PALM is one of the most interesting bands hailing from the New York noise scene….or any scene for that matter. Their mind altering arrangements push and pull the listener around as if the body and the soul are in a heated battle of tug of war. Upon first hearing the song “Crank“, randomly going down a youtube rabbit hole, I remember being immediately taken over by some strange cosmic force…laying down on the floor, and being consumed completely.
I missed them playing at Neptunes (a local bar in Raleigh) in november of last year…but was fortunate enough to get the chance to see them at KINGS this go around (joined by Gnarwhal, SMLH, and DED) and I couldn’t help but let my inner drum nerd get the best of me. Hugo was nice enough to hang after their mesmerizing set, and give me some insight on his extremely innovative and musical approach to the drum set.
Hugo, thanks so much for meeting with me. I Have to ask….what are your drumming influences? How would you say you’ve developed such a unique style?
Its a little strange. In my head I’m kind of like, primarily a guitarist. Which doesn’t really make sense when I say that to people, because I don’t play guitar in any bands.
I feel like that makes sense in the context of Palm though, because of the way the guitars and the drums work together you sort of have to think as a guitarist and a drummer at the same time.
Yea its kind of like a conscious thing in Palm where the guitars, a lot of the time, are the rhythmic element whereas the drums and bass act more like the melody, or if not the melody maybe the lead in a way. Which is fine because Kasra (guitar, vox) is a drummer, he doesn’t play that much anymore, but his way of playing is more of like a natural drummer to me. I’m shit at just playing 4/4, its just not my thing. I’m envious of people that can. So I guess getting back to your question, what drummers am I influenced by?
Well not necessarily drummers, but what inspires you to play drums the way that you play them. Do you usually just sit down and go for it, or do you have specific things that you do to get inspiration?
I don’t really practice on my own. I’d love to, but I’ve never really had a living situation where that was possible, so when I play drums its normally just at practice. I’ve played drums in a few other bands that are pretty different compared to Palm. One was sort of like noise rock/ post hardcore kinda thing where the drums were more like classic rock influenced. I don’t know, I played drums just fucking around with different stuff in college, which is also when I started kind of playing drums regularly, even though my mind is very guitar centric. When I started getting into music as a player when I was around 14 or something I definitely always liked the drums. The first drummer that was super influential to me when I started playing a lot was Britt Walford from Slint (also the Breeders, Watter and Squirrel Bait). Even specific fills I feel like, I’ve probably lifted and used. That band just blew open the door to things you can do compositionally, and I definitely try to be compositionally minded in the way that I’m a part of this band at least. Its not the kind of thing where they just bring in a song and its pretty apparent what the drums are supposed to do and I just do that. Either we work out a song together or something just comes from jamming or Kasra brings in a song and I’ll just be like “alright, I’m gonna try and fuck this up” or just play in a different time signature over the song and see what that sounds like…and Jerry kind of switches between playing in the feel that im play and then playing in the feel the guitars are playing.
When did you first start playing drums?
First time I ever played drums in my life I was like 9 or 10 or something. My dad played music and he was doing some kind of recording session somewhere and brought me along, and they were listening back to some shit in their control room and my dad was like “why don’t you go in the live room and mess around” I was just drawn to the drums. I played them for a second and I was like whoa. Drums are kind of like the most intuitive instrument in a way, like they’re harder than all the other instruments in that you have to have independence with all four of your limbs. There aren’t really any other instruments like that. I guess arguably, Piano is one because of the use of the pedals in conjunction with the keys…but with drums its also kind of counter intuitive in that you have to develop this independence that’s not necessary with guitar and bass, but its also intuitive in that its just very clear how physical action of playing the instrument correlates with the sound that comes out you know what I mean? Its like, you hit this thing with a stick and it makes noise. You can figure out how to play percussion on some level even as a baby. I guess I like drums because it’s like this weird juxtaposition of it being a really obvious thing but also kind of limitless. The deeper you get you can conceivably be playing 4 different time signatures with all 4 of your limbs. It’s pretty insane. But yea, I didn’t start playing drums regularly until later in high school like 16 or 17 but I didn’t really start playing in bands that practice regularly until I got to college. There were a lot of situations where I would play drums because we were having a band practice and I didn’t really play outside of that. Only once I started touring with Palm and Big Neck Police, I would be like “oh I should practice this so that when we are playing a show I’m not like FUCK I wish I had practiced this. Guitar was always a thing because I could just play it in my room for hours and not disturb anyone. I grew up in Manhattan in an apartment, and I knew I wanted to play drums really early, but it was just never a thing. My parents bought me this electronic drum kit where all the drum pads were on this one unit, and it wasn’t particularly satisfying to play. Its not an acoustic instrument, which is another thing that I like about drums is that in this sort of classic rock context its pretty much the only truly acoustic instrument.
Do you remember the first show you ever went to, or played?
The first show I ever played I was probably 18. I think I had just turned 18. I had been playing guitar since I was 13 or 14 and I had started fucking around with drums at that time as well but didn’t play in bands until later. It was at this building that was a weird structure from the 1700’s called The Old Stone House in Brooklyn. It was some sort of outpost during the civil war or some shit. Anyway I played there with my band at the time, I guess we were like psychedelic rock. We drew lots of influence from Pink Floyd and Neil young so we kind of had that sort of vibe. I remember I was physically shaking I was so fucking nervous. No amount of practicing could prepare me for that at the time.
What are your kit specs? Your set up is basically: Kick, snare, floor tom, hi hat, crash/ride, and a jam block instead of a rack tom right?
Yea, so my kit is assembled entirely of stuff that I found mostly. The hardware I guess I “found” at my school. During the spring fling there was this thing and they had a tent where I guess bands were playing, and they had bought all this hardware for this showcase of the bands. It was 3 or 4 days after the even and the tent was still erected and there was still all this gear inside the tent and it all had tags on it, so I deduced that this had been bought by the school and had been abandoned. I called my girlfriend at the time and was like “there’s all this shit that I wanna take” and she brought me a random guitar case from somewhere that I had, and so I basically stole all this hardware. That’s where its from, haha. My bass drum pedal which I actually lost in Austin a few days ago was just like…my house was on the same lot as this other house and someone that played drums lived there and left it behind, so that’s how I found that. The floor tom I got from this dude that I met skateboarding who was like “hey, I have all this shit.” He had bass drum and a floor tom and was like “yea I’ll just give it to you” So I sort of kept nagging him and hitting him up for it and one day he was like “yea I’ll bring it by…but I don’t have the bass drum anymore cause’ all that stuff was in my car, and I was trying to pick up some friends and there wasn’t room…so I just left it on the side of the road somewhere, but I still have the floor tom” So he gave me the floor tom. The cymbals and snare actually I bought for super cheap from a friend of my dads who played drums. The bass drum I bought from this store called Main Drag Music in New York, which is a really good music store. They were having this even which was like a BBQ where they were trying to get rid of the surplus the store had, and they had this bass drum. My dad was with me and I was like “I need this bass drum, I gotta go on tour but I don’t have a bass drum”. It was this weird Ludwig from the 70’s that didn’t have lugs for a resonant head it was just open and it was soooooo light. Lighter than the floor tom. So they were asking for like a hundred bucks, and my dad who is like this fierce bargainer was like “I’ll give you $40 for it” So I got my bass drum for 40 bucks, got all the hardware for free, got the floor tom for free, the cymbals and snare which I guess are the nicest parts of the kit I bought from my dads friend, and then there’s the jam block. Its funny, people always ask me about that.
It definitely stands out, but in a good way.
yea it’s really loud and like super staccato and super bright.
Its fucking cool as shit to be honest
Haha, thanks man. I’m into because its like, there’s not anoter part of the standard kit that’s does what the jam block does. It wasn’t even me being like “oh I want to add this to my kit.” The guitarist Kasra and them liked it, and I guess they bought one. So I just showed up at practice one day and it was there and I was like “yea ill fuck around with this” … but I didn’t feel comfortable having a part of the kit that was like this novelty thing that I use in specific songs. I felt like I should treat it like a part of the kit. Its not so much like this anymore but for a while it made its way into all the songs we were writing, and I didn’t want it to be this kind of gimmick sort of thing. For a while I was using another crash and a rack tom but I kind of started stripping elements away. Part of that was because I’ve always thought the fewer elements you have the more you are forced to be resourceful. There are all sorts of sounds you can get out of each part of the kit. The other part is being on tour I would lose shit, and I hated carrying a bunch of shit. Any excuse for stripping away from the kit is less stuff that I can lose or have to carry. So I did away with a few things. It’s a weird combination of being practical I guess while also trying to challenge myself.
Right on. Thats a very cool way to acquire a drum kit!
How about some slightly different questions. What’s your favorite food?
I don’t really have a favorite food right now. My sense of good food is kind of fucked just from being on tour.
Ok, whats your favorite tour food?
I always love Chinese food, and pasta I guess but the odds of having a Chinese food that’s actually good on tour are pretty minimal. I almost didn’t say Chinese food actually. A few days ago in Tallahassee Palm and Gnarwhal went to this all you can eat Chinese buffet…and it made me feel like fucking trash man. It was $10 to make me feel like shit. I would have rather spent $5 and felt semi normal. On tour I guess that’s what I prefer….burritos and sandwiches that have lots of veggies. Often times you eat like 2 meals a day. Its what, midnight right now and I’ve only had one meal today, so stuff that has nutrients and calories and protein and such, are more attractive on tour.
Top 5 bands or albums you listen to right now?
Eve (guitar, vox) showed me this artist Cate le Bon who is really cool, I’ve been enjoying her album called Mug Museum. The more we play on tour the more I get into friends bands. There’s this crazy album of Malian singer songwriter stuff by this girl Saramba Kouyate with an album called 56. It’s on this cool blog called tapes from Africa which is full of obscure African music. Its really cool polyrhythmic beautiful meditative music. We have some friends in Atlanta that make really cool music called Red Sea they’re really sick. There are a lot of cool punk bands from NY that I’m into. There’s this insane band called Dawn of Humans who are super sick. Hmmmmm. I also really love reggae; I listen to a lot of reggae. There’s this drummer, Leroy “Horse mouth” Wallace who is like a reggae session guy that’s really awesome. ( ^^^ these links are pretty fucking awesome. Don’t skip checking them out!)
What would you say is your biggest drumming pet peeve?
If the way a drummer plays speaks to me, I try to just take the whole package of how they do it. If I don’t like the way they are playing it’s pretty easy to see everything I think is wrong with their set up and how they are carrying themselves. So this is a hard question to answer, but when I really try and think about it I would say…people who play the same fill over and over again, or punctuate ever bar or 2 bars with a crash, or people that overplay in a setting that doesn’t make sense, but also people who underplay when it doesn’t make sense.
A couple weirder questions:
Do you believe in parallel universes, string theory, holographic theory, multiverses….anything like that? Are you a spiritual, or religious person? What’s your deal?
Man….I don’t know anything about that. I reflect on things that have happened to me and people that I know. I guess I form a world view based on that, but I’m not scientifically informed enough to feel justified in having any opinions like that I guess. I’m not a religious person, or even necessarily a spiritual person in the way that I when I think of people I know that I would describe as spiritual that doesn’t really sound like me…but I also value a lot of the things that people consider emblematic of being spiritual such as relationships with people in my life or certain things that have happened to me and seemed to have some kind of meaning or significance on the mark of my existence but I don’t have any specific ideology or set theories that I subscribe to as far as my outlook on my own life.
What do you think, or hope, happens when you die?
Honestly I don’t really care. I guess I always think that my love for the people that care about me transcends any sense of mortality. I wouldn’t want the people that care about me to be super bummed that I died or whatever, but one thing I’ve never really understood is why people are super precious about what happens to their bodies after death. I think it would be cool if I died, to just dump me in the woods and let animals eat me. I just don’t care. When I’m going to die and how it happens is concerning I guess, but I don’t have any notion of what should happen to my body or my memory after I’m gone because I feel like whatever happens to me after I die wont affect me in anyway, because I’d be dead.
Finish this joke – How many drummers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Ha, I don’t know man…you’d have to ask a real drummer. It’s funny enough to me being interviewed in this context. You’re a drummer talking about drum stuff, where as I don’t know shit about gear, I don’t know shit about technique. I don’t even consider drummer to be a part of my identity. If you woke me up in the middle of the night and was like “are you a drummer?” Id be like “I dunno.” I love music forever, but if someone told me I couldn’t play drums anymore that I could only play other instruments id be like “alright, that’s fine.” In terms of drummers, it doesn’t take a lot to intimidate me. I’ll see some 17 year old kid play with some band that I don’t even think is that good, and ill be like “fuck that kid is a real drummer…I’m just a fraud.”
That’s a really refreshing and interesting outlook from such a talented musician. I really like the fact that you don’t consider yourself a drummer, and yet you’re such a bad ass at it. That in itself speaks volumes to me. Its fucking dope, and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me after the show.
I really appreciate you caring about what I have to say. Its super flattering, and it does wonders for my ego, haha. Great talking to you, and thanks again for lending me your bass drum pedal. You really came through in the clutch, no pun intended.
PALM is : Eve Alpert (Noise Angel), Gerasimos Livitsanos (Space Bass), Kasra Kurt (Sonic Shaman), and Hugo Stanley (Panoramic Percussion).
Trading Basics is out on Exploding Sound Records. Do yourself a favor and pick it up!
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