Like family: PALA shows there is relation in no relation
By Rika Nurrahmah, ACRN Traffic Director
Through composition, the members of PALA prove that good music doesn’t need to be constructed and categorized like a nuclear family.
They won’t settle for 12 tracks of d-beat so you can pigeon-hole them into the crust-punk genre, nor will they magnetize themselves to chugging breakdowns to ignite an obligatory rain dance among crowd members at some hardcore show. The latter is reserved for bassist Chris Kuhn’s other band, Baltimore’s hardcore magnate Pulling Teeth. Sweeping, almost whispering guitar riffs will tease you into assuming they’re trying to murmur the ghost of '90s screamo, but then a drop into stoner-riffs make you believe otherwise. Call them dysfunctional, but they’re not here to serve you something to label.
To best describe the relationship, Kuhn compared the band to the most anti-nuclear family on sitcom television: the many dads of the Tanner family in "Full House."
“This is going to sound weird, but imagine if Bob Saget disappeared, and Uncle Jesse and Uncle Joey ran the house,” said Kuhn. “I’d say I’m the Uncle Joey who drinks a lot, provides comic relief, and always keeps my head in the clouds trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life while living my life to its best, yet I still try to be responsible and pay the bills.”
To Kuhn, guitarist Colin Nugent is the Uncle Jesse of the band, as he is the “supportive, responsible musician-slash-family figure who doubles as a dependable, awesome friend –- and happens to be a dreamboat.”
As for the remaining two, it’s safe to say that this band has two Danny Tanners. “Kyle (Byington) and Pat (Lamond) are passive dudes,” said Kuhn. “Pat’s like the responsible professional who is smart, yet reluctant at times. We kind of have to push him out of that shell. Kyle is our genius –- a fix-it, go-to technical dude. He also has a lot of great insight on things.”
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The birth of PALA derived from the relation of a Venn diagram of bands. Before the band became official in late 2007, guitarist Byington and drummer Lamont merged talent in a short-lived, tech-metal band called Fall Line. Around that time, Kuhn and Byington destroyed strings in Downside Risk. As time passed, the two bands dissolved, and history proceeded in a roundabout manner. “We did our own things for a while,” said Nugent in a follow-up phone interview. “Chris and I had tried to start a band with Kyle and then Chris started jamming with Pat. Eventually we just all came together.”
According to Kuhn, the four-letter moniker came about when the drummer stumbled upon an 8th century empire in Bengal, India under the name Pala. “I thought that name was pretty epic. All of us agreed and thought, ‘Okay, this is unique.’” From there, the progress turned to a crawl as to this day, the band has only five known recorded and mastered tracks.
You could say there are anxiety problems that get in the way of churning out tunes in a consistent rate. PALA can be obsessive about the writing process, especially once a tentative track goes through the editing and polishing phase. “We’ve been working on this one song for at least three months, and we have rewritten this song at least four or five times,” admits Kuhn. “We finally recorded it and it sounds really sweet, so those long months really paid off.”
ADHD has reined through the writing process as well, but ironically for the better. “Through our jam sessions we would just jam out so many riffs that we didn’t know what direction to take it,” said Kuhn. “I guess we’re constantly influenced, but the outcome is really interesting.” It’s as if Mother Nature threw a ton of mouth-watering fruit at the band with no instructions or recipe attached, and after carefully looking into each element (and possibly tasting it), the band eventually figured out that, in the right order and amounts, nature’s gifts can make a damn good fruit salad.
The self-titled 7” is the only release the band has to offer until the tentative release of a 10” under the same label, A389 Records, which Pulling Teeth guitarist Dom Romeo happens to run. PALA split pressing cost with A389, which then took control of distribution. Although friendship/bandmate relationship is the initial, obvious speculation for this cause –- which both Kuhn and Romeo admitted –- Romeo stated in an e-mail response to ACRN that the friendship card was a minute consideration. “Lucky for me and everyone else, they don’t suck and are actually pretty awesome,” he said. “That 7” is an early recording that doesn’t really do them justice, but I wanted to do my best to get them off their feet.”
For a band to take off in Baltimore, a major player of the punk scene that’s neighboring labels include Bridge 9, Delaware’s Jade Tree and Converge frontman Jacob Bannon’s own Deathwish, perpetual effort to pump attention into pending fans is the needed to get a foot in the door, said Nugent. “You have to motivate the people to come out to the shows.” In summary, what you give is what you get, and as Kuhn vehemently professed, “those who sit on their asses and assume that they really need to get signed in turn usually don’t avidly contribute to the scene they’re trying to get into –- or even their own band.”
Although imposed by the time constraints the band experiences, PALA is certainly not a side project. Kuhn invested his time and creative input into what he believes is more in the foreground of his interest. “I don’t think I have much writing influence in Pulling Teeth,” said Kuhn. “Even though I try to do as much as I can in both bands that I equally enjoy, PALA allows me to experiment with styles that won’t necessarily work with Pulling Teeth.”
On the side, both Byington and Kuhn have gone back to school while Lamont is steadfast in his career at Mission Media. All members invest long hours in their endeavors, but as life flushes them through the wave of times, Kuhn believes that he and the rest of the members are “just dudes that are doomed to be in bands forever.”
The Baltimore denizens all differ in personality, yet one will realize that feasting on hot dogs along the backdrop of wiener paraphernalia at Athens’ O’Betty’s reveals brotherly love among the members of PALA. To sit, feast along, and observe the foursome throughout their wayward dinner conversations was not like eating at a Denny’s with the members of KISS. In fact, the situation was like being an honorable guest at a middle-class family’s everyday dinner when everyone just arrived from their 9-to-5 job or soccer practice. The dynamic relationship allows the personalities to flirt, clash and compromise with each other. And like some warped episode of "Full House," matters resolve by toasting Milwaukee’s Best tall boys and erupting in laughter.
In sound, the array of musical styles meshes together in a similar fashion. A review of the band’s 7” on Punknews.org best described the sound clash as “rather than sounding forced, it combines into a working amalgamation of heavy and punk-styled music of the last 20 years.” After spending months upon months composing a single track, one would expect that a track like “Astral Projection Adventure” would sync Colin Nugent’s substance-induced lyrical journey of an never-ending fall from one side of the stratosphere to the other with a riff-charged smorgasbord of hardcore and post-rock melodies. But the two are so immersed and warped in such a short segment of the song that it’s a little uncomfortable to proclaim one style over another.
The band has turned such practice into a craft. To dissect PALA’s creation would shatter the band’s peculiar harmony. That’s like completely removing Kimmy Gibbler from the Tanner household. An oddball, yes, but "Full House" wouldn’t be without her.