Rachel Warren of Palomar gives some thoughtful, revealing answers to our questions ahead of Palomar’s show on Friday May 30th.
Palomar will play (in the band’s original lineup) at The Bell House in Brooklyn.
After The Show: How has your approach to the songwriting process changed over the years? The music is slower, but what about lyrically?
Rachel/Palomar: I think when we first started out we just wanted to play a lot of the songs super fast–even ones that really would be better slower–because we thought it was way more exciting for us and the audience. I wrote a lot of ballady type things even back then, but when you play a ballad at 180 on the metronome, then you have….an early Palomar song. So the biggest change musically probably happened when we got Dale as a drummer, because he’s much more laid back than Matt Houser is.
Lyrically, I definitely swear way less now than I did…but the basic content is the same–introspective, egocentric–typical indie rock words about love, failed and successful. I did write a few songs for the last album about the fear of having kids and how that would change our lives. Boy was I right!
Sonically, “Infinite Variation” seems like the quintessential Palomar song. Care to share what the song is about/what inspired it?
I took the title from the Bach Goldberg variations actually–the concept that much can be done with little–so it’s really cool that you call this out as quintessential Palomar. When we started playing, many years ago, I wrote lots of songs that had the same couple of chords but in tons of different voicings–because I’d just started playing guitar, so I didn’t realize that they were the same notes. As far as the lyrics–that song was written when I first met my now-husband, Charles Bissell, from the Wrens. He was dating someone else and it’s written to the person he was dating at the time…long story short…Charles and I got married and the rest is history.
Have there been any unexpected benefits of being a mom and a musician? And how do you balance your time between your career, running a household/family, and music?
Unexpected benefits…hm…the kids are not big enough to be roadies yet so that’s not one… I think everyone who has kids struggles with the lack-of-time thing. It’s also true that when you have kids you become way less egocentric. If you’re a band that writes songs that’re largely introspective as we are, it’s hard to make the shift from what you do all day–work at your job where you’re thinking about trying to make a profit for someone else, then going home and being with the kids and thinking about their needs, to then writing lyrics that’re about the 1% of yourself that’s left to think about what your own interests/hopes/thoughts about the world are. So while there are many, many benefits to having kids, I think it’d be hard to find anyone who said that having kids benefitted their music. Though some people might lie.
Overall your songwriting seems abstract, in the sense that most songs are not entire narratives. You don’t supply the listener with the entire context, which makes it interesting trying to figure out what the songs are about. How did you come up with lines like “Boy is it hard being smarter than everyone” and “You must feel pretty safe with all your records around you”?
Hm, that’s a hard question. I think I used to think I knew what people around me were thinking, and what their motivations were and that made it easier to pronounce, articulate, and pass judgment lyrically. Another interesting phenomenon of getting older and having kids is that you lose some of the certainty you had when you knew way less about the world. Decisiveness is for the young, and possibly older drunk people. I also think that something that good lyric-writers (and I’m not talking about myself here, but in general) is make understated metaphors that are unique and true. Songwriters have the chance to let others see a little bit of their world, which is the cool thing about music in general.
How do you decide which songs (like “I’ll Come Running” and “You’re Keeping Us Up”) will feature male/female vocal interplay?
Well, when Matt Houser was our drummer, he had an awesome voice that really blended with mine so we did that way more. When we took on Dale (Matt didn’t want to tour. It gets pretty rough out there on the road with three women!) he was less of a singer and had a different style of drumming. The male/female vocal thing is something that we sort of tried to keep up, but that got harder when we had a drummer that didn’t sing at all. At that point Christina, who has an awesome voice, started singing a bit more which was also good. And there are many great things about Dale–he is a real rock drummer who can support the bigger and rock-er songs we started doing. But as he says, he has a Sears and Roebuck singing voice.
In retrospect, why do you think Palomar hasn’t reached a bigger audience? Perhaps timing or genre trends? I think your music is too thoughtful/smart for mainstream indie (an oxymoron, but I think you know what I mean)?
Well, that may be so, though it’s pretty flattering. We also all seem to have jobs that came first, so it was always sort of a hobby for us…we have been friends for so long–Christina and Brockett and I, that at this point picking up our guitars is just another variation of what we do together…so we’re more friends who decided to play together and did this thing for a long time, than a professional rock band who tried to ‘make it’ or whatever. I think we all always thought we’d just do it as long as it was fun. I also think we could have been more sucessful if we’d played up the fact that we were girls (we could have called ourselves the Palomarettes, maybe.)
Palomar III: Revenge of Palomar was originally titled Lift / Drag — What happened behind the scenes in the band when Kindercore Records folded?
We loved the Kindercore people–they were super nice and smart. We were surprised that the label folded, but ultimately it turned out fine. We got a free record out of it, and putting out an indie record to a small group of fans is not that hard to do, really. I wish I had a more exciting story to tell, with people crying and screaming and contracts being ripped up and set on fire, but it was kind of not a big deal.
Applying “Work Is A State Function” to your life today, how do you get inspired when you have a career in scientific publishing, a field removed from music? Do you feel like “half your life’s the same,” or are you actually satisfied the way it turned out?
Well, I think science publishing is sort of similar to music. They say there are all sorts of connections between math/science and music…but that’s neither here nor there…. I recently had a conversation with another parent as we watched our youngsters play together and I mentioned the band, and he was asking if we ever ‘made it’ because that’s a normal question for a non-band person to ask. I think I’m perfectly happy with what Palomar has done. In a way I think it’s much cooler to be a band that just a couple of people know about, but I’m not sure why… I think because then I feel like the people who like the band are in a secret club together–and clearly that club is smarter and cooler than the rest of the world. Haha.
Thank you Rachel! For updates from the band, head over to the official Palomar Facebook page.