As the singer-songwriter genre continues to stumble down the path of homogeneity, Brent Palmer is a rare exception. What makes the casual listener, music enthusiast, even D'Arcy from Smashing Pumpkins appreciate Palmer's fresh approach? The answer is as complex and eclectic as the person himself.
Brent credits a handful of contemporary songsmiths as influences, but the family tree traces back to masters like Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney. Palmer says, "I grew up listening to my parents' LPs and saying 'it’s not music unless it has a melody.' I felt songs must be tuneful and have a certain level of craft." Other discoveries helped shape Brent's musical foundation. Bands like Idaho, Echo and the Bunnymen and R.E.M. seemed to get Brent through the high school rejection years. There was even a guitar god period idolizing Jimi Hendrix, Chet Atkins and Jeff Beck. Solid-gold '80s country records like Alabama's Roll On and Ronnie Milsap's Inside were in heavy rotation on the family Zenith. Push it all through a grinder and what do you get? Musical Haggis? Hardly. More like a promising artist writing heart-melting tender songs, perfect for lovers' mix-tapes or choruses at the Apocalypse. Like a character in a Walker Percy novel, Palmer acts as an observer, retelling his encounters through sweet and sad refrains. One may find Brent singing about end times, hangovers and daggers then suddenly in the next verse, lust, longing and fist kisses. But where did it all begin for Palmer?
Brent was born in Port Neches, Texas and was raised in Houston. There his parents gave him his first guitar at age nine and urged him to take classical lessons. Early schooling in theory gave way to other musical explorations, such as tinkering with a Tascam four track, playing bass in a high-school rock trio, and polishing his electric guitar chops to Aces High.
After college graduation, Palmer plugged into vibrant music scene in Austin, Texas and saw his following grow as a solo artist. Solid regional touring led to a relatively slick and poppy 2002 release Boomerang Shoes. This promising 5 song EP showcased Palmer's keen insight into love, loss and the desire to escape that permanent cycle. The success of Shoes found Palmer's first single in daily rotation on Austin's rock alternative 107.7 KTND-FM.
Later in 2004, Brent teamed up with Austin-based producer and guitarist Mitch Watkins to record five more original tunes. Stabilize again showcased Brent's unique style--blending driving guitars, plaintive vocals, and bittersweet lyrics into his own brand of folk pop. Recorded in Austin, TX, Stabilize continued to draw upon stark imagery and Brent's acerbic wit. A tour with Mindy Smith, stops at SXSW and Austin City Limits Music Festival soon followed.
These days Palmer is hard at work, polishing his craft and adding to the rich catalogue of great songs. Brent continues to offer stories afresh and his earnest voice still warms the darkest of hearts. If he's lucky, even his own.
Brent Palmer-guitars, vocals
Steve Bernal-bass, cello
John Leon-pedal steel
Matt Mollica-B3, piano
'Television Fears' (tentative title) 2008
'Stabilize' EP 2004
'Boomerang Shoes' EP 2002
'House of Your Heart' LP 1999
Interview with Dallas Morning News
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Austin singer infuses melodies with his own folk-pop style By HUNTER HAUK / Quick NOTES FROM H...Austin singer infuses melodies with his own folk-pop style
By HUNTER HAUK / Quick
NOTES FROM HOME: With the staggering number of acts fighting for attention at last month's Austin City Limits Music Festival, it's a wonder we even noticed 29-year-old folk-pop singer Brent Palmer. He played alone on the fest's smallest stage, and if we hadn't been walking by as he launched into "Asleep in the Back," well, we wouldn't be talking about him.
But the Austin resident's simple, melodic song sparked our interest. "Asleep," from Mr. Palmer's latest EP, Stabilize, has an instantly familiar chorus and intelligent lyrics. It's the kind of tune that would do well on the radio if programmers gave it a chance. But do they ever?
The Port Neches, Texas, native has been making music in Austin since the mid-'90s. Since graduating from the University of Texas, he's released three CDs and become a staple around capital city coffeehouses.
We chatted with Mr. Palmer shortly after his festival performance about his life as a struggling artist:
What got you started playing music?
I got my first guitar when I was 9. I still have it. It's an Artesano Valencia classical. I don't know if it's worth anything. Probably not anymore, since I Scotch-taped the backside together. My parents really wanted me to perform classically and sent me to guitar lessons at an early age. Looking back, I appreciate the skills I learned, like reading music and proper left-hand-right-hand technique. ... Later I switched to electric guitar and discovered guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix, Chet Atkins. After being in bands in high school, I started writing songs on my own.
Have you learned any other instruments?
Now I can find my way around a few stringed instruments: mandolin, bass, baritone guitar, guitar. I think having a foundation in theory helped with the learning curve.
What music or artists stayed with you from your childhood?
As a kid, I remember listening to my dad's Beatles records and Roy Orbison's "Crying" and thinking it's not music unless it has a melody. I felt songs must be tuneful and have a certain level of craft. It's inspiring to see how great songsmiths take elements that are essential – eight notes, English language, etc. – then compose something out of nothing. That's what I try to do. Take something rudimentary and give it form.
Do you play all your shows solo or do you sometimes sing with a band? Which do you prefer?
I perform solo and with a band. A band can really push a song in the right direction, but so does performing solo. To me, it's all about what the set needs. OK, it's if I can afford to pay a band that night, really.
Tell me about your writing process. Do you set aside time to write songs, or do they just come to you?
Sometimes I'm in bed and a melody just hits me. I want to think that the nine times I sat at the piano or guitar scraping for the right tune produces this miraculous 10th song where everything bottled up gets released, and somehow the song writes itself. That's the magic balance, isn't it? Finding the right amount of discipline yet leaving room for spontaneity.
How often do you write, and what determines which songs make it onto a CD?
No song makes it onto the record unless it's road tested. If it holds up 14 to 20 nights in a row, especially with a band, then it has life.
Who are some current artists that serve as inspiration or example for how you'd like your career to develop?
Ron Sexsmith and Neil Finn are songwriters whom I look up to. Some CDs I have in the car right now are Clap Your Hands Say Yeah , Iron & Wine-Calexico and Sufjan Stevens. I'd like to follow any artist's career track that can get me out of my day job.
Any plans for a full-length CD? Do you see yourself changing direction musically or experimenting with new sounds?
The next thing I want to do is make a full-length record. I just feel like I need to make a complete musical statement. The EPs were fine for what they were. They're a nice introduction to my music, but at this point I need 10-plus songs on a record. I also have a desire to get with a friend of mine and make a shoe-gaze record – My Bloody Valentine or Mogwai kind of thing. I think I'll call that band 'Levers of Ascent.' "
It seems like Austin would be a difficult place for a musician to get noticed. How has the town been for you?
Austin is unusual. There aren't very many concerts, per se, but there are plenty of "places to go see your brother-in-law perform," which makes the town a little crowded musically. ... As far as media goes, I can't complain. If you mean "get noticed" by record labels, well, that probably won't happen anytime soon.
To sample music or buy Brent Palmer's CDs, visit www.brentpalmer.net.
Austin City Limits Music Fest performance recap
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ACL comes to steamy end with Coldplay 07:54 AM CDT on Monday, September 26, 2005 By HUNTER H...ACL comes to steamy end with Coldplay
07:54 AM CDT on Monday, September 26, 2005
By HUNTER HAUK / Quick
The Austin City Limits Music Festival ended Sunday with the hottest day in its history. At 104 degrees, it felt like the hottest day ever . Seriously. We should be in the medical tent right now.
Heat aside, excitement built all day long for the expected closing set by Coldplay. For many fans, it couldn't get there fast enough. There were plenty of good performances to occupy them, though, including festival-stopping performances by Rilo Kiley, Ruthie Foster and the Kaiser Chiefs.
Overall, the three-day event had its positives and negatives – transcendant musical moments vs. the discomfort of heat and crowds. It's hard to say which won, so we'll have to keep going back until we figure it out.
Here are Sunday's highlights:
Wake-up song: We walked into the festival grounds at 11:30 a.m. to the sweet sounds of Austin singer Brent Palmer, who was playing on the BMI songwriters' stage. His song "Asleep in the Back" has a melody so lovely that it's a wonder he's not all over the adult contemporary charts.
Good kids: Tyler band Eisley played the first big set of the fest's final day, opening with "My Lovely" and following with several of their faster songs. It was the hottest part of the day, so the thousands of fans gathered around the stage fanned themselves to the beat. Eisley's new bassist (little cousin Garron DuPree) seemed capable enough.
Swooning encouraged: We couldn't help but sit down on the ground to enjoy the slow, lilting songs of Rachael Yamagata, but most of her audience was too enthusiastic not to stand and sing along. After they joined her in the chorus of "Worn Me Down," she proclaimed, "You're all hired."
They can do it all: Rilo Kiley displayed some versatility, moving from a harmonica-tinged country number into effects-laden rock. What held it all together was the gorgeous voice of Jenny Lewis. Guitarist Blake Sennett wasn't having too much fun though: "We all started using this mint conditioner recently and now it is running into my eyes with sweat," he complained. "It really hurts."
Encore! The crowd gathered for the Kaiser Chiefs' set was so into "I Predict a Riot" that the band could have played it again and nobody would've cared.
Wow: We don't use the word "amazing" loosely, but we can think of no other word to describe singer Ruthie Foster's blues-and-gospel set. The tent was packed with faithful fans, and Ms. Foster delivered like not many other performers can. "We're goin' to church," she said at the beginning of "Runaway Soul," and by the end, we were all there.
Not for everyone: The Arcade Fire turned in an energetic, bombastic set and didn't disappoint fans of its breakthrough album Funeral. But it seemed that half the people watching the set were there only because it was the "must-see" set of the day. That would explain why so many decided about 20 minutes in that they wanted to be somewhere else.
Begging works: The sun set to the sounds of ACL veterans Wilco. Several of the band's songs (including "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart") concluded with chaotic noise and feedback, as if the players were in such a frenzy that they couldn't continue with structured music for one second longer. Frontman Jeff Tweedy did his part to rile up the crowd, shouting, "We don't normally do this, but c'mon, show some enthusiasm!" His pleas worked, and a few minutes later, as the crowd clapped along, Mr. Tweedy said, "I like this groveling thing. It's the new cockiness."
Austin Chronicle reviews Stabilize
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Singer-songwriter Brent Palmer examines life's romantic vicissitudes in painstaking detail on his St...Singer-songwriter Brent Palmer examines life's romantic vicissitudes in painstaking detail on his Stabilize EP. Boosting spirits with cello, steel guitar, and piano, Palmer prays his "Losing Streak" won't last – and with gems like "Juliana," it probably won't.
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A five-song EP from troubadour Brent Palmer, Stabilize showcases the folk-pop tendencies of Palmer, ...A five-song EP from troubadour Brent Palmer, Stabilize showcases the folk-pop tendencies of Palmer, who writes songs in the traditional folk vein, before adding an element of pop. Then he furthers the songs with a vibrant array of Americana textures, as well as a rhythmic, groove-oriented percussion beat that helps set the songs apart from your average man-and-guitar fare.
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That Brent Palmer was able to attract the likes of jazz guitarist/producer Mitch Watkins to produce ...That Brent Palmer was able to attract the likes of jazz guitarist/producer Mitch Watkins to produce his latest, Stabilize, speaks volumes. Palmer, an East Texas native relocated to Austin, attracted good press for his 1999 EP, Boomerang Shoes, with its many colors of love that pulse with warmth and affection. – Margaret Moser
Boomerang Shoes review
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Brent Palmer is a singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas who appears, from the initial successes he ha...Brent Palmer is a singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas who appears, from the initial successes he has had, to be heading in the right direction.
T: Undoubtedly these are well crafted songs and have obviously been thought about, but the music is perhaps a little too middle of the road for my personal tastes. Having said that, "Due Time" was a lovely lazy little tune that could have easily been the main track.
N: This is a nice collection of songs for which i can see Brent being picked up as an aspiring singer-songwriter. Certainly well produced, and some of the imagery he uses in his lyrics are aspirational. It would be criminal if he is just picked up as a songwriter and not as a package.
T: I know what you mean, although I'm sure he'd be delighted if a major artist had a massive hit with something he'd written, which wouldn't surprise me at all to be honest. He's certainly got something this guy and I hope he achieves what he's aiming for, because it seems to me that he deserves it.
In Palmer's 'Shoes
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by Poncho Gomez Folk-rocker Brent Palmer has a knack for writing songs that sound like you've h...by Poncho Gomez
Folk-rocker Brent Palmer has a knack for writing songs that sound like you've heard them a dozen times before-but still make you want to hear them again. Palmer, a local, has a new CD in hand called "Boomerang Shoes," recorded with local players Brannen Temple, Roscoe Beck, Mitch Watkins and Riley Osbourn. Sarah Sharp, who is releasing her own CD, "Out of Nowhere," opens the show. The music begins tonight at 9 at Speakeasy, 412-D Congress Ave. Cover is $4. Call 476-8017.
Boomerang Shoes review
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Boomerang Shoes review by Genevieve Pierce Brent Palmer's new EP Boomerang Shoes is a nice ex...Boomerang Shoes review
by Genevieve Pierce
Brent Palmer's new EP Boomerang Shoes is a nice example of carefully constructed tunes that demonstrate songwriting expertise that involves thought and ability. The 5 song EP is the second release from this classically trained guitarist whose songwriting ability is reminiscent of the days of masters such as James Taylor or Cat Stevens. The mood of Boomerang Shoes is light, mellow, and serene. The instrumentation is minimal, which positively serves to highlight the acoustic guitar work that is the heart of every song. Brent is as good a singer as he is guitarist and the lyrics of the songs shine through thanks to his strong clear voice. Track 1 stands out as a catchy, melodic single, as does Track 5 for the beautiful classical guitar feel. Thankfully, the only thing missing on Brent's new album is the typical angst-ridden radio rock popular right now. Maybe if more folks were listening to Brent Palmer on the way to work, we'd all be just a little more laid back. (A-)
Boomerang Shoes review
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by Matt Collar Brent Palmer is an Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter whose mellow pop stylings ...by Matt Collar
Brent Palmer is an Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter whose mellow pop stylings fall somewhere between the sardonic wit of Michael Penn and the yearning romanticism of Duncan Sheik. The Boomerang Shoes EP is a good five-song introduction to this introspective artist whose knack for catchy melodicism and universal statements of love and loss speak to a wider audience than the niche folk crowd.
80 original songs in catalog
set list varies
songs are generally 4-5 minutes in length.
Typical set list:
Stepped on a Spider
You Be My Minneapolis (I'll Be Your St. Paul)
Single in Japan
Asleep in the Back
Over and Through
There are no upcoming dates at this time.