It’s not often I receive promo from a band that hooks me immediately on almost every level. Palps are just such a band. The Essex group only have a handful of singles out yet (the album is on the way), but have a firm concept: they address mental health through a combination of music and video, using characters that represent both people and the mental health issues themselves (the issues are played by a kind of band symbol, called ‘The Plague Doctor’).
Of course, I’d dismiss this kind of stuff off hand if it wasn’t also backed by quality music, but it is. The first single from the slow-release concept album (which will be entitled ‘Black Heart’) is a track called ‘AVA’, which comes with an evocative video and is really quite reminscent of a slightly edgier ‘Black Parade’-era My Chemical Romance.
The next single, entitled ‘Love, Always’ (and not yet launched publicly at the time of writing), is much more spacey and angular, and for me, firmly evoked singles from the pulsating My Vitriol. It all adds up to a seriously promising offering.
I caught up with them to talk over their concepts and find out what it’s all about…
Congrats on ‘Black Heart’, It sounds like it’s going to be pretty conceptual. Can you tell me about the ideas behind the chapters and the story?
Thank you very much! The process almost killed us, but we made it in the end. The whole concept of the album is how traumatic events and mental health issues can harden you as a person and sometimes cause you to hurt the people around you, even if you do not realise this at the time. In the videos, we follow the main character Matt as he tries to navigate through life and build relationships. However he is often held back by his mental health issues and past trauma, which is personified in this case by the Plague Doctor character.
How did you come up with Matt, the Plague Doctor and his friends?
We decided that we wanted to make a short film before we actually recorded the album, but it took us a very long time to work out how we would make this work on screen and how we would tie all the videos together as a cohesive piece.
I’d never written a script before and was completely out of my depth to be honest. I randomly saw the Bo Burnham special on Netflix ‘Inside’ and was so inspired by the concept. For those who haven’t seen it, it takes place in a single room and becomes increasingly cluttered as the effects of isolation during lockdown take effect on Bo. After watching this, everything just began to flow and all the characters came very naturally.
I knew that I wanted to have the room play a prominent role in the story and almost represent Matt’s mental state. Whilst not fully autobiographical, I have also taken inspiration from things that have happened in my life to form the events and characters.
The Plague Doctor has been our symbol as a band pretty much from the beginning and we try to incorporate him into everything we do as much as possible. We toyed with the idea of having him as a physical representation of mental health struggles in our last music video for Aliens and have tried to expand on this in the new album.
Do you speak from personal experience with mental health difficulties?
Absolutely. Mental health is a huge part of everything we do, with much of our music being a way for me to express myself and work through my issues. I used to be very closed about my mental health struggles, but have found that the more transparent and open I am, the easier it seems to become to deal with it and accept myself.
Actually, even our name Palps comes from a time where I had terrible health anxiety and would get chronic Palpitations leading to panic attacks.
Do you hope the slow release of the songs might build up a sense of expectation around the wider story of the album and its development?
The idea to release it in stages actually came from listening to a podcast by Danny Freeman of A Few Too Many and Jaret Reddick of Bowling For Soup.
In the podcast, Jaret mentioned that people consume music much differently now and it’s better to release singles every few months and then put them together as an album later if you want to.
After listening to this we decided to try this and release the album over 8 months. We are hoping that this will also create some intrigue and excitement for the next release, or encourage people to go back and watch the previous installments.
How did writing around the theme impact on the way the album was written and how it sounds?
Having a concept behind the album definitely puts you in a different mindset when writing lyrics and I think it took us to some interesting new places during the writing process. For example there is a song which is much softer than anything we have ever written previously but just felt very right and fitting for the album. Hopefully this album will show a bit more diversity than our debut EP.
Do you intend to perform the album in full live, as a kind of ‘story’ like on record?
We are planning a mini all day festival for our album release show on October 8th 2022 and will be playing the whole album in its entirety, accompanied (hopefully) by a screening of the music videos.
What would you like people to take from the record, in an ideal world?
This is really interesting as I have been worried that the album is so bleak that there may not be anything positive to take away from it. It is something I had to get out as part of my recovery and whilst it is extremely sad and ‘on the nose’ at times, it really has been such a cathartic and healing experience to create.
I suppose what I would like people to take away from the album is that as dark as things get, there is always hope and you need to keep working as hard as you can to get better; trust me things do get better when you get the appropriate help. Whilst our character Matt goes down a certain path in the video; in real life I am still here and for the first time in over a decade, I can honestly say I am so happy to be alive and want to experience as much as I can.
Some of the tracks remind me a lot of a 90s band you might be aware of called ‘My Vitriol’. I wonder if there are any particular influences that went into the music?
I love that band and am very flattered to be compared to them.
When writing the album I was listening to alot of 90’s/early 2000’s emo bands such as Sunny Day Real Estate, Knapsack and American Football etc. As well as more contemporary stuff such as Movements, The World Is a Beautiful Place and Basement.
However, the other guys in the band listen to much different music to me, so this often comes out in the songwriting process!
Did covid and the strange times around it play into a more conceptual approach to music?
Covid definitely played a massive part in the album. I never would have got the idea for the music videos without the ‘Inside’ special I previously mentioned, as this was totally about Covid and lockdown. My mental health also took a massive nosedive during lockdown, which probably added to the dark tone of the album.
How have you found performing tracks like these live?
I have to admit, I am not the most confident guitar player in the world. Whilst the rest of the guys are very competent musicians, I learnt how to play guitar just to be in a band, so I am definitely not at the same standard as them. Because of this I was worried about certain parts of the album, but in a way it has been very positive as it has forced me to sit down and practice. Certain things I never thought I would be able to play live, I now have to do on a regular basis.
On a personal level, there is quite a lot of ‘me’ in the songs, so whilst it was cathartic to write and record about my experiences; performing them is not always easy due to the emotion involved.
What are your plans for the future?
Depending how this first album is received, we would love to carry on the story and have already written a few new songs with this concept in mind. Above all else we just want to get out and play live as much as possible!