I guess he serendipitously walked in while they were playing "Black Diamond", thought it was the worst KISS cover he'd ever heard, and walked out. That made me like the song more.
Lily: My favorite track? That is so hard. I think it's between "Seen Your Video" and "Answering Machine"...and "Androgynous". And I really like "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out". Sorry, that's a lot of favorites. That's a really funny story. I have the same feelings about the "Black Diamond" cover...I think I've warmed up to it over time, though. It's a really funny song to cover.
Ani, do you think Minor Threat is like the ultimate boy band? Also, tell me more about your thoughts on ham, if you can.
Ani: Hmm. Is Minor Threat the ultimate boy band? Probably in a lot of ways, but all I was listening to when I grew up was predominantly boy bands. Being an avid listener of punk and hardcore, I was made very aware at an early age that the scene was male-dominated. But despite the frustration of this, I think I was excited knowing that there was, and is still a whole world of potential for females that has yet to be completely unearthed.
Ham is a pretty interesting word which falls under the genre of Bologna music. It is emotionally belting music with a screwed up face and a as-wide-open-as-possible mouth when singing. It looks a bit like someone is in very serious hysterics. It has an element of the cheese but would not be considered corny. Think: Van Morrison's Moondance sung by Neil Diamond while drinking coffee with some melba toast.
Nina, do you feel more full of piss and vinegar as you're moving away from teenagedom, or less? I'm not sure how old you are, but just wondering where you're at with feelings like that.
Nina: I think sometimes I feel even more like a walking volt of piss and vinegar than I did when I was a teenager. Are teenagers usually more pissy? Maybe I've upped the vinegar as I've gotten older? To be honest, I don't particularly feel like an adult yet so maybe I'm not qualified to answer your question. In referencing the Dead Kennedys in your last question, they were one of the first bands I felt connected to for its rowdiness, it's angry/emotional drive...its music rattled me into thinking critically about things, made my juices flow, plus they're just awesome...and over the years I've just discovered more music that grinds my gears the same way, so yeah the piss and vinegar lives on.