“It’s a little strange because it’s my most recent release so perhaps it’s seen as an indication of where my songwriting is at right now, but really it’s more of an example of where I was at half a decade ago.” – Palm on Devotion’s “Headspace Astronaut”
When I interviewed Mark Palm for the first time in October 2007 for my last zine, The Wizard, I certainly did not expect to be doing yet another interview with him roughly 9 years later but here I am! At that time, Palm’s longstanding hardcore punk band Go It Alone was gearing up for their final show in their hometown of Vancouver and I was pretty bummed on that because seeing them play had been a big part of my youth. Since then, Mark has remained active in music while contributing his talents to a variety of projects that draw on influences quite different than the ones used by Go It Alone. He formed Devotion and put out a debut LP in 2009 called Bastard Son of Affluence Blues on Rivalry Records, also the previous home of Go It Alone. After the release of that record, the band would do some limited touring to promote it but then remained relatively quiet over the next 6-7 years aside from some scattered shows. While living in the San Francisco area in 2013, he played guitar and wrote music for dream pop band Modern Charms along with vocalist Inna Kurikova and guitarist Blaine Patrick that was reminiscent of Velocity Girl. Later in 2013 and also in early 2015, he released EP’s with former Lights Out drummer Aaron O’Neil in Supercrush who take hints from early Swervedriver and Teenage Fanclub. I had seen Devotion play a show in early 2013 where they mentioned a new LP and played new material but after quite some dead space, it seemed as though maybe Devotion was done and the new LP wasn’t ever going to be released. This was not the case though as seemingly out of the blue, Devotion announced the Headspace Astronaut LP in April 2016. They have not played any shows to support the record to the best of my knowledge but it is quite a great record if you’re into northwest grunge and groove oriented down-tuned southern metal and rock.
Headspace Astronaut came 7 years after Bastard Son of Affluence Blues and over 3 years after I saw you guys playing songs from it live and discussing how it would be released soon. Why did the record take so long? Did you always know in the back of your head it would eventually be released or were there doubts at times?
That record was a really difficult one to make. It’s funny, a couple months ago the LPs finally showed up in the mail and Aaron, the drummer, brought me a copy of the record to check out. As I was looking over the record for the first time I just said “Damn, that was a hard one.” and we both started laughing because it was so true. It took so much time and effort to finally complete that project. It took so long for a number of reasons. Prior to recording the album we had various record label situations fall through. Multiple labels that we were talking with actually folded. That wasted some time. Eventually, we just got fed up with label nonsense and decided to go ahead and pay to record the album ourselves. Luckily, our friend Jackson Long is a great engineer and he gave us a really affordable rate at his studio. There’s no way we could have made the record if it wasn’t for that. We probably spent about 30 days in the studio, but that was spread out over a year or so, a week here, a few days there, whenever Jackson had time. After we finished tracking, the mixing process took forever. When that was finally done and the recording was all finalized it kinda just sat there for another year while we tried to figure out how we were going to release the thing. We were pretty financially drained after paying for tracking, mixing, and mastering. Finally, we got it together to release the record ourselves in North America, and our friend Gabi in Spain offered to handle the European release. That’s when we encountered the usual pressing plant delays. We ended up having to switch pressing plants. That pushed the release back another year. Basically, one thing after another added up to years. It’s crazy, I started writing some of those songs in 2009 or 2010. So by the time they actually saw the light of day they were six years old. It’s a little strange because it’s my most recent release so perhaps it’s seen as an indication of where my songwriting is at right now, but really it’s more of an example of where I was at half a decade ago.
From my perspective, it seems like we saw hints of what was to come on Headspace Astronaut on the first LP but now you have fully developed that sound. The other part of the first record seemed like it was a more direct progression from the last Go It Alone record drawing on Damnation A.D. and others. Would you say that is an accurate way to describe the progression of Devotion’s sound or do you disagree?
That’s absolutely accurate. We made a conscious decision to move in a more rock direction, continuing on from songs like Bastard Son, and Needle Full Of Liquid Pain, as opposed to the more heavy hardcore, Damnation AD influenced stuff. I actually have a ton of song ideas and riffs stored away that are more in the Damnation vein, but I wanted to make a cohesive album, and that material didn’t really fit in with our vision for this particular album. Who knows, maybe one day some of that stuff will see the light of day.
What were the main influences for the new record both musically and lyrically?
Well, musically I’d say it was influenced by all sorts of heavy rock stuff. I mean, there are pretty obvious influences from groups like Down, (rock era) Corrosion Of Conformity, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Pantera, Only Living Witness, etc. And of course, proto-metal groups like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Not that we sound like Sabbath or Purple, but how can you play heavy rock and not be influenced by those bands? Of course there are tons of other influences that I don’t think the listener could ever pick up on. We all listen to a really wide range of music, across all genres, and we grab little ideas here and there from all different sources. As for the lyrics, they were written over a long period of time, and so reflect a bunch of different ideas. They were influenced more by my life experiences and thoughts, than by any band or artist in particular, aside from one particular lyrical nod to the Pink Fairies, by way of Rollins Band.
Do you plan to play any shows to support the new record? Touring maybe?
I’m not too sure about that. At this point the band members are spread out between LA, Oakland, Seattle, and Bellingham, so the logistics of playing together are pretty complicated.
What song on the new record are you most proud of?
I think Ocean Of Grief is the strongest song on the album. That one came together nicely with great contributions from everyone in the band. I remember putting that one together on a day off while on tour in Richmond, Virginia.
Do you see any future plans for new music and/or shows with Supercrush or Modern Charms? Has Supercrush ever played a show even? PS I love the Modern Charms EP artwork!
I’ve been really busy with Supercrush lately. We’ve been working on some new releases. We’ve got six new songs all recorded, I’ve just gotta get up to Seattle to put the final touches on the mixes. Hopefully we’ll have a new single out by the end of 2016, or very early next year. I’m glad you dig the Modern Charms artwork, I was really happy with how it turned out too. I love the front cover photo. It originally appeared in National Geographic Magazine as a reader submitted photo. I had to do some serious internet sleuthing to track down the girl who took that self portrait to get her permission to use the photo.
Have you done any other musical or other artistic ventures outside of those mentioned? (sidenote: I’m not sure how I spaced on how Mark played in Black Breath)
Oh yeah, lots. I played rhythm guitar in a metal band called Black Breath for three or four years. I toured all over the world with them and was involved in their latest album, Slaves Beyond Death. I haven’t been playing with them since I moved back to California, but they are still going, and still a great band. I’ve played in a bunch of hardcore bands over the years, like Vacant State and Keep It Clear. I also still do a hardcore project from time to time called Night Prowler. I’ve been releasing Night Prowler cassettes every now and again over the past six or seven years whenever the mood strikes me.
Any new projects in the works or ideas for ones you’d like to start?
I’m mostly just concentrating on Supercrush right now, always working on new songs. I’ve been playing guitar just about every day, and working on improving as a songwriter.
It’s been 9 years since Go it Alone broke up yet I feel like they are still one of the few bands from that era that I can turn on and enjoy just as much. It definitely “holds up” unlike most of that genre. How do you look back at Go It Alone all these years later? Have you ever considered a reunion or no way?
Go It Alone was the most important thing in my life during that time period and I look back on it fondly. I think some of the records hold up better than others, but all music aside, I’m just really proud of the effort we put into that band. We were really going for it. It wasn’t just a hobby or something we did for fun in our spare time. We were serious about what we were doing. As far as a reunion goes, it’s not something I’ve considered. We’ve had a few offers, but I was really happy with how the band ended so a reunion doesn’t really appeal to me. It would be hard to live up to our last show, so it seems better to just leave it as it is. It would be hard to recreate the intensity that we felt in that time, ten years later.
It is actually insane to me how different the hardcore scene is in 2016 than it was when GIA was most active over 10 years ago. Part of it is getting older I feel but things seem so different. How do you feel about the hardcore scene now? Do you have any involvement or observations?
I’m still involved in the hardcore scene. I’ve been in California for the past year so I’m away from my home scene in Vancouver, and I’ve been really reclusive, so I’m not as involved as I was a year ago, but I still go to shows. I actually think there’s a lot more good hardcore bands playing now then there was during Go It Alone’s time. Sometimes it seems that there might be a certain intensity or desperation that is missing in a lot of current bands, but that might be more of a reflection of my age and where I’m at than anything else, you know? I’m sure some of these bands are resonating on a really intense and desperate level with the younger people in the audience. I’m always fascinated to see the different cultural shifts that occur in the hardcore scene. Ideas, musical styles, politics, fashion sense, are always shifting within the scene and I’m always curious to watch those changes take place. I’m actually pretty impressed with a lot of what I see in the hardcore scene lately. Of course there’s a lot of bullshit, as always, but I’ve been seeing a lot more women in particular, making great music and doing powerful things. I’m pretty excited about that.
You are starting a new band and are able to pick a supergroup of musicians to back you, living or dead. Who would you choose?
I’ll choose from my group of friends. Aaron O’Neil on drums, he’s one of the best ever. Jamie Byrum, the drummer from Black Breath will play guitar. Everyone knows he’s a great drummer, but not everyone realizes that he is a guitarist first and foremost. Definitely the best guitar player I’ve ever met. Bob Reed will be the singer. He played guitar in Devotion, and he’s a great guitar player, but his singing is really out of this world. He does the additional vocals on the Devotion song Seeing Through The Eyes Of My Own Storm. And on bass we’d have Allen Trainer from Big Bite, Strange Wilds, Wreck, Shore, etc. I’ve seen him play drums and guitar many times, but apparently bass was actually his first instrument, so I’d like to see that. And I wouldn’t even be in the band, I’d just be a fan and enjoy what they come up with.
It seems as though you have lived in Vancouver, Washington and Northern California. Do you feel those locales have influenced your music? Any place you’d like to live in the future?
Yes and no. Certain bands and projects that I’ve done were definitely a product of their environment and a reflection of where I was coming from. Go It Alone was definitely a reflection of growing up in Vancouver. Vancouver references showed up in a lot of the lyrics and artwork. Modern Charms on the other hand, was very much influenced by my move to San Francisco in the late 2000’s. I was trying to write music that somehow conveyed some of the natural beauty of the Northern Californian Pacific Coast. As for living elsewhere, I kinda have a scheme to move to Hawaii at some point in the future, but you never know.
While not playing music, how are you spending most of your free time these days?
I still spend most of my free time working on music. Aside from that I try to get out of town from time to time to go camping, hiking, swimming, that sort of thing. And of course I’m always working to get by and pay the bills.
Give us one record we likely have never heard that we should check out. Any genre, any time period.
I think the most under appreciated current artist is Ka. He’s an MC from Brownsville, NY. He has a really unique vocal style and usually raps over really sparse beats. I guess it’s not for everyone, but I love it. And lyrically, I’d put him up against any rapper, of any era, past or present. Really deep lyricism. I recommend his album called The Night’s Gambit.
What was the last band you saw live that blew you away?
Power Trip. I saw them play a couple nights in a row recently and they were killer. I’m really looking forward to their new album.
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