By Kate Wassell
A second album secured the previous summer, a US tour underway and shows back home all booked up: indie-trio Palace were having a pretty perfect beginning to 2020. But a global pandemic didn’t deter three close friends from doing what they love best, I find from drummer Matt Hodges. We talk new releases, the nostalgia of live gigs and a third album in the works.
“Weirdly, being restricted in isolation gave us a fire and drive to be even more creative with the limited tools that we had. It forces you to think outside the box and push yourself out of your comfort zone and just do something that you may never have considered doing before”, Matt tells me over a zoom call, two days into the second national lockdown.
That creative drive pushed the band to release three new tracks that form their recent EP ‘Someday, Somewhere’. “We thought it would be a cool time to put out some tracks we already had knocking about to give them the chance to see the light of day”, Matt explains. “We had the track ‘Someday, Somewhere’ which we played live a couple of times and we always used to love playing it - just super kind of stripped back, intimate vibes. ‘Flesh to the fallen’ is one that didn’t quite make it onto the last album.” Life After, released in July of 2019, was the band’s second record, and saw Palace tour globally. Matt describes the new releases as “an extension or conclusion” to that album.
“The third track ‘I’ll be Fine’ was a really fun one to do ‘cos it was completely written and recorded in lockdown.” A hopeful, rising track, ‘I’ll Be Fine’ begins with simple acoustic guitar, building to a warm blend of instrumentals. The band recorded their parts for the track individually whilst in isolation. It was a new approach to the process that they found refreshing, rather than debilitating. “I had really limited (equipment): I just had a snare drum, and a ride cymbal and that was it. I got to play piano on the track as well ‘cos it was at home, something I wouldn’t usually get to do”, Matt tells me. “It was a different way of approaching things – and it was great, it was really fun: you’d do a bit, you’d send it on to the next person, then you’d wait and see what would come back. It actually came together really quickly in the end.”
I ask if the band are missing live gigs despite the recent spurt of creativity. “So much. It’s hard. We talk about it every single day. It sounds cheesy, but we’ve been so reflective recently and grateful and appreciative of all the amazing touring that we’ve managed to do so far.”
On the subject of live music, I mention the ‘Let the Music Play’ hashtag which surfaced online back in July. The trend asked fans to post a photo of the last gig they attended pre-lockdown; it aimed to create a community within the music industry as it faced the threats of the pandemic. Palace, alongside an abundance of acclaimed artists, joined in. I ask the drummer why it’s such an important cause.
“It’s just everything”, says Matt. “For us, playing live is the best thing and the reason why we’re a band. Everybody starts out in all the same places, it doesn’t really matter how big you end up getting. Everyone does the same circuits in these places, all the cool sweaty basement clubs all over the country. I know a few that have gone already, it’s just unbelievably sad.”
“It’s important to us as a band, but culturally as well”, Matt goes on. “For loads of wrong reasons, it’s been highlighted even more recently, but it’s integral to our cultural identity in this country – it’s something we’re pretty passionate about.”
The band can’t help but recall the rush of playing live. “Every time we get to the studio it doesn’t take long for one of us to be like ‘remember that time on tour’.” Of the shows played last year, Matt remembers Roundhouse London and the Park Stage at Glastonbury as the ultimate highlights. I mention that I caught their set at Leeds union last November. “Oh you did? Oh cool! It was super fun, that one- weirdly I actually remember I made a few mistakes at that one, I was really gutted because I went to Leeds uni and my cousin was there at the gig”, he laughs. “But I love playing at Leeds, it’s like my second city.”
We turn back to the band’s sound, and what they’re looking ahead to. Despite some long-standing influences – Matt mentions Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, John Martyn, Nick Drake – the band never try to push their music into a certain direction. “It’s never really a conscious decision- it’s always felt like a really natural progression from us. It wouldn’t really work if we all said ‘right, we’re gonna try and sound like this band, or try and fit into a genre, or try and write a song that’s gonna be a number one hit on Radio One’. I mean, I probably shouldn’t say that because the record label is gonna be like, that’s what we need”, Matt jokes.
The band’s been “all guns blazing since lockdown”, he tells me. “It’s crazy to think, it doesn’t feel that long ago since it was 35 degrees, and we were sweating in the studio… hopefully it won’t be long ‘til we can pick that up again.”
Palace are keen to keep things moving. The writing for a third album is underway, and although there is no release date as of yet, fans have a whole new set of songs to look forward to. Despite limitations, Palace are keeping spirits high, and finding creativity wherever they can - sometimes in the most unexpected of places.
photo: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/jul/14/palace-life-after-review, Jono White