The experimental post-punk band talk to Popdust about their latest album, Palberta5000.
Between the first two songs of Palberta's new Tiny Desk Concert, members Ani Ivry-Block and Lily Koningsberg trade instruments, taking each other's places.
Filmed in member Nina Ryser's Philadelphia basement, Palberta's Tiny Desk Concert is the closest the post-punk trio have come to recreating their captivating in-person performances since the pandemic began. After spending their early years as a band cutting their teeth in Brooklyn's DIY scene, Palberta are no longer an underground secret; their most recent album, January's Palberta5000, is a snapshot of the band at their sharpest without compromising their ethos.
Palberta: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert www.youtube.com
Over Zoom, Ivry-Block and Ryser tell me that, like virtually all their peers in the music world, they've missed performing more than just about anything else. "I don't know if we've ever really come close to capturing who we really are as a band [on a recording]," Ivry-Block says.
Though Palberta's live shows are certainly a spectacle in their own right, Palberta5000 does come pretty close to matching the group's energy. The record sounds at once precise and whimsical, illustrating the band's growth as musicians amid their trademark harmonies and tongue-in-cheek humor.
Below, read Popdust's chat with Ivry-Block and Ryser about the making of the record.
Popdust: It's been a while since the release of Palberta5000. How do you feel now that it's been out in the world for a couple of months?
Nina Ryser: It's kind of weird because we released it on the Internet, and there was no human interaction with the release of this record. I feel like we missed out on a big chunk of what it's like to release a record, which is playing shows and touring, as did everyone who put out music during this time.
Can you walk me through the writing and recording timeline?
Ani Ivry-Block: We recorded it in… December 2019? Oh, my god. But we'd been writing those songs for a year prior. So the songs feel old in a sense, but we still feel really new to playing them.
The liner notes for the album mention that you guys took a lot of inspiration from mainstream pop. When I was a teenager, I tried way too hard to be alternative; I immediately dismissed all the Taylor Swifts and Justin Biebers, who I've come around to now. I was curious if you guys had similar experiences growing up, and how your relationship with pop music has changed over time now that you're in a punk band.
NR: I think with this record, specifically, we weren't necessarily going for that. We just got in a room and started writing music. We approached it the same way as all of our music, where we don't really talk about it beforehand. We just kind of do it. So I think it probably sounds more polished and pop-y because that's the type of music we were listening to. We're also just better at playing our instruments and growing as musicians with each album we put out. I think all of us are really into catchy pop music.
AI: No shame!
NR: I definitely relate to what you said, though. When I was younger, I was definitely thinking, "whatever, everyone's a poser" — but I would secretly listen to Green Day. But I feel like I really have embraced it as I've gotten older, and that feels good.
AI: Pop's in a good place right now. It's hard to deny the stuff that's been coming out.
NR: Also, we've really been into Lucinda Williams and Liz Phair. That's pretty pop.
AI: Yeah, just more melodically-driven music, whereas we used to be less focused on melodies.
What do you remember listening to while making the album?
NR: I grew up listening to the PJ Harvey album Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. And then I got Ani into it, and Ani got really into it, which made me revisit it and get really into it again. Ani and I were really obsessed with that album for a minute during that time.
That's such a good album to be obsessed with. I know you guys also recorded this album in very few takes. Was that a conscious decision?
AI: It's about finding the balance between the best take and the feel of the song. If you're doing a million takes on a song, you probably should put that song to rest. If you can't get it in three takes, you're probably not ready to record, you know?
How do you balance that with perfectionism?
AI: I would say we are all extreme perfectionists, so everything is very intentional. I think it's more just with the nature of our band and how we play, I feel like a million takes won't get us the more perfect take. We're a live band more than we are a recorded band, and that's why I feel like the vibe and feel of each song is just as important.
NR: The three of us each contribute vocals equally. So I feel like there's a little bit of compromise with recording where since other people are recording vocals other than just like yourself, you aren't necessarily a perfectionist about it. When I record on my own, I do way more takes and I'm way more perfectionist about it all. But with Palberta, if I record vocals and feel weird about them, once the other vocals are there, I kind of let it go and trust Ani and Lily's judgment.
In live performances, you guys trade off on instruments onstage. How is that delegated?
NR: It's very messy. Lots of dropping things. But we write everything in their certain formations ahead of time. So, I could never play Ani's bass parts, or Lily's drum parts or whatever.
AI: I mean, you probably could. You never know until you try them.
A lot of your songs in the past have been really short. What was the motivation behind wanting to write some more average-length songs for this record?
AI: I think everyone just told us our songs were too short. Also, apparently, you can't have a single that's under a certain length!
NR: Yeah, the single had to be longer than, like, two-and-a-half minutes. That's what the label told us.
There's a lot of imagery on this album that scans as fairly mundane — eggs 'n' bacon, corner stores. Maybe I'm trying to look too far into it, but how do you find meaning in those sort of banal, everyday things?
AI: I don't think we look too far into it.
NR: When we're writing together, it's usually one person will come up with the melody and lyrics kind of on the spot, and then we just build off that person's idea.
AI: It's all a compromise.
Even the album title, Palberta5000, is funny to me because it sounds like a sports car or machinery or something.
AI: "Audi 5000!" Did you never say that as a kid?!
NR: I think that might've just been us, Ani.
AI: It's a word. It's in Urban Dictionary. (Editors' note: "Audi 5000" is, in fact, in Urban Dictionary.)
NR: Anyway — it's a thing all our friends say. Just like, "Audi 5000!"
AI: I think of [Palberta5000] as a rocketship, and we're sending our music into the solar system.
Palberta5000 is out now.