It wasn’t easy to get a hold of Dominic ‘Nicky’ Palermo. If I’m not mistaken it took something like three attempts to interview the founder, guitarist and vocalist of Nothing. Well, shit happens. No big deal when you’re dealing with a dude that’s not an asshole (sometimes an asshole can be described as a rockstar, FYI). Anyway, I had the pleasure of talking with Palermo about Nothing, their debut album, Guilty of Everything (Relapse), and everything that surrounds this world where literature is as important as punk rock music, loud guitars and shit loads of reverb.
“It started with me, just me, and then I putted some people together to help me record the demo [titled Poshlost]. Shortly after the demo I met Brandon [Setta, guitar and vocals] and we started to write music together and in between of what we have now and then, it’s gone through probably twenty people. But everything is really tight now. Finally, after three years, I found a couple of people that are decent human beings and fine musicians”, starts Nicky, the who founded Nothing back in 2011. Going back to those times where Nothing was just kind of an idea he continues, “Even during the days of Horror Show… I always wanted a project like this. But I was young and impatient. I didn’t have the necessary tools to build it.“ Yeah, one might think that Nothing is just this band with loads of hype, created like six months ago to proceed in this music business with pure swings of luck. It isn’t the case. Sorry! Not only was hard to create this entity and find the right people but there’s even the fact of Palermo’s past experiences. Horror Show, Palermo’s previous band, a hardcore punk outfit that was described, by Deathwish (who released two Horror Show’s 7” EPs – Our Design and The Holiday) as a band that “truly lived the pain of their songs every day”.
“It’s an inspiring place, nonetheless. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be but if you are able to come out of something like that you come inspired by it, for sure”, explains Palermo about his experience post-Horror Show and pre-Nothing. No matter who you are, being incarcerated will ways have a profound impact on you and put things in perspective. Palermo is no different and this period of his life helped to shape this entity that we know as being Nothing.
When asked him about the impact of Emil Cioran’s book, The Trouble With Being Born, on him, Palermo went into great detail:
“On Downward Years To Come [a five song EP] every song was specifically about one writer that took his own life. They’re all really relevant to me. These writers got me through some of the worst times of my life, and they have been along with me for some of the better times too. They were my only friends for a while, when I was incarcerated, and they put it all out there. There’s so much pain… Richard Brautigan and Sylvia Plath, they help me and it feels like I owe something to them. I wanted to do a record dedicated to them, pretty much“.
But going back to more practical things, how much of struggle it’s for this band to write music? An obvious question for everyone that had the pleasure of listen the music and read the lyrics.
“We write songs pretty consistently. Brandon doesn’t work and he just sleeps on my couch at my apartment all the time. We usually just sit around all day with our guitar in our hands constantly. We hear a riff that one of us is playing over and over again before we decide that we should take that riff and start making an actual song. It’s kind of like, when we’re ready to record it’s when we really start to digging in and we try to turn those riffs, those ideas into songs.”
On Guilty of Everything, the debut full length of this quartet from Philadelphia, it’s almost tangible the evolution they achieved since releasing their first EP, Downward Years To Come. “Why bother creating new things if they are just a pure stagnant with no progress whatsoever? We always try to better ourselves with music”. Sure, Jeff Ziegler was an important piece on Nothing’s evolution, but the band shows an urgency of staying on the run like if someone would shoot them in the head in case they stop and get too comfortable.
With the progress of this conversation we reach a turning point where things start to be a little bit clearer. It starts with an innocent question: why this title?
“We were thinking about what we were doing with the record and at that time, actually before even record it… I was reading a book called “Guilty of Everything” by Herbert Huncke. Herbert Huncke is a writer, a criminal and a drug addicted living in New York. Basically is a part of the group of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, etc.”, says Palermo, talking about the group of writers known to be a part of The Beat Generation, a group of American post-World War II writers that were writing about this “culture” of the outsider (the rejection of social standards, innovations in style, experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities, etc.).
“They met all in New York and he [Huncke] really turned them on into drugs, crime and everything. That pushed them to opening up to the world, which made them like the elite writers of that generation [1950s]. I know that a lot of people don’t know about these writers. It’s nice to give a nod to what inspires you and what inspired something. Sometimes those people get hidden in the past and they never get recognized.“
That explains a whole lot. First it gives the needed space to clarify why they signed with a metal label like Relapse – “We play shows with punk bands, with hardcore bands, indie rocks bands, etc. We’ve never really fit in necessarily anyway” – then allow us to ask about their use of drugs while recording Guilty of Everything. “This was not the first time that we record music while under the effect of performance enhancing drugs. Usually we use all kind of different drugs but this time around we were so heavily stuck into the studio working, like ten hours per day. We were taking adderall at the time. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the drug but it’s a prescription drug for people who have ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]… we probably have it anyway. Basically it makes you insanely obsessed with whatever you are doing, and makes it impossible to sleep.”
It seems that there’s almost an obsession with misery. All these stories and the fact of Palermo’s lyrics are so fuckin’ dark and bleak makes us wonder if he sees himself as being a nihilistic person. “No, but I have an almost kind of hatred for human life. It’s disgusting what we are, what we do and what we think that we’re here to do. It’s just dark and depressing. I’m here; I’m designed to be as anybody else but even as aware as I am about all these things, I still get out of bed everyday… I don’t want to, all the time, but I’m like everyone else, you know? I’m not superior in any way. But yeah, I think about how fucking horrible we are as a race. I don’t want to bring a child into this world. It’s funny, there are children out there, at this point, that don’t even have a fuckin’ home. It’s selfish to bring another person out of like a seemingly peaceful to this place where we are basically doomed” says Palermo. But, what about these problems of today like the Edward Snowden’s case (surveillance) and the Russia-Ukraine thing? “I don’t really pay attention but it’s kind of hard to miss those kind of things. I mean, it’s just something completely expected. We do the same things over and over again. Eventually this will come to an end and the world will just do a restart of sorts, you know? Everything comes full circle again. We can take all we want but there’s no stopping what is coming from us.”
Funny to see how much of Kurt Cobain is in Palermo… I mean, not only Nothing is punk as fuck, just like Nirvana, but it seems that it goes beyond when we see that Palermo shares some views that Cobain always confessed so publicly. But there’s one more thing: Nothing, just like Nirvana, loves to play live. How much of a problem is to want to destroy eardrums? The relationship between them and the sound guys must be wonderful. “It will be easier to deal with it over here [U.S.A.] than where you’re at [Europe]. I heard that over there they have like a 100 decibel limit… it’s never gonna work out. We don’t have issues with sound guys. I have issues with assholes. We work with a sound guy last night, in Birmingham, Alabama, and he was great. He was so attentive and he cared about his job. It is tough when you walk into a venue where there’s some guy that gets paid 30 dollars and doesn’t wanna be there and doesn’t care about the band… Sometimes that guy feels even offended by what the bands asks, mostly because the band is asking something that’s different. That’s an asshole, that’s not a sound guy”.