Playlist by Tommy Palmer
Tommy Palmer is horrible with alarm clocks. On school-day mornings his mother would burst into his room to open windows and croon, “Let ALLLLLL the sun in!” The tune was often stuck in his head, but he could never figure out where it came from. His mother was stumped too, telling him, “I don’t know. My mom sang it to me.” Tommy built the tune up into the bare-bones title track of Babydriver’s most recent album. His mom has a writing credit.
Although originally a Nashville transplant, Palmer is no new-comer to Boston’s indie-rock scene. He’s been around since 2003, playing in bands like Hats & Glasses, Spirit Kid, and Digital Prisoners of War. For the past few years, Babydriver has been his primary songwriting vehicle. The new album shows the band rocking a new, obsessive approach to the studio. The album was produced by Tommy’s childhood BFF/Chairlift synth-pop superstar, Patrick Wimberly. The album was made over a year of sessions at the Pfizer building in Brooklyn, home of Chairlift’s studio and the birthplace of Viagra. Tommy told me, “My drummer’s wife lovingly refers to it as ‘the bone zone.’”).
The “Let All The Sun In” sessions was Tommy’s first opportunity to go deep into studio work. For the first time he had the time and means to experiment with multiple approaches and musical directions, to scrap a song and start over when something wasn’t working. Palmer estimates there are thirty outtakes of the lonesome title track, in the live room with his guitar and a sax player. He recalls, “I was drunk as a skunk–the take we ended up keeping is right before I hit the porcelain.”
The loose, live and mournful sound of the title track contrasts starkly with a tune like “You Got It Made,” an homage to the heavily polished, computer-assisted rock of the mid-2000s. This was the music coming out while Tommy was coming of age. He describes “You Got It Made as “by far the most plasticky song on the album. We really wanted it to have a looped feel because we hadn’t done that before.”
Tommy loves album-listening and wanted to make an album, not a collection of songs. He put the primary conundrum this way: “When you’re making an album, you sort have to decide, “Do we want to make something perfectly glorious where all the songs are consistant? To me that’s like the first Strokes album. Or do you want to sit there and make your own personal Sgt. Pepper’s, just go everywhere.”
Tommy made a Pepper’s, and it pays off. The album’s unity comes from its lyrics, which are split between the details of his recently-married life in Massachusetts and big world issues like classism and homelessness. It’s an album of feel-good sad songs, bleak and blunt, but also evasive and open-ended.
We talked for a while about the album’s direct and indirect influences. Tommy made this playlist to cover a good many of the ingredients in Babydriver’s sonic stew.
1. TALKING HEADS: TENTATIVE DECISION FROM TALKING HEADS ’77
2. ROLLING STONES: SING THIS ALL TOGETHER FROM THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES REQUEST
Example of the vibe we were going for when tracking, “Buy Low, Brother Jon”
3. TAME IMPALA: DISCIPLES FROM CURRENTS
The best song from the best album of 2015, in my opinion
4. DEERHUNTER: HE WOULD HAVE LAUGHED FROM HALCYON DIGEST
Deerhunter is probably my favorite proper band right now. I love Bradford Cox and everything he stands for, how much of a sourpuss he is about everything. This track is long, but listen through to the end if you don’t know it already, especially if you like Neil Young. “I lived on a farm, yeah / I never lived on a farm” (Ha!)
5. JONATHAN RICHMOND (LIVE VIDEO): WHEN HARPO WOULD PLAY HIS HARP FROM MODERN LOVERS ’88
I frequent The Modern Lovers’ ‘88 the most. It’s really islandy, sort of the one where Jonathan got his game back. The kind of playfulness in “Harpo” is what we hoped to capture with songs like, “Hard Safety,” and “Gone In A Day.”
6. THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: RIDE INTO THE SUN FROM ANOTHER VIEW
Lou Reed is sort of the wild card in my musical upbringing. My conservative Christian dad showed me “Take A Walk On The Wild Side,” a song he had no business listening to.
You’ll hopefully be able to hear more music like “Ride Into the Sun” in Babydriver releases to come. It’s from The Velvets’ 2nd rarities album, released in the 80’s after “VU,” with a play on words, indicating “another VU.” Delish.
7. THE CLASH: CHARLIE DON’T SURF FROM SANDINISTA!
I’ve been listening to Sandinista! on repeat over the last few years – and i still can’t get over just how melodic some of the best punk songs actually are. These combat rockers were definitely front & center in mind when writing “R2R.”
8. THE FLAMING LIPS: YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS PT. 2 FROM YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS
RE: “Fashion Kit,” in the name of having a studio/producer/time at your disposal, ‘mooging’ around with spat-out ideas over live drum loops, deciding to keep it instrumental and later realizing–perhaps to one’s chagrin–that it may turn out to be the best track on your album, despite all the others you’ve just slaved over. (Sighs)
9. SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: BABY DRIVER FROM BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER
10. VAN MORRISON: SWEET THING FROM ASTRAL WEEKS
11. THE KNIFE: PASS THIS ON FROM DEEP CUTS
Probably my favorite music video of all time… Any darker or ‘creepy’ sounds we try out usually begin with The Knife in mind. But it can come off as more organic-sounding by default just because we typically start with guitars instead of machines… see: “Holla Fame”
12. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: MY GIRLS FROM MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION
13. TOM WAITS: LONG WAY HOME FROM ORPHANS: BRAWLERS, BALLERS & BASTARDS
Always lurking around my subconscious
14. THE MAGNETIC FIELDS: I THINK I NEED A NEW HEART FROM 69 LOVE SONGS
Stephin Merritt is probably the dude I rip most frequently, shamelessly & aggressively. So tuneful, so thoughtful & cynical… And, to me, there’s an obvious correlation here with, “I Don’t Wanna Be Your Dad,” + other Fields’ songs via “Chilly Tonite”
15. RANDY NEWMAN (LIVE VIDEO) I THINK IT’S GOING TO RAIN TODAY FROM RANDY NEWMAN
Relating to “Carousel” and more closely with, “Let All The Sun In,” just because of Miles’ & Patrick’s insistence that each of those remain a (mostly) solo performance. Not to mention the vague, somber imagery on the verses, only to say something direct & positive upon refrain. Even if that message doubts or contradicts itself at times.
And, obviously we didn’t have a symphony on hand.
16. M.I.A.: HUSSEL FEAT. AFRIKAN BOY FROM KALA
17. KATE BUSH: SUSPENDED IN GAFFA FROM THE DREAMING
18. CHAIRLIFT: ROMEO FROM MOTH
Our producer Patrick’s all over the video–(curly hair, no shades, toothpick at the end). Just hearing this kind of stuff compared to ours shows you his versatility behind the boards.