Despite the fact that Isis formally called in quits in 2010, the greatly influential post-metal band have continued to make a mark on the landscape of underground music, first via the release of their five-volume live collection, a collection of remixes, demos and music videos entitled Temporal last year, and the reissue of their landmark first full-length Celestial July.
While the band are still formally defunct, Isis are a restless ghost, and three former members of the band decided that rather than just be haunted by their post-metal poltergeist, they would continue to make music together. Bassist Jeff Caxide, drummer Aaron Harris and guitarist Bryan Clifford Meyer, all based in Los Angeles, began to play together under the name Palms soon after Isis disbanded, and now, with the addition of Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno, have released their first, self-titled full-length.
Palms is very different from any of the former or current projects the band members have worked on, employing the vast, tectonic song structures that might gesture towards Isis, but composed of much less menace and much more warmth. The instrumentation is rich and tropical, composed of humid tones and generous, embracing melodies. Chino Moreno's performance has all the vibrancy and vitality that he has come to be known for, but his execution has a delicacy and fineness that has never been showcased to this degree before. From the elemental movements of "Patagonia" to the oceanic gravity of "Antarctic Handshake," Palms is no mere continuation of work left undone in Isis, but an entirely new, powerful collision of talent and musical influences. Chino Moreno was generous enough to grant an interview even though it was his birthday.
Your publicist just told me that she is making you do phoners on your birthday.
Yeah. It's okay, I feel like it's keeping me young.
Well extra thanks for your time then!
[Laughs] You are very welcome.
I would like to talk first about how unquiet the death of Isis has been. After they formally disbanded, they have released live records, a collection of demos and remixes, there is a reissue in the works, and now three-fifths of the band have come together to form Palms.
I feel like I surround myself with people who are music fans, and it is just a natural thing that I gravitate towards people who appreciate music in the way that I appreciate music. I'm constantly listening to music, critiquing music, making music, dissecting music — it is my biggest hobby. So me and Aaron [Harris], the drummer from Isis, he's a good friend of mine, we became good friends back when he was still Isis, and we share a lot of love for a lot of the same stuff: hiking, running, music, cycling, whatever. So, I felt like, and I can't really speak for him, but he wanted to keep being creative and do stuff with music. So the idea for them [Harris, Bryant Clifford Meyer and Jeff Caxide] to continue on making music was obvious, but at that point I don't think they had a complete idea of what it was going to be, or even that I was going to be involved.
Obviously we talked about things all the time, and one day I mentioned that I would love to do vocals on a song or whatever they were working on at the time. It just so happened that he sent me a song one day, and within 20 minutes I sent him back an idea, and at that point he was like, "This is rad, would you be down to do a couple more songs?" And I said, "Cool." At that point, they continued making music, and I think it was as much as a year or so after that that I actually got sent the demos of what would become the Palms record. So it was something that happened over a gradual time. It wasn't something that we felt that we had to do, or that we were like we have time constraints on, it was like: these are my buddies who I would be hanging out with regardless of whether we were making music together or not, and it just so happened that we decided to, and we did it.
So this was a very organic and natural process, where you all felt that what you had to offer fit together.
I think that pressure-less composition process bleeds into the tone of the record, which for all its power is very peaceful, more so that either your or Isis's work was or has been individually.
I agree. And honestly, I didn't know what to expect. Naturally, I expected it just to be like Isis-type music and I would just put my style of vocals over it, and that's the way it would be, but that's not what happened. When they sent me the music, right away I realized that wow, this is a lot more — there is some Isis music that it is similar too, I guess you could say that the cinematic, very sound-scapey type of stuff is there, and the songs are very lengthy and things like that. It actually took me a while to dive into it and get used to it. It took me a lot of listens to just the music until I became familiar enough with it to know where the next part was going, and how the music blossomed. But once I did, it was a pretty natural thing. I reacted vocally to what was presented to me, and there wasn't much though put into it other than that. Obviously there was the idea that it should sound like this or like that, but it sounds exactly like what happened when I reacted to the music that they presented.
It's very interesting that you are using the word "reaction" to explain the way you developed your vocal performance, which again fits in with the natural way that the different elements of Palms fit together. Could you talk a bit more about the specific style of vocal performance that you brought to this record, whether or not that was preconceived.
From an insider, it is hard for me to dissect exactly what it is that I did. I don't know, I really felt comfortable singing over the music, I feel that I did what was called for, there's not a lot of angst on the songs themselves, there are certainly peaks and valleys and there is dynamic range musically, but maybe not as extreme in this batch of songs. It doesn't call for me to scream my head off, so not that I even thought about that, but in hindsight I kind of realize that it is simply my reaction to what I was presented.
Were you presented with demos or complete songs? Were you developing these songs in demo form or singing over music that was already done?
The truth is that I received a lot of demos in different stages. I got a few rehearsal tapes, and later demos too, but to be perfectly honest, I didn't listen to much of it. I didn't really dive into the record until they sent me all of the songs that were recorded in the studio, completed. For that reason, I think I had more of an organic reaction to it, because I heard it and my immediate reaction to what I heard is what you hear in my performance, in the lyrics, in the melodies, in everything. There is something neat about that, in that it wasn't thought out. It's not like I had these demos for two years and was coming up with these ideas for years, it was all — what you hear on the record, the vocals were pretty much written and recorded within a month or two timeframe.
That is a particularly interesting approach to this collaboration, and taking the vocal performance you produced here into account, that immediate, personal reaction is keenly felt.
Palms was recorded, produced, mixed and mastered pretty much entirely by members of the band, primarily Aaron Harris. Do you think this extra degree of control also imparted a sense of intimacy to the album?
I wouldn't use the word control, but I think it is an awesome feeling because there was not a lot of outside pressure coming in at all. It was very much just us working on a project because we want to and we can. It's not anything that we felt pressured to do or feel like people were looking over our shoulders. It was a fun experience. It took a lot of — the word I keep returning to is pressure, of having to do something, instead of just doing it. I love the fact too that, financially, we didn't spent anything on this record, which is a good feeling, because it shows that music can be made my people who want to make it, without all the dollars and marketing and all that stuff being thrown around. It was all done in-house, organically, with our buddies. And we are very lucky to have Aaron, who is very much capable of pulling it off. He has become a great producer, a great engineer, he mixed the record, everything, and he put a lot of time into it, I have to give it up to him for sure.
It sounds very much like Palms was made exactly the way that it needed to be made and that it came out as soon as it was ready.
Yeah, it was announced about a year ago that this record was going to happen, right around when I confirmed that yes, I will do the project. It was out there that I would be doing a record with the guys, and then it happened when it happened. Really, they were still working on and recording stuff, and I think writing stuff then. I think it's really only been over the last few months, like four, maybe five months, that I started working on my part. It's also not like I went into the studio and did like a block of work, it was all done in trickles over time. I'd have a couple of weeks off tour with Deftones, so I'd go over to Aaron's house for a couple of hours, I'd record half a sing, then we'd go on a hike, maybe go hang out. We'd do that twice or three times a week, and then go back on tour for a while, and then come back and do it again.
That sounds like a remarkably pleasant way to make a record.
It was really cool, a pleasant experience.
br> Not every record has to be a sweatlodge, something can be much more relaxed and giving.
Yeah, and I think that the overall mindset is that, just knowing I don't have to do this. We don't have to do this. Even myself, I am very content with what I do with Deftones, I don't feel like I have to do side projects because I don't get what I need out of doing Deftones, so I have to do something else. It's not like that at all. I like to make music, and especially with friends, and knowing that in the back of my mind, that this isn't something that I have to do other than the reason that I want to and like to do it, it makes the experience of doing it all the more pleasurable for that fact.
Just doing it out of love.
And now, for a complete change of gears, including style of music, what was it like to perform with Dillinger Escape Plan at the Golden Gods Awards?
It was interesting! They've toured with us before, and obviously their live show is pretty frantic at times.
Musically it is very much a complete departure from Palms.
Yeah, and it was fun. Those dudes are my buddies. I was just trying to stay out of the way and not get hurt. It's not very easy to walk off that stage with those dudes and not have an injury. But it was fun. We'd only rehearsed it once or twice at sound check that was, so it wasn't something that we worked that deeply on, but it was fun, and any time I can get up and have fun with them, it's good.