Al Grigg is the nicest man in rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s a fact. When he’s not shredding in Palms or Straight Arrows, he’s got his head bouncing around at a show, managing to get around the entire room and give everyone a hug and the time of day. Remember when Wavves made that song called “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl”? Fuck that, they need to change the lyrics to reflect the real best bloke in rock music.
It’s always a pleasure to get to chat to Al, whether we’re talking shit about who would win in a fight between Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy, or which pub has the best burger in Sydney. This time ’round, we got to chatting about the new album Crazy Rack, which is just *mwah* absolutely fucking stunning. Read on for musings about fame, depression and The Replacements.
R: Swiggy Griggy!
A: Saarzy! Well, well, we meet again!
R: We’ve been mates for a while, but when we first started to know each other, and Palms had first started…
A: Our courting period!
R: Haha, exactly. When Palms first started, people would recognise you a lot as ‘Al from Red Riders’, and now it’s shifted to ‘Al from Palms’. Do you notice this at all?
A: I don’t really know, or notice the change. But I guess that’s the truth – there’s something else for people to notice me as now. I’m also quite often, and embarrassingly, known as ‘Al from Cream’ [A second hand store in Newtown; go there for autographs].
I was at Splendour with Shane [Parsons, DZ Deathrays/Angus Young’s Protege] and Dave [Williams/Wolfman, Manly Sea Eagles/Patron Saint of Footy Beards] and they had this funny thing going of who would get recognised first. Then there was this chick and a guy who said, “I know you from somewhere!”. I was like, “Palms?”, “Naaaah”. “Red Riders?” “Naaaaah”, “Straight Arrows?” “Naaaah”. And then they were like, “You’re the guy from CREAM!”. Haha, and yes, I am also the guy from the second hand clothes shop! I probably sold you an old pair of cut off denim-shorts.
R: Do you think that being noticed of how far Palms has travelled since the first album came out?
A: Yeah, I guess. Obviously….we’ve played a lot of shows, and…this is gonna sound really arrogant, but I think it’s kind of true. I think we’re just friendly guys, and we make friends easily. When we meet people, there’s no separation between us as a band and them as people. We’re just people.
That sounds like such a gross cliche (laughs) but you get what I mean. It goes from Al from Palms to Al very quickly. And then it goes to Swiggy Griggy!
R: Onto the record – you guys recorded it twice. When you finished it the first time, and it was decided that it wasn’t quite good enough, was that disheartening?
A: Yeah, it was really disheartening. When you’re writing a song, it’s in your head a bit. Even when you’re playing it live, it’s just an interpretation of how you feel. There’s nothing concrete about it, you have this potential for it: “When it gets recorded, it’ll be really big, and sound like this!”. And then you hear it back, and you see the reality of it, it can be really hard. I thought this was a really great song, but actually it sounds a bit shit.
And that can be a mixture of the song being shit, the arrangement being shit, you just not playing it right, the mix is crap, or whatever. And sometimes its just your attitude; I think we weren’t ready to record the first time, and I was a bit nego on it anyway. I was just a bit down on it, it didn’t feel right.
I also don’t think I wanted to do it in fits. With Step-Brothers that’s how we did it. We did it with Owen [Penglis, Straight Arrows/Recording Sensei] on one four-track, and then on another four track, and then an eight track. It was cool, but it didn’t have coherency.
R: What was it like going from recording in Owen’s kitchen, to a proper studio? Was it a throwback to the Red Riders days?
A: A little bit. But still very much a half-thing. We went into Linear Studios with our friend Nick [Franklin, Fabergettes/AUSTRALIA/Recording Guru], so it still had that feeling of being at your friends place. It was still very comfortable, as opposed to this gross, fish out of water thing. For me, that’s always been the studio battle, because I don’t understand anything about [studios], being surrounded by equipment I don’t understand and instruments I can’t play (laughs). I feel a bit inadequate.
R: What do you think the major changes between the first and second recordings of the album were?
A: I think it’s just a bit more confidence. And I mean that in a way that it just feels more varied, there’s more going on. There’s more mellow moments, more jangly moments, it’s not so much a straight-up garage thing. I’m more comfortable seeing this other side of the band.
I’m more confident with the lyrics as well. The next single we put out is probably going to be “No More”. We’re going to put out an acoustic song. We’re not going to blow anyone’s minds, but we’re just going to let them know there’s a different side of Palms. WE JUST WANT TO LET THEM KNOW THERE’S MORE TO US, RYAN! I’ve got feelings! Emotions!
R: Speaking of moving on from garage, it felt that you were really embracing your love for 80’s pop and rock. There’s a couple songs on there where I think, ‘This sounds like Rick Springfield’.
A: (laughs) I hope we make as much money as Rick Springfield! I reckon that’s a bit of a Dion [Ford, shred lord] influence. When we were finishing Step-Brothers, that’s when he joined the band, a lot of the parts were already written, so he didn’t put as much of a stamp on it. With [Crazy Rack], there’s a bit more of his style. I think “Thoughts of You” is about as close as we’ll ever come to writing a Cheap Trick song. It’s got a cowbell, some Southern Boogie in the chorus…
All my favourite albums, like The Replacements…when you think of a classic Replacements song, you think of “I Will Dare”, or “Bastards of Young”, but there’s only ever two or three of those songs on an album, but then there’s a bunch of punk songs, or alt-country songs, or weird nightclub, jazzy things with piano. What we wanted to do was, if you like classic Palms, you’ll like this record, but there’s other shit to keep you interested.
R: Another thing is that you’ve always been very heart-on-your-sleeve with the music you’ve made. But the songs on Crazy Rack, there’s a lot of guitar, and catchy songs – were you ever afraid your message would get lost in there?
A: I think the message does get lost and no one pays attention to what I’m saying (laughs). I think that’s part of it though. First and foremost, I don’t want to write and sing songs that don’t have meaning to me; when I’m playing live, I want to have something, an emotion to draw on. I want to be sharing something of myself, lyrically, and that’s a hard thing to do.
It can be a bit too much for people; not everyone wants to come and hear a guy tell you all his feelings. It’s like, dude, go see a psychologist, there are professionals for that! But there’s guitar solos, all that fun and exciting stuff is wrapped around it. So if you want the intensity, if you want to hear a guy put his heart on sleeve, and you enjoy that, the intensity’s there. If you just want to sing along, you can do that as well.
Crazy Rack is out now on Ivy League Records. It’s fucking incredible, five flaming guitar outta five, do yaself a favour and grab it here. If you need any more convincing, then read this. Make sure you catch Palms when they play At First Sight Festival next weekend (the 14th), with Blank Realm, Total Giovanni, Nicholas Allbrook, NO ZU, Los Tones and heaps more! Tix here.