Kasra Kurt of Palm discusses the new album, inspiration and South Philadelphia.
Beloved for its levels of noise, freneticism, beauty, and harmony, Palm – the sometime Philadelphian band – has gone from dark to light since its 2015 debut album, Trading Basics, while shedding its Branca-Slint vibe for something more Beefheart-Tropical Hot Dog Night-like with touches of Brian Wilson on follow-up recordings such as 2017’s Shadow Expert EP and 2019’s Rock Island. By the time we get to Palm’s wiry newest album, October 2022’s Nicks and Grazes, co-vocalists/guitarists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt, bassist Gerasimos Livitanos on drummer Hugo Stanley continue onwards with their free happy accidents and electronic/metallic experimentation, yet with a tight, rivetting groove.
Kasra Kurt filled dosage MAGAZINE in on the grazings and nickings
A.D. Amorosi: Where in Philadelphia do you live and how do you think the immediate environment fuels what you do? Because I live in the Italian Market and I always feel like Captain Beefheart inspires my every footstep.
Kasra Kurt: Currently three of us are living west and one of us recently moved to Brooklyn, but we’ve lived all over Philly in recent years. Definitely agree that environment influences what you make, but I think it’s hard to tell how in the moment. Like I can look back now to a few years ago, when we were living right under the el with a bunch of roommates and I can understand now how that affected the music we were making. I might need some time to tell how living here has influenced the process. Where we live now is a little quieter, I see trees out our window. But we made a noisier record while living here so maybe the relationship is complicated. Perhaps I was missing the train roaring outside our bedroom window. Curious what connection you make between Beefheart and the Italian Market? I’m a big fan but if I had to pin him to a neighborhood, I’d maybe lean more toward Port Richmond.
A.D. Amorosi: Probably somewhere between the fish market on one corner of Ninth and the Mexican bakery across the street with the weird melting wedding cakes. What did you do in the last four years that kept you from the recording studio after Rock Island, beyond touring and avoiding the pandemic?
Kasra Kurt: Hmm, honestly making music we’re all satisfied with is hard. We’re pretty avid and curious listeners and we always want to try new things: explore different sounds, ideas, tools, etc. But doing so takes time. Or it takes time for us at least.
A.D. Amorosi: From your previous work, moving more into an experimental electronic realm seemed inevitable, and yet, you’ve avoided its cliches or sheen. Can you discuss moving into its landscapes? Did it come from the songs you were writing or is it the other way around?
Kasra Kurt: I think this kind of ties into the last question. Us moving in a more electronic direction is mostly reflective of what we listen to, are inspired by… It turns out that incorporating new sounds or ideas in a way that’s compelling is easier said than done. Sounds aren’t neutral: sometimes they ask to be played or arranged in a certain way, and all sounds have inevitable cultural and emotional associations. Same with instruments. So simply switching out a guitar for a synth, playing the same part, is usually not going to work. A synth has its own possibilities and liabilities, and, if you listen, will almost certainly want to be played differently than a guitar. Not to suggest that tools need to be used ‘the correct way’… I’m all about banging on guitars with drumsticks or whatever. Just that you have to be attentive to sounds, to the tools you’re using, and to respond to them. So to answer your question, I think the sounds came first. We had new sounds and so we had to play differently, write differently, arrange differently. If we managed to avoid certain tropes or cliches it’s probably because we were trying to reconcile somewhat unusual and oppositional sounds or ideas: discordant prepared guitar with soft synth keys, sub bass, and marimba samples, repetition and improvisation, etc. And those elements have thoughts of their own.
A.D. Amorosi: Is there an order as to how tracks get started or finished for Palm… I saw something about “‘Feathers’ where the process seemed more like a jam session gone happily awry,” Is it composition-focused or improvisational and letting the freak flags fly?
Kasra Kurt: Hmm probably some combination of focus and freak. We wrote the record over the course of 2 to 3 years and there’s definitely a mix of approaches. Some tracks were more collaboratively written (Glen Beige, Eager Copy) than others (Away Kit, Tumbleboy). Typically the sounds were built in advance and then we’d try and assemble them together through long jam sessions.
A.D. Amorosi: Other than shaving, why Nicks and Grazes?
Kasra Kurt: Rollerblading, berry picking, cat petting, rock climbing.
Images: Eve Alpert, Patrick Brennan