Just over a year after releasing his outstanding album, The Switch, Andy Palmer has decided to go on hiatus.
Why? To focus more on raising his kids.
This isn't Palmer's first time leaving music. About two decades ago, he quit to pursue law, but after a three-year stint as a public defender in Brooklyn, in 2009 Palmer moved to Denver, where he started writing and playing again.
Palmer will perform one last show, at the Walnut Room on Saturday, October 20; in the meantime, he just premiered the video for the title track of The Switch, which John Grigsby made using claymation and animation.
Westword caught up with Palmer via email to discuss the video and why he's going on hiatus.
Westword: Why did you decide to go on hiatus, and why now?
Andy Palmer: Well, when I'm not feeling creative and productive, I feel almost nauseous. Not nauseous because I'm not writing, but because I feel like I should be. So the short answer is that I don't want to feel nauseous for a while. The long answer is that it's a serious grind and I have other responsibilities and interests. I'm not sure most folks know the time and energy it takes behind the scenes to grow, and even just maintain, a music career.
Between marketing, band management, scheduling and practices, booking, managing all your social-media platforms, drafting show email notices, getting out on the scene to support friends...it's crazy time-consuming. And that's not even mentioning the creative side. We've all got to keep writing and practicing on our own, too. It's not an exaggeration to say it's a full-time job — or at least a very, very interruptive part-time one.
For years I dedicated a ton of time and energy and, honestly, not a small amount of money solely to build my career and myself as an artist — on top of my day job and raising kids. I feel very lucky to have been recognized in various ways over the years. But during the last year, I've just realized that I've got too many balls in the air. It's not that I can't juggle them all. It's just that I'm getting sloppy at it.
You've said that if you can’t give 100 percent all in with your heart, it feels fraudulent. Could you expand on that?
Sure. My music is pretty simple. I'm not a theory guy. I don't have some insane vocal range or wickedly complex arrangements. I consider myself first and foremost a lyricist and singer who relies on utter sincerity to try to draw folks in. Even if nobody else knows what the message of the lyric might be, I do my best to share the emotion behind the lyric through tone and vocal quality. But that takes a deep and simultaneous connection to the song's intent. So, to 'sell' a song, I have to go to that place. If I can't get there, I know the audience feels it. The energy gets sucked out of the room and gets replaced by this awkward tension.
So the potency of my songs, I think, depends on the heart and conviction. If I just go through the motions, I feel dull — not quite like I'm faking it, just being a bit dishonest, and definitely like the audience deserves more. I always find it somewhat sad when you watch a performer fake it. But I guess I'd say it's even sadder to be that performer. Some performers are great at faking it. And kudos to them. I just don't want to be one.
Looking back on your time in music, is there anything you would have done differently?
I'm very happy with my life's past trajectory, and I don't want to sound like I'd change anything, because I've been incredibly fortunate and met amazing people along the way. But I do wonder on occasion if I should've just put my head down in my twenties, pushed through all the doubt, let some of my nerves go, and stayed focused on music as a legitimate career. That said, I think I learned more about performing and preparation and dedication by stepping away from music than I could have while embroiled in it.
Another change I might make would be in terms of approach to the industry and some people in it. A lot of people make a lot of empty promises in the business. I've been burned, and I know a lot of musicians who have, too. Most industry folks are great and honest, but a musician's dreams are almost too easy to take advantage of these days. Aside from that, though, I mean, while I made plenty of mistakes and perhaps stayed in horribly unproductive bands for too long — all those things led to valuable lessons learned.
What would it take to get back into music?
Again, I don't want to be too dramatic. I sure hope I'm not done for good. But for now, I need to give myself room to write without an expectation to. When I go through creative phases, I tend to write pretty regularly and with little effort. I'm off to rediscover that. If I uncover songs that move me, I'll happily share them. I'm just not going to be concerned with notions of 'When is my next release/show/post/etc.?' And, look, I mean, if Gregory Alan Isakov calls me tomorrow and asks me to open for him, I'm not going to say, "Hey, man, haven't you heard I'm on hiatus?" I'll be around. Or maybe I won't for a while. I'm just letting myself feel okay with where I am, I guess.
What will you be focusing on in the future?
My kids, mainly. Helping them grow into kind, compassionate, curious little humans. Also, my wife and I have been building a yurt up in the mountains for a few years — with plenty of help from great friends. I've been so fulfilled swinging a hammer and ax and watching this unplugged life take shape. But I also want to find a cause I believe in and volunteer some new free time to that. I've been involved in social activism in various ways over the years, but I'm lacking in that area right now. I'm not a very good activist, though, because when I feel strongly about something, I can't seem to direct the energy into persuasive communication. I get too overwhelmed, shut down, and throw my hands up into the air. So I might just learn how to weld. I dig metal sculptures...and welding helmets.
Can you give me some background on the video you did with John, and what you two were going for with it?
First off, John Grigsby is amazing. So many skills sets went into the direction of the video. It's already been accepted into multiple film festivals and is blowing folks' minds. So I really hope people check it out and share it. The video is for the title track of my last CD release, The Switch. If you read the lyrics closely, I think the message is fairly clear. But I found after the release that many people didn't get the message, even if they really liked the tune. I've used videos to clarify more poetic lyrics in the past, and this was similar. I'm also drawn to mood music, more vibey and maybe a touch on the dark side — or at least recognizing a darker side.
So with this tune, which vacillates between a very clear heaviness and moodiness to a more uplifting and hopeful tone, I thought claymation and animation could convey the emotional spectrum well. I'd spoken with John years earlier about collaborating, but it never happened, so I called him again and sent him the song. He loved it, we hit it off and hashed out a general stylistic approach. The song's narrative perspective is from a god figure, who is struggling with the decision to continue acting as a beacon of hope or to become basically a destroyer of worlds.
He's conflicted in the knowledge that human innocence and potential is only eclipsed by its own destructive tendencies. John took that theme and threw a gorgeous fantasy element at it. And he added other characters to build the storyline and capture the innocence that I mentioned. And, amazingly, he somehow managed to conjure a refugee/immigrant element, which is so politically prominent right now. So he broadened the song's message in a sense. The video is thick with religious imagery and suggestion for the overly analytical, and it's just plain beautiful for folks who want to watch a story unfold.
Andy Palmer Hiatus Show, with Kiltro, 8 p.m., Saturday, October 20, Walnut Room, 3131 Walnut Street, $10-$15.