London rock act Palace’s third album, Shoals, releases today. Exploring existential fear, the beauty of life, and the chaos in between, Palace are making music for the mind.
If you gaze upon the album covers of Palace, you might notice a recurring theme: nature. It’s a lifelong interest of lead singer Leo Wyndham and fellow members Matt Hodge (drums) and Rupert Turner (bass), who all grew up together in the countryside. On Shoals, this interest in nature is harnessed to explore deeply human issues, alongside beautiful soundscapes and poetry.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with the band to learn all about the album. From its pandemic-influenced crafting process, right down to the beating heart of the singles.
HAPPY: Thanks so much for joining guys, and congrats on your upcoming record, Shoals. I’d love to talk about the singles you dropped and maybe a bit about the record as well.
HAPPY: Awesome. Lover (Don’t Let Down) was the first single you guys dropped this year, and I absolutely loved the sonics on it. There’s a bit of wandering piano, some reverb electrics and some steady drumming. How did that song come to be?
LEO: I think that was in the first lockdown in 2019. The first time we went into lockdown over here, we all went into our separate places and didn’t see each other for four months or something. And we started writing in that period, separately, and I think I just came up with the chords and the melody and stuff at home and then passed it on to the other guys and did this thing of passing songs back and forwards. Rue I think put his guitar parts on to it and we slowly built it up in this very new way of working in separate places, not being in the room together, and it weirdly worked very well. So that song was our first taste of lockdown working, in a way.
HAPPY: Nice, so before lockdown and COVID you normally wrote songs together in a room, so it was a new thing, sending it off, then getting a part back?
LEO: I think we tend to write on our own, and then we bring it to the room, and then you go into the room, then you build your stuff up together in the room. But yeah, the whole studio situation was taken away, so it was a sort of pass the parcel, you just add your bit, there’s not much debate and you’re forced to be quite decisive and it works quite nicely.
HAPPY: That’s cool that you guys obviously found success with it. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I thought there might have been a bit of a Jeff Buckley influence. Is that true, or were there some other artists that inspired that sort of sound?
LEO: I think there’s a lot of different stuff, but he’s always been – especially for me and Matt – he’s a big obsession of ours and we’ve grown up listening to his music, live records, and Grace and all that stuff, and he’s just incredible. And I think he’s a big inspiration in what the songs are about, in the emotion and the playing and the feeling. It’s a big one for us, right Hodge?
MATT: Yeah, absolutely. It always has been, since the beginning. I think the song title [Lover (Don’t Let Me Down)] may be a bit of a subconscious reference there as well – kind of subconscious but on purpose [laughs].
HAPPY: A cheeky little nod, I like it.
LEO: Someone wrote “You should do a cover of Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”, and it’s like, I know what you’re trying to say.
HAPPY: Oh yeah, cause that’s got the brackets as well doesn’t it?
MATT: I think it does.
LEO: I think it’s a comma, that one.
MATT: Is it a comma? Yeah, we were trying to decide whether it was going to be a comma or brackets and we went with brackets. But yeah, I think the Jeff Buckley one is a comma, but, you know…
LEO: We should have just done an exclamation mark at the end.
LEO: Like, really jolly.
MATT: Or question mark.
HAPPY: Love it. Your next single was Fade, I was just having a look at the lyrics before we started. They’re pretty intense, with questions of paranoia, and happiness “turned to grey”. Was this written during a really rough experience?
LEO: Yeah, I think the lyrics of it are formed over a couple of years. It’s not necessarily anything too recent, but just a lot to do with existential fears, and fears of death and dying, and what happens to your body, and this idea that the mental roller coasters that we all go through at some points, and those paranoias and fears building in yourself and the connection between your mind and the body. And I certainly had an interesting creative process of… a fearful, paranoid anthem to that thing, and within instruments trying to capture that chaos of thought, and in the sound and stuff, and in speed and energy of the song.
HAPPY: That’s really cool. The rhythm section has this running feel to it, so it’s cool that you mention the speed reflecting that intense emotion.
LEO: Yeah, for sure.
HAPPY: And I guess all of the singles really explore the human condition and some of those scarier feelings of fear and paranoia, which is really cool, and I think a really important message for our time at the moment. You’ve described the next single Where Sky Becomes Sea as about the “heart-breaking thought of being separated from the one you love when you die”, and you use really vivid imagery to explore that concept. Do you think there was a way in which nature kind of seeped into the lyrics?
LEO: Yeah definitely. I think that’s in a lot of the lyrics; there’s a lot of influence from nature and I think in our band as a whole, and this subject, and the way things are, we’re always influenced by nature and we all were born in, and come from the countryside and nature is a big part of our lives and we love being around it and in it. And I think maybe the idea of, in death, you’re taken back to nature in a way and you are – you become natural things again – and the song plays with that idea and the lyrics; when you die, you are given back to the earth and you become part of the sea and part of the trees and all these things.
And I always just think that you know, in a way, that’s such a beautiful way to look at death and maybe death doesn’t always have to be such a dark thing, but it can be a very beautiful thing in a way because you’re returning back to nature and some sort of paradise or something. But yeah, it’s definitely a big one for us, getting into the nature vibe, that’s for sure a big one for us.
HAPPY: That’s really interesting. The music nerd in me is coming out, was the time signature 6/8?
MATT: Yeah, it is.
HAPPY: You guys enjoy switching up the time signature?
HODGE: Yeah, I think a lot of our songs are six, most are 6/4. Yeah, six just kind of happens [laughs].
LEO: We need to do some really mental time signature at some point, a song that’s just so complicated it just really throws people off.
HAPPY: You guys filmed the live performance music video with David J East. How was that experience, working with him?
MATT: Really cool, yeah, really awesome. It was amazing for us to do something with him, ’cause we’ve been onto his stuff for a long time, he’s done loads of films and stuff. He’s just a super creative guy I think, and he’s really good at simple, beautiful visuals. And he had this idea to shoot this thing in this crazy space, with the simplicity in mind, the backdrop just did all the talking; it was just nuts, this jet engine testing site, it was just really cool, it felt sort of cold war-esque [laughs]. It was just really cool, so yeah, he just made it look amazing basically, and it was a really, really fun thing to do.
HAPPY: I was wondering if it was a warehouse or something. I love that you guys chose that.
MATT: It was like an aircraft hangar and then at the end there was a tunnel, it was very ominous and the lighting was nuts. And you’ll be able to see a bit more of that in the next couple of songs that are coming out. And then there was the control room where they must have pressed the red button for the testing, you know, which was just, really eerie, and lit by this kind of spooky green light. It was very cool, a very cool sort of place.
HAPPY: Yeah, so you recorded some more tracks there?
HAPPY: Oh sick, but they’re upcoming?
MATT: Upcoming, upcoming yeah, watch this space.
HAPPY: Nice, nice. I read that this single will be the closing song on the record. Was there a reason behind making that one the book-end?
LEO: Which one’s the end song again sorry?
HAPPY: [Laughs] Where Sky Becomes Sea.
LEO: Shit, I totally forgot that.
MATT: Yeah, we’re still getting our heads around the… like it all happened pretty kind of quickly actually. The tracklist thing came around really quickly and we had to make the decision really fast, which is kind of scary, so we’re still getting our heads into it a bit.
I guess I just felt… we went through a few different options, definitely, but you just, you can’t really get away from the fact that it feels like a really amazing closer, it felt like quite an obvious one. And lyrically, as well, it’s very fitting, so in the end, it felt like an obvious choice. But we definitely had a few alternative options, but I think it works.
HAPPY: Yeah, it’s kind of like a gentle… you’re just sailing away at the end of the record, you know?
LEO: And then a storm comes in, and then you drown… no.
HAPPY: The paranoia has returned [laughs].
MATT: And takes you straight back to track one.
HAPPY: I also read it’s been described as – the whole record – as exploring three main existential dilemmas. Could you explain this a little bit more for us? Was paranoia or fear one of them?
LEO: I don’t know really, that’s come up a few times. Someone decided that there were three pillars of the album. And I think there probably are very specific things, but it’s more an existential – general existential – fear, but very much the fear of death is a real big one, and what happens to us, and that’s always been something we’ve always been terrified of and fascinated by at the same time and certainly something I lie in bed at night freaking out about.
And then the existential fear of what one’s purpose is, and why we’re here, and how ridiculously insignificant we are. I’ve definitely had moments where you let those thoughts take over in your brain and it can be a very terrifying thing. And so I think that was something in the lyrics I wanted to explore a bit, that fear of what the hell it’s all about and how insignificant you can feel when things in your life can seem very weighty and then actually, the reality is, how tiny and nothing we are, you know. I don’t know, it’s the sort of general thing really.
HAPPY: Yeah right. I reckon your fans have plenty to chew on, lyrics wise. They’ll be asking the big questions, you know?
LEO: Just trying to confuse everyone as much as possible [laughs]. No no, I’m joking. I think in the lyrics, there’s a lot we want to be interpretive, and people to take from them what they want. And we so often get messages back from people about the lyrics, just saying how the song meant something to them and each thing is often a very different experience and that’s a really cool thing, for it to not be too direct with things and keep things slightly open-ended in the lyrics, for people to be able to translate it in their own way.
HAPPY: Nice, love it. Just before we wrap up, is there anything you want to let your fans know about the record before we head off?
MATT: I guess, only to say that we can’t wait to get out to Australia, and it’s really high up, well it’s probably at the top of our hit list and it’s going to happen.
HAPPY: Oh awesome, that’s sick.
MATT: We just want to thank everybody for listening, and yeah, we’ll definitely be out there soon.
LEO: We’ll get there, yeah.
HAPPY: It’s been a long wait, yeah.
LEO: Yeah, but everyone’s been very patient and now it feels like it really is going to happen, so, we’ll see everyone very soon, that’s for sure.
HAPPY: Awesome, awesome. Well thanks so much for your time, Palace, it’s been a pleasure.
LEO: No worries.
MATT: Thank you very much hey.
LEO: Thank you man.
Shoals is out now via Fiction Records / Virgin Music Australia. Stream or buy the album here.
Interview by Manning Patston
Photos by Daniel Harris