Indie rocker says trio’s songs are ‘Food’ for thought
The transition to adulthood is never an easy one, and sometimes it hits you all at once. Ellen Kempner, the driving force behind the Boston indie rock trio Palehound, knows that fact all too well.
Palehound’s acclaimed full-length debut, ‘Dry Food,’ charts Kempner’s tumultuous early ’20s, from dropping out of college, to a painful break-up, to her struggles with her mental health. Punctuated by Kempner’s crafty lyrics and stellar guitar work (she cites Wes Montgomery, Annie Clark and Joni Mitchell as key musical influences), the album’s eight tracks are raw reflections on a period of her life defined by instability.
Kempner, who plays the Marble Bar on Saturday, says she still has to make an effort to detach herself from her lyrics when she performs live.
“If I’m not particularly emotional that day, it’s easier to just go on and see things objectively and concentrate more on the musical element of it,” she says. “But there are other nights where I could leave the stage shaking from feeling vulnerable, and paying too close attention to the content of the songs and what inspired me to write them.”
Kempner, an admitted introvert, says she’s glad she took the risk of turning her pain into music. The process of writing and recording the album allowed her to find closure, and it helped propel her into the next stage of her life.
“My mom, when I was growing up, always used to say something good always comes out of something bad,” she says. “I believed it for the first time when the record came out and I was able to tour on it and also do amazing things just because of the record. It gave me more hope than I’ve ever had before.”
Kempner is touring with drummer Jesse Weiss of Grass is Green and bassist David Khostinat of SuperVolcano, but she played every instrument except the drums on ‘Dry Food,’ which lends to the record’s intimate, confessional feel.
“I find it hard to work in the studio with a lot of other people, especially when I know exactly what I want the parts to sound like,” she says. “Also, I just have more fun. It’s more stuff that I get to do.”
Kempner is often asked about being a prominent queer female musician in a field dominated by straight males, and she has conflicting feelings about embracing her gender and sexuality as important parts of her musical persona.
“I kind of hate calling it a ‘statement,’ because it’s just who I am and how I am as a person, and I’m not actively trying to make it a statement at all,” she says. “But it’s also something I’m definitely proud of, and I feel it’s a good part of my life that I want to be honest about. I don’t really care if they think past there.”
Going on tour has helped her appreciate the impact her inner life has on her fans.
“People coming up and saying they were inspired or felt comfortable or welcomed by the show, and that they could relate, that means the world to me,” she says. “I grew up without a queer community, and it’s nice to finally have one.”
Kempner has written several songs since finishing “Dry Food” in 2014, and the next record will detail the turns she’s taken in the last two years.
“I went through a period where I lost a few people I love, so there’s a lot of depressing s--- there, but I also found love, so there’s that too,” she says. “I think (the next album) is going to be a little bit all over the place.”
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
with Pinkwash and Ursula
9 p.m. Thurs.
1501 Holden, Detroit