Interview: Nai Palm Sees ‘Needle Paw,’ Her Debut Solo Album, as a Gentle Lullaby.
I talk to Nai Palm about her debut solo album, cooking wallaby, Australia, and more.
The late great Prince died with an unfulfilled wish. He adored the soulful quartet Hiatus Kaiyote and before passing, repeatedly asked them to perform live in his home. Unable to overcome logistical roadblocks, the show never materialized. With their genre-bending sound, however, Hiatus Kaiyote has honored and preserved Prince’s musical spirit and intention. The band’s heartbeat and energy are conducted by their lead singer, Nai Palm.
An orphan from Australia, the group’s front-woman sings from a heart pained by loss and tribulation. Nai lost both of her parents before the age of 14, resulting in a childhood of fluctuating homes and families. Detached from the love of kinship she found comfort through nature, writing, and song.
With Needle Paw, Nai’s debut solo album out today, she capitalizes on her opportunity for independent expression. After more than 5 years of releasing music and touring with Hiatus Kaiyote, Nai was ready to hone in and communicate her own vision. She describes Needle Paw as the “skeleton” of a Hiatus Kaiyote album. Stripped down to acoustic guitar and vocals, it’s a chance for listeners to appreciate Nai’s vocal range and ability.
The album is more digestible for the common ear without the layered instrumentation her bandmates bring to Hiatus Kaiyote. It’s simplicity, though, doesn’t take away from its impact. In today’s frantic world, sometimes all you need is a “gentle lullaby,” as Nai says below.
I had the chance to catch up with her in the midst of the Needle Paw North American tour, just two days before the album’s release. She hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, but as I call, she’s about to.
Let’s get right into it, I know you’re super busy.
Well, I’m more just like, at a diner. The busyness is going to be me fitting heaps of food into my mouth.
Haha. Do you think Australian breakfast is better than American breakfast?
Our breakfast shits on your breakfast, hahaha.
Agreed, I noticed that while studying in Sydney this year. Speaking of food, you’re music and style is super cultured. Do you cook? I feel like you’d make some crazy multi-cultured shit in the kitchen.
Yeah, I like cooking! My favorite thing to cook is wallaby, which is like a way cuter Kangaroo. You cook it in coconut oil with like sage, agave nector, paprika, garlic and it’s really yum.
And I love cooking with beet juice because I’m an improv cooker and I love color. I feel like if your food is too beige you’ll end up pretty fucked up. And I always cook with honey, because I’m obsessed with it.
I watched your interview with EricTheYoungGod, and you guys talked about why Hiatus Kaiyote may be more popular in the states than in Australia. I was in Melbourne this year and I was introduced to these fantastic soul groups coming out of the city like 30/70 and The Do Ya Thangs. To me, the city seemed like an up and coming epicenter of neo-soul. I was wondering if you noticed this too and how much this rise has to do with the city of Melbourne and or, Hiatus’ success?
There wasn’t much of a scene for that shit when we (Hiatus Kaiyote) started out…and there is now.
Hiatus came up through house parties and jam parties with people playing lots of different styles. There was like a beat maker scene and then there was us, and no one really knew what to do with it because we performed in a live format.
All the heads that were into Dilla and shit we’re all just kinda making your Low End Theory kinda joints, ya know?
As far as those bands you mentioned, they are a couple years after Hiatus. It’s kind of weird I keep getting associated with them because we’ve been touring internationally for like 5 years, so this little soul scene that’s popped up there…I don’t really feel that connected to because it wasn’t there when I was around.
Got that. When I listen to those groups I definitely hear Hiatus’ influence. When I listen to you sing, in particular, it’s crazy, I feel like I can hear the influence of where you grew up. It’s so natural but at the same time, urban and hip. How did growing up in contrasting environments, a city, and nature, influence your work?
I lived in a place called Mount Beauty which is more like an alpine valley. It’s very green and filled with rivers and mountains…I think it’s important for people to be exposed to lots of different ways of living and cultures, and of course, that’s going to influence you creatively.
If you just like go to the same place and eat the same thing all the time and then go to create…Humans are like sponges you know, we’re the byproducts of our environments and the more you expose yourself to eclectic living, the better you are.
It seems like you’re influenced by your dreams, you got your permanent gold tooth because of a recurring dream right? Is there a really vivid or crazy dream that you can recall that inspired any of the songs on Needle Paw or any Hiatus songs?
Yeah, it’s actually related to the teeth thing. The “World it Softly Lulls” was a reccruing dream I had a lot when I was younger and before my 25th birthday, I had it again, which is when I got my gold tooth.
In the dream, I woke up in a hospital room and all my teeth were silver and there was this massive colored glass wall where all the images were moving and my finger’s get hot, and then lightning comes out of my fingers and shatters the glass and the pieces move past me in slow motion.
The rest of the dream, I’m on the top of a skyscraper playing with lightning and my teeth are conducting the electricity and its really, really, um…fun. It’s something that I’ve dreamt about a lot.
So Needle Paw, your debut solo album, is coming out in just two days. What are your emotions like right now? Nervous, excited?
I’m just really proud of it and I think it’ll help people. It’s helped me. It’s not an egotistical album, it’s an offering, a sanctuary for people because the world is kind of fucked up and sometimes you need to put on a record that’s like a gentle lullaby.
When I first finished the record I kind of forgot about the whole release thing. For me the release was having it completed and to be like I’ve done this, it was a milestone… It was a fucking crazy challenge. I had a hectic year. I really bled for that album, so it’s really humbling that it’s going to do what it needs to do for other people in the same way it did for me.
How would you describe the album? How is it different than what you do with Hiatus, how is it similar?
It’s like when I write a song and bring it to the band. I wanted people to see the skeleton of the ideas and the power of the intention in that. Its kind of like the skeleton of our weird voltron magic beats that we make.
Also, sometimes with Hiatus, I put a lot of effort into to my vocal arrangements and sometimes it gets a little bit buried in the mix when you have a lot of other shit…so I just wanted to really celebrate and showcase that, and the other singers that sing with us in Hiatus because they’re a part of the story too. It’s kind of like a journal, with people I really love on the record. It’s very simple and not overstated, but there’s power in that.
You’ve been posting singles to your Instagram with the album artwork for Needle Paw. It has a very cultural, eclectic aesthetic, similar to your music. What can you tell me about the artwork?
I found a really amazing artist. Her name is Jowy, iseejowy on Instagram. I just started following her work and I loved how deeply, spiritually feminine and punk it was, it’s like elegant and fierce at the same time.
Being in an industry saturated by men, being in a band with 3 other dudes who are the most emotionally centered people I know…I just wanted something that was very effeminate, but not in a polite, western conception of that. I wanted something that was really evocative and powerful. Jowy’s work really resonated with me so we started following each other, started chatting, and then she drew a series of portraits of me and I had a Skype with her. I feel like I’ve met another member of my global family.
Before I let you go, you’ve traveled everywhere. This a music blog for the people of Austin, so I was wondering what you thought about Austin compared to other places you’ve been and performed?
Well, I’ve only really played there during SXSW so it’s usually a cluster-fuck. But Austin is a cool city, there’s good vintage, bars, and barbecue.
I don’t know if SXSW is the truest representation of a typical Austin audience, but I remember someone was burning palo santo in the audience, that was a beautiful moment that I remember from Austin.