Interview: Aaron Harris (Palms)

So you have a Palms rehearsal in about half an hour then?

Yeah, it’s a rehearsal for our debut shows in a few weeks here, so we’re just getting the set together and getting things worked out.

How are you feeling about it at this stage?

I feel really good. We’ve had a few rehearsals since Chino got back from tour, and it’s sounding really good; he’s picking it up really quickly, and it’s going even better than I thought it would. I wasn’t worried, but you know – obviously we want it to be good. I’m really happy with the way it’s developing.

So where are these shows?

San Diego, Santa Ana, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Then we have two weeks off before one more show here in Los Angeles at this venue called the Hollywood Bowl, which is a really famous outdoor amphitheatre right in the Hollywood hills. It’s a pretty amazing spot and it’s opening for System Of A Down. LA sold out right away, and then this System Of A Down show…it’s been real good right off the bat. It feels great.

The Isis portion of Palms have been away from music for a little while now. How does it feel to be back playing shows, releasing an album and taking on all of the experiences that come with that?

It feels really good. I’m happiest making music; I love being in the studio and producing, recording and mixing music for other bands, but I also love playing live as well, you know? I’ve missed it since I’ve been away. I mean, with Isis we’d been doing it for so long and so frequently that at points it started to feel sort of like…I hate to say it but it felt like a routine. It was our full time job. It feels exciting to get back out there and do it again just because we haven’t in about three years.

Is it surreal to have Chino playing alongside two guys that you know so well?

It actually feels really natural. I was actually thinking about this the other day. We’ve become really friendly with Chino – he’s really easy to get along with and play with, and it’s just really fun. We also have Chuck Doom on keys for the live show – he plays bass in Crosses, and he’s equally as fun and mellow and easy to get along with.

If these shows go well, do you think you’ll look to play further afield and keep the ball rolling with Palms?

Yeah, absolutely. Of course it’s going to depend on everyone’s schedule – particularly with Chino as he has a lot going on – but these shows will be a good way to test the water and ease into it, and then we’ll look possibly at doing the East Coast, or heading overseas and coming to you guys…just doing some little things here and there, like specialty-type runs. I don’t think it’ll be something that will tour for months – never say never, but I think it’ll be more of a specialty-type thing.

I’ve been listening to the new record over the past few days. It’s a good driving record actually; it’s a nice accompaniment to my journey to work and back.

I listen to music a lot that way too. When I’m not mixing bands or working in the studio, I mostly listen to records in my car, so maybe we subconsciously wrote a good driving record! It’s nice when you’re driving around the music – sometimes the landscape provides a good backdrop to what you’re listening to and enhances the whole thing.

In terms of the tones and production I see a lot of similarities with Isis, but it’s quite different in terms of the actual composition. Were you consciously trying to move away from Isis and create something new?

Yeah. I think we definitely wanted to move forward. We didn’t want to create an Isis-lite or an Isis cover band. We wanted to do something new. We didn’t put any rules or guidelines on it though; we just decided that we would go down to our space, just start playing and take it really slow. It happened really naturally – the stuff took shape really quickly and we hit our stride not too long after we started playing. It did feel a little awkward at first, as we knew it was something new that wasn’t Isis, and we were in the old practice space where we had written all of those records. It didn’t feel forced but it just felt awkward, you know?

We moved to a new practice space, and looking back that was an important move for the whole process – it made it feel like it was a new thing. It wasn’t the room where we made all of those Isis records, so that wasn’t something looming over us the whole time. It was a fresh start, a new band, a new sound…that sort of thing.

I read that your new rehearsal space has windows whereas the old one didn’t…

Yeah. The old Isis space was just this room, and you had no idea what time of day it was. Isis had split up so it was a little depressing being there, like breaking up with your girlfriend and still living in the same house – it felt really strange and hard to move on. Then we moved up a few floors to another room, where we had a nice view of downtown and could let some light in…it was even cool at night time with all of the city lights. It was really important. We didn’t feel like we were trapped, so it was a little more inspiring.

You wrote a couple of tracks before Chino entered the process, and then began writing with Chino in mind. Because of this, was there much of a shift in your writing approach once he got on board?

It’s hard to say. We were only a few songs in, so we could revisit them and change a few things around, but I definitely think it impacted the sound knowing that Chino was going to be singing on the stuff – even in terms of writing a little more “typically” in a songwriting sense compared to Isis. We started trying things like a verse-chorus approach. We always knew we wanted a vocalist, but we didn’t have any idea who it would be when we first started writing, or if there even would be a vocalist. It was something we were hoping for.

What was he like to have as part of the writing process?

He was really cool. He’s a really musical guy, and he’s got a great ear for some of the things that we don’t typically do. He was really good at working with some of the arrangements – just out of habit we write these insanely long songs, and he was good at helping us trim some of it down or trying some different arrangements. When working in his vocals, we ended up revisiting a few things and reworking a couple of parts. He’s got a great musical ear and he’s really easy to work with.

His vocal parts sound very fluid and almost spontaneous at points. How quickly did they come together?

Fairly quickly. It was more a factor of scheduling and time as he was really busy with commitments with Deftones, so finding blocks of time where we could work and record was a little tricky. He had a really interesting way of working that I’ve never seen anybody else do: he would sing along to the songs without singing the words, just trying to figure out some melodies and trying some different stuff, and then he would right lyrics to those melodies. Other vocalists that I’ve worked with will write lyrics and then try and put them in the song, but he worked the other way – he’d sing nonsense and then write the lyrics after, which I thought made a lot more sense. Working as a producer and trying to help vocalists fit what they’ve written…sometimes it’s really challenging as it just doesn’t sound right, so I really liked the way he worked in his vocals and wrote lyrics.

That’s interesting. I’ve been a Deftones fan for a while and I never knew that.

It’s really cool. Even with some of the nonsense he was singing I was like, “let’s use this! Who cares if it’s actual words – it sounds really good!”

Did any of it make it onto the record?

No, it’s all thought out and lyrically developed stuff. But it was tempting, you know? I was like, “why not just use this?”

You mentioned working as a producer – this is another record you’ve written, recorded and produced. After doing that for Birds Of Prey by Zozobra you said you wouldn’t do that again!

Yeah, I did say that. But I don’t think Palms would have worked if I hadn’t, just because of scheduling. If we had to book studio time every time we wanted to work on music, or record, or work on vocals, I don’t think this would have worked. It was really valuable to have the ability to do that.

I guess it must be tricky having to put your own material under such intense scrutiny. Was that difficult for you?

It was, but I think I did a good job of resisting and letting it rest in those breaks we had where we weren’t working on it, and just not obsessing about it. Also, I know those guys so well and they have such distinct sounds, so it wasn’t really hard to work with. It was more about keeping perspective and not becoming sick of the songs.

Apparently you wrote quite a lot of material for this record. How easy was it to whittle that down to an album’s worth?

It was really just about finding what we could all agree upon. There were just so many ideas that we recorded and had to sift through and say, “this is worth elaborating on”, or “this part can go with this part”…that sort of thing. You tend to get picky, and after something’s sat for a while you can back to it and go “oh, this is cool – we’ll elaborate on that”.

And you’ve got a brand new song in the works too I hear?

Yeah, we have a new song. It’s really new – Chino doesn’t even know it really! I mean, we’ve played it for him but he hasn’t played it yet. We just figured that we’ve got these shows coming up and we’ve got about 50 minutes worth of music, so we’ve either got to do some covers or write a new song. We’re still trying to work out what we’re actually going to do, but we have some options to choose from. But yeah, we wrote a new song – it’s still in the vein of the record, but there are some heavier moments too. I think we were missing some of that Isis heaviness. I don’t know whether we’ll go down that path or not.

Nonetheless, there are still quite a few heavy and climactic moments on the record.

Yeah. I really enjoyed saving those moments for when they were most effective, you know? I think it shows a lot of restraint, and it makes the band so much more rewarding when you finally hit those moments that you’ve been wanting. The only major complaint I hear from people is that they were hoping for more heavy moments, but they’re happy that there are some in there. It seems that the record is growing on a lot of people. I knew that would be the case – I feel like this record’s a grower, and one that’s going to grow the more and more they listen to it. I’ve always liked records like that. Those are the records that are most important to me; the ones that grew on me.

Has your perspective on the material changed throughout the process?

I can still listen to it, which is a good sign! The whole record is streaming on Spin as of yesterday, so I was listening to it again yesterday to check that the sound quality was good. I listened to the first and last track, and when the end of “Future Warrior” comes in I still get goosebumps.

Compared to playing in Isis, did you approach this album differently as a drummer?

Looking back I feel my playing was perhaps more restrained and groove-orientated this time. The last few Isis albums got quite proggy in my drumming style.

Personally I find it to be a very natural and cohesive record overall.

I feel that way too. It wasn’t like we copy-and-pasted it together; it was written and recorded cohesively. I think having Chino involved, sending him the demos and keeping him familiar was important – it wasn’t like he came in and we were like, “here are some songs – sing on them”. He was involved from the get-go, and I think that translated.


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