On a rainy day in Albany‚ NY‚ I met with Mike Poulopoulos and Matt Durfee‚ the musicians behind Palatypus‚ a band that has recently recorded and released its first EP‚ Lazaretto‚ on Indian Ledge Records. The album is at once lyrical and abstract‚ with a thick bottom‚ bright guitar work‚ and lyrics that are well suited to the subjects of drinking‚ time‚ love‚ meaning. The album is rooted in the upstate sound practiced by bands like Knotworking and The Kamikaze Hearts.
The first song on the EP is "Dandelion Wine‚" an ode to libation with great harmonica accompaniment and a kind of CSNY feel with breaks and runs in between the verses. The song is sung with an aplomb the boys typify in regards to drinking and love.
"Thanksgiving Day Parade‚" penned by Durfee‚ is a study of place and person. Not content to settle for open guitar chords‚ the two have crafted some very inventive and layered tones. The sophistication of the chords contrast nicely with the lyrics of the song‚ which are strange‚ dark‚ and compelling.
The dark Poulopoulos song "All I Own" is a simple and beautiful effort to capture a worried man's blues‚ with a brilliant hook and heartbreaking lyrics. The driven tempo and minor key hearken to a North Carolina murder ballad.
"Again By Your Window" is a love song‚ with a strong country strum and Poulopoulos' plaintive voicing. "It's late again and I know it/But your light is shining on my face/And I'll be good to you baby/Take your hand and dance away the night."
The EP concludes with "Horse To Folly‚" another from the pen of the mighty Durfee‚ in which he invokes a permission: "Nothing lasts forever/So go ahead and change." The album ends with this haunting song of a man conflicted‚ who has to accept his life as he has lived it‚ as it has been dealt to him.
Dan Johnson: I have heard "Thanksgiving Day Parade" and "Dandelion Wine" from the EP but I hadn't heard the other three. When I heard them I was blown away and wanted to talk a little bit about the lyrics you guys are coming up with. I'd also like to talk about the music‚ how you create‚ and what your ideas are about them. First of all‚ who's your audience? What do you guys think about your audience?
Mike Poulopoulos: I don't know if an audience is really in mind when I'm writing tunes. If it sounds good it is good‚ you know. Duke Ellington.
Matt Durfee: Yeah‚ I definitely don't write to anybody in particular. I don't write with any kind of idea like‚ "I wonder if this is going to sound good."
MP: A lot of people say that's bullshit. You're in the English program right now? You're reading literary theory. Well‚ there's always an audience in mind. Well‚ if there's an audience in mind‚ it's probably hidden somewhere. But not actively writing toward an audience.
DJ: That's an interesting vein. What about the inner critic? Do you guys have problems with that at all?
MD: I'm the worst. I'm terrible with it. I've got stuff that has gotten thrown away because I can't get it to work to a point where I'm satisfied with it. And lyrically‚ I think I'm the hardest on myself about that. It takes me a long time to get songs out for that reason. The melody will come pretty easily‚ you know. I can hear what I want to sing‚ but everything when I start writing it feels very trite to me sometimes. It feels very hackneyed‚ like this has all been done. But‚ got to get through it sometimes I guess.
DJ: That might lead into another question‚ which is one of my major interests. Tradition‚ or something to the effect of a musical tradition. What do you guys think‚ is there a musical tradition that you're a part of? And how do you relate to that?
MP: I'm sure that there are sounds that whether consciously or subconsciously I have stolen. For instance‚ "All I Own." At the time that I had written that‚ I had been listening to a lot of David Grisman and Jerry Garcia. I got that old sailor tune kind of feel‚ and I just kind of wanted to get something out with that feel‚ so it was a D minor‚ F‚ C‚ chord progression. That's pretty much the entire tune‚ but it's just got a little bit of a sailor tune feel to it. Listening all the time definitely has an effect. So regardless of whatever specific tradition anybody is listening to it's most likely going to show in their music. I'd say Matt definitely listens to more Beatles than I do. Just by the way he writes tunes.
MD: I think that comes through‚ for sure. But yeah‚ I think I don't do an awful lot of listening or I haven't been the last couple years. I've almost actively not listened to a lot of music. But‚ recently I've been picking up some new stuff and really trying to make an effort to get my ears around some new stuff. And it helps. I've written three or four new songs recently. So it's always kind of inspirational. I think either way‚ whenever you hear music-whether it's somebody contemporary or whether it's somebody you've heard eight million times on the radio or whatever-it gets in there. It comes out of you a different way.
DJ: I noticed a real impressionism in your lyrics‚ Matt. And Mike‚ your lyrics lean more towards archetypical type of‚ well… that's a big‚ stupid word‚ probably‚ but just the…standard stuff from the blues-you know‚ my shoes‚ my window‚ the bottle‚ the train tracks and stuff like that. How do you guys draw upon those images as far as what do you think they mean? And that's kind of like a corollary to the one about tradition. How do you think using these things that are so much in play‚ like what does that do for the music‚ or not do for the music?
MD: Lyrically‚ for me-and again this comes from listening to different stuff-I tend to write around a feeling or an emotion. The feel of the song will come to me before anything else does‚ before any kind of words or any kind of lyrics. So sometimes I feel I fall into a trap‚ where stuff isn't making sense‚ you know? It comes out kind of jumbled‚ like one line might not have anything to do necessarily with the one before it or the one after it. But in terms of what they convey‚ what kind of emotion they convey‚ you know‚ what kind of color they kind of paint for you…