By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Walter Wlodarczyk.
With a penchant for all things strange, Palberta is the result of a total abandonment of conventional songwriting and blatant disregard for all rules associated with the craft. Anything goes. Their songs begin as jokes and technical ability gets thrown right out the window. You don’t need to play a guitar to play a guitar, it turns out.
You might venture to guess that Belle Ivry-Block, Nina Ryser, and Lily Konigsberg have known each other most of their lives. Their chemistry is nothing short of electric. They trade instruments during live performances like an off-kilter game of musical chairs and practically finish each others’ sentences–but they’ve only been friends since they met one another at Bard College a couple of years ago.
Avid listeners of both punk and hardcore, the members of Palberta bring a new level of eccentricity and honesty to the music. We chat with Ani, one of Palberta’s songwriters, about the band’s unusual (and awesome) attitude and approach to songwriting.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): You’re all multi-instrumentalists–how do you decide when to trade off?
Ani Belle Ivry-Block (AIB): We never really decide when to trade off. Often, we will be practicing one song and then start jamming and be like “ohhhhhh!” and that’s how the song comes about. The lineup is always determined by whatever instrument we all happen to be on. Sometimes one of us will walk into practice and be like, “I wanna play drums today!” or something–and then maybe a song will come out of it. It’s all pretty fluid.
BTR: How do you pull off these transitions during live sets?
AIB: Transitions have always been a challenge for us. There is so much time in a live set devoted to switching instruments that we’ve really had to think about how to engage the audience while we do all the adjusting we need to do. What we try [to] do for most shows–of course we are all very forgetful, and more often than not a piece of equipment is left at home or on the bus going to the show or in the car–is bring a tape player and a little amp to play during transitions.
I have all these tape loops that I’ve been making and we’ve been using them as transition pieces. Sometimes I leave them as is, most of them are from old soul and R&B tapes, and sometimes I record over them to make them more relevant to the sets we are going to play. But yeah, it seems as though the tape player is the way to go for us.
BTR: Speaking of live sets, what’s the wildest thing you’ve done together onstage?
AIB: Hmm, it’s hard to say the wildest thing that we’ve done. There are many things that could be classified as “wild:” the personal triumphs that felt wild while performing, or the gimmicky things we’ve done that were pretty-funny wild.
Recently we played a set at Shea Stadium in Brooklyn where for our last song, “Anyway,” we were all in jumpsuits looking out into the audience–making subtle facial movements while saying “anyway.” At a certain moment we very quickly took off our suits, wearing translucent garbage bags with little underneath and then played the song. It reminded me of a scene from an opera. Looking off into the distance with dramatic cause, singing soulfully in our garbage bags.
Photo courtesy of Palberta.
BTR: Aside from naked garbage bag jams, what’s your favorite part about making music together?
AIB: Making music with Nina [Ryser] and Lily [Konigsberg] is always a difficult, yet rewarding, challenge. We are all used to creating on our own and playing in a band has taught us a lot about compromise and patience. For me, playing in a band has opened up an endless amount of possibility and potential to turn our ideas into real kinetic energy. Sometimes I’ll just watch one of them come up with a part to something we’ve been working on and I’ll melt because I couldn’t have imagined any other way for the song to have been played.
We don’t always agree on the same things but we’ve all developed a language to understand how we can make something exciting and enjoyable for the three of us. And then of course there are those times where one of us is really stubborn on an idea–and that’s where I see the ways in which I have grown as a collaborator, because rather than fighting that idea until the end I just got to trust that if two people aren’t down, then maybe it’s best to let it be.
BTR: Your songwriting process seems to be more oriented in creating textures rather than coming up with riffs. Am I right in saying this?
AIB: I think it’s true that a lot of our music is texture-based more so than riff-based. I think that comes from all of us learning the instruments in our own way before knowing note and chord structures. I’ve noticed that as we’ve all gotten better at each instrument, we’ve started to write more riffs so who knows, maybe the sound is changing.
BTR: There’s a great sense of humor in your music, yet I wouldn’t say it’s completely whimsical. How do you tread the line between a more focused intent and not taking yourselves too seriously?
AIB: Humor is very important to the band and we do take ourselves pretty seriously! I think you can take yourself seriously and have clear intentions while still being a humorous person. Often, humor seems to be a way of letting the audience in on what we are doing, yet at the same time engages them to actively think about what is going on in front of them. Humor is a wonderfully manipulative tool. It’s like hanging a piece of meat in front of a dog. Yet, all of this we try to do with intention. Randomness is not something our performances relate to. It’s all about the intentions.
A lot of the time, our humor speaks to serious ideas like identifying as female, being a female performer, dealing with our bodies on and off the stage, anger and frustration about social and societal constraints we all feel at times, being adults, etc. We translate it through our on-stage interactions with each other–choreographing funny dances or playing our instruments idiosyncratically.
BTR: What are your plans for 2015?
AIB: World domination.
To hear more from Palberta, check out their official Bandcamp or BTR’s very own In the Den.