The news that Deftones singer Chino Moreno was pairing with former members of legendary post-metal collective Isis was intriguing indeed, but it pales in comparison to the resulting self-titled record, Palms. Perhaps jarring at first for Isis fans and potentially perplexing for Deftones fans, Palms is a grower that touches from lugubrious depths to warm, breezy highs with surprisingly understated dynamic shifts. It demands repeat listens and pays off in spades.
Bassist Jeff Caxide caught up with The Aquarian to discuss the terms under which former Isis members, drummer Aaron Harris and guitarist/keyboardist Clifford Meyer and he, began playing music together again, their goals (or lack thereof) for Palms and the importance of perspective.
Is Palms your first musical project since shelving Isis or did I miss something?
I did a solo project under the name Crone [in 2011]. Right after the last Isis show I went to Brooklyn and did some recording with my friend John [LaMacchia] from the band Candiria. And then I went back to L.A. and worked on it for about a year. It’s sort of this droney, ambient kind of stuff. It’s something I always wanted to do. With the band splitting up, I felt it was a really good time to focus on my own music. So that was the first thing I did after Isis.
I’m not surprised if you’re not familiar with it; it was not exactly huge or anything. It was just a personal thing that I wanted to do. The guys at Translation Loss are fans of Isis and they offered to put it out.
It’s me on bass and doing loops. It’s really atmospheric kind of stuff. I’ve always been interested in that kind of music and I always wanted to do a record like that. It’s something I work on from time to time, but it’s not really priority number one right now.
So what was the impetus for starting Palms?
It’s strange. I really didn’t plan on being in a band after Isis. I thought really that I had to stay in that context. But [drummer] Aaron Harris—I’ve got to hand it to him—is the one who kept it together. He said, “We should keep playing. We’ve got the practice space, we’re still good friends and we still get along. We should play a little bit and see what happens.”
I thought, “Why not?” We jammed a little and it started to shape into something that wasn’t going to be new Isis; it was going to be something else, so it held my interest. Then Aaron said that Chino was interested in what we were doing. So I thought that was exciting and I thought that would be cool collaboration. I’m really happy with the record and the way it came out.
It’s a really cool record. I’ve been kind of taking my time with it, just absorbing it. I always find it’s good when you’re getting into a record to listen from different points; it gets your ear to hear things you might otherwise miss.
Sure, and we were just talking the other day, we think this record is probably more of a grower. We think this is something that you’ll listen to a few times and then it will click and become really satisfying.
I’ve felt that way too. On the first couple listens, the music sounded very familiar to me, in part because of Isis, yet Chino’s voice was a bit jarring at first. The more I hear it, the more I really think it’s a cool, reimagining of that type of sound.
Right, that’s cool. I’m glad you think so.
So when you got back to the room with Aaron and Brian, was there part of you that is thinking maybe this is the beginning of new Isis, even though you said you didn’t want that?
Well, no. Like I said, I really didn’t want it to be a continuation of Isis. I thought that would be really pointless. My biggest worry was that it would be just that, a continuation of what Isis was doing. So we made a conscious effort to steer it in another direction and we brought in ideas that we wouldn’t have felt we could have brought into Isis.
There’s a stronger emphasis on atmosphere and melody. There’s almost a pop sensibility to some of these songs, and that’s something we definitely thought we couldn’t have gotten away with in Isis. The three of us in a room, we really thought, “We can do anything at this point. There are no barriers. There is nothing.”
It was weird at first playing as just the three of us. We were kind of used to having Mike [Gallagher] and Aaron Turner there as well. We knew how to play with each other as musicians, but with just the three of us, we had to have a new dynamic in order for it to work. I think it’s worked out great. I think we’re a lot more honest with each other and open about things we like and don’t like, which was kind of a problem with Isis.
Are you planning on taking Palms on the road over the next few months? You have some shows this month in California, but what’s your goal?
We don’t really have a goal. We just wanted to get out and play some shows. The record is out and we want to get our toes in the water so to speak. There are no touring plans at the moment, and I really doubt this will be the kind of band that goes and tours the U.S. for any extended period of time.
There will be shows; I’m just not sure when it’s going to happen. Everyone has a pretty hectic schedule, especially Chino with Deftones and all kinds of other things. So it’ll all happen, it’s just a matter of time.
How do you manage to cut through the mix so clearly with your bass? It seems like, no matter what sound you’re using, it always cuts through really well.
Well, that’s more from an engineering level, but you just kind of know what a song needs or what it doesn’t need. If you have a good feel for the music you’re doing, that kind of comes naturally. Aaron [Harris], who engineered it, he obviously knows my bass tone and how it should cut through.
Well, even live when I saw Isis, I was always really struck by how clear everything was, not just bass. With everything Isis had going on sonically—three guitars, three keyboards, one bass with a lot of effects, drums and a bunch of different voices…
Well, our sound guy, Greg Moss, is one of the best we’ve ever worked with. He doesn’t have an easy job of mixing all that shit. He really was our live secret weapon. I’m psyched that he’s going to be coming out to California to do these shows with Palms.
That’s a big part of it that people don’t realize. The sound guy is like the hidden hero of any good live performance.
Also, I think we had good gear and Aaron [Turner] and Mike [Gallagher] really knew how to dial in their guitar tone perfectly. Aaron Harris is a drum master. Little things like that kept the band sounding really good. It could be something as small as changing your strings every show.
Was Chino present for any of the sessions?
A lot of the music was written before it was confirmed that he was going to do it. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a true collaboration. I really feel it was. When he came in to do vocals, some parts got chopped, some things got shortened. It was mostly [produced] through file trading.
Aaron was drum-teching for the Deftones and Chino was asking if [Aaron] had anything he could hear. Aaron sent him a song and a couple hours later Chino sent it back to him with vocals, just Chino kind of singing over it and trying out ideas. That’s basically how it started.
Do you feel like you still have perspective on this album? Is there one song on it that you feel is 100 percent what you were going for?
Yeah, I really do feel like the whole record is. We definitely made the record that I hoped we would make. It was something different than what we were doing before, but it’s still familiar enough not to alienate anyone. We just wanted to make a record and keep playing music.
There comes a point in the process where you lose perspective, you’ve heard a song a thousand times, you start to get sick of it, you think it sounds terrible. I’ve gone through that with every single thing I’ve ever done. This one I’m still very excited about and very happy with it. I know it’s different. I know some people can’t wait to trash it. I’m happy with it. We’re all happy with it. That’s what matters.
Awesome. I really can’t wait to listening to it more and letting it grow. I’m looking forward to hearing more stuff from you. I hope you keep making music.
Thank you. We’re working on new stuff now for the show. I’m always trying to move forward.
The debut record by Palms is available now via Ipecac Recordings. For more information, go to palmsband.com.