Palehound Interview: “I feel like I laid myself bare with ‘Dry Food'”

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palehound interview

Dry Food  is out now via Heavenly Recordings

On Saturday 5th March, female-centric event organisers Fan Club celebrated their first birthday at Rough Trade Nottingham. The event also fell on International Womens Day, though all genders and ages were welcomed in for cake, a screening of Spice World and a killer line up of DJs, artists and bands. In attendance were Allston band Palehound, who are currently on tour in the UK. I watched their set and had the chance to take vocalist Ellen Kempner aside for a chat.

Overblown: The new album came out yesterday. How does Dry Food differ from Bent Nail?

Ellen Kempner: I feel like I laid myself bare a little more with Dry Food – with Bent Nail I was pretty scared about being vulnerable and I had this fear of people making fun of me or thinking I was weak or whatever. So I was just like ‘I’m going to include a lot of metaphors in the lyrics and I’m just going to make this really coded’ and I wasn’t forcing it but I also wasn’t super stoked on writing super bare lyrics. But with Dry Food I was kind of like fuck it, I’m just going to write what I want to write and sing about what I want to sing about, and be openly queer on this album.

O: How was it to tour with Bully? Who else would you tour with given the chance?

EK: Bully was awesome to tour with, they’re the best people. It’s actually really funny that you should mention my vocal range because Alicia and I had a joke that we aren’t ‘real’ singers, and that it’s funny how we make money from singing because we’re not actual singers. We would walk around trying to sing like Mary J Blige with it sounding just horrible! If I had the chance to tour with anyone else it would be Dilly Dally – they’re still pretty small all things considered but they’re amazing. Also Angel Olsen, Courtney Barnett, The Breeders, Kim Deal… I have this list, I think about this every day.

O: Since today’s gig is part of Fan Club’s International Women’s Day Event, what does feminism mean to you?

EK: Today I was joking about it and I’ll joke about it on stage again: I think International Women’s Day is really funny because it’s like ‘great, we have a day’! You know? Like sure, they have the other 364. Obviously I think we should celebrate it since we have it. Fan Club is awesome; it’s also their first birthday so I think that’s more worth celebrating. Earlier this week I went into a music store to buy guitar picks and the guy asked if I was making a necklace – I said no. He then asks if they’re for my boyfriend – I said no. And I would just love for stuff like that to not happen. That’s what feminism means to me: I have two guys in my band and I see the difference in the way people talk to us, I see the way that men come up and hug me and not them having just assumed that they could touch me. So I don’t think I have a specific ‘what does feminism mean to me’ but I would like equality and even with all the progress being made there’s still things like that happening. It’s the everyday things and I would love to not have to be aware of gender at all – I want to think about it but on my own terms, I don’t want other people to be constantly reminding me.

O: You’ve spoken before about finding and expressing your identity through music. How easy is this for you?

EK: Actually it depends, I feel like I’m very fortunate to say it’s been easy because I’ve been in a community which has allowed it to be easy for me. I think that’s a huge privilege to be able to come out as queer in my music scene and it’s helped me in a lot of ways to relate to more people. I’ve been incredibly lucky with being true to myself and having people understand it. With this album I’ve garnered more fans than I’m actually singing to, now there’s more people like me listening.

O: How does playing in the UK compare to the US?

EK: It’s been crazy so far because it’s my first time here and the record only came out yesterday, so for the first couple of shows I had nothing released in the UK. The audience was full of people who had never heard our music or had only heard it if they were caught up with the singles. It’s been weird because in the US when we didn’t have anything out we’d play small shows but here I’ve played to at least 100 people every night of this tour so far. So it’s been cool, definitely different and interesting.

O: What is the dynamic in the band? Is it like a family relationship?

EK: It is. Jesse and I are roommates and we’ve been playing together for a while now, a year and a half. He’s like a brother to me at this point. Then Dave who plays bass joined the band in August and we get on really well. They’re really unlike any of my other friends, so it’s kind of nice for me to have this distinction with them.

O: What are your next moves (after the tour)?

EK: After the tour is over it’s going to be the longest break I’ve had since last March. I haven’t been able to write that much or work on the next record, which has been the hardest part of touring for me. I’m really looking forward to going home and writing, hanging out with friends, being a real person.

After the interview I joined the crowd to watch Palehound play. Ellen, still wearing her party hat and glitter face paint, joined her bandmates who were similarly glittered. Their set followed rousing performances from Babe Punch and Amber Arcades and they kept the excitement going with punchy tracks.

Slowing down for a second as they launched into the title song from their new album Dry Food, Ellen told us, ‘The next song is about being lonely. Not anymore though, I’m good now. But it sucks…’ By this point the crowd were hanging on her every word, spoken or sung. This honesty in the lyrics, the performance and the mid song ponderings made Palehound one of the best received bands of the night.

Towards the end of the set, Ellen has another admission. She announces, ‘Someone asked me earlier what feminism means to me and I want to change my answer. Feminism to me is every day being International Women’s Day!’

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