In 2013, Mark Palm began to explore the bright, shimmery and warm side of guitar music. Originally known for his decade-long stay in hardcore and metal bands, his newest project, Supercrush, finally released their long-awaited debut LP, SODO Pop, in late 2020, after 7 years of singles.
Mark has been someone I look up to greatly as a musician. Especially one from the Northwest. His seemingly boundless work ethic and the quality of his bands and records have inspired me for some time now.
In this conversation, we have fun and bounce around many things related to the Supercrush record, his work with the band Devotion, and Mark's favorite '90s rock legends.
Did the arduous process of putting out Devotion's Headspace Astronaut initially turn you away from wanting to do a Supercrush LP?
Yeah, sort of actually. Around the time that Devotion was working on Headspace Astronaut, Black Breath was also starting to write a double LP, so the idea of undertaking a third large scale recording project was a little daunting. That’s why Supercrush just did 2-song 7 inch singles for a long time. I wanted to make some quick, fun, kind of low-pressure recordings as a bit of a break from the big recording projects that Devotion and Black Breath were working on at that time.
A full-length LP can add up to years of work, from the beginning of the writing process to the day it’s released, so I kinda take that into consideration before deciding to start the process. Once i’ve committed to making a record in my mind, it can sort of take over my life until it’s finished.
That kinda leads into the next thing I wanted to ask which was how long did you know you wanted to do a band like Supercrush? Most everything you did before is like the antithesis of what you’re doing now. Did lyrical negativity, pessimism or sonic heaviness run it’s course with you?
I’d wanted to do a band like Supercrush for a long time. Even back in the Go It Alone days sometimes I’d put on Smashing Pumpkins in the van or something like that and talk about how i’d like to try making a record like that one day. Of course, Siamese Dream is on another level that I could never hope to achieve, but just the idea of making a record that wasn’t rooted in punk or hardcore was very appealing to me. Which isn’t to say I was dissatisfied with hardcore or growing out of it, I still love that stuff. It’s not that the sonic heaviness ran it’s course with me, I’d still love to play in a heavy band.
Alternative rock was some of the first music I got really into as a pre-teen, even before punk rock, so I wanted to try playing in that style for a long time. I kinda broke the ice as far as that goes with Modern Charms and then that sorta led to Supercrush. You are sort of right about the lyrical negativity, though. I had spent many years writing about some of the darker aspects of life so when Supercrush started I wanted to try a whole new approach lyrically.
I wanted to try writing about pleasant aspects of life rather than anger, sadness or loss. That worked out on the first 7 inch, especially the song "Lifted," but pretty soon after that I think I slipped back into my comfort zone of writing about more melancholy themes.
In relation to the influences you’re talking about, SODO Pop is really musically diverse and has all of the many Supercrush sounds on display. Was it intentional for it to be eclectic or did you have to remind yourself to branch out to the other styles?
The songs were written over a really long period of time so I think that contributed to how eclectic they are. Some of them were four years old by the time we started recording the album, and some of them were written in the final weeks before we went into the studio. In addition to that, there was definitely some intention behind it. When writing for an LP especially, I always try to be mindful of having songs in different tempos, different keys, lengths and different feelings in general.
I think I learned that from hardcore LPs, I’d always try to have at least one slow song to mix things up a little. But to be honest, the eclectic nature of the album was something I had to wrestle with a little once we had finished recording everything. We actually recorded 15 songs to be split up between two records, the 10-song LP and a 5-song EP to come in the future. We didn’t decide in advance which songs would go on which release.
So, when we were deciding on the sequence for SODO we had to put a lot of thought into which songs to include. Did we want it to be a more stylistically consistent record or a more diverse one? In the end we chose to make it a diverse sequence in hopes that the album will kind of take the listener on a journey, as cliché as it is to say that.
All of the Supercrush records have really amazing art that I think is the perfect representation of the band. How do you go about deciding on an “emblem” of sorts or design ideas for records? Did the tennis ball artwork come from you playing a lot of tennis or do you just like the color and texture?
Thanks! I’m glad you appreciate the imagery, I put a lot of effort and care into all of that stuff — record layouts, photoshoots, music videos, shirt designs, etc. Right from the start I knew I wanted to have a really bright and colorful presentation to the band, to match with the poppy, bubbly nature of the music. I also really like art that is made in a series as well as stuff that is self referential so that explains why all the artwork for the 7 inch singles was made as kind of an ongoing visual series. Each of the four colors of the 7 inch singles is represented in the colors of the tennis balls. The colors are also represented in the music videos for the album.
I have an obsessive nature about that kind of thing, perhaps it’s some sort of low level OCD tendency. Whatever the case, I can become pretty fanatical about making everything match and correspond visually.
The tennis balls really were just chosen for their visual qualities like you said. Plus, I suppose they could also visually suggest bubbles which ties into the imagery of our first music video as well as the word “pop” in the album title.
I actually did play some tennis as a child, my grandfather was a tennis maniac into his 80s but I think that was more of a coincidence not the inspiration behind the cover.
That’s crazy. I’m a total nerd for stuff like that but the corresponding tennis ball colors totally went over my head. That’s so cool.
In your conversation on the Better Yet podcast, you talk about guitar gear and your tone pursuit. Do you have a specific piece of gear or guitar that leads you to write different kinds of songs for Supercrush?
This is some pretty corny, quasi spiritual shit, but I have a belief that different guitars have different songs in them. Or perhaps it’s nothing spiritual or magical at all and simply the shape of a certain guitar’s neck causes you to place your hand in certain shapes on the fretboard, or the tonal quality of a certain guitar might lead you to play a certain type of riff.
Either way, I think there are many songs that would not have been written on any guitar other than the one they were written on. I find that can also be a good cure for writer’s block, musically. If nothing good is coming out, I’ll switch to a different guitar and next thing you know, a song emerges. Maybe that’s just what I tell myself to justify buying more guitars. But certainly there’s features on guitars that are more appropriate for certain types of songs, be it the pickups or tremolo system.
On "Parallel Lines," it’s essential to have a guitar with a trem arm to really make it work, which is why I used a stratocaster on that one. "Fairweather Fool" I felt required a jaguar even though I don’t think that guitar showed up anywhere else on the album. The tremolo just seemed right for that song.
In further relation to guitars, you and Bob have ripped a ton of insane solos over the discography. Do you see solos as just bad ass parts that make the song cooler or do they function more so to drive home an emotional tone or feeling you’re applying to the song(s)?
I love guitar solos! I think at their best, a guitar solo can definitely serve an emotional function in a song, whether it’s just bringing a sense of excitement to a part or something more deep and expressive. They are also bad ass, like you said.
Of course, if misused I’m sure they can actually detract from a song, but in general I think they are a lot of fun and can also be a tool to express a feeling in a different way than what is possible with the human voice. I’m getting amped thinking about all of my favorite kinds of guitar solos!
Yeah absolutely. J Mascis got me thinking about them because he says he uses solos to “say” things he doesn’t have the words for. I thought that was really cool.
He’s got some great solos. “Out There” is a favorite of mine.
Was the SODO neighborhood a big influence on the songs you were writing for the LP or was naming the record after it just a stamp on where it was coming from?
The majority of the album was written in SODO, that’s where we rehearsed it, where we demoed the album, and where the vast majority of the recording took place. It’s where I’ve spent most of my time in the past three years. Like you said, the album title was like a stamp on where it was coming from. I also thought of it as sort of a genre tag like New York hardcore or East Bay punk.
Was the big, borderline falsetto vocal part in "Have You Called Him By Name" him the hardest one to record?
It’s not even really that high at all, but for me it is. Honestly the whole album was the hardest one, vocally. Singing is really difficult for me, it’s a big challenge. But yeah, that part is towards the top of my admittedly tiny range, so I had to kinda strain to get up there.
When I heard it, I was immediately like “Holy shit, I’ve never heard him go that high before!” I think it came out great. Makes the end hit super hard.
Thanks! I’m glad it worked out.
OK, here are some quickfire questions for you!
Who actually wins in a tennis match? You or [Supercrush bassist] Phil [Jones]?
Phil no doubt. We trained a little bit leading up to the video shoot and I beat him a couple times but he’s definitely better than me. Powerful serve.
Do you actually enjoy or drink soda or do you just like Crush for their packaging and namesake?
I don’t drink soda at all, I’m a poser. I just get a kick out of the colorful imagery and tie into the band name.
You ever gonna tat your left arm?
I was just talking to the tattooist who works right above us at the HMS Studio. I’m pretty hesitant to do the left arm for some reason. I kinda like having it bare.
File Under Easy Listening or Copper Blue?
Damn, I’m gonna have to go with FUEL because that’s the one I got when it came out and it was my first introduction to Sugar. I’m not sure if it’s actually the better album or I just have a more personal attachment to it.
Raise or Mezcal Head?
Mezcal Head! Maybe my second favorite album of any band.
Bob Mould or Billy Corgan?
As a musician? Wow. For some reason, Siamese Dream is the only Billy Corgan album that I’m heavily into, but It’s more important to me than anything from Bob’s catalog. I like multiple albums Bob has made but I’ll go with Corgan based on the strength of Siamese Dream. Total mind-blower for me as a pre-teen when it came out.
And lastly, did you get the name Supercrush from Tiger Trap?
No. People ask me that from time to time but it was just a name I came up with on my own. I’ve always loved bands with the “Super” prefix. There’s so many of them and a lot of them are good. When I was young I always thought it would be cool to play in a “super” band one day.
The second vinyl pressing of SODO Pop is available now via Don Giovanni Records.
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