Dispatches from SXSW: Painted Palms

Pub date March 14, 2014

After a long day of waiting in line in the sun, catching various 15-minute sets, and just being downright baffled by the enormity and complexity of SXSW (this is my first time), I lumbered my way to Maggie Mae to catch San Francisco’s psych band du jour, Painted Palms, at the Forcefield PR showcase (disclosure: I interned for Forcefield one summer a long time ago). The venue itself looked like Bottom of the Hill’s cousin but without the absurdly short ceilings and claustrophobia.

San Francisco power-punk act Tony Molina fronted by (you guessed it) Tony Molina packed a raucous and chaotic set into 20 minutes, which of course was too short, but then this is SXSW.

tony molina
Tony Molina

This was Painted Palms’ second show so far at SXSW. They are touring on debut LP Forever, which came out last January on Polyvinyl Records. The band is comprised of two cousins, Chris Prudhomme (vocals, guitar, hails from Bernal Heights), and Reese Donahue (electronics, hails from Western Addition).

Despite some minor technical difficulties, the psych-pop duo jammed out a sunny set full of spirited electronic sounds, a great soundtrack to lounge on for day-long retreat at Alamo Square or Dolores Park. Just minutes after the show, the  cousins joined me for a quick Q&A, where we discussed the origin of the name Painted Palms, whether or not they would ever cover The Talking Heads, and everyone’s favorite topic of conversation: the cost of living in San Francisco.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Why are you called Painted Palms?
Prudhomme: I don’t know, people guess, and I think the best guess that someone has had so far is that William Randolph Hearst had a mansion and at the end of his life, he didn’t want to see death on his property. So whenever the palm trees died, he would have people paint the bark of the palms to keep it looking like they were still alive.

SFBG: This is your second show at your first-ever SXSW, how’s it going so far?
Prudhomme: We had some technical difficulties, but I think it’s something that with a full band is recoverable.
Donahue: I think [the show] was sketchy in the beginning…but it’s fine.

SFBG: So music journalists like myself often describe bands in a wrong manner. Tell me how do you describe yourselves?
Prudhomme: It’s psychedelic pop music.
Donahue: I think it focuses on pop structure, the structure of ’60s pop music. We have a fascination with ’90s electronic psychedelic stuff.

painted palms
Painted Palms

SFBG: Your influences?
Donahue: I’d say The Zombies, they’re just the coolest motherfuckers.
Prudhomme: Some of our influences also don’t have anything to do with the way our music sounds, a lot of it is just music personalities. I really like David Bowie a lot, but I don’t think our music sounds anything like David Bowie.

Donahue: My favorite band of all time is The Talking Heads, and I think the drummer was at our showcase earlier.

SFBG: The city is extremely expensive right now, which is especially tough on creative types such as musicians like yourselves. Has this impacted you? Is this a big worry for you?
Prudhomme: It hasn’t really impacted us that much because we’ve been doing the same kind of recording process for a really long time. We have a really cheap, raggeddy practice space in the Tenderloin.
Donahue: But we have to share it with five other bands to make the rent. I tried to move out and get my own place at one point but it didn’t work out. If I ever decide to leave San Francisco and live somewhere else, I don’t think I could come back. I do have rent control so it’s not something I’m worried about.
Prudhomme: I worry about it. I live in a big house with lots of tenants, which is the only way I can afford to live in SF. So whenever I have master tenants who are about to move out, I worry about my rent being jacked up.

SFBG: Is the East Bay an option?
Donahue: Oakland is fucking awesome…but I don’t know.

SFBG: Ever thought about covering a Talking Heads song?
Donahue: No, we’d never do that. I don’t think we could make those songs better.