Published on July 14th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
For sheer intensity and musical originality, it’s pretty hard to go past Osaka dark hardcore band PALM.
Their music jumps between filthy crust to stoner-doom grooves and into neck-snapping grindcore within the space of a few bars, leaving you feeling like you’ve just done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.
Experiencing them from a small and sweaty basement pit is something you don’t soon forget, but the band is also one of the few to break through overseas, sharing the stage with bands like Raging Speedhorn, Converge, Nails, and Black Breath over a number of tours. So far the band has played throughout Europe, Asia, and the US as well as three trips to Australia.
We wanted the sound more raw and heavy, like a heavy chunk of sound coming through the speakers
PALM does an outstanding job of capturing live-show vitality on tape. Both long-players, particularly 2012’s My Darkest Friends, are essential listening for anyone into original heavy music. But it’s been a couple of years since their last release—a 7” EP called The Unusual—so BNU reached out to vocalist Toshi Takahashi to get the latest news on the new record.
Before starting PALM, I was in a couple of bands and I didn’t fit in any of them and was seeking another band to join. Around that time I met a guy who became the first guitar player of PALM and co-founding member, and we formed PALM together.
Our vision at that time was that we wanted to create heavy sounds like Pantera, Slayer, Sepultura, and other similar bands that we liked. At first the guitarist mainly wrote songs, and then I started writing songs too since I was also into hardcore, punk, and doom music and wanted to mix those elements and create a more raw and diverse sound.
The guitarist wanted PALM to be a more progressive metal band, but I wanted the band to have a more raw sound, so he quit and we parted ways.
After that, the music matured naturally. I was feeling happy about the fact that I could play in a band that I was really into. I’m so happy to be playing a lot of shows and being in the studio.
You have toured a lot internationally and you play heaps of shows every year in Japan. But you have recorded only two full-length albums and some EPs, and that’s not a huge amount. Is there any reason for not recording a lot of records?
Maybe we’re lazy, I guess that’s why [laughs]. We actually want to make more recordings, but we’ve had a number of lineup changes, and also have played many shows and didn’t have much time to write new songs, so we have multiple reasons.
But these days we’re taking time to have a sit-down and write some songs in the studio too. We’re supposed to be releasing a new album early next year, so we will try to constantly release recordings so that you won’t think of us like that [laughs].
Speaking of recording, your 2012 record My Darkest Friends was recorded by Akira from CYBERNE, another great local band, and was mastered by Alan from Converge and Baroness. How did that come about and what did you aim for sonically with that record? Were you happy with the results?
We wanted the sound more raw and heavy, like a heavy chunk of sound coming through the speakers, more than on any other previous recordings. I’ve known Akira from CYBERNE for more than 10 years. We often share the stage together. We always talk about music, what kind of sound we want to make. He knows what we want so we just did it together.
Everything was different with equipment and stuff compared to studios in Japan
Regarding mastering, we’ve never asked people in other countries to help out, so I was interested in how they would change our sound. So it was a kind of challenge for us. Now, looking back, I have some ideas I should have tried. But I’m so satisfied with the result.
The Unusual 7-inch was the last EP you released in 2014. What did you try differently for that record?
When we toured the US in 2013, we toured with Nails. Taylor Young, the drummer from the band, owns a studio called The Pit Recording Studio, and he produced the record. We weren’t really looking to try something new, but everything was different with equipment and stuff compared to studios in Japan, so it was refreshing for us.
During the recording, Taylor asked me things like, “How about doing this?” and suggested some ideas for arrangement of phrases, so there are some ideas in the recordings we wouldn’t come up with if it weren’t for him.
So that situation helped shape the recording. It was a new approach for us for sure.
Are you working on anything else? What direction are you heading in for your next release? Has anything you’ve been listening to inspired you to try something different musically or recording-wise?
We’ve been looking at starting to record a new album somewhere around October, so we’ve been writing lately. If everything goes well, we should be able to release it in the beginning of 2016.
All the current members, including me, are fans of different kinds of music
It’s going to be darker, more brutal, and heavier than the previous one. I love listening to different types of music, going to check out our friends’ bands, watching movies, reading, and most importantly we get inspired by things from everyday of life.
For me, I absorb that inspiration and it comes out to some degree, but this doesn’t mean the whole band mixes it into the music all the time. Once all the material is sorted, we talk to each other and discuss what direction we should take in the end.
PALM sounds diverse musically. Even within one song you seem to be able to change gears and go from crust to chaotic hardcore to death metal and slow sludgy doom. What is the reason for this diversity?
All the current members, including me, are fans of different kinds of music and are influenced by that music. I guess that’s behind some of the diversity in our music. We don’t really intend to mix different elements into music. While we’re writing songs in studio, we sort of discuss it, like, “This phrase is great, isn’t it?”
“After this, I want to bring this kind of riff and rhythm.”
And we shape the song little by little.
You’ve toured overseas a lot, I think you’ve been to the US, Europe, Asia, you’ve been to Australia three times: what differences do you notice between the scenes in other countries compared to Japan? Do you think it’s easier to survive as a non-mainstream band in Japan or in other countries or are the challenges the same?
One of the big differences is that overseas there are many more people listening to underground and heavy music than there is here in Japan. And music of any type can be heard almost everywhere compared to in Japan.
It depends on the country, but it’s extremely difficult to make a living just playing non-mainstream music compared to the US and Europe. It’s not easy for bands like us to even keep our band alive without selling out.
This is just my opinion, but let me say this: I see some people who like non-mainstream music and can’t make a living from playing shows, so they sell out and start making more poppy music or just quit playing music because they can’t make a living. I think there is something wrong about that.
Having a proper day job to pay the bills and pursuing and creating your favorite music is a great thing
Having a proper day job to pay the bills and pursuing and creating your favorite music is a great thing and pure fun. I know a lot of people who do things like that and they make wonderful recordings and play wonderful shows, and I think everybody should be like that.
Not sure it’s for everyone, and like what I said, if you want to pursue what you like doing and keep your band alive, you need to create a situation where you can make enough money elsewhere in order to make a living.
I don’t have any secret at all, I have screwed things up many times, but with help from people, I kept pushing myself and now I can keep doing the band. Also I can make a living, so all I can do is to live life with a strong will and no regret. You live only once.
I run a venue in Osaka called HOKAGE. I would like to continue so that bands like us in Japan can keep playing music longer. I always learn by trial and error.
What are your lyrics about mostly? What is it about your life or society that turned you onto heavy music, and made you want to express yourself with it?
My lyrics are about what I feel in daily life, my thoughts, something in the bottom of my heart, weakness, and messages to myself in order to face those things. I like reading Jack Kerouac, Irwin Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Rimbaud, Yukio Mishima, and recently Chuya Nakahara. I think those people and how they use metaphors has influenced me.
I’m not sure what turned me onto heavy music originally, but I simply love this kind of heavy and extreme music. To be able to be myself and live the lifestyle I want as a person in general really fits the music for me. I don’t write lyrics like, “People should be like this, society should be like this”, but if you agree with me or are even interested, I’d just be happy.
What’s coming up for PALM this year? Are you planning any overseas tours? Where can people from overseas buy your records?
The first priority is to release a new album at the beginning of next year, anyway. After the release, we want to go tour other countries, so we’ll make a plan and keep talking to people.
PALM is: Toshihiko Takahashi [Vocals], Ryouta Sugimoto [Guitar], Yoshiyasu Morita [Bass], Kenta Nakanishi [Drums].