ABOVE: NOTHING. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN BRACKBILL
It would be convenient to be able to say that Domenic “Nicky” Palermo’s new band Nothing was born out of—well, you know—but any way you look at it, a precise set of circumstances prefigured the existence of the Philadelphia-based foursome. After the dissolution of his last band, Horror Show, Palermo hit a patch of “hell-on-Earth-type shit” that defined his existence in the early 2000s. The list of personal tragedies goes on and on, and it’s probably better to listen to Palermo tell it himself than to simply recount the highlights here, but it was from that temporary strife that Nothing sprung. Holed up in a room in Philly accompanied by a stack of books and a melancholy disposition, Palermo penned what would eventually become the band’s first demo. Upon meeting guitarist Brandon Setta, the project took full flight—morphing into the bristling, downcast shoegaze entity it is today.
On what was supposed to be the first date of their tour in support of their first LP, Guilty of Everything, Nothing’s members found themselves snowed into a tiny Philadelphia apartment with the Brooklyn-based noise-poppers Weekend to keep them company. It was here, on a break between beers and a series of YouTube videos, that Palermo took some time to talk to us about the new record and the life of discontent that spawned it. The Guilty of Everything single “Get Well,” below, is our Track of the Week.
COLIN JOYCE: There’s been a handful of articles lately trumpeting the Philadelphia music scene. Is that something that you all are directly engaged with?
NICKY PALERMO: Philly’s tough. I’ve been here my whole life. I was born in North Philly. I’ve been a part of several different music scenes since I’ve been here. From being a kid into punk rock and hardcore, and then indie shows. It’s a tough city. A lot of times Philly takes for granted the amount of bands that come through. I’ve always done well with everything I’ve done here. I always try to say to people “You need to go see this band, they’re great!,” but people are kind of ignorant here. It’s a known fact anyway. Everyone thinks Philly is an ignorant city, and they’re right.
JOYCE: There seems to be a decent community around the house shows and stuff like that.
PALERMO: We’ve always had a really great punk rock scene here. I used to go to shows in West Philly back when I was 14 and 15 years old. It changed my life. But it’s tough in this world, playing different music from that, but still being spawned from that world. People deal with things differently in this world. We’re still all over the place, we do punk shows, hardcore shows, indie rock shows or whatever, but it’s definitely strange.
JOYCE: Do you think that the music you’re making now leads you to a more inclusive crowd?
PALERMO: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve never really fit in. It just continues in my life wherever I go. Even being in an alternative scene, I will always stick out like a sore thumb. Nothing is a band that embodies that. We play DIY house shows, but we’ll also play the Bowery or something like that. We’ve never really had a certain home. We signed with a hardcore label, and then with a metal label, and we’ve done releases on indie rock labels like Big Love in Japan. I don’t ever want to be stuck in one type of place. I get bored way too easily and I get sick of seeing the same kind of people constantly. It’s a blessing that we can have a dude that likes punk like us, but also have your indie nerd be into it.
JOYCE: You guys are pretty notorious for being an incredibly loud live band; does that make playing those sorts of DIY shows difficult?
PALERMO: Every show we play is always going to be difficult. We never get along with sound guys. We’re not ever trying to be that band where we’re like, “We want to be loud, turn us up!” We play at the volume we play at, and we practice at the same volume we play at. We have a number that we set on our amps before every show. We’re a really loud band, but it’s not something that I’m striving for. Dealing with sound guys is the worst, though. Everything’s calculated at this point. We know pretty much what we’re doing. There’s a range that we’d like to get the volume to be at. I had to leave at a show we played in Florida with Whirr. I watched for a bit, but I had to go outside because [the volume] was making me nauseous.
JOYCE: It’s rare to even have a chance to experience sound of those magnitudes.
PALERMO: I think Kevin Shields said that you start to hear things that aren’t there. There’s certain parts of our songs where we get into a loud, repetitive one-note thing when we’re playing live because we want to tool with another form of sensory deprivation. Your body has safety mechanisms, so your brain reacts strangely to things like that.
JOYCE: It’s funny that you mention Kevin Shields, because you guys are a lot louder than they were on this past tour.
PALERMO: They weren’t that loud on this past tour, but they were great regardless. They did fuck up a bunch of times here in Philly, but it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t give a shit. He’s the fucking man. I love that guy.
JOYCE: What did you think of m b v?
PALERMO: I loved it. People are actually fucking unbearable. I was reading people’s comments on it. I try to avoid being on the Internet at all. I just get so bummed out. This dude has written the most beautiful music of all of our time and done so many groundbreaking things. Are you really going to have some fucking dickhead comparing m b v to Loveless? That wasn’t even the fucking point. It’s just another great album. It’s different, look at it the way it’s supposed to be. Listening to other people can make you want to fucking blow your brains out.
JOYCE: I want to talk a bit about the origins of the band. I know that Horror Show dissolved after some personal tragedy. How did you come back from all of that and decide to start actively making and releasing music again?
PALERMO: I had a long decade. It was tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy. I played in a hardcore band for a little while and in 2002, I was incarcerated for attempted murder and aggravated assault. I was charged with seven years. I served two. I came home and my world started to unravel even more. A couple of my good childhood friends were killed. I had problems in my family, like overdosing. Every possible bad thing you can fucking think of, after coming home from some hellish place like prison. It was disheartening. There were definitely a couple of times where I thought about hanging it up, for sure. I took some time off from the world and I buried myself in a room in Philadelphia and continued to read books and write music and hate humanity. I eventually put some songs together, made a demo tape, released it. It was received pretty well so I was going to write another record and I met Brandon, which set the band on the path that we’re at today. He’s a great partner in everything we do. I never could have gotten this far without him for sure. We made some music, and now we have a couple more super-solid dudes after going through around 25 other people. It’s been a long journey, I think, so it’s been nice having this all come together.
JOYCE: In that time you were holed up writing those first songs, was there anything that was particularly influential to you, other than the weight of those events that preceded it?
PALERMO: A friend at the time put me onto Emil Cioran. He was a really dark writer from Romania. I was given this book called The Trouble With Being Born. It’s a nihilism sort of thing, telling you to stop reproducing. It just made so much sense to me. It’s the kind of thing that you read and it changes everything. There had been plenty of books that got me to that point already, but the way he put stuff was just fucking grim. It’s also comforting though, to know that there’s people out there that have that itch to know why we’re really here and what we’re really made of. It’s confusing to someone that doesn’t know, but I’m lucky to have had people to put me onto cool stuff. It’s made me a lot more peaceful and comfortable being me.
JOYCE: So it was comforting because it paralleled the way you thought about the world?
PALERMO: It starts out like an itch. You feel itchy, but you don’t know where it is. That’s how I was growing up, and that’s probably why I got into so much trouble. Something was wrong, and I needed to find out why I felt the way I did. I read some Dostoevsky and Camus and graduated to Genet and Artaud. I felt more enlightened. Enlightenment also isn’t the most pleasing answer, but for me it was a healthy thing.
JOYCE: You said when this album was announced that you’d gotten “more miserable” in the time you were making this album; were you drawing on those dark times, or is it just the general condition of life?
PALERMO: As I get older, I get more miserable. I think that’s what life does to people. That’s a pretty average thing. You get more jaded. I’m getting less jaded, but more miserable. I’m content with everything. Nothing can surprise me anymore. I’m calloused. When I say miserable, I don’t necessarily mean miserable. I just mean sad. Life is just crushing to me.
JOYCE: It’s a heavy way of looking at things.
PALERMO: It’s not the most healthy way to live life. I’m not ignorant to that point. People sit and watch TV and eat McDonald’s everyday. They’re happy as fuck and they die fat and alone in South Florida somewhere. Then there’s people like me who just struggle with getting out of bed every day and actually breathing and walking around. I have the music thing. I don’t really know why I do it, but there’s something in me that wants to do it. There’s still always a hint of hidden beauty inside of all melancholia. That’s what me and Brandon try to bring to the surface when we’re writing music now. We want it to be heavy, sonically and emotionally, but we want people to be able to pull away that beauty that hides in the heaviness.