Header Image by Alex Broadwell
Boston has been the home to many great musical acts over the past decades. There was a hardcore scene big enough and hard enough to compete with D.C.. Later, the Pixies emerged and rocked the world. There’s even a band called Boston. There was always something going on in Boston music-wise, and it’s becoming obvious that it will not be lacking anytime soon. Newer bands are emerging and having just as much influence as their predecessors. Speedy Ortiz recently took the world by storm with their new album, Foil Deer. Pile makes other bands cry because of how good they are. Palehound, the brainchild of singer/songwriter/guitarist Ellen Kempner, is on similar track. She first released the Bent Nail EP in late 2013, then the Kitchen 7” in early 2014, the latter being released on Exploding in Sound Records. Each EP was recorded with different musicians, including members of Ava Luna and Great Canopy, and the maturation of sound is noticeable even though the EP’s were recorded only a few months apart. A new album is on the way and I had a chat with Ellen about the formation and current lineup of Palehound, the family aspects of Exploding in Sound Records, and one of the most important topics in music today: women.
[bandcamp album=2617774795 bgcol=030202 linkcol=dd9db5 size=venti]
Ellen: (Laughing) There’s not really even a great story behind that. I guess it’s just like I was a freshman in college and had just recorded these songs and kinda never really liked my full name that much. I was just kind of bored by it. And then I was approached by Dan Goldin of Exploding In Sound Records about putting it out and then I all of a sudden had to think of a name to put it under. There was just nothing obvious and I kind of toyed with some names from a book of characters or some things like that but they all sounded kind of trivial and didn’t really represent the music too well. So I kind of just pulled from various themes in my music. In high school I would write about dogs a lot and so I had been specifically thinking about a song I wrote in high school called “Pale” that I never really released but it definitely captured a certain time I was going through in terms of a lot of shit and my sexuality and stuff. And so it made sense to shove those two things together and it sounded fine. I don’t know, over the course of a week I was freaking out trying to think of something that didn’t sound totally stupid and lame (laughs).
Well if it helps any, I think the name Palehound is pretty good. I recall seeing that you started Palehound as a solo project, how did it form and get where it is today?
I kind of had been writing songs in high school, I was just writing a bunch of songs and doing a whole bunch of demos in my senior year under the name Kempa. I had just recorded an album of demos that I recorded on garageband in my house where I had played all of the instruments, and very poorly in some cases. And then Dan who runs Exploding In Sound Records (EIS) with Dave Spak, heard the demos and inquired about what I was up to. I went to one of the EIS showcases because I was just obsessed with all the bands like Grass Is Green and Speedy Ortiz, who were on the label at the time. And at the time I had just finished recording the Bent Nail EP with Julian Fader and Carlos Hernandez of Ava Luna, so it was really good timing that I just had these songs. I mostly just wanted to play them with Julian and Carlos (laughs) I didn’t really have big plans of what I wanted to do with the EP, I kind of just wanted to show it to my friends and put it on the internet. But yeah, I guess it started from there. All of a sudden I was on this label that was getting a lot of traction and it was almost immediately that I was able to get shows in the city.
Looking at your releases I noticed you play with different musicians on every album, and you have two other different musicians listed as playing with you on Facebook. Do you have a definite line up?
Yeah, Yeah I guess no not really (laughs) I’m now in kind of like a trio. It’s me and drummer Jesse Weiss, who is amazing and one of my best friends. He used to play in Grass as Green which is how I know him. I’ve always been a huge fan of his drumming and it’s an honor to get to play with him. I moved to Boston, so I had to reassemble everything. And then Nick Koechel is playing bass. He used to play in a band called I Kill Giants, and plays in a band called People Like You now. I found him because he was a coworker of mine at a restaurant I got a job at when I moved to Boston, so it was kind of a fluke. I guess in terms of live bands, they are pretty consistent. But it’s always been me writing the parts and demoing it out, so it’s been easy to rotate accordingly.
How do you like Boston?
I really like Boston. It’s the first time I’ve ever really lived in the city. I grew up in Connecticut about an hour away from New York City, so I had experience navigating that scene and had that at my fingertips in high school. Like, being able to go see EIS bands at places like Silent Barn, which was a totally amazing opportunity. But this is my first time living in a city and Boston’s so different. It’s so small. It’s really nice, I really like the small city vibe. It’s very livable and, at least in my neighborhood, in Allston, there’s a lot of independently owned businesses, which is really cool. It’s a cool place to live, I’m really into it, and there is a great music scene here, too.
I’ve only heard good things about the music scene in Boston.
It’s awesome. It’s pretty air tight. People are stoked, it’s really nice. It’s a different vibe than NYC where there are a million shows going on every night, but it kind of has it’s benefits because there is something cool about one show that everyone is going to and is really excited about. It’s been a super embracing community. I love it.
Yes, I actually just sent everything into the plant yesterday. We’re releasing a full-length album called Dry Food and it will be coming out, hopefully, late this summer. It just depends on how fast the plant can get it back. It’s 8 songs, so kind of a short, and Exploding in Sound is putting it out. It was largely inspired by a major transitional point in my life when I was leaving college and the fake adulthood that comes along with that. It deals with a lot of themes of leaving childhood, the loneliness that that entails, my struggles coming to terms with queerness at this time, and relationships.
Are you friends with some of the other bands that are signed to EIS?
Oh yeah, definitely. That’s the best part of EIS, actually. It has this kind of family vibe. And not a douchey vibe, like, “Oh yeah we are all family, this is the fam, blah blah blah,” it’s not like a frat or anything. It’s just this really accepting group of people and everyone is really nice and humbled even though everyone has extraordinary talent. Dan really knows how to pick it. You know, bands like Two Inch Astronaut released an amazing full length album a few months ago and it just blows me away. And then we play with them on tour and they are just the sweetest, most humble people. Everyone is just really nice and interested in everything else that’s going on with the label. Which is something I was nervous about because I worshipped all the bands when I first found EIS. I was completely in awe of everyone. At the time I was 19 and I was just like, “I’m just a 19 year old girl who is just going to now be in this awesome, dude-heavy scene with a bunch of incredible musicians, and everyone was just really nice. EIS is definitely a pretty dude-heavy label. Until recently when he signed Dirty Dishes, and they had Speedy Ortiz a while back. But yeah, so I was kind of nervous about that but it turns out everyone is just really sweet and it’s awesome.
This is a big subject, but talk to me a little about being a woman in a male-dominated scene and what some of your experiences are?
(Laughs) Yeah, yeah. You know, there are challenges we have to face, just little things. We played Hopscotch Music Festival and at that show someone in the crowd grabbed my ass. Just really shitty things like that will happen, where it’s just a total lack of respect for a performer. And obviously it was no one, just a group of rowdy guys at a bar. But it’s tough to get on stage and know that there are people out there that are judging you on a totally different scale. And there are even times where I’ll be on stage setting up my equipment and the sound guy will come over and specifically try to help me plug in my amp. It’s like, I know how to do this. I know what settings I need to be on. Just stuff like that. And the general people being like, “Oh, are you the singer…?” Which, you know, can be a little rough. But yeah, it’s just hard to be judged on a totally different scale in that way. But I am lucky to find myself playing with pretty awesome dudes a lot of the time. And there have been so many amazing female artists. Mitski, for example, is incredible on Twitter, saying exactly what needs to be said about being a woman in music. And there are definitely more voices coming forward. Even Sadie Dupuis, who is my good pal, has been so inspiring in Speedy Ortiz, just saying what needs to be said. Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee did an interview where she talks about shutting down a guy that tried to kiss her on stage. It’s stuff like that, it’s really awesome that there are really powerful woman coming forward in indie rock, which is usually kind of a boys game. I strongly believe that whatever next Kurt Cobain-like figure we end up finding will be a woman, and that’s really exciting. It’s kind of an exciting time, honestly.
What are some bands you are really into right now?
I really love the new Courtney Barnett album, it’s not a band I guess, but she’s amazing I really love her. She’s super inspirational. And ET Anderson, actually, a band from South Carolina who I was introduced to by my pals in Ava Luna, and they’re amazing, everyone should check them out. The new Kendrick Lamar album is amazing, I’ve bee listening to that almost everyday. A ton of Mitski. Leapling, another EIS band that put out an incredible full-length last year. Those are kind of the top ones right now.