A Chat With: Pale Houses
Nashville's Pale Houses is gearing up to release their next EP, called Songs of the Isolation, on March 30th. The band has been teasing the six-song EP by slowly drip-feeding some of the tracks. Last month, Pale Houses announced their return with the lead single "The Ocean Bed," a building narrative with hazy guitars that was followed by "Hideaway" a couple of weeks later. This week, they've graced us with the third single "Who Will I Be For You?" to hold us over until the EP comes out next week. While you wait patiently for the second half of the EP, get to know Pale Houses a little bit better by checking out our Q&A. We chat everything from the band's beginnings, their hobbies, their favorite record shops and venues in Nashville, and the process behind the EP. Tune in now!
Starting off, how did the band all meet and come to be Pale Houses?
Aaron: Ryan and I were in a band in the early-mid 00’s called Imaginary Baseball League. We had a good run (and a few heated disagreements) and we eventually split. He and I stayed friends but did our own things in other musical projects. After I got really disillusioned with trying to be a solo artist in Nashville – seriously… don’t do it - we started communicating musically again mostly through email. It didn’t really take long for us to find a way to make music together again despite the fact that we were living several hours apart. I ran into our guitarist, Josh, who mentioned he’d be into playing with us. I was thrilled because his old band The Charter Oak was always one of my local favorites. Aaron Yung, our bassist, is a great multi-instrumentalist from the same music scene we all came up in, and he just so happens to be Ryan’s brother-in-law. It all came together really easily and it’s been a blast. It’s the best balance I’ve ever felt in a band in terms of how we communicate and what we all bring to the table.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourselves and as a band since you first started playing music together?
Ryan: Tough question. Since Aaron and I have been playing together since I was 19, lots has changed. We’ve gotten married and had kids. I think that's made the approach for this band a little different than the other bands I've been in. Before it was always about how to build momentum, tour more, and turn music into my whole identity, my whole life. This one isn't like that. I'd love this band to be successful because I'd love people to hear these songs, but I mostly am doing this simply because I love being a part of the music.
Aaron: I would add that given mine and Ryan’s history, I think it’s been important for us both to learn to pick our battles. Neither of us are control freaks in the traditional sense, but we do tend to try and steer the ships we are on, and I think that over many years we’ve found a way to co-pilot. We’ve always wanted and chased something really similar musically in terms of the sound and the end goals. Our egos are pretty tame at this point. Like Ryan said, we just want to play in this band and get our songs heard.
Who and what do you consider to be some of your strongest influences on your writing and on your stage presence?
Aaron: I’ve always been obsessed with the San Francisco bay area troubadours that emerged in the 80’s and 90’s, most notably Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon) and Mark Eitzel (American Music Club). They’ve written the best lyrics of the last 30 years or so, along with David Bazan. Melodically, my approach has always been a bit more pop, which explains my obsession with 80’s hits by people Bruce Hornsby, Suzanne Vega, and Cyndi Lauper. As for the stage, I grew up having this dream of being a songwriting front man who wasn’t saddled with an instrument and who could walk all over the place and get in folks’ faces like an evangelist or something. I never had that luxury, and over time I’ve become more interested in becoming more than just a functional guitarist. So I don’t really have a great handle on what my stage presence is these days. I love the guitar-playing front man though. Adam Granduciel is great. I love John Davis from Superdrag and I’ve recently gotten really into the late great Tommy Keene. Ryan, however, has always been like a really minimalist Animal from The Muppets. He used to have his foot hovering off the floor for like 40% of our set back in the old days. Age may have lowered that percentage a bit, but he’s still a spectacle. Josh and Aaron are just great musicians with a real quiet confidence.
What can you tell us about your new EP Songs Of Isolation? What was the writing and the recording process like?
Ryan: Since I live in Atlanta and the rest of the guys are in Nashville, practices are at a premium. That impacts the writing process. For most of our songs, Robinson will send out some kind of demo. Occasionally it's pretty full featured and close to a complete song with a lot of the lyrics figured out, but more often it's just an idea or a guitar line and a melody. We'll all listen to them and comment back with suggestions until the next time we get together to practice. When we do practice, we'll run the songs or work on the idea for a while, and then towards the end of practice we'll record it. Then between practices we have something to play along with and try out different ideas. For Songs Of The Isolation we had all the songs pretty well figured out before we went into the studio, with the exception of "Who Will I Be For You". Aaron had the song down, but most of the additional instrumentation we figured out in the studio. We recorded the base tracks in early 2017 and then did overdubs and mixed throughout the spring and early summer. For my part, I had the chance to do a cross country trip to a lot of the national parks this spring, and so was listening to mixes on the road and next to a campfire many nights. It was likely frustrating for the rest of the band because it would take me days to get back with any feedback since I wouldn't have cell service to download the mixes.
What’s your favorite song on the EP, and what’s the story behind it?
Aaron: Since our first EP was released, three of us have become parents for the first time. I’ve learned that can be simultaneously the most beautiful and most destabilizing experience. I think all my fears related to making sure this new person turns out better than I did were all dumped into “Who Will I Be For You?” I love that song because I’m just trying to honestly process all the self-doubt that comes with the innate desire to protect the innocence of your kid.
Ryan: When I was younger I would always ask my mom which kid was her favorite and I always got the same answer; "I love you both the same". Such a cop out. Nevertheless, I'm glad all these songs are on the record for different reasons:
1. The Ocean Bed: Aaron wrote a great song here, and I think we as a band each added parts that come together really nicely. I've listened to the earlier demo of this song and it's a great example of how a good song can become even better with the right treatment. It's also a lot of
fun to play.
2. Tenderfoot: This song came together in one legendary practice. We wrote three other songs in that same practice, but this one we figured out from start to finish, which is a rarity for us.
3. Who Will I Be For You: I've always loved this song, but I was a little worried about recording it since we didn't have much more than Aaron's guitar when we went into the studio. We'd tried a number of treatments to the song over the years and none of them were right. Building this song up in the studio...it went from one I was worried about to one of my favorite recordings we've done.
4. Ring Around The Moon: This is the oldest song on the record. So many things I like about it: the build of intensity, the shimmering guitars, the lack of snare drum. It's one where Aaron had a full demo before we started working on it, and I think we were true to the original vision, but also evolved it a little as we went.
5. Hideaway: I probably see the influences of what I've been listening to the last few years in this song more than any of the others. The drums are really fun to play. Plus, Aaron holds that last note out forever. It's superhuman!
6. Olivia and Courage: Such a sad and beautiful song. Every time I start playing the ending I never want to stop, I want it to go on forever.
Who are some of your favorite fellow Nashville bands coming up at the moment?
Ryan: Yon Ort. I've known Eric Wilson for a long time and each time he reinvents himself he gets even better. Yon Ort is the best reincarnation yet.
Aaron: There are a lot of great established artists here that I still feel are up and coming on a national level. I love the really singular artistic visions of Tristen, Kyle Andrews, Dave Paulson, and Patrick Damphier (who recorded our first EP). Some really new artists that I think you could hear more about in time are Krista Glover’s project Fluorescent Half Dome and, like Ryan said, Yon Ort. Eric is stupid talented.
What about some of your other favorite parts of the music scene there, like favorite venues
or record shops?
Aaron: I just went to Grimey’s record shop today. For a long time, it’s been sort of the epicenter of the part of Nashville’s music culture that I love. The whole thing started as a DIY venture with the owner Mike Grimes opening up a little store and stocking it with his own record collection. Now, it’s one of the great record shops in the world and has helped to birth two great music venues, The Basement and The Basement East. I also really love The 5 Spot in East Nashville. It has the best local music-friendly bar vibe in town by a mile and the first place I take out-of-town visitors for a non-touristy true Nashville experience.
What are some of your other hobbies outside of playing music?
Aaron: Hah, nothing! Being a dad, maybe? I’m not paid for it, so I guess that makes it a hobby? I’m a volunteer semi-professional dad and I love it. Between music and jobs and dad-life, there is no time for hobbies. However, our bassist Aaron Yung is a great photographer and graphic designer and he helped with the artwork for the vinyl version of our EP and a couple of our single covers.
Lastly, what else is on the agenda for Pale Houses this year?
Ryan: In addition to the EP and the Vinyl, we are working on a video or two for the songs off therecord. We also have a few shows planned in Nashville, and I'm sure we will be playing more throughout the year