by Charlotte Force
Palm Pilot is a band composed of LaGuardia’s Aiden Berglund, Rain Johannes, and Laszlo Horvath, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s Charles Michie. They just released an eponymous album, ‘Palm Pilot’. As a “puzzle-pop” band, this group derives influences from modern and contemporary art, math, shapes, and social issues. Together, they combine splashes of color and sound to create a “sonic equivalent of biting into Gushers candy.”
How did the idea for a band come about? How long did it take to really start?
Aiden, about Charles: “We used to be in a punk band together, called Atomiclock, but then I started making more melodic music because I was in New Music Ensemble at LaGuardia High School, which Rain later joined. I was writing these songs that were very much inspired by modern art, color, geometric shapes, and so I evolved the band along with my new interests in music (like Flaming Lips, Deerhoof, and Tame Impala) and I wanted to do more stuff like that. So that’s what I shaped this band around. My biggest picture for this band was experimental music, but at first we needed to write songs to play at shows that weren’t experimental. So then I got into the habit of just writing ‘songs’ that just had experimental parts, and we’re now trying to deviate from that more.”
Why did you choose “Palm Pilot” as your name? Does it have anything to do with your music?
Aiden: “I think it has a lot to do with our music. The kind of music you would expect from a band called Palm Pilot. I think I was reading something, and a voice in my head said ‘Palm Pilot’, and I thought ‘That’s a great name for something!’ Then I realized it was the name for an old phone, but I went with it anyway. I can’t give up a good band name.”
What’s the story behind your shape t-shirts?
Charles: “The band all about geometric shapes. The shirts reflect the way that the music is shaped.”
Aiden: “We all decided our shapes. I felt that it was appropriate for the idea we had in mind for the band. Singularity, as opposed to different personalities. It’s actually kind of Bowie-esque.”
Have you had other band members?
Aiden: “Charles replaced another member a while back [Michael Eliran of Dolly Spartans]. We’ve taught a bunch of the songs to Charles, and he’s come up with his own parts for some songs. [Michael] contributed to some riffs we wrote, and helped me arrange some stuff along with Rain, but he decided to focus on Dolly Spartans instead.”
Are you in any other bands/have other music projects?
Aiden: “I put out a solo record every now and then of acoustic stuff… ambient, organ-keyboard music with sound effects. I’ve found all of my favorite instruments. My first good electric guitar I found in my basement. That organ, I found on the street. The guitar I’m using for this show I found at my dad’s house.”
Charles: “Well, I have been consistently making solo recordings since the age of twelve. It’s gone in the ways of ambience a lot recently. It’s really hard to take that to a musical group if that’s all that you’re really interested in, so I like to think I’m really just a lichen attached to this big rock of Palm Pilot, while making unrecreatable music on the side. I’ve written a lot of songs that could be played live, but I haven’t really written straight songs in a long time.”
Rain: “Besides being involved with New Music Ensemble, I produce a lot of electronic music by myself. The stuff I write outside of Palm Pilot tends to be soft, more singer-songwriter acoustic music,”
Aiden: “You have a crazy range of styles.”
Rain: “I released a hardcore metal album recently. I do funk sometimes. I’m involved with a lot of things; I’m a universal remote.”
Laszlo: “I have Yabadum, and a project called Luca Brazilian, and Abby Apache.”
How often do you guys practice?
Aiden: “I want to start rehearsing more, to get new material, but usually we have a show every couple months and we get two or three rehearsals before, so about twice a month. I feel like that’s very little.”
Where do you find room to practice?
Aiden: “We have a secret spot! We started rehearsing at this studio in Brooklyn, owned by our friend Steven [the drummer of Dolly Spartans]. The weird thing about that studio is that it’s a really tucked away part of Brooklyn, and when you walk inside it’s just fluorescent.”
Rain: “And it’s an never-ending labyrinth.”
Aiden: “And every time we go in there, I’m really scared – it’s like Scooby Doo, when you run out the door, and come out the other door. It’s a maze of doors, and it’s really easy to get lost.”
Rain: “Like being digested by the building’s intestines.”
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened during rehearsals?
Rain: “The drums keep falling apart.”
Laszlo: “The beater of the kick drum keeps falling out, and I need to find some way to fix that.”
Charles: “Mostly, it’s just things not working.”
So your single, “She’s Being Polite”. How long did it take to write/produce, and why aren’t Charles and Laszlo on it?
Aiden: “That song is actually one of our newer songs, we released it before the album because we mixed it ourselves – well, Rain mixed it – and we recorded it ourselves at our school, in our basement. The quality isn’t amazing, and the drummer isn’t even our drummer, it was Levi just because he is in the class. But Laszlo is our go-to drummer, because we love his style (and his facial hair). And Charles isn’t on it at all, so it’s really just a three-piece. But we put a trillion over dubs on it, and quadruple-tracked the vocals at some points, which was really intense. We released that song because we wanted to promote the Blue & Lucky show, and promote the record. To have something out that somebody could listen to, even though it’s some of our newer stuff. The album has earlier songs. For writing the song, it was really kind of simple. I started writing the chords last year, and we actually had alternate lyrics. Rain came up with the riff.”
Rain: “I wrote the riff, then the bridge.”
Aiden: “The verse… We were recording another song, and Rain was fixing stuff and overdubbing. So I was like, ‘Okay, I’m just gonna go write this song’.”
Who did the art for your logo?
Aiden: “Right now we’re using Laszlo’s girlfriend to make some art for the album. Addie Boyd. And she did the logo.”
Addie Boyd’s Tumblr: http://addie-boyd.tumblr.com/
Who did the art for the cover of She’s Being Polite?
Aiden: “My mom actually drew that! She’s a graphic designer and artist.”
What is your process (if any) for writing songs?
Aiden: “All of our music is written out – we’ve got stands. If you ever watch us play,”
Laszlo: “The noise sections in particular,”
Aiden: “Yeah. We try to make as much noise that’s written out as possible.”
Rain: “None of our music is a mistake.”
Aiden: “Even our mistakes aren’t mistakes. Mistakes are the best part. As for songwriting, I kind of put myself in a box when I started this band. I was like, ‘Alright, let’s make experimental music with cool effects’. At first I wanted to use a vocoder, and electronic drums. Then I realized we’d have to play shows, and I’d have to write a lot of songs in a short amount of time. So all the songs came out in basic song structures, like tiny boxes. I love shapes, condensed things, so it worked really well to make these little boxes of songs that people could just listen to. We also have a couple of jams that turned into songs. We’re writing more stuff now that’s less linear – more experimental. Now that Charles is in the band, we’re trying more ‘sound’ stuff.”
Charles: “The experimental facet of Aiden Berglund’s music has manifested itself in multiple side projects, such as the ‘Swimmer’ album, by Aiden, which is on his bandcamp, as well as the project called Midtown, which aims to describe musically the durge and gurge of midtown through sounds.”
Do you make musical decisions based on music theory?
Aiden: “At first I didn’t know what a major scale was – once I discovered how to use a major scale in music, it turns out people really like that. Major third harmonies – people love that. In this class that we’re in, New Music, people older than us, like Caverns and the Jacobins, would write a lot of music in odd time signatures. I was really impressed by that. Along with the whole mathematical, shape, and color oriented fuel that we use, I was inspired by odd time signature. If you listen to certain songs like “Inside Out” or “Sweet Thing” we use odd time signatures.”
How do you organize shows?
Rain: “We have people do it for us…”
Aiden: “Charles and I, in our old band, used to email every music venue in New York City, and say, ‘Hey, we’re a bunch of kids, and we’re gonna play music’. We would get screwed over so bad, wouldn’t make any money, and play at the worst venues.”
Charles: “It builds character.”
Aiden: “Now we have some friends who will help us out, like Arsun Sorrenti… His dad owns this warehouse in Brooklyn so we got on that show. It’s mainly our friends in different bands. They’ll get a show, and they’ll invite us to play. This is one of our first shows with this lineup. It’s one of our bigger shows tonight, at Webster Hall. We’re kind of riding on the coat tails of some other bands.”
Do you have a selection process for playing songs? Which ones get the best reaction?
Aiden: “Yeah, transitions are important. We kind of just play every song that we have now. There are a few we don’t play, just because they got kind of phased out.”
Rain: “I think 24th century always gets a good reaction. Just because it’s our heaviest song, and we usually close with it, so people are usually pretty excited to have an opportunity to mosh.”
Laszlo: “It’s usually the last song, and that’s when I’m just not paying attention to anything. Which is fun, and that’s a good way to end a set.”
Aiden: “I would say my favorite song to play is Inner Workings. That’s a really fun one.”
Who are your musical influences?
Aiden: “Tame Impala – they’re a neo-psychedelic Australian band. Deerhoof… The Kinks, kind of. I was listening to a lot of The Kinks this summer, so I wrote a lot of the songs around that. Elliott Smith, or John Lennon. I like John Lennon’s style a lot.”
Rain: “We’re less jazzy. Still progressive, but more ‘poppy’.”
What’s the best part of being in a band?
Aiden: “I think getting on stage and doing your thing is just the most liberating experience. When the audience is having a good time and you’re having a good time – that is just one of the best feelings. It’s like a natural high.”
The worst part?
Rain: “The worst part is dragging gear.”
Aiden: “Also paying for rehearsals.”
Rain: “Paying for things in general. Capitalism.”
Aiden: “Bands make very little money.”
What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned from being in this band?
Laszlo: “I don’t really play drums live a lot, except when I’m doing Palm Pilot. In Yabadum, when I’ve sung and played bass, I know how to perform. When I play drums, I kind of just do what I like to do, what feels good at the moment. I don’t know how to do drums on stage – I’m kind of thinking the whole time, ‘Is closing my eyes and opening my mouth… okay… this feels pretty good… now I want to look at the audience, because I’m not looking at them enough… alright, closing them again…’. Just paying attention to how I fit into the mix. I’m still figuring it out.”
Rain: “Being in Palm Pilot has expanded my bass playing. Before, I’d stick to things that I knew, but with Palm Pilot I tried to extend myself. I think it helped me out a lot.”
What are your hopes for Palm Pilot?
Aiden: “Lots and lots of hopes. I would love to go on tour, gain a larger audience, release music that I like, and that people like. The progression of a band. Less of just be a band, and expand into more multimedia things. I don’t think ‘the band’ is the last aspect of Palm Pilot. I think it’s going to branch out, into more multimedia artwork. Visual art, soundscape art. There are also so many social movements to get behind right now, so I’m taking that into consideration. I want to be able to promote something that is not just a selfish desire to be a successful musician, but also to help in a way.”