From Ex Lion Tamers to Wild Palms, east London is just the beginning

From Ex Lion Tamers to Wild Palms, east London is just the beginning

When you’re being held back as a band by something as seemingly superficial as a name it’s time to do something about it, which is why, two or three months ago, London four-piece Ex Lion Tamers severed themselves from their Wire-associated moniker and, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, became Wild Palms. Nothing has changed about the music – which is a powerful blend of spiky beats and squally guitars – but since the switch the band are no longer weighed down with listeners drawing immediate and overbearing comparisons with the post-punk outfit from whose song their original name was taken. “”The actual name itself wasn’t such a problem – we were just using it at first as a kind of handle to go in the studio with, ‘cos we were all with different bands,” says singer Lou Hill. “But it’s just when people come and watch you, and what they see and what they hear is completely marred straight off, like you’ve already sown the seeds.” Guitarist Darrell Hawkins agrees: “At least with Wild Palms it’s something that can become ours.”

I’ve met the band outside the Old Blue Last pub, one of the many venues in the Shoreditch area that forms the hub of the East London scene. It’s a scene which, while spawning some great bands, has become somewhat insular and inward-looking. Wild Palms don’t intend to fall into that trap though. Lou: “The problem with playing in East London is that you can become, or people start out and they are, homogenised already, because they’re trying to… they’re emulating what’s going on at the moment, for that short fix of ‘let’s go and play East London.'”

Drummer James Giblin displays thinly veiled contempt for a lot of the dross knocking around this scene. “You almost feel like you’re old hat just for being good at your instruments. If you can play, you’re considered to be some kind of outsider Bull & Gate band, trying to come in to the Shoreditch scene.” Neither is being successful in East London an end in itself, reckons Lou. “A lot of new bands – it’s not like we’re old veterans by any means – but I see a lot of bands who are playing the East London scene, and after playing a few gigs there, it’s like they think they’ve made something in some way, but anyone can play anywhere in East London basically. And for us it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

Collective ownership of the songwriting process is important for Wild Palms – in terms of the tunes themselves, this lot are as democratic a band as you’ll find. No individual makes a greater or smaller contribution to the process than the next man; the creative process for Wild Palms is more organic than the veg rack at Waitrose. Doing it this way keeps their music from settling into a stylistic rut, says Lou. “And it’s exciting as well, because what you do, every little bit you do is filtered or morphs into something else that you never thought it would. Like, there’s ideas that people come up with, and someone else takes it somewhere that you never envisaged.”

Some decent record labels have been sniffing around Wild Palms in the weeks preceding our meeting, and the boys are hopeful of one putting their money where their mouth is and backing them. “Come December, we’ll be signed to a label”, says James. “That will happen. With the interest we’re getting, and with the manager we’ve got, who is gonna put all of his fingers into everything we can get… the labels that are involved are good labels.”

Which leads onto Wild Palms’ long term plans. With the concept of making a profit out of recording and selling music pretty much dying on its arse at this level, what hopes do the guys have for trying to make a half-decent living out of this whole thing? James gives me the short answer: “Don’t! That doesn’t really bother us at all, I wouldn’t worry about that yet”.

“If that’s what you’re in it for then you’re gonna find it hard”, says Lou “because you’re not gonna get that. “I think we’re realistic about our aims and what we’d like to do, and the band we’d like to be remembered as. And I don’t think that [making money], in all honesty, is our thing.”

A band entirely without pretension, with realistic aims, making great music and genuinely doing it for the love of it: that’s Wild Palms’ thing. It doesn’t matter what they call themselves, this lot are a class act.


Originally published in Loud And Quiet issue 5 (vol. 3). April 2009

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