Century Palm: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Fresh and punchy new wave onslaughts.
File next to: Odonis Odonis, Talking Heads, Devo
Playing: WL 698, Saturday April 23 @ Monarch Tavern. Get tickets here!

Century Palm self-describe their music as “retro-futurist,” and this proves itself to be an apt description: the Toronto five-piece, featuring members of the Ketamines, Zebrassieres, and Tough Age (among others), masterfully rewires components from the golden eras of new wave and post-punk to create something that feels nostalgic and refreshingly new all at once. Marko Cindric chatted with drummer Jesse Locke about the time and space of Century Palm.

Century Palm’s sound boasts an impressive degree of layering but actively avoids obscuring the melody, making sure the catchiness always shines through. How important is the idea of catchiness to you? Would you call it a pop sensibility?

Our band has two songwriters (Andrew Payne and Paul Lawton), and while I can’t speak for them completely, I would definitely say catchiness is important for both of them. Andrew brings more of the slinky, cool new wave / art-rock / synth-pop side of the band, while Paul is more of the blood-boiling garage / punk / power-pop guy (plus emo… and Guided By Voices!). So yeah, they definitely both love a good pop song, but we try to mess with the formula with that layering you’re talking about too.

There seems to be an emergent theme of time across your work, including your name and the hourglass artwork of your Valley Cyan 7”. Assuming this was a conscious intention — was it? — what made you want to delve into that subject matter?

All of our artwork including the Valley Cyan cover has been done by Michael Haddad, who creates surrealist sci-fi worlds as an interpretation of our music. I think we’re all becoming fascinated by the idea of time as we get older, and you’re right about our band name too: the fabled century palm is a self-destructing palm tree that flowers once every 100 years and then dies. Hopefully we flower a bit sooner and stick around.

With a vast family tree of associated musical projects, do you feel that Century Palm satisfies a specific cathartic angle that your other projects may not always approach? Or was the band’s creation more a result of the desire to experiment with a new roster of collaborators, just to see what would happen?

We’ve all known each other for a long time, and four out of five of us played together in the Toronto line-ups of the Ketamines and Zebrassieres. Penny also plays in Tough Age, who I would definitely describe as our sibling band. I do think each member brings something different to the table, but the most important things are that we enjoy each other’s company and play off each other well. Everyone has dealt with difficult bandmates in the past, but we somehow get along like a weird happy family.

Your song “Reasons” came out last month on Pentagon Black’s first-ever paper compilation, appearing alongside tracks from Montreal’s Heathers, Guelph’s Esther Grey, and numerous others. How do you think this compilation bodes for the DIY scene in Canada? What do you think makes DIY in Canada unique?

The Pentagon Black project was a unique idea to release a paper compilation as opposed to waiting a prohibitively long time to get vinyl pressed. What it proved to me is that there’s a really strong network of artists, labels, and promoters on the same level across the country, all finding alternative ways to operate outside of the typical system. I think it bodes well for people to continue taking risks without the support of publicists, grants, corporate festivals, or other gatekeepers. You can take the well-trodden path if that’s what you’re after, but there are definitely other ways to go.

And finally… if your music was the soundtrack to a scene in a film, what would be happening in the scene?

Probably a waterskiing cat that can eat a whole watermelon. Oh wait, that scene exists!

Century Palm plays the Monarch Tavern for WL #698 at the Monarch Tavern, along with Tough Age, Germaphobes, and Long Branch. Get your tickets here.

— Interview by Marko Cindric