Palace: Finding light within darkness

When London-based atmospheric rock trio Palace put down their instruments to celebrate the culmination of three years’ work promoting and touring debut record So Long Forever, all was bright and rosy. And then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Faced with the pain and anguish of grief, heartache and growing older, music went from being a staple pleasure to a therapeutic necessity. With the results of their cathartic writing process finally unleashed on sophomore record Life After, The Mic sits down with the band at Rough Trade Nottingham to discuss coming out of the darkness, finding a rejuvenated sense of confidence and learning to expand their comfort zone.

Slow and steady wins the race churns the old Aesopian proverb, taught indiscriminately to children across the world in a rather naive and hopeful pattern to persuade the youth to learn the value of patience and serenity in a time of on-demand entertainment and widening societal chaos. In an age of instant fame and fortune, London-based trio Palace act as a soothing antidote. Consisting of Leo Wyndham (vocals, guitar), Rupert Turner (guitar) and Matt Hodges (drums), the London trio captured the attention of a beating nation as almost a melancholic hybrid of national treasures Foals and The Maccabees. The camaraderie of carefree playing and drinking in a studio has and still lies at the very core of how the band function. The essence of Palace comes from a very honest place explain the band, who confess to still being the ‘three dweebs who started off in a practice space in Camden drinking beer,’ chuckles Wyndham, the charmingly well-spoken yet at times nervously fidgeting frontman.

"The things that I’ve experienced and the tough moments over the last couple of years I’ve been able to channel into the lyrics"

At Palace’s heart may lie the ever-familiar core that first nurtured the likes of 2014’s jealousy-stricken anthem Bitter, yet the tides have well and truly changed since 2016’s So Long Forever painted a canvas of drowsy effervescence at a time when the likes of Bowie, Prince and a host of contemporaries were dropping at an alarming rate. The subsequent months left the band recoiling, as a series of events changed the immediate dynamics of the trio on a personal level as well as eventually shaping the album that has arrived this year.

An album that traverses the lamenting themes of heartache and loss yet permeates an inspiring message of hope and continuity for the future, Life After is a wild rollercoaster of emotion in its finished form, yet originally was a blank canvas for Wyndham to project his deepest thoughts during such a difficult time. ‘It sounds really fucking pretentious, but when you’re going through experiences and have a guitar around, you’ll just pick it up and play,’ states the singer. ‘The things that are in your head and the things that are inside your body make it out into the words and the lyrics.’

Softly spoken and mildly hesitant, Wyndham is resolute in explaining that he didn’t want the macabre events of the last three years to lead to a cry for help or pity. Increasingly aware that the tracks carry a share of emotional weight as they narrate an intense and heavy period in time, he affirms that ‘putting that all into a song is very cathartic and it’s an amazing release. There are people that are going through much worse things than I’ve been through but the things that I’ve experienced and the tough moments over the last couple of years I’ve been able to channel into the lyrics, and that’s been an amazing thing just to be able to get that out there.’

The title track and the opener of the band’s sophomore album, Life After is both an outpouring of grief at a time of hardship, as well as a manual of resilience and strength. For all the pain that Wyndham has gone through, the likes of lyrics ‘I’ve been writing this song / To help you breathe again,’ attempt to see light at the end of the tunnel, something that the frontman repeatedly iterates throughout our conversation. ‘It almost turns it into a positive in a funny way, you take your feelings and experiences, put it into a song and wrap that in instruments. That’s quite a healing thing in itself,’ he nods. ‘Sometimes when you perform those songs it can be a bit heavy or emotional but over time it goes away, but that’s always been the best thing for me writing lyrics. It is a very cathartic thing. You can channel things into songs in a very cryptic way without being too direct and let people interpret it however they wish, but the main message is about finding positivity and light at the end of the tunnel. Just managing to reach a way out of it and climb out of those situations and finding yourself feeling stronger and having more of a taste of identity. It’s a reminder to yourself that you can get out of those situations.'

One of the LPs glorious affirmations of resilience lies in album closer Heaven Up There, a startling seven-minute track which highlights Wyndham’s newfound level of emotional maturity. ‘Is it heaven up there? Because it’s hell down here,’ cries the frontman on the track’s chorus. Reflecting on the album finale, Wyndham relays the importance of letting the song follow its natural course. ‘It just felt like one of those songs that from the start, we knew we wanted to be a long song. It had this feeling that it needed to go on a journey and take you on an emotional rollercoaster,’ says Wyndham. ‘No one said anything about it, it was just one of those magic moments where something came out of nothing.’

For a closing track to have such a hold on its audience is an impressive feat for any band, yet Heaven Up There in its entirety is a spectacle to indulge in, creeping progressively forward before spiralling into a cataclysmic maelstrom of reverb-laden instrumentation and emotionally-charged vocals. ‘It felt that it should be about something emotional and weighty like death,’ shrugs Wyndham. ‘Certainly in the last couple of years I’ve experienced that either through someone else or myself and it’s something I felt instantly that the song should be about. It shouldn’t be taken lightly in that it’s a short song. It should be that we’re really pouring our hearts out into the song.’

Despite the LP’s heightened sense of emotional foreshadowing, there still remains the core familiarity of relationship excitement and anguish, with the lilted croon of Face in the Crowd swaying delicately alongside the ever-beating heart of Caught My Breath. Whilst the trio have had to dig deep and find a new strength, they are somewhat grateful for the experiences that they’ve been through. ‘All that stuff is tough but it’s character building,’ confirms Wyndham.

"There’s all these constraints put on you by society that you feel you have to have done certain things by a certain age or be a certain person but actually it’s just a fucking number, it doesn’t matter at all."

Once a man who would perpetually look over his shoulder to see what society-dictated life should look like, the Leo Wyndham of 2019 is now acutely aware and completely relaxed with the fact that he’s getting older. ‘When we were younger / I was running thunder / Now I'm chasing thirty / I’ve wasted time, certainly,’ he exclaims on the high-spirited Younger, a single that celebrates the pain-free nature of youth. Speaking of the track, the frontman offers ‘I’m always aware of getting older, I’m always thinking of that but then I remind myself at the same time that none of that stuff matters really. There’s all these constraints put on you by society that you feel you have to have done certain things by a certain age or be a certain person but actually it’s just a fucking number, it doesn’t matter at all. But there have certainly been times in my life where I’ve been freaked out about being too old or too young, whatever it is. I’ve always been a very reflective person, I always think about the past and am quite nostalgic which is quite fun to write about.’

With an album that focuses firmly on events of the recent past, it is comforting to see both Turner and Wyndham engage optimistically about their plans for the future. Having admitted that they have been prone to sticking with what’s comfortable, the pair explain how recording the new record has led to a revitalisation of their confidence levels. ‘It is very hard to change that feeling of being comfortable,’ states Turner. ‘It’s a really basic analogy but if you feel comfortable in bed, you’re not going to want to get out of it - but maybe it’s nicer outside and it’s sunny! I think what we’ve learnt from this album is that we can push out and reach out and we won’t lose our essence because that’s ingrained within us. It’s comforting and it’s a really good learning experience. It’s just generally not being afraid to push the sound to make it bigger. We were really anti-gain and overdrive last time. This time it was about understanding that maybe they aren’t bad things and we can use them, but still our Palace sound is the reverby, clean thing.’

‘We had some moments in the studio where my fear of crunchy guitar was challenged by our producer Catherine [Marks (Foals, Wolf Alice, The Amazons),’ continues Wyndham. ‘She helped us push our boundaries and go the extra mile. It’s important to experiment and we didn’t want to play it too safe and I think as you get on to next albums you have to push the boat out a bit and get out of your comfort zone, so it was a good thing to do. I think the role of a producer is to push you to experiment. Luke Smith (Foals, Depeche Mode, Everything Everything) brought some electronic elements to the album, like with Caught My Breath. It was tasteful and really cool. All those things are important; to be open with experimenting and being pushed.’

When asked what the release of the second LP signifies, Turner offers ‘it just confirms that we’re still there and still going. It’s a marker for where we are.’ When Palace first started they had a show cancelled in Austria because they only managed to sell one ticket. Now they’re gearing up for their biggest UK headline tour, which includes a date at London’s iconic Roundhouse. Yet the band still remain both organic and methodical with their approach to music and the success that has come their way. ‘We want to ride the waves like bogus surfer dudes and just go with the flow and enjoy it as it comes along,’ laughs Turner, a man much more at ease when he’s in touring mode.

"It’s important to experiment and we didn’t want to play it too safe"

Despite still being described by Turner as ‘panicky if he doesn’t know what’s coming up,’ Wyndham appears to be embracing the band’s meandering journey with open arms. Their heightened confidence has seen them mesmerise crowds at Glastonbury, Mad Cool Festival and Latitude already, and with live dates filling the calendar for the remainder of 2019 and flowing into the new year, the journey only looks to be getting bigger and better.

Palace’s sound is much akin to ‘sonic valium,’ such is the medicinal nature within the trio’s sweeping storm of instrumentation, and whilst the inspiring messages from fans who’ve found support in the band’s music through periods of instability act as an uplifting statement that the band are achieving something worthwhile, the record was as much a healing tool for them as well as their fans.

Wyndham, Turner and Hodges have found their feet again and are moving forward with their heads held high, enthusiastic about the coming months on the road. They may want to stay in bed when times get rough, but the rainy days and darkened nights have dissipated and the platform is there for the trio to step out of their own shadow. One foot in front of the other, slow and steady wins the race.