The dissolution of Isis back in 2010 was heartbreaking to any fan of underground metal. Isis was an essential band in every sense of the word, helping pioneer and popularize the post-metal scene. The band’s last album, Wavering Radiant in 2009, hinted at a possible direction for the band that only added to the sting of their break up, but Palms, the new project from three ex-members of Isis (Aaron Harris, Jeff Caxide, and Bryan Clifford Meyer) and Chino Moreno (Deftones, Team Sleep, Crosses) takes this more melodic approach and turns it into a sound that is very much of its own world. I spoke with Aaron Harris, drummer and producer of Palms’ self titled debut, about the band, the album, and the future.
How did Palms come into being? Where did the name Palms come from?
Palms grew out of a desire to continue making music after ISIS split up. Me, Jeff, and Cliff were hanging out a lot and still seeing a lot of each other after ISIS. Aaron Turner and Mike Gallagher had moved away from Los Angeles, and the three of us still lived here. We talked about making some music together for fun since we still had our practice space here in town. We didn’t put too much pressure on it. We thought we’d just feel it out, take it slow, and start writing some new stuff together. It was a little awkward at first, but things slowly started to take shape and then we were in the opposite position where we had too much material and had to sort through it all and find what was worth elaborating on. Once we had a few songs finished and realized that this was becoming a new band for us we started to think about a name. I think that’s one of the hardest parts about starting a new band is finding a name. We tossed around a few ideas and nothing was sticking or felt right. I was driving home from rehearsal one day and stuck in traffic on the 101 freeway. I was admiring LA’s landscape and specifically the thousands of palm trees. Then I started to think about palm tress and the name Palms and how it was actually very fitting of our music. To me palm trees can represent something inviting and soothing. They sometimes represent calm and beauty. They can also be mysterious and haunting. They make eerie noises when the wind blows though them. They’re tall and skinny and look down at you at night. I thought it fit well with the music. We can be pretty and nice, but also haunting and aggressive. Everyone liked the name and we went with it. Chino pointed out that it could be palms as in your hands as well. It’s really whatever it means to you.
I remember hearing about Palms coming together back in early part of 2012 and being super stoked and then not really hearing much more about it until earlier this year. Were you guys writing the whole time or did other obligations constrain you?
Both really. With everyone being so busy it was hard to get everything done. In hindsight we probably should have waited a bit to release any info about the band, but we were excited and thought we could finish sooner than we actually could. Also Chino was entering a period of writing and creating with Deftones so we couldn’t cross those two things. I was busy recording and producing records, and the other guys were busy with their personal lives. We wanted it to be right and have the time to focus on it when we really could.
The record sounds very accomplished and full of purpose, instead of floundering like many other “supergroups” do. Was Chino an easy fit with you guys? How easily did the songs come together?
At first like I was saying earlier it was a little shaky, but once we got going the music just poured out of us. Chino fit in so naturally it was kind of unbelievable. That being said we also wrote with Chino in mind so the whole thing worked out really well. he gets what we’re doing, and we love what he does so the paring was really creative and fun.
Was Chino a part of the writing and recording of the record or did he do his parts separately?
He was part of the process. We’d send him demos and mixes as things came together. In the mixing he had lots of feedback about the arrangements. As you’ve noticed we can’t seem to write a song under 6min so it was nice to have him there to reel us in a bit haha.
Thanks. The artist who did the cover art (Chuck Anderson) is someone we admire and felt would do a great job representing us. The album art is just as important to us as the music and he really did a nice job capturing a visual representation of our music. I think we wanted to explore some of those prettier moments that ISIS dabbled in. It’s funny, some people I’ve talked to feel the record is very dark and has a mystery to it. Others find it uplifting and motivating. I really love that it brings up such different emotions. I’m not sure we’ve progressed really, I think we were careful not to do ISIS-lite and do something new.
Is there a concept behind the new album?
Lyrically their might be. We haven’t discussed that with Chino. We just kinda left it up to him. If there is, I kinda would rather not know and let that be Chino’s department. I like when records seem like they have a theme, and let you make your own assumptions.
You experiment with different types of percussion on this record, most notably in “Tropics”. What inspired this and what exactly are you playing in that song anyway?
Hahaha, thanks. Yeah I wanted to try adding some more electronics into the kit. On that song I am playing some 808 samples that I manipulated. It’s three different sounds. Then on my snare I have a little splash type cymbal sitting on the snare head. When you hit the drum it makes the cymbal bounce on the head a bit and sounds like an electronic snare. It’s called a drumbal.
Do you have a favorite song from the album? Any that you love playing more than the others?
My favorite would probably be “Mission Sunset”. That song feels like a journey to me, and I love playing it. I really love all of them, but that one is probably my current favorite.
This is the first time you’ve handled the majority of the production and mixing duties for a work of your own. Do you feel as though you achieved the sound you were going for in the final result?
It’s actually the second time. I also did this with the Zozobra record Bird Of Prey. It was a lot of work and I loved every minute of it. It was a tough thing to balance sometimes, but for the most part it went really smoothly. The hardest part was keeping perspective after hearing things so many times. I think I could always be happier, but I am really happy with it and proud of my work. I think it sounds different from anything the four of us have done, and I’m happy with the sound we achieved.
Anything you would have changed about the album or the writing / recording process?
Hmmm, I’m not really sure. It would be cool to hear what it would have sounded like if someone else mixed it. What their perspective might have been, but I feel like we really had a vision, and I understood that and captured it, so no I think it worked out really well.
Do you view this as a temporary project or the next chapter in your career?
No, it’s my focus in terms of being a musician in a band. We’ll be doing more stuff in the future.
We haven’t discussed that, but we view him as a permanent member of the band. I guess it really depends on him and his busy schedule. We’re still focused on this one honestly, haha.
Has the band started writing any new material?
We have. We have a new song that we’re really excited about.
I saw you recently on Twitter commenting on Spin’s Top 100 Drummers of Alternative Music list. Who are some of your favorite drummers out right now that you think people need to pay more attention to?
That’s always a tough question. A lot of drummers I love were on there. Dale Crover, Abe Cunningham, Danny Carey, Jon Theodore. A lot of what I’ve been listening to recently has programmed drums, so I’d love to see an interview with various programmers and see how they do things.
Any plans to do a full tour for the record?
Full tour? No, I don’t think this is the kind of band that will do month long tours. I think we’ll do runs here and there, hopefully some festivals, things like that. Schedules don’t really allow for full on touring with this band.
Any plans for pig parking calendars or greeting cards?
Haha. Who knows!? I made some T-shirts. They did OK. I think I might be the only one who finds it funny haha. It’s a real problem. Perhaps I should start a campaign.