Gig Seeker Pro


Oakland, California, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | SELF

Oakland, California, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Rock Metal




"Emily Palen - Interview"

R'n'R : As a child did you live in a musical atmosphere?

EP : I did. My mother is a cellist, my older sister is a violinist, my brothers both played cello and my dad is primarily a poet and also played the french horn. My mother also taught a full studio of students, both violin and cello so I heard music every day all day. The most potent influences I heard though were her practicing beautiful cello repertoire and my sister playing those gorgeous violin sonatas and concertos. Brahms, Tschaikovsky, Bach, Barber. Music started in the womb. I believe it also set the precedent that music a passion but also a discipline.

R'n'R : How did you decide to be a professional musician?

EP : I can’t do anything else and be anything close to happy and fulfilled on this planet. It is absolutely my reason, my first language. Music makes the rest of this precious, painful, stunning life not just bearable but magnificent. It turns the deepest grief into something beautiful. Some may view being a professional musician as a risky endeavor. There’s no guarantees, there’s no particular path laid out before you. You must pave your own way. In my perspective, there’s nothing riskier than giving up my soul to sit at a desk and get a paycheck. I would wither into a living death. For me, there is no choice. It is my lifeblood.

R'n'R : When did you begin violin? And why the choice of this instrument?

EP : I began to study violin when I was 4. I heard my sister playing these violin pieces that I just fell in love with. Violin repertoire is just so stunning. I wanted to learn how to play that music, to express that beauty. I would get her little tiny violin out of my parents armoire and beg my mom for lessons. Finally when I turned 4 she said ok, lets begin. To me, the violin was just something that called to me. It has become an inseparable part of me. It was also a way for me to tell the truth in my youth when the truth was hard to express in words. It has saved my life many times over. I also started to play the piano when I was 5 and that has been another beautiful way to enrich my songwriting options. I studied both violin and piano through school until I had to choose one instrument going into college and violin won out. Its nice to have the balance of both. Piano is a wonderful foundational study for harmony, how to build songs out, layers.

R'n'R : Who are your metal and classical influence?

EP : Currently my greatest influences are Architects. They have changed the whole trajectory of my life. Finally a band who combines harmonic beauty, rhythmic musicality, a wall of crushing and rich tone, Sam Carter’s voice is flawless and raw in the most honest way. They are up against that line of life and death because of the tragic loss of Tom Searle, the founding guitarist, songwriter and lyricist, and they don’t shy away from it. They have inspired me to push harder in my musical career and to live a life that’s full. The other current metal influences I have are Gojira, again, so beautiful. They harness massive crowds and direct that energy like masters. Stray From the Path is killing the hardcore game right now. I cut my teeth on Tool in my teens and 20’s. Of course we had Rage, Deftones then and still, the list goes on. My favorite and what I really need from my metal though is a combination of beauty and that power. Without harmonic beauty and some lush aspects in it, its just one-dimensional and I lose interest immediately. My classical influences are Brahms, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Fauré, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Barber, Dvorak, Franck. Prokofiev. The rich romantic composers. Emotional depth you can drown in.

R'n'R : Why and how came the idea to make your violin sound like a guitar ?

EP : I had an ocean to cross between my classical violin technique and this blood-thirst for heavier heavier heavier. Over the years that I played with various bands, before I started KnightressM1 I would play through various amps that just didn’t cut it. They didn’t have the definition I needed for the violin rifs and detail to come out and they certainly didn’t have the gain and grit I needed. I just needed a tone that could knock walls down so I hunted and hunted for amps. Finally my good friend whom you know as well, Gretchen Menn said ~ you should play my ENGL. I haven’t gone back since. It has been the perfect beast of an amp for me. It has the definition I need and the power. So, that’s been my tone. It works with a power trio, it has the cut, the richness and the drive to front a band with. I have no desire to sound like a guitar, I just needed my violin to explode into a front instrument and a lot of people mistake that tone for a guitar. I take it as a compliment.

R'n'R : Tell me your meetings and performances with the Foo Fighters and John Paul Jones.

EP : This was such a neat experience for me. I was a finalist in a competition to play in the Foo Fighters Orchestra with John Paul Jones as the conductor at The Grammy’s. It was an important crossroads for me that I am very grateful for. John Paul Jones arranged our string parts for the Foo song The Pretender and his music was amazing. He was a great conductor, a gracious man and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him. I then was able to connect in with the Foo Fighters and play with the again at Red Rocks in Colorado. It was that night, despite being a combination of what the fuck terrified before ~ when I was playing on that stage with them, and they are such a killer band…more about that later….I looked out at their sold out crowd, everyone smiling, I though to myself ~ I can do this, this is where I belong. Its nice to be in the company of musicians and humans who have allowed themselves to achieve great success all the while maintaining a deep sense of gratitude and kindness. Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins both spoke of the importance of gratitude to me that night and that has stuck with me. They’re just people, funny as fuck and musicians that just don’t stop growing. They are always working so hard and they inspire me to work harder, to push myself to my capacity. They welcomed me into their sphere as an equal. Dave has also maintained his integrity as a leader in the music industry, forming his own label, running his own career. He doesn’t hand it over to anyone and that shows me that it can be done. You don’t have to sell out or be a dick to have success. In fact, you maintain longevity in your career these days the more you are true to yourself and to kind values. We all just want to make music, we don’t need to tear each other down to do it. We can do more together. Also, Dave was generous enough to invite me to record my album at his recording studio in LA, Studio 606. Its been incredible to work with John Lousteau, their chief engineer on the record and we are getting ready to start recording the second album. They are the best of the best.

R'n'R : You have a band with a bass player and a drummer, KnightressM1. How was it born and what does this band mean for you?

EP : This band is my everything. Its pretty simple really. There’s a beautiful and concise energy that happens with a trio. You really have to play off of each other, maintaining this balance, accelerating it to something that transcends in the life performance. I was also really picky about not having a guitar in the band. I’ve played with a select few guitarists who I trust to come in as guest spots, and we will see how the band evolves, however to stay true to the violin being a front instrument, I’ve been guarded about having a guitar come in to skew the direction of the band. I also really love how the songs are delivered as a trio. The bassist falls into a bit of a different role because of the lack of guitar. the songs are also written a bit differently because of my classical roots so the bass has to, primarily ~ be a killer bass player and not just run over everything, they also need an instinct for my style of songwriting. Not everyone digs it or naturally plays this way and that’s ok. I’ve grateful to be playing with Larry Boothroyd right now of Victim’s Family and he’s amazing. I’ve had two primary drummers, Rob Ahlers who was with me for years and recorded the first album. He is a stunning player. This year I started playing with Chad Tasky and he is phenomenal as well. We’ve been able to create a really heavy sound which I’m loving, and needing. This band, everything I do I do it for the band. Its my top priority in life, I believe in it.

Besides the musical details of the band, emotionally its my anchor and my reason. I’ve been through some painful patches in life, and also we are living in such an intense time right now. I feel its a gift to be able to create music about where we are at personally and collectively. We are dealing with some critical issues ~ whether its gender violence issues which is a crucial issue for me, or the political revolution going on in the states right now. We are waking up, and music is a powerful unifier. The more everyone can be in their craft, expressing truth that way the better chance we have to tip the collective consciousness towards the massive change we need in order to take care of the planet and all of the species on it, ours included.

R'n'R : Is the word “Alchemy” important for you and your music?

EP : This is such a great question, thank you for asking this. Yes. Alchemy is the mysterious thing that happens with music. What I was speaking of before, the power of music to turn the greatest pain into something not only bearable but beautiful, that’s alchemy. I think I began to understand this when I started to improvise. Moving away from classical music, while I’ll always have a deep love for it, playing what you feel in the moment has a special kind of power. You use the vibration of your instrument, your expression to infuse the energy of your emotion, your grief, your anger, confusion whatever it may be ~ into something that is forever elevated. I really feel this. Truly, nothing has saved my life more than writing a song and playing it. I’ve been suicidal, I’ve been through abuse, I’ve been through sexual and relational trauma as many many people have been through as well. We live in a culture that still breeds that sort of experience. Music was the way I was able to survive those situations and turn it into something powerful for myself and hopefully for others. I was in an abusive relationship during the bulk of time I was recording the debut album for KnightressM1. I would barely be surviving and I would just think…just get through to the next recording session. Keep your eye on the prize. Ultimately I permanently severed that relationship after one weeklong recording session because I could no longer live with this great divide between my life as a musician, making this dream come true at an incredible studio, then coming home to this shit. It saved my life. Now, being free of that dynamic for many years and thriving, giving myself the permission to show people the door if they’re at all disrespectful, I hope that the songs I’ve written about that situation can help shed light on the abuse issue. Having gone through it, I realize how prevalent and hidden it is. Its scary to think about and it is insanely difficult to get out. We need to break down a lot of myths culturally and call out the behavior for what it is in order to shift this dynamic.

R'n'R : How do people react when they first hear the sound of your violin?

EP : I think they dig it! I get a lot of wide eyes and confused looks when I roll in my amp for the gig. Wow, that amp for a violin ? People haven’t seen it before. Its been nice to coalesce our sound around a heavier feel this year. Its more true to me. I had to give myself a bit of permission for that too, to really just go as heavy as I wanted and to just start screaming. Also, I had to learn how to play and sing differently for that style. I feel like the more true we are to that aesthetic, the more true I am to myself really, the more people respond from a visceral inspired place. I love that. Its such a win win.

R'n'R : You play with Gretchen Menn on her solo album Hale Souls, how did you meet her and how was the recording?

EP : I met Gretchen at a gig we both played in SF at Bottom of the Hill. Since then we have been friends and supporters of each other’s music. She came to me with these incredible compositions and asked me to record them. I was honored. She’s a very gracious person so working with her is a gift. She has a true understanding of the value of the artist, of your contribution. There’s not this feeling you can get sometimes of being drained or taken advantage of with her. Its an energetic gain I feel for everyone involved because of her moral and work ethic.

R'n'R : Your album Glass is a live album? Why a live album, the sound was better than in studio?

EP : I was working as a busker in SF at this time and met Gregory James, who owns Valence Records, who produced both Glass and Creation. As a busker I was improvising constantly. It became a meditation practice for me and was my primary musical expression for 7 years. In improvisation, you exist in a different consciousness as opposed to playing something composed. There’s a particular kind of musical information and frankly, spiritual information that comes through. We worked with Cooke Marenco to record at Grace Cathedral and it absolutely sounded better than a studio. The acoustics inside are as you would expect from an epic cathedral and there’s a 7 second delay. We had this insane recording gear as well that was built from hand, recorded millions of bits of info per second but was still digital. I’m not a tech head so I can’t explain the nitty gritty of it, but it turn into what you call DSD. Its a very high resolution audio format, higher than CD quality and definitely better than typical mp3 files you hear on streaming platforms. It essentially is an analog sound with the same pristine capture of sound information in a digital format. So we did two days of improvisation recording at Grace Cathedral, with the church to ourselves. It was a beautiful and also vulnerable moment for me. From it we chose the songs that would be on the record and made Glass. Creation was the second improv album and we did that at Cookie’s studio where she runs Blue Coast Records. They are the same format, both improvisations but different just because the music is form that moment rather than the last. Improv is similar to making a painting on water. You have to embrace the moment and understand it for what it is. Its also a capture of your emotional and conscious state at the time. That’s what’s so neat about it. Its raw and unfiltered. No songs on the albums were cut, corrected, or overdubbed. Its another way to chase the line between life and falling off of it. That’s exhilarating.

R'n'R : Why do you love Shakespeare ?

EP : The romance of it is irresistible to me. The characters in Shakespeare have such reverence for love, for right and wrong, for ritual. It speaks to me on a deep level. My parents took me to a lot of Shakespeare plays as a kid. Great productions too so I fell for Hamlet as a teen. Romeo and Juliet, maybe not the best relationship model to follow, however its a stunning play. You have to be an incredible actor to make the shakespearean language roll off your tongue like its your native tongue. When an actor is at the level with that work, something magical happens. I’m sure Shakespeare was handing humanity a lot of keys to unlock our oppression. There’s a reason why it has stood the test of time.

R'n'R : What does music mean for you?

EP : Life, love, blood, breathe, freedom.

R'n'R : What are your hobbies and what are your near projects?

EP : I don’t really have hobbies. Not trying to be a purist but, I’m so driven this year and always that music just guides me. Things that light my fire though are amazing shows, traveling to Paris, collaborating with other artists, filmmakers, photographers. Humans doing good work in the world. Doing things that matter. That’s what I love.

Published on April 12, 2020 - Rock'n'Reviews -


Glass: Live at Grace Cathedral ~ Emily Palen Solo Violin
Released March 2012 on Valence Records
Creation ~ Emily Palen Solo Violin
Released December 21 2012 on Valence Records



KnightressM1, from Oakland CA, is the brainchild of violinist, vocalist, pianist and composer Emily Palen. The power trio fuses the raw power of dark rock, classical harmonic underpinnings,  searingly dark violin tones and a crushing, concise rhythm section to create an augmented genre of metal.  Driven by a relentless need for emotional freedom, her lyrics bare witness to life’s cruelties while musically transmuting human suffering into positive growth.  Music plays a profound role as humanity teeters at the crossroads between ultimate destruction and radical evolution,  KnightressM1 strives to be a powerful voice for those oppressed either by country or lover.

Emily recorded and produced their first album with bassist Uriah Duffy and drummer Rob Ahlers at Studio 606, home of the Foo Fighters.  John Lousteau engineered and co-produced the album.  The album is set for a summer 2020 release and will be supported with three self-directed videos, produced by Shena van Spronsen.  Drummer Chad Tasky joined KM1 in 2019 as the band dove into a heavier sound for the second album. Bassist Larry Boothroyd of Victim’s Family has also recently joined the lineup. KnightressM1 is also on the cusp of signing with the French rock label Bad Reputation and will be touring both the US and Europe to support the album. 

Emily, born in Midland MI to a cellist and a poet, began her classical violin and piano studies at the age of 4.  From her early years she set her sights on a professional classical career, studying with notable teachers in Michigan including Michael Avsharian and Paul Kantor at the University of Michigan.  Eventually her deep love of hard rock and metal got the best of her and she began to cut her teeth on rock violin techniques, breaking through the barriers between classical and improv.  She released her first solo violin improv album “Glass ~ Live at Grace Cathedral” in 2012 and “Creation” a year later.  Emily is also a signed artist with Engl Amps, a crucial part of KM1’s tone.  Over the years she has played with The Foo Fighters, Eric McFadden, Gretchen Menn as well as countless other bands both as a live performer and a compositional recording artist.  

Emily grew unsatisfied with the typical treatment of violin in rock music and she struck out on her own path as a bandleader, reshaping the use of violin in rock and metal.   She quit all outside projects and expectations in 2011 and began writing for KnightressM1.    Over the years, she has honed her sound, harnessing an intense internal life to fuel the trajectory of the band over the edge of the impossible.


Band Members