Interview: A Q&A with Painted Palms’ Chris Prudhomme

If you’ve been frequenting JOVM over the past year to about 18 months or so, you likely came across a post or two on the cousin duo of Reese Donahue and Chris Prudhomme, best known as electro pop duo Painted Palms. Of course, let’s get into some necessary backstory: the duo have almost always used the Internet to collaborate on songwriting – at first, out of necessary, as the project started out with Donahue being based in San Francisco and Prudhomme being based in New Orleans. Naturally, that virtual exchange informed the duo’s debut EP, Canopy, which was quickly championed by of Montreal‘s Kevin Barns.

Following tours with of Montreal, BRAIDS, STRFKR and others, Prudhomme moved out west to join his cousin and the duo have managed to collaborate virtually in some fashion for both the duo’s debut full-length Forever, which managed to mesh breezy 60s-inspired psych pop and synth pop in a way that dimly channeled several songs on Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colors as much as it did The BeatlesMagical Mystery Tour and others. Released last month through Polyvinyl Records, Painted Palms’ sophomore effort Horizons was mixed by former DFA Records engineer Eric Boucek, who’s worked with LCD Soundsystem and Classixx. And from the release of album singles “Tracer” and “Refractor,” Donahue and Prudhomme intended to, as Prudhomme tells me in the Q&A below, “to remove the ‘live band’ sounds from the last album and make something that sounded streamlined, focused and minimal. But we also wanted to take some few elements and sculpt them with a high attention to detail, making them feel huge and expansive.” And while managing to retain the 60s inspired pop melodies and songwriting flourishes, the emphasis on synths subtly pushes the material on Horizons towards early 80s synth pop and New Wave, which interestingly enough did something very similar. In fact, if you think of songs like Naked Eyes’ “Always Something There to Remind Me” or Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” you’ll know what I’m getting at. Interestingly, the material on Horizons is slick – in particular, I think of the club friendly tracks like “Contact,” “Control” which is punctuated with handclap-led percussion, the pulsing synths of “Waterfalls,” the icily cascading synths of “Glaciers” and “Echoes” – and in many ways, the material reveals itself as deliberately crafted, carefully thought out and sculpted pop music.

I recently talked to Painted Palms’ Chris Prudhomme via email in this edition of the Q&A about how he got into music, his influences, what it’s like to write, record and tour with his cousin, the influences behind the material on Horizons, the duo’s songwriting process and more. Check it out below.

PAINTEDPALMS-DIGITALCOVER

L to R: Christopher Prudhomme, Reese Donahue Photo Credit: Molly DeCoudreaux
L to R: Christopher Prudhomme, Reese Donahue
Photo Credit: Molly DeCoudreaux
L to R: Christopher Prudhomme, Reese Donahue Photo Credit: Molly DeCoudreaux
L to R: Christopher Prudhomme, Reese Donahue
Photo Credit: Molly DeCoudreaux

WRH: Please tell us something about you or San Francisco that my readers wouldn’t normally know.

Chris Prudhomme: San Francisco is disappearing.

WRH: How did you get into music and when did you know that it was your calling?

CP: I’m not sure that there was ever a “defining moment” that made me think music was my calling. I’ve been playing various instruments since I was about 5 years old, so it was something that was always part of my life. Once I got to high school and started recording music I realized it was pretty much the only thing that allowed me to have limitless freedom and true satisfaction. It’s something that I need to do in order to be happy.

WRH: Who are your influences? 

CP: David Bowie, Brian Eno, my bandmate and cousin Reese, Iggy Pop, J. Spaceman, Vladimir Nabokov. . . many many others

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

CP: Spiritualized, Billie Holiday, Factory Floor, Stephan Bodzin, Ride.

WRH: How is it like to write, record and tour with your cousin? 

CP: It’s kind of like being married I think.

WRH: Your debut effort, Forever meshed 60s psych pop with 80s synth pop/New Wave in a fashion that dimly channels Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colours, if filtered through Phil Spector and The Beach Boys. Your sophomore effort, Horizons seems to draw more from 80s synth pop/New Wave, which feels like a refinement of your sound. Did you start the writing process with the intention of changing things up? If so, what inspired that? 

CP: Our intention was to eliminate the guitars or “live band” sounds from the last album and make something that sounded streamlined, focused, and minimal. But we also wanted to take those few elements and sculpt them with a high attention to detail, making them feel huge and expansive. Eric Broucek helped us with that a lot while mixing.

WRH: If I remember correctly, the press notes for Forever mentioned that when the both of you started working together you initially came up with song ideas and collaborated by email, and that process continued more out of preference when Christopher moved to San Francisco. Horizons marked the first time that the both of you worked together in the studio — although you did some initial collaborating by email. I think from Horizons’ material, the musical simpatico between you is more readily apparent. And although in some way, Horizons subtly feels like a continuation of some of the ideas that come up on the last three or four songs of its predecessor, it really isn’t. The material on Horizons possess much tighter hooks and pulsates with a club-friendly/radio-friendly pop feel; the material just strikes me as being straightforward, classic pop — of the sort I remember obsessing over as a child of the 80s. Also, the psychedelia has been tuned down quite a bit to where it is at best a gentle nod here and there. What inspired this change in songwriting approach? And how did working together in the studio actually change your approach? 

CP: Well, Horizons was actually made in the exact same way that Forever was. Every part of both records was recorded in a bedroom or our practice space in San Francisco. The studio work happened when we mixed the album. Reese spent a couple weeks with Eric in his studio in Los Angeles, and that was a really collaborative process. We are fans of Eric’s work and sought him out to help us mix Horizons. Sonically, he played a big role.

We wanted each song to be able to stand alone as a single, so the directness you mentioned was part of the first conversations we had about how we wanted to make the album.

WRH: Sonically, Horizons’ material sounds as though it draws heavily from acts like The Human League, Depeche Mode, New Order and others from that period. How much did those acts and that period influence Horizons’ sound? 

CP: Those bands didn’t really influence the writing process, but Reese used a lot of 80s synth emulators, so it makes sense that people would draw comparisons to 80s new wave.

Our real inspirations were 60s psychedelic pop and the acid pop/house of the early 90s.

WRH: “Refractor” “Contact,” “Glaciers,” “ Control,” “Disintegrate” “Waterfall” and “Tracers” are among my favorite songs on the album. What’s the inspiration behind them? And how much of the material draws from your personal experiences or those of someone you know? 

CP: While writing these songs, they didn’t feel as personal as a lot of the material on Forever. Now that the album is out and I’ve taken a step back from the writing process, I’ve realized that lyrically Horizons is a very personal album. The last year of my life has been kind of insane, and many of those songs were written while I was working out some difficult shit. So there’s a focus on maintaining balance, and questioning what that means and what it requires. Basically asking yourself what it takes to not completely lose control, battling with chaos and so on.

WRH: The material on Horizons feels much more direct and to-the-point, as though there’s a decided attempt to write songs with tight hooks and with a preciseness that suggests that every single note was deliberately thought out. With that in mind, how do you know when you have a finished song? And has that changed as you’ve gone about changing your songwriting approach? 

CP: We’re typically very deliberate with melodies, as I’m sure most pop songwriters are. You can just feel it when a song is done. The vocal melody moves through the chord progression and strikes your emotions in the way that you want, and the momentum is there, and you can tell it’s done. Then you fine-tune for months 🙂

WRH: Could you name a couple of local acts, who should be getting a ton of love from the blogosphere and shamefully aren’t?

CP: Neither of us live in San Francisco anymore, but our friend Brian has this band named Emotional that represents the weirdo garage scene in San Francisco perfectly. I’ve probably seen more of Brian’s shows than anyone else’s in San Francisco. He runs a small label called Death Records that puts out a lot of cool music.

I met a guy in Osaka, Japan who goes by Boys Age that makes very cool music. He has released some stuff on the west coast label Gnar Tapes, so in a way he is local.

WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves?  

CP: Enjoy the process of making what you’re making, be willing to sleep on floors and play to empty rooms, be kind to anyone who supports you, and be aware that business people may fuck you over.

WRH: What’s next for Painted Palms?

CP: We’re going on a US tour with our friends Small Black in October/November, and we’re really excited for that.

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