Violence, addiction, birth and horror movies - welcome to the wonderful and frightening world of the Palpitations…
Imagine what it must be like to be a doctor: the things you see, the different types of people you meet, the life and death scenarios that form part of your day to day ‘routine’. If you formed a band, you’d have some pretty interesting stuff to write about, right? Particularly if your experiences came from working in an urban, multicultural setting such as Luton, one of the most populous towns in the UK. The Palpitations are that band, and they’ve just released their first single Siren, which chronicles their first hand exposure to working with victims of addiction and violence.
Siren is an anthemic post-punk number, reminiscent of Interpol, Radiohead and Joy Division, that unsurprisingly begins with a guitar line that replicates the sound of a siren. Siren’s lyrics relate to two members of the band’s experiences of working in a hospital and witnessing the ravages of addiction on a female patient, a by-product of emotional and physical violence perpetrated by men. When speaking about the subject matter, which appears across some of their other songs too, singer Nishant remarked:
‘Often, women are the victims...but I keep in mind that men are also capable of hurting themselves. The end product is grief. The hospital is a grief factory. The narrator or the subject of each of our songs is either a perpetrator or a victim. Sometimes, both appear in the same song’.
Personally I find this fascinating, and a little macabre – it reminds me some of the stuff that Siouxsie and the Banshees used to write like Eve White/Eve Black (which interprets the dissociative personality disorder written about in the ‘The Three Faces of Eve’ by Corbett Thigpen and Hervey M Cleckley), albeit in this case the narrative is first hand. The bands’ Soundcloud page describe Siren as referring to 'violence against women against the backdrop of all-consuming addiction’, a statement that appeared somewhat open to interpretation, so I asked Nishant to provide some further context:
Having worked and lived in Luton for the last five years, I have seen patients from all backgrounds. The patients that have stuck with me the most are those that have suffered from addiction. They have poured their hearts out, they have described indescribable pain and sacrifice. I have been a keen student of addiction, and I have seen all types - a 14 year old heroin addict, a heroin dealer who games the NHS for medication, prostitutes at the mercy of nefarious men, 70 year old sex addict...and everyone in between!
The band also quote Anthony Burgess on their Soundcloud profile from ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and if you listen very closely to the outro of Siren, you’ll hear a friend of the band Sarah-Jayne Riedel (Dutch Mustard) providing backing vocals using a mish mash of these lines and designed to be an additional texture to the song. It turns out that the band are very keen on making their songs sound cinematic, and Nishant is a huge fan of horror movies:
Horror movies are a huge, huge passion of mine. Any time I feel terror watching a movie, I truly admire the director. Nobody should feel terrified by watching a fictional story, so for a director to put us in an uncomfortable space is something that I find fascinating. I want our songs to run like horror movie vignettes - some songs may seem danceable and moshable, but ultimately I want the listener to examine why and how they can feel the urge to dance to our bassline, at the same time feeling uncomfortable once they unravel the lyrics.
I mostly write songs while watching horror movies. I strum along to the beat of a horror movie in unusual tunings (Siren is dropped D, capo 4), and sometimes I'll jot down dialogue that I find interesting. A Clockwork Orange always stuck with me. We reference the concept of ultraviolence many times, and sometimes I feel like the film/book could have been set in Luton itself.
Other subjects covered in their material include a psychiatric patient who drilled a hole in his head in order to release demons (Hole in my Head) and a patient receiving a terminal diagnosis (Shadow of Your Sun). Not exactly cheery stuff, but certainly an extremely interesting take on the world.
Given the demands of the medical profession I was curious to understand how the band managed to balance work with music, and whether there was a real desire to pursue the latter:
Myself and Tom (vox) are both doctors, and we do find it tough to coordinate our schedules (we are currently four with Brett on guitar, and our session drummer Florin). But it's not a huge deal. If you have a passion, you will find a way. If you don't have the passion for success, you'll find excuses.
Yesterday, I finished my night shift in Luton at 9am. I delivered four babies overnight in emergency theatre. After that, I edited photos and videos for our single promo. We had rehearsal in London at 6pm. I arrived back in Luton at 1am, and kept working on videos until 4am.
Blood, sweat, tears. I want every frame of our videos, every second of our songs to form a cohesive narrative.
Blood, sweat and tears indeed. With further singles ‘My Carnivore’ and ‘Lights Out’ planned for next year, and the best part of an album written, 2020 should be a pivotal year for the band.
You can listen to Siren here