Copious Notes

5 Questions for Palisades

Palisades are bassist Mark Richardson, guitarist and lead singer Scott Whiddon and drummer Neil Bell.
Palisades are bassist Mark Richardson, guitarist and lead singer Scott Whiddon and drummer Neil Bell. Lexington Herald-Leader

The past few years, Palisades has become well-known as a reliable power pop trio serving up its own original tunes and serving as the house band for the annual Harry Dean Stanton Fest.

The group — drummer Neil Bell, bassist Mark Richardson and guitarist/vocalist Scott Whiddon — is also pretty serious about getting into the studio, which it recently did with producer J. Tom Hnatow, who also contributed some keyboards, at Duane Lundy’s Shangri-La Productions. The resulting four-song EP, mixed by John Ferguson of Big Fresh and Apples in Stereo, is a quick adrenaline rush that will take many listeners back to the days when you had to get the best music on cassettes with — Ha! — lifetime guarantees.

Spinning the album, Nervous Habits — which is available on vinyl and through outlets including Bandcamp, iTunes and Spotify — we decided to pop a few questions by Scott.

1. Where does Nervous Habits fall in the grand scheme of Palisades recordings?

Nervous Habits is our third release as a band. I think that it certainly uses some of the same elements that we liked on the first two EPs — tight drumming, jangle-y guitars, etc. — but also brings in some other sounds we wanted to explore ... the surf parts on Maybe We'll Just Hold Hands, for example.

2. This album sounds like it is blasting out of the tape deck in my first car. Tell us about your influences.

That makes me smile. I'm thrilled to hear that.

Talking about "influence" with this band is a strange beast, in some ways. On one hand, we tend to lean towards bands like Big Star, The Replacements, Superchunk, late-era Husker Du. But we love lots of things — early garage rock, classic ’60s pop? More art-type bands like Wire? And all the collaborative projects along the way these past few years have rubbed off on us as well — the Cheap Trick covers sets we've done with members of Big Fresh, the Harry Dean Stanton sets. All of that goes into the mix.

3. What is the Palisades writing process like?

We've really tried to vary our writing process. Sometimes, I bring in pieces of lyrics and some basic chord changes and a riff or whatever, and it simply and quickly builds from there as a band. Other times — and a lot more over this past year — we tend to write music together, and I build lyrics from that point. It's rarely linear as a process, but it's always a treat. Neil is an amazing arranger of material — what works here, what works there. Lots of revising as we go and cutting things back, too.

Another key factor in this batch of songs (as well as the new stuff we're recording now) is Mark's talent as a bassist. We're a band with lots of range — but no matter what we're working with, Mark brings a Motown sense and flavor to the mix, which we love as a band.

Perhaps most importantly: Having J Tom Hnatow as producer for Nervous Habits and Handshake Codes (and our current recording, too) has been a huge influence. He's fantastic in every way: great communication skills, great technical skills, taste. And he gets our jokes, too.

4. How long have the songs for Nervous Habits been around? Are there any live audience favorites finally being committed to record?

The songs have lasted in various ways for over a year or two. Sometimes they morph and change in a live setting, which is nice. You'd probably need to ask someone else about favorites, but Burn the Maps was my favorite in terms of watching a song grow over time. It's the oldest in this batch. Patch Drury just did a video for it that we'll release soon, and we love it.

5. Any favorite tales from the studio with this recording?

Here's two quick stories:

Most of the time, the recording process for us is a joy. We love working at Shangri-La, we love collaborating with Tom and others. But early in the tracking process, we got bogged down on a song. I can't recall which. We took 5 minutes, and suddenly Take My Breath Away (from Top Gun) comes blasting over the monitors. And we all cracked up. It totally took the edge off. It turns out that that song was tracked on the old board at Shangri-La years and years ago at another studio, as was some of the Neutral Milk Hotel stuff, too. Wonders never cease to amaze ...

Another: we love collaborating with other musicians. For the last night of tracking, we invited friends to show up and sing the chorus of Careless with us: Robby Cosenza (The Fanged Robot and other projects), Coralee, Dave Cobb from Colourless and The Nativity Singers and ATTEMPT, Joe Drury (Colourless), and some other folks. We just gathered around one or two mics and knocked it out. We're lucky to work with these folks.

If you want to catch Palisades live, the group’s next show is Feb. 26 at The Green Lantern Bar with Slo-Fi and Frigidkitty. Showtimes are 9:30 for Slo-Fi, 10:30 for Palisades and 11:45 for Frigidkitty.

Follow Rich Copley on Facebook and on Twitter @copiousnotes.

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