Artist Spotlight: Palehound


Palehound’s record label, Exploding in Sound, calls the group “one of the best up-and-coming bands… throughout Brooklyn’s DIY community,” and looking at their track record, the statement doesn’t seem an exaggeration. Palehound—composed of Ellen Kempner, Thom Lombardi, Ben Scherer, and Max Kupperberg—came together in 2013, and in the span of three years the alternative indie rock unit have seen an incredible rise in fame. Featured in the CMJ Music Marathon 2015, an annual autumn convention and festival in New York, and on NPR through the Tiny Desk Concert series, they will be performing at Boston Calling on May 28. Vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist Kempner sat down with The Crimson to discuss her musical beginnings, her inspirations, and her experiences leading a band that is currently evolving and exploding with attention and acclaim.

The Harvard Crimson: How did you first become involved in music?

Ellen Kempner: My dad played when I was growing up, so that kind of got me started…. I’ve always just been a fan of listening to music my whole life—[it was] kind of a big part of growing up—and I just started writing songs to contribute to that culture, that scene.

THC: Do you remember the first songs that you wrote?


EK: Yeah, I wrote a song called “Real World,” and the chorus was like, “Get back to the real world / Get out of your cloud.” And that was my first song—one of them.

THC: How did Palehound form?

EK: [Palehound] still is in its own way a solo project because I write and record everything…. But I decided I wanted to start touring and definitely didn’t want to do it by myself. [I] definitely wanted to be able to play louder shows and not just be like the girl with a solo guitar.... I wanted to make more noise, so I put together a band when I moved here to Boston.

THC: How do you think your music has evolved since you first started out?

EK: Having a band now has made me rethink how I write songs. Now I know what to expect when I play shit live and what kind of instruments I’m working with, so I definitely keep that in mind when I start writing. I’ve also been practicing a lot more, so that broadens my abilities to just experiment more with guitar and stuff. And of course, I listen to different stuff that comes out, and everything has its own little influence.

THC: Who are some of your musical inspirations?

EK: I definitely grew up listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell. Loved her growing up. And in high school, I loved Elliott Smith. And recently, I’ve really loved Angela Wilson and Courtney Barnett. New stuff comes out every day that I like—well, not every day, [but] every year—that I like and kind of stick with.

THC: In what ways do you channel those inspirations in your music?

EK: I don’t know. I honestly will just hear a song that I really love and will be inspired by it. It just makes me want to make music when I hear something I really like. It makes me want to sit down and try to make something like it.

THC: What was like it recording your debut album, “Dry Food”?

EK: It was really awesome. I recorded it with my friend at his studio—or a studio that he assistant engineers at, but he was the main engineer for my session…. It was basically the nicest studio I’ve ever worked in. It was just really nice and felt comfortable and wasn’t flashy…. It was really great to camp out there for a few days.

THC: What’s your favorite part about recording?

EK: Finally hearing things that I’ve only heard myself play in a bedroom coming alive in a studio is a really rewarding experience. It almost feels like magical, you know, to see something I work hard on… [and to] flesh it out and turn it into something I’m really proud of.

THC: Alternative rock is pretty male-dominated. How is it being a woman in that scene?

EK: A lot of dudes in the scene are really great, so I haven’t faced a ton of sexism from fellow musicians. But you know, there will be times when people will come to a show and will make side comments like they weren’t expecting me to play guitar like I do. Most of the offensive stuff that people say comes from a place of them trying to be complimentary. No one really goes out of their way to be an asshole to me, which is really nice, but it’s all just kind of tokenizing shit. It’s getting better, and I’m kind of fortunate to be in a place now where I have a lot of friends in the scene. And what I really like about the Boston music scene is that there are a lot of female musicians and non-binary identifying musicians.

THC: You’ve appeared on NPR Music, and you’ll be playing at Boston Calling. Can you describe those experiences?

EK: It’s been really amazing but also really nerve-wracking. If I didn’t love music so much, this would be like a terrible career choice for me…. It’s totally weird to be in a position now where I’m seeing myself on websites that I’ve always read or on NPR, and it’s crazy seeing myself doing these things that I’ve always dreamed of doing but never felt that I would get to do. But at the same time, it’s also insanely anxiety-provoking for me. So it’s kind of bittersweet. It’s mainly sweet. I love it, I’m incredibly fortunate, and I’m insanely grateful.

THC: What has it been like going on tour?

EK: It’s exhausting but also really incredible. I’ve gotten to travel to places I never thought I’d be able to go to. I toured Europe for the first time a couple of months ago, and it was insanely amazing and like a total dream come true…. I actually really love touring the States a lot because if I [had gone] to [the] cities just to visit, I would have just done touristy bullshit and not known how to do the cool shit. But when you tour as a musician, you end up in a lot of the cool scenes of the city.

THC: What part of Boston Calling are you looking forward to most?

EK: I really want to see Courtney Barnett, really bad. I love her, and I haven’t seen her yet.

THC: What do you usually try to bring to your live shows on-stage?

EK: I just want people to feel like they can come up and talk to me afterwards. My main goal is just to be myself as much as possible, even though I’m under a lot of pressure [to] try to retain myself and not be someone who I’m not.

—Staff writer Ha D.H. Le can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @hadh_le.


Recommended Articles