New Band Of The Day: Burnt Palms
Glenn Airey gets to know Burnt Palms and their melodic but melancholic grunge-pop from Steinbeck country.
Burnt Palms are a fuzz-pop trio from the idyllic sounding town of Seaside in Monterey County, Northern California. This might lead you to expect a repertoire full of sunny surf anthems about the joys of life at the beach. Well, their records are certainly a lot of fun for those of us who dig buzzing guitars, tub thumping drums and great melodies, but there’s also an undercurrent of minor chord melancholy, especially evident on their new, second LP, The Girl You Knew.
Singer, guitarist and principal lyricist Christina Riley lists albums by Hole and Built to Spill among her formative favourites, so perhaps it’s not surprising that a slight sense of unease has made it through into much of her own material. Don’t let me give you the wrong impression, though. The new LP is full of all the big tunes and punk rock exhilaration you could want. The introspective and ambiguous nature of the lyrics simply adds a welcome note of realism into the mix. Like the name Burnt Palms, the songs hint that all might not be well in paradise.
Christina is backed up by the superb, gutsy playing of Brian Dela Cruz on bass and drummer Clara Nieto. It’s a great blend. All three are coming at Burnt Palms from slightly different directions and it’s particularly clear from The Girl You Knew that this is a band beginning to really open up in terms of scope. By turns they can sound playful, angry, sweet and despairing, while never deviating too far from the grimy, grungy punk-pop sound that’s likely to have grabbed your ears in the first place.
I had a quick chat with Christina, Clara and Brian recently , via email sadly, rather than while strolling along the beach in Steinbeck country , but what follows might help you get to know them a bit better:
An easy one to start with, and an opportunity to pick up instant cool points. What’s the greatest record ever made? You can have three each if one is too difficult.
CR: I’m not sure what to say for this … too many bands have made the best album! I really love all kinds of music so I’ll name a few that I have strong emotional attachments to. Hole – Live Through This was the first album I remember somehow relating to … I was in 4th grade but it followed me through high school. Built To Spill – There Is Nothing Wrong With Love, when I fell in love and we drove across Canada together. NOFX – White Trash Two Heebs and a Bean … the melodies in this album really wrapped themselves around my teenaged heart and brain at the time – angry, emotional and full of energy.
B: There are so many albums that have been a big influence throughout my life, but one off the top of my head would be Homogenic by Björk. Everything about that album is perfect.
Before you were born, I was in a band (the Rosehips) with the same essential ingredients as Burnt Palms, only in a pretty grim, post-industrial part of the UK where it rains all the time. I’ve been to Monterey, it has an incredibly beautiful shoreline and it’s sunny all the time. This suggests that scuzzy, fuzzed-up pop music has some kind of universal appeal across the ages and irrespective of geography. When we started, we wanted to sound like the Jesus and Mary Chain or the Shop Assistants. Who are the bands that set the template for you?
CR: When I write a song, I don’t really think about anything other than what sounds good to me and what I’m feeling. I never intentionally set out to sound like anyone else. When my uncle gave me my first electric guitar in 2011, I knew I wanted to make music that was more upbeat than the project I was doing before (which was pretty mellow). I think since Clara, Brian and I are all so different from each other with varying taste, it sort of genuinely creates our “sound”.
CN: If any band sets the template it’s done unconsciously. We don’t start working on a new song with the intention of trying to sound like our favourite bands. That would limit our creativity.
B: When I joined this band I think I was listening to a lot of Bad Brains at the time haha! Debbie Googe and Brian Gibson are some of the bassists I admire, but mostly I just try to do what comes naturally. I don’t feel like I aspire to emulate my favourite artists because they are so varied haha!
I love your new LP, The Girl You Knew. It suggests you’re building on the Burnt Palms sound rather than making any radical departures, which is certainly no bad thing. Are you conscious of your sound developing much, in line with new influences perhaps?
CR: Naturally, some evolution has occurred but I do think there are some tracks on this album that might remind people more of our first, self-titled album, and others that while still sounding like “us”, are a bit different.
We Were Never Being Boring is a mighty fine name for a record label, and I love the mission statement on their website too. Am I right in guessing they’re based in Italy (apologies if not)? How did your link with them come about?
CR: We Were Never Being Boring is an Italian label. Part owner, Samuele (who lives in San Francisco) approached us after seeing our set at the 2013 SF Popfest so we sent him the recordings when we had them.
Your split tape with Gurr, released by Very Gun Records right here in Stoke on Trent, was fantastic. Brilliant songs, even though I must admit I just play the MP3s ‘cos I don’t have a cassette player these days. Shaun at Very Gun is always telling me I should buy one because tapes are back, big style. I grew up with tapes in the 70s and 80s though, and when CDRs came along I was glad to see the back of all that rewinding and fast-forwarding. Settle the argument: who’s right?
CR: It was so awesome of Very Gun Records to put out or split tape with Gurr. We were happy to be part of a labels’ first release, and with such a good band! The majority of the time I listen to mp3s on my phone, I just bought a record player this past year and the only tape player I own is the one in my van! I think they all have their place. I enjoy tapes while driving … it’s nice that I can’t skip songs and I love the mixes my friend makes me.
CN: It’s wonderful to have cassette tapes, CDs and vinyl records. However, if you don’t have a cassette player that doesn’t make you “less cool”! [Phew – thanks Clara! Take that Shaun!]
B: I can’t decide. My first ever music purchase was actually the Space Jam soundtrack on cassette. When I was younger I recorded songs from the radio on tape and I remember it being a lot of fun, especially listening to friend’s mixes and not knowing what to expect. I do enjoy the fact that everything is so convenient now and finding new music is easier, but at the same time, it seems a little less personal than it used to.
I see you’ve been gigging with Perfect Pussy. Amazing, aren’t they? Who are your other favourites at the moment?
CR: Perfect Pussy are phenomenal live! Potty Mouth is good too. Lots of bands we have played with have been really great but the one that I really loved watching was Priests. They are amazing. Palmz from Santa Cruz has played with us a lot and I, like Clara really love them!
CN: We’ve gigged with several bands. I’ve really enjoyed playing with Pipsqueak, the Hot Toddies and Palmz.
B: I love Perfect Pussy! Some bands I’m really into at the moment are Marriages and Braids. I’m really looking forward to their next records.
Are you going to come to the UK soon? We got Heathers to play in the courtyard of a Victorian pottery factory/museum in Stoke on Trent and even though it rained (obviously) it was a fantastic night. We could use another splash of California sunshine. You look terrific live, by the way.
We would LOVE to go to the UK when the time is right!
Does the band occupy you all full time for you or do you fit it in around other stuff? Do any of you work in a cannery? (Sorry, I just love Steinbeck!)
CR: The band does occupy a lot of my time which is awesome. And I’m a photographer too (for fun and for work) so that takes up a lot of my time. I also like to surf and hang out with my family!
CN: The band doesn’t occupy me full time. I try to balance it with my other activities. The cannery is wonderful to visit! None of us work there, though.
B: Unfortunately I don’t work in a cannery, just retail. I try to make myself available for the band as much as I can because it’s an important part of my life. Being in this band helped me get through some tough times some years ago, but most of all it’s just a lot of fun making music with Christina and Clara.
Gurr are on Facebook.