By Jon Milton
Imagine a world where your government sends its troops out to the front, without appropriate equipment in place, knowing that they will be ill prepared to deal with the battle, and because of this, many will die. Or a world where you are statistically more likely to get a response if you have a white, English sounding name, over an Asian name. Where, even though you play in an indie rock band that takes its inspiration from Detroit bands like Protomartyr, the people that you speak with from the industry suggest you make greater use of your ethnicity and include a bit of sitar.
Welcome to the world of the Palpitations. A band who not only make music, but also save lives and stand up for social justice. The band release their debut EP ‘Feed the Poor, Eat the Rich’ this Friday and are comprised of training doctors, whose write about their experiences of working in the medical profession.
We first covered them on this blog when they released ‘Siren’ (which is featured on the EP) in November last year. At the time, the plan was for them to spend the early part of 2020 playing live and releasing music, but of course all this changed with COVID19. Except unlike most bands who have found themselves in lockdown, the band have been on the front line, risking their lives to save those affected by the virus.
Incensed by the flagrant lack of PPE given to the NHS staff around him, bassist Nishant and his wife Meenal (also a doctor) are currently leading a legal challenge against the government's guidance on PPE which they believe has caused over a two hundred NHS staff to lose their lives.
The challenge, which at the time of writing has raised over £60,000 through crowdfunding to support its legal fees, has invariably drawn media attention, with Nishant regularly interviewed on radio and occasionally featured in the press. At the final ‘clap for carers’ members of the band and Meenal stood outside Downing Street and turned their backs on the Prime Minister, and stood in silence for 237 seconds, to mark the 237 Doctors, Nurses and Carers that have died during the pandemic. The campaign is also being filmed as part of a forthcoming documentary. It has also exposed Nishant to a world where sizzle and click-bait sells irrespective of race, but when just trying to promote your band, skin colour becomes an issue.
Feed the Poor, Eat the Rich! (the name comes from a Jean-Jacques Rousseau quote) is an EP chock full of slick indie rock, propelled by crunching bass, angular guitar and soaring vocals. The bands’ influences clearly permeate their music, and include the aforementioned Protomartyr, plus Interpol, Radiohead and Queens of the Stone Age.
I caught up with Nishant prior to the EP’s release to talk about the music and how life has changed in what’s been an extraordinary six months. The band have described the subject matter of the two new tracks on the Feed the Poor, Eat the Rich! EP ‘My Carnivore’ and ‘Lights Out’ as ‘Isolation, Lust and loss during quarantine, man reduced to his most primitive form’ and ‘A young couple in quarantine and their crumbling world’ which I asked him to elaborate on:
I've always been obsessed with the idea of Prometheus. He was the Greek Titan who was bound to a rock, where every day he would be tortured by an eagle that came to peck on his liver. His intentions were noble, and he tried to advance humankind. He was punished for it. I've always been fascinated with that idea, especially with the current world context, in which it is damn hard to make change - it involves a real degree of sacrifice, a real degree of 'fuck, I'm going to get in trouble for this.' So we added a human twist to the idea of Prometheus - someone who wants to be the best man he can be, but instead of the eagle, he is tortured by the female form.
It's a masculine song in outline; the bass is meant to hurt you, and it's about submission to primal, carnal desires and admitting that as men, there's no point hiding our fallibilities. Also, Ridley Scott's film 'Prometheus' really inspired me. When I had the idea for this song, I must have watched Prometheus about 10 times in a month. I became so obsessed with it. The futuristic nihilism, harking back to our very origins. Critics hated the film, but I adored the themes and cinematography. It's an examination of what it means to be human, both in the present and the past. And that's barely even the start of my journey with My Carnivore...I really battled with the idea of calling it 'Prometheus', and the more I think about it, the more I wish I had done so - but maybe I'll save that for another song.
Lights Out was definitely conceived as an 'end of the world' song - a man and woman, sitting on a sofa, in a darkened living room, watching Hitchcock's black and white film 'The Birds'. I'll be honest and admit that I didn't quite get the film itself - but I liked the conceit and the imagery, and I always had that at the back of my mind when fleshing out the song. The song took about five years from initial riff to recording, then re-recording. Tom and I spent hours and hours on individual lyrical intonations. Brett went through a million different versions of the solos - which were all kickass, all his guitar shredding is otherworldly - and the rhythm section toiled manfully. I still wouldn't be surprised if we were to rerecord Lights Out for our eventual album. It might be the song that we never get perfect...and that's okay, because that's what we're about.
How well was Siren received after its initial release?
We still think Siren is the best thing since sliced bread, we're all tremendously proud of the work we put in. It got rave reviews by great people, but we understand that to get a leg up, you need to be signed. And to be signed, you need to have a great degree of privilege, or be very, very lucky. We're not terribly worried about a critical reception or marks out of ten though - we don't seek validation by numbers from a music reviewer. Okay, maybe we do, a little, but we do seek validation from each other in the band, and that's the most important thing for us. We all trust each other a huge amount, not just in the rehearsal room but out in the real world. If we're ever happy with a song, it's gone through a hell of a journey to get to that stage.
Given the events of the last six months, I was keen to understand how life had changed for the band. On top of COVID19, Government inadequacy, legal action, Nishant and his wife are also expecting their first child next month…
We were aiming for summer tours, and the band was pretty much consuming our entire lives. We had just completed our winter sojourn and we loved the gigs that we played in February. Everyone had such a great time, and it was such a wonderful sense of community. Together with going to gigs and rehearsing, our fun times have pretty much been put on pause along with the rest of the country.
WIth my wife now 36 weeks pregnant, we are expecting her to give birth in The High Court. It's a huge mental burden, but it's a joy to do. It's our civic duty to fight for justice and we're taking it to the nth degree.
I also wanted to find out Nishant had found working with TV and the press, and whether he saw his relationship with both as an opportunity to promote the band.
My wife likes wearing our Palpitations t-shirt when she's on TV, which is pretty relevant as it's got a nurse who's not wearing much PPE! I've never mentioned the band in the media, but I'm starting to think it's a missed opportunity of marrying social justice and music. We've been shy about it, and we probably need to be a bit louder - this pandemic has shown that PR and radio pluggers and the entire music industry is a house of cards built on privilege. There is a vacuum, a levelling of the playing field, and so we deserve our time in the sun.
How have the other members of the band (4 of you now?) been with the legal action?
Super-supportive, and I wouldn't expect anything less. Tom even joined us for both protests at Downing Street. We're all fighting the same fight on different planes.
Have the events of the last 6 months influenced some new songs?
I haven't picked up a guitar since mid-March, but Brett has been writing some pretty special stuff - look out for Brett-led songs in the next few months. I've been writing diaries about what's been happening to me and around me in the last few months, so if/when I ever get time again, I will definitely be looking back on these times as a source of inspiration.
Feed the Poor, Eat the Rich is out now. Click on the links to listen to Lights Out, My Carnivore and Siren
You can read about the legal challenge and donate at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/nhs-ppe/