PALE PEOPLE (from l-r): Austin Graef (drums), Mack Gilcrest (vocals/piano), Kurt Skrivseth (guitar/bass)
INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
There must be something in the water in the Montanan city of Missoula, as the settlement seems to have become a hotbed of the avant-garde, with comedian Dana Carvey, director David Lynch and now piano rock three-piece Pale People all calling it home.
The immensely talented outfit pride themselves on producing witty, diversely-influenced songs with a dark twist and deal with those living on the fringes of society, something which the trio are familiar with.
Having been hard at work recently putting together their second album of 2017, the band spoke to me in more detail about their unique sound.
How did the band start out?
Mack and Kurt met in their university’s top jazz band, where they bonded over a fondness for Rush and a distaste for academic jazz. Both were music composition majors, rapidly becoming disillusioned with their field of study; so years later, when Mack began experimenting with dark-cabaret and rock composition, Kurt – the fellow misfit – was a natural choice for collaborator.
Austin Graef – Mack’s old friend from high school – joined the band as percussionist after our first drummer quit for personal reasons. That catches us up.
How did you come up with Pale People as the band’s name?
It’s a reference to the subject matter of most of our songs. Mack enjoys writing lyrics about damaged, lonesome, peculiar characters, fading out along the boundaries of human society.
To someone discovering your music for the first time, how would you describe it to them?
God, we’re bad at answering this question. It sounds kind of like the Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd, as interpreted by the Velvet Underground. We call it “Broadway punk.”
What are the band’s main musical influences?
Well, Sondheim and the Velvet Underground, for starters, plus Death Cab, Blur, Primus, Talking Heads, Pixies, et cetera, ad nauseam.
Actually, the only reason the band exists at all is that Mack heard the Dresden Dolls song ‘Girl Anachronism’ in a friend’s car one day. It felt like a mental earthquake, man.
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
Well, so the initial melodic or chordal idea can come from anyone. Usually, it’s just a short phrase, and then Mack absconds with it for a few days or years, hammering out the lyrics and the form. He takes the full draft back to the band, and we all collectively revise it.
You talked a little about this earlier, but where else does the inspiration come from for the band’s lyrics?
We also like taking ideas that seem frivolous and treating them with dark gravity. There’s a song on our second album called ‘Jason’, for instance, about the world’s greatest Tetris player – it ended up being a study on drawing meaning and worth from a really stupid pursuit. There’s also this very new song, ‘Underworld’, about a guy who starts playing Dungeons & Dragons in prison.
The band are releasing a new album, just four months after the second one. How has the recording process been?
We dropped ‘Portraits’ this March, and that left us with a few months to write, develop and test out the new material live, which is easily the strongest stuff we’ve written. We recorded it ourselves live in Austin’s basement and then did the overdubs in Kurt’s bedroom (where the album was mixed/produced).
The new album is called ‘The World is Yours’, and has songs with topics ranging from what it’s like to be a superhero, to a couple who are too busy engaged in domestic violence to notice their house is being haunted, to a song about the advertising industry inspired by David Foster Wallace, to a Victorian-era villain who’s a living reminder of why you should do your chores.
As part of our chores, we’re intent on releasing our third album four months after our last one. Just so we don’t get taken by The Wicked Man.
How is the experience of playing live?
For us, it feels like Cthulhu rising from R’lyeh. Like taking something from a very deep abyss, that wasn’t necessarily supposed to be witnessed, and making sure it’s witnessed. Granted, we like to think we’re funnier than Lovecraft.
Aside from your forthcoming third album, what have you got lined up in the near future?
If all goes well, we’ll be following up the album with a month-long tour.
What is the band’s long-term aim?
To get better at what we do. And to release one hundred more albums. We love making albums. We highly recommend it.
‘THE WORLD IS YOURS’, THE THIRD ALBUM FROM PALE PEOPLE, WILL BE RELEASED IN AUGUST.
FOR FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND, CHECK OUT THESE SITES: