"We’ve always had this weird thing with the ocean in our music..." - hmv.com talks to Palace
Delivering their 2016 debut album So Long Forever as a quartet and its 2019 follow-up as a trio, London-based alt-rock band Palace have shifted and shufled their line-up over the years, more recently adding a fourth and then a fifth member as tours cancelled in response to the pandemic led them into a period of introspection and creativity as they prepared material for their next full-length offering.
The fruits of those efforts arrive this week in teh form of their third album Shoals, which makes its way into stores on Friday (January 21). Ahead of the new album's release we spoke to frontman Leo Wyndham and guitartist Rupert Turner about why this record was borne out of the feelings of isolation during the lockdowns, and why they feel their songwriting had kicked into a new gear on this record...
Your line-up has shifted a bit over the last few years – who is Palace now?
Leo: "So there’s our drummer Matt, our guitarist Ru and me, and then we have a bassist called Harry and a new synth / keys guy called Tom who lives in Berlin, so we now have a fifth member, which is crazy, but he’s adding all these extra sounds and textures, which is quite cool.
“We’re all just old friends, and we all shared a love of music. We started the band literally just as a fun thing to do in the evenings outside of our day jobs and other things we were doing, we started working at this studio in Camden called Scar Studios, which has since disappeared, just as a three-piece. But we realised quite quickly that me might be onto something, something that we could take further. Since then it’s just kind of grown and here we are.”
When did you begin putting together the songs for this new album?
Leo: “We pretty much started when the first lockdown started, it was in that exact moment because our tours were cancelled as we went into lockdown and we just sort of threw ourselves into that process of working on new material. It flowed very quickly from that point and I think it was very much born out of suddenly being in a lockdown and being in isolation without any distractions and being confronted by yourself in that situation. In that respect it was a good environment for being reflective and letting things come out of you. So it very much came out of that experience.”
Obviously the pandemic has affected a lot of bands and artists, but we understand Leo that you had quite a severe case of Long COVID?
Leo: “Yeah, I had a weird experience with it. Just before lockdown I went to a gig and got it, and then it just went on for nine months or something. I had some long COVID stuff and my chest just felt like it was clamped. It was quite scary, because obviously with singing there were times when I wondered if I’d be able to get back to doing it again. Singing became quite a difficult thing to do and I was feeling very lethargic and energy-less and all these things. So yeah, it was a bit scary but it could have been a lot worse, obviously, and I’m feeling a lot better now.”
Glad to hear that. How did you go about putting this album together in the midst of all that?
Leo: “Usually it’s me or Ru who will individually come up with some basic chords, and if it’s me I’ll usually put some melodies and a rough vocal on it and then send it to the other guys. In the first lockdown, because we had to cut out that thing of being together in a room jamming together and working through stuff, we did it in that way of just passing it down the line. We wondered if it would work, but actually it really did work, I’d pass my bits to Rupert and then he’d add his parts and pass it on. Lots of the songs on this album have come from that sort of Frankenstein method of piecing bits together and adding bits on.”
Rupert: “It was kind of like three sections. The first bit was bass and drums in a studio in Shoreditch, then Leo and I did our guitar parts individually in a different studio in Hoxton, and then Leo finished off with overdubs and vocals in his studio at home.”
Leo: “It was strange doing guitars separately. That was a bit odd.”
Rupert: “Yeah, in hindsight I think Leo and I would have liked to be in the same room doing guitar parts, generally. But we had to do it the way we did to learn that.”
Have all of those experiences fed into the lyrics on this album a bit, do you think?
Leo: “Definitely, and it’s not specifically a record about COVID or that kind of thing, but I do think it was borne out of that experience of being in isolation, there’s no distractions and nothing to do so for me it was quite reflective. It gave me time to look at myself and think about the things I didn’t really like about myself and maybe try and confront them. So in that sense it was very easy to tap into those themes on the album, because we couldn’t go to the pub or see people, or do normal things. So it’s a COVID album without being about COVID."
There’s a sort of lyrical preoccupation with the ocean on the new album too – is that how the title came about?
Leo: “Yeah, we’ve always had this weird thing with the ocean in our music, even from the early days we felt like there was as a sound in our music that reminded us of the ocean a bit, in that it can be very aggressive and ferocious, and then be very tender and gentle and beautiful. We like that idea of this combination, so in our music there’s always been this strange connection with the ocean in some way, and with this album more than any other it felt like there was a lot of that sort of feeling in the sounds and in the instruments.
“And then the themes of the album about our mental state, it felt like there was a parallel with the depths of the ocean and the depths of our minds, the mysteriousness of those two things. So it came together in a weird way but it felt very natural.”
Was there any particular track that kicked things off on this record?
Rupert: "The first one we did was ‘Lover, Don’t Let Me Down. I think ‘Lover...‘ and ‘Bring Me the Rain’ were the first ones that Leo sent me."
Leo: "Yeah, and we were instantly pretty excited, I remember Ru had put his guitar on ‘Lover’ and it was like ‘wow’ This song just came to life and it felt like this very exciting next step. We just knew I think that we were in ta new gear of writing. From there it all flowed pretty quickly."
You’ve worked with Leo Abrahams on the new album – is he producing the whole thing?
Leo: “He did, yeah. He’s somebody that we’d wanted to work with for a long time, we almost worked with him on the first two records, but this time it all just worked out and he did the whole thing, pretty much. He’s all about atmospherics and ethereal sounds, so it’s always felt like a good match for us. And he’s an amazing guitarist, so it’s incredible to work with someone like that. Although it can also be quite intimidating when they pick up your guitar and go ‘just play it like this’, and it’s some mad chord you’ve never seen before in your life. But it was really cool, he brought a lot to the record."
Rupert: "I think he just came at things from such a different angle than we’re used to. It was very good dissecting things. With our demos, we come up with a lot of parts and just slam them all on, and it ends up becoming quite mushy. But he can be quite scientific, picking bits and letting each of them have their own moment. Whereas sometimes I think we just get a bit overexcited and throw everything on.”
Were there any particular records he’d worked on that made you think he’d be a good fit?
Leo: "We’d heard some of the stuff he’d done while he was working with Brian Eno. He told us this crazy story of how they met, Brian Eno was his hero and he was just playing a guitar in a guitar shop when Brian Eno walked in, so he just carried on playing to see if he could get him to notice, and he just came over and said ‘here’s my number, give me a call.’ So they worked together on some of the atmospheric stuff that I’d heard.”
Rupert: “There was also that Ghost Poet record that he worked on as well, that I really like.”
Leo: “And he’s done such a range of stuff that he was never tied down to one idea, that really appealed to us.”
Have you been able to play any of the new stuff live yet? How has it been going down?
Leo: “We did all of three gigs in the last two years, all festivals, that we feel blessed that we got to do, we tested a few of the songs and they feel really good. They feel like they’re really suited to a live setting as well. And the ones we’re working on now, which haven’t been released yet, we’ve never been so excited to play certain tunes live. They just feel like they were made for that environment and there’s no better feeling than playing new tracks, even though the first few times you butcher them a bit, eventually they sound good.”
What are your touring plans looking like?
Leo: "We’re going around the UK, we’re playing Brixton Academy on Feb 11, which is kind of a bucket list one, really. Can’t quite believe we’re doing that. And then we were meant to be going to Europe after that for a week but we’ve had to postpone that until September, then in April we’re off to America.”
Besides Brixton, is there anywhere else you’re really looking forward to?
Leo: “Paradiso in Amsterdam. We played it once at a festival years ago when we were just starting out, but to headline its going to be pretty mad."
Rupert: “Yeah that will be amazing. I always look forward to playing Bristol too, that’s always a good one."
Leo: “It’s just amazing to see all the rooms getting so much bigger every time you go back, but yeah playing Bristol Academy will be fun. They’re rowdy, these Bristolians…”
Shoals is available in hmv stores now - you can also find it here in our online store.