Long Read: We talked with Domenic Palermo about his journey with Nothing so far, the work behind their new album ‘The Great Dismal’ and a lot more

Nothing are celebrating their ten year anniversary as a band and their new album couldn’t be released in a better time. The Great Dismal is the perfect example of what it feels like to live in 2020, but still finding beauty in pain and convey it into something impactul. Just before the USA presidential elections, we talked with Domenic Palermo about his journey with Nothing so far, the work behind this new album and much more.

The Great Dismal feels like a short way to describe perfectly 2020.
Yeah! I mean, I couldn’t have picked a better album title for what’s going on at this point. [laughs] It’s not very uncommon for me to write about things being dismal. For the most part, the record was written in 2018. I started demoing in New Year’s Eve of 2018 and I went through the night essentially, while people were partying outside. I kind of just sat there and made the decision that I was going to open up this whole process of doing this again. It was a little bit tough this time, because I wasn’t really sure… There were a lot of factors that were weighing on me, like lineup changes and an overall unsatisfactory feeling with just like playing music in general.

Nothing are celebrating their ten year anniversary as a band and you’re about to release your fourth album. You have been through some really tough life experiences, but you’ve always overcome them and your music is the living proof of that. How do you feel looking back to those ten years that have passed?
The big part of the reason of me starting this whole project was to address this time period that I had in 2000s and really try to use it as a therapeutic way to kind of just move on from that point in my life. When we rolled through Guilty of Everything, I thought that was going to be the record that kind of just did that, but I think it was just a really naive thought to think that I’d be able to just tie everything up and call it the day so fast. Since then, it’s just been a constant struggle for me with this band of finding that peace that I’ve been looking for while I was touring and writing records. It still just feels like I hadn’t had found that yet. That was kind of the big thing when I was sitting on that New Year’s Eve. It was like, “Do I want to keep doing this because I’ve been unsuccessful at what I’ve been doing? I’m reaching 10 years and this is kind of getting to a point where it’s like, am I wasting my time here?” I’m a hard headed person. I kind of felt like my back was against the wall and I just had a disdain for music, the industry and everything around it, but I wasn’t really happy that I wasn’t successful and doing what I wanted to do. I think that’s what immediately just drove me to just take another shot at this. I’ve started writing things about that decade again and this record was going to be like my “Guilty Of Everything II” essentially. When I revisited those times, I wasn’t just gonna shine a light on to them, I was gonna look every problem directly in the eye. That started to unfold at a really fast rate when I was demoing stuff and the material just started to appear. It was coming out of me so easily and I fell through a lot of self doubt and getting to that point where we were all in the studio, I had no idea what was about to happen and how much this record was about to be affected by not only the past, but the present. Our albums aren’t too far off from talking about the bleakness of how bleak the world can get. It’s pretty on brand as it is.

The Great Dismal definitely fits in all nowadays madness and human behavior in the face of 2020’s adversities. How are you dealing with everything that’s going on and where are you at the moment?
I’m in New York! This year has just been insane, it’s like a roller coaster of ups and downs. Being in the studio and have to leave New York in this wave of uncertainty… I was keeping an eye on Europe and just see this tidal wave coming our way and we had the studio time booked. It was like, “Do we do this or do we not?” It was a big question because it hadn’t got here yet. We decided that we were just gonna do it and if shit hit the fan, we were just gonna have to stay at the studio. It presented a problem for me just because I have family in New York and stuff and you’re hearing all these rumblings and rumors that they were talking about closing the bridges and the tunnels, there was gonna be a shortage of food. It was really scary and uncertain. The whole time I was in the studio, it was a constant questioning on whether I made the right decision to be in the studio or if I was being like a bad friend and a bad family member to be in here and being away from the people. But we were all there. We were all away from our families, Will [Yip, producer] included. We just kept an eye on the situation and listened to the news, and in between that we were writing music. It was just a really strange thing and it never really got less strange moving forward to coming home. No one got sick and everything was safe at home, but then the George Floyd stuff happened. There were protests running throughout New York and I’m walking in protest now and then this insane political thing going on, the second wave of the pandemic is coming through, the West Coast is on fire and East Coast is flooding… There’s so much stuff. It’s just like this is the perfect time for a Nothing record. It all makes perfect sense.

We have seen really serious issues that’s kind of unbelievable to witness in the 21st century, like the systematic racism, prejudice, machism, homophobia… But in other hand, we have seen people standing together to fight against all those injustices and demanding change once and for all. You also have the USA presidential elections in just less than 2 weeks. What are your thoughts about the current state of things?
Honestly, it’s insane. I’ve never been through anything like this. The tension is just everywhere, you can feel it in the air. You can honestly just feel it. Everything is really quiet right now, which is also scary, because as far as the pandemic goes, I feel like we’re about to get really hit with a really serious second wave that’s lingering in the background. If you see our map right now, our map looks insane like every state in our country is trending in the wrong direction right now. And then you have this election that’s so important. It’s the most important election I’ve ever been alive for. It’s just an unreal scenario that we’re living in right now and I’m just watching it unfold. It feels really theatrical and dramatic, and there’s so much counting on it. It’s the first time in my life where things are so uncertain that you can’t even really have a guess and know the way how things are gonna turn out because it’s just always so dramatic what’s happening. It’s really just mind boggling. For me, I’m not surprised by it completely. It’s like to be expected. Antonin Artaud has a great quote which is like “There where it smells of shit it smells of being.” It’s cool that we have people like me and people like you. There’s a lot of people that are out there fighting for what’s right, but also at the same time, it’s just humanity…

It’s been a lot of craziness and I’ve never went through something like this. To be honest, my anxiety levels are just all over the place, you never know what to expect.
It’s a tough time to navigate, especially people with mental issues and mental problems, even just small anxieties. It’s a tough time for all my friends and family who are struggling that way. I’m not too bothered in this kind of sense. My anxiety develops from being outside and crowds with people. When I’m at home, I’m as cool as a cucumber as they say. [laughs] Also I’m heavily medicated at all times to for the world safety. [laughs] I have friends that are struggling with healthcare and they’re not getting the kind of medicine and the treatment that they deserve. They’re not used to being stuck in a house like this and they’re struggling mentally, but they’re struggling financially too because there’s really not a lot to set up for us here as musicians and artists. With touring off the table, it’s just really thrown into a whole another wrench in the gears as they say. It’s a really difficult time. I’ve lost two really close friends in the past month already. One of them was Riley Gale from Power Trip, and then another great friend, Wade Allison. He played in Iron Age. While this can’t be directly attributed to these losses, I’m sure it played a factor and I have this awful fear of what this winner is going to bring to some of our artists and some of our friends that not only thrive financially on things that are unavailable right now, but also we only survive by creating and doing things around music. That’s how I get all this noise out of my head and that’s how I block the noise outside of my head. Without that, it’s a really dangerous strange world for a lot of us and I can’t lie… I’m pretty frightened about what this winter is going to bring. I have a feeling we’re gonna lose a lot of people, to be honest.

I feel like the whole pandemic situation brought up the worst of humanity.
There’s this giant influx of people who can’t handle that. I consider myself to be kind of fully aware of this scenario for a long time that every human on this planet is capable of terrible things. It’s just the way it goes. We’re built to do terrible things and not all of us do it, but it’s a struggle to not do it. That’s the thing. It’s that we’re built to do them, but it’s a struggle not to do them and there’s plenty of people out there that are just doing it. I think it’s becoming more more noticeable now for regular people to be like, “Shit, I can’t just say I’m being positive about everything, because this is a really cynical place that we live in.” There’s not a lot of positive things to look at and you have to be realistic with yourself. I am seeing a big influx of people who really are struggling with that, because they kind of ran from it for a long time and it’s interesting sitting from my little miserable corner of the room with my little cynical eyeglasses on just like judging everything and judging being like overall miserable. To see people trying to struggle with that idea now, it’s not an easy thing to digest for sure.

Strange times we’re living, but not everything is bad news. Nothing’s new record just came out in the right time and it’s another excellent effort. Tell me more about the writing and creative process for it.
This is a little bit different this time. This is probably about as close of writing wise as it’s been to some of the earlier releases, like Suns and Lovers, Downward Years To Come and Guilty of Everything. One factor for that was that Brandon has left the band. Brandon joined the band around those early records. I slowly kind of gave him more responsibility as far as the writing stuff went, like Dance On The Blacktop. Me and him were almost equal parts of writing. On this record was another thing. I haven’t done this in a while just by myself and there was self doubt. Of course, I knew I was gonna be hearing from people like, “Where’s Brandon?” This band has always had a huge rotating cast. Anybody that’s been following this band knows that we’ve been through over 25 members and every person that’s been in this band has played a part, but at the end of the day, this project has always been mine. Every person that’s been in this project has left their mark on it and it’s been a pivotal point to be what it is today. Every component was necessary along the way. Every member, every tour, every situation, good or bad, has been an absolute pivotal point to this band being what it is right now. Once I got past that, I realized that this was not only just going to be difficult to me in a sense that I was going to carry this writing all the way, like 99% of it was going to be made by me. I mentioned earlier that I keep missing this point of filling this completion with these records, like was it worth the struggle that it is to do this? To do a record, to do everything that comes with a record and to open up these old things and deal with them again and to look at all these problems. And then even the more physical stuff like the grueling tour schedule and stuff. I’m getting older, it’s not getting any easier to do it. It’s getting harder to do.

There’s a lot of stuff like that, but like I said earlier I work well when my back is against the wall. I felt like my back was against the wall and I was forced to make a decision. I started to slowly realize that, like that night, maybe this is the reason that this happens and that maybe it was naive to think that I was going to get all this done in that way. Maybe what needed to happen was that I needed to have this full control again like I did in the early days to get what I needed out of myself, to properly address everything that I’ve been trying to do for 10 years. So, I started to kind of believe in myself a little bit to an extent, you know? There was a lot of self doubt, but I just started pumping songs out and it just started to come out fast and within two months I had six demos done like top to bottom. Since it’s just me and since there’s so many fears, I have never been so over analytical about everything. Every piece, every track, every note was just so methodical and I’ve never recorded this way before. Once I got to the studio with Will, everything was just so realized that there wasn’t a lot of room for any kind of change, because I just had overanalyzed everything to a point where we made a couple of edits here and there. I went through with Doyle Martin [guitar/back vocals] and I worked with Nick Bassett a little bit on this on this record. They were all really important. I had this brilliant group of talented musicians: Aaron Heard [bass] and Kyle Kimball [drumms], Nick and also having Will there. And of course, adding Doyle into the situation. They are just like this musically talented force, but the main thing that I was able to get out of them, considering that I had written all this, was the support that I was getting out of them. It was like invaluable. Basically every time that I was down on something, they brought me back up, lifted me and gave me like the confidence to keep forward, almost felt like an induce labor. They were like pulling stuff out of me and I could have never done this record without like these people that were around for this.

The Great Dismal was recorded throughout quarantine with producer Will Yip at Pennsylvania’s Studio Four. How were the recording sessions like?
We were in the studio for five weeks and that was a really long five weeks considering what was going on outside. We were just like kind of isolated from the world and our only real news were phone calls and watching the news. It just felt really strange. The town we were in, Conshohocken, is like a ghost town. No one there, nothing opened. It was just strange five weeks, but we had each other in there and when we weren’t stressed about what was going on in the world, we had all this time to really dig in on the studio. I’ve never worked with a producer twice in my life. It was a thing that I always wanted to keep that way: always work with a new producer and always have a different sounding record, which I thought was really important for a while, but when I had the song demos, I knew right away that they needed to be recorded by Will. I kind of looked at this like it was gonna be like my magnum opus, you know? I wanted it to sound as high and beautiful as possible. I knew there was only one person that has that sound and it was Will. Working with Will and be this different person and different type of musician that just kind of built this confidence out of nowhere and just realized that this was all gonna be on me to get this done, it was just such a great thing. Working with a producer for the second time, he understood me more and I understood him more and we work together so well. It was just like a really beautiful learning experience and a really beautiful recording experience. Having the demos as realized as they were, it was like another really big benefit. We knew exactly what we were doing and then that gave us more time to experiment on the back end with tones and we had this really beautiful palette. We were able to just add to it through the month with not a lot of pressure. It was a really nice situation for once. There was no stress musically, just obviously the world is a little stressful.

Music has always been a way to cope and deal with the outside world in a better way, to help to get through the bad things happening.
It was good thing but also at the same time, this band has always been about letting all that outside noise into myself and then let it back out, like inhaling and exhaling. This record was very much about that nostalgia and the unfinished business I had with that decade and with that time period, but it was impossible not to ingest what was going on in the world at this point. I hate to say it, but it was like a beautiful mixture the feelings that I had from that time and the pain that people were feeling all across the globe just blended really well with the isolation that I was speaking of from the 2000s to the isolation that the whole world was now feeling. I wanted to embrace it all and I wanted this record to be a record that will be remembered when this is talked about later on. That turned into a goal for me. Everyone was running from releasing a record during this time and a big part of that was that touring is so important to sort of balance and make money around. But for me, it was like this is the great dismal. This record was like meant for this and people need music right now. What’s important to me is that I know that we have people that rely on music for survival, as well as I do to make it. I had to fight with a lot of people on the team over here like label and stuff to release this record this year and I’m really happy I did it now. And I and I should be proud of yourself. For once, I feel that thing that I’ve been looking for a long time. As soon as we walked out of the studio, I knew like I finally did it what I was trying to do back in 2010. It was an interesting kind of new feeling for me.

Earlier we talked about Brandon leaving the band, but now you have Doyle Martin on board. How did he get into the band and what did he bring to the mix?
Out of all of our friends, I was the first person to stumble across Cloakroom in the early days and then told everybody in the band. This was before I met them, so I eventually reached out and we established some kind of connection. We had a tour and we loved them as people and then we brought them out on another tour. It was a tour with Cloakroom, Nothing and Merchandise where I got my head almost ripped off in that robbery. Actually, it was Cloakroom’s drummer that found me in the room. I was in a pile of blood on the floor in this room and Brian ran over, grabbed me, picked me up and carried me outside to the hospital. There’s like a lot of history between Nothing and Cloakroom. This was always a thing that I envisioned happening at some point of time. I keep things moving in this band and this band has always been a journey for me. I knew that there’s going to be people in and out of this, because this is my journey. Being able to bring Doyle into this is something that I’ve always wanted to do. Cloakroom was always one of those bands where I was a fan before I met them. Doyle has this beautiful voice, and me and him harmonize really well. His guitar tone just brings such a different thing into the Nothing stuff. He’s a friend, he cares about me and I care about him. He wanted to help me realize this record and he knew how important it was to me. It’s a difficult thing to stand by and watch someone write a record and not be able to be two hands on it, but he was just very caring and understanding about what I needed to do with this record. We did write one song together, which was cool. The song that we wrote together was “Catch a Fade” and writing that song with him from the bottom up was such a great experience. It makes me happy to think about what we might do in the future too.

This new album features some guest appearances like Alex G (“April Ha Ha”), Mary Lattimore (“A Fabricated Life”), and Shelley Weiss (“A Fabricated Life”). Tell us a litte bit about their collaboration on the new songs.
We had plans to have all these people in the studio. Me and Alex G talked about writing a couple songs together. I’ve always been a fan of Alex as a person and as a musician and we had plans to have him come in and play guitar with me, like kind of just fuck around, and the same thing with Mary. We wanted to have Mary in the studio and just work the song together. Shelley is the same one who played on Tired of Tomorrow as well. We had her in the studio on that record and we had to mix all that stuff because of the quarantine. It got tricky working remotely but that’s how this whole record got put together. Everything moving forward from that point was just this remote thing like the visuals and the videos. It kind of became cool to me that this record was coming together in everyone’s own personal little isolation. It spoke to the narrative of the record as well. It’s easier with Mary – me and Mary are always talking anyway. We send each other funny memes and stuff like that. I’m such a big fan of her and all of her music, so for me to be able to work with somebody like her and Shelley and Alex, it just makes me feel so lucky to work with people that are as talented as they are. To have them on this album just added another level to it for me.

For the album’s artwork and visuals, you worked with Walter Pearce (Midland Agency co-founder) and also with Jordan Hemingway (photographer/filmaker), for a series of music videos for the songs. The connection between music and video has become an important aspect of the band. What did you have in my mind for it and how was it like to work with them?
Things needed to be done remotely in a lot of these scenarios and I’m very hands on when it comes to art and it’s hard to get out of my hand. Sometimes it works on our favor, but a lot of the times it doesn’t. Sometimes the art around the music should be taken by somebody else and it kind of give it a different narrative and see it from a different perspective. That’s something that I’ve struggled with because I’m so attached to everything. This was a great opportunity for me to not have a choice. I knew that I needed to do this and my resources were very limited and so I looked for help. The first place I looked was with my friend Walter. He is this brilliant young man and he’s wrapped up in the fashion world. He is the co-owner of Midland Agency, which is a modeling agency in New York city and they have this really striking and beautiful models. Everything he does is really cool and he’s attentive to detail like I am. I knew that going to him would be a great start. We talked about it a little bit and he worked on some ideas and then he came back with the Jordan Hemingway. I knew Jordan already and I was a fan of his work, but I’ve really saw his work as a Nothing type scenario because he has a kind of goth vibe into it. When Walter mentioned him, I wasn’t gonna say anything like that because his resumée is disgustingly insane. When we started this, he has just finished a Gucci campaign and I was just like, “You know Walter, we can’t afford this guy” but he was like “Oh he’s my friend. If he’s into the project, he will do it.” The three of us started a group chat and talked about the record and the meaning behind everything. I kind of went through track to track and opened up about every song, and Jordan was like, “Ok, let’s do it! Give us a week or something and we’ll be back.” They came back with this outline for the three videos that they wanted to do and the art. It was like brilliantly planned, more like a campaign for a clothing company rather than a record and I just loved it. I knew that this record needed to be serviced different than normal records, because the content is such an important thing right now. I’m beyond so happy that we did this with them and I love the artwork. Everything that we’re doing around it is so beautiful and stark. I’ve never been happier with the art and being able to work with these two is been such an absolute pleasure.

The video for the song “Bernie Sanders” is really peculiar and intense. What’s the story behind this song and video?
The song is not as politically charged as you may guess. This song was written in 2018 and Nothing has never really been a political band by any means. There’s already enough uneducated opinions floating around the world that I don’t need to add to that. My philosophy has always been just try to take care of people as fast as possible, so this song didn’t really have a political value, but as we progress through these past couple of years, I find myself having to release a song called “Bernie Sanders” right around this election. First off, it’s not acceptable at this point for me to just say I’m not really gonna dive into politics because there’s no time for that, that’s just outdated. Everyone should be fighting for what’s right at the moment. There’s just too much corruption and there’s too many people being hurt and dying, too much pain… While the song isn’t about anything political, I wasn’t taking attention away from how important this election was. I had to deal with a lot of fucking hating people on me for calling this song “Bernie Sanders” and having people giving praise for the same reason, so all I really wanted to do around this was run with it being politically charged and use that platform to direct people to vote, because this election is bigger than this song is about and that’s the main thing. The election is more important than anything that this band is doing. In the future, I can elaborate more what this song is about if anyone cared to know, but right now get out there and vote. It’s the most important thing that we have to do right now.

Overall, The Great Dismal is like a raw and honest view over our world right now and like you said really well: “Existence hurts existence“. Do you feel like that describes best what you are feeling right now about our society?
Absolutely. Since always, I’ve struggled with what I think about life in general. It’s a constant struggle that I will always have, is this life and this existence worth the amount of pain that comes with it? I’m not just talking about human life, I’m talking about life in general and existence of life in all ways, shapes and forms. We’re pulled from this peaceful state of nothing and bleak darkness and it’s scary for sure, but from what we know, we don’t know much of about it. We go through life watching terrible things happening, experiencing terrible things and there’s no answer to why. It’s mind buggling to me. I do know you’re able to pull experiences out of it and beautiful things, meet beautiful people and experience things that are very important. The only fact that I know is that existence only hurts existence. I had that line written before a single note was recorded on the demo. That line has been kind of following me around for five years now, I’ve just waited for the right moment to use it.

For last, what was the record that had the most impact on you during this year?
To be honest, it’s been the same record that’s been helping me since the beginning. Since the second that was released in 2019, it’s been with me the entire time and it hasn’t left, which is Purple Mountains self-titled album that was released right before David Berman had taken his own life. That record is just stuck with me and it’s infectious. It never gets old and I never get sick of it. Every time I hear it, it just affects me in a different way. That record has been an important record for me for the new Nothing’s album and these past couple of years.

Words: Andreia Alves // Photo: Ben Rayner – The Great Dismal is out now on Relapse Records.

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