Date Palms revolves around the core duo of Gregg Kowalsky (keyboards, electronics) and Marielle Jakobsons (violin, flute, electronics). They employ traditional rock instrumentation to create music informed by Indian classical music, country, minimalism, and spiritual jazz, arriving at a style that is wholly their own. They have just released their third album, The Dusted Sessions, so we sent Jake Murray to find out more about them.
(((o))): First and foremost, thanks so much for taking the time out to speak with us. The two of you cited time spent in the Eureka Dunes as an influence on the making of The Dusted Sessions, could you tell us a little more about what is so special and how the area seeped into this record so heavily?
Marielle: Thanks for having us! I’m from Ohio, and Gregg is from Florida, so there has been so much new and unique landscape to explore since we landed in California. When we went to Death Valley for the first time, I hadn’t ever been to a proper desert before, even though I lived in California for several years already at that time. The expansiveness does something to you spiritually, which is hard to describe, but that feeling is one we took with us and felt it could be better expressed musically than with words. The desert’s permeating dry heat, how it makes you feel physically, like you’re moving through a thick viscous liquid, is a sensation conjured in the material ofThe Dusted Sessions.
(((o))): Aside from the location, would you say that any musical influences have shaped the making of The Dusted Sessions? Who are your favourite acts right now?
Gregg: We were listening to a lot of 70s country music and cosmic jazz records while recording the album. I got really in to pedal steel guitar after listening to country music and Neil Young. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew, Get up with It, etc, the electric miles albums and especially the Complete Sessions of those albums. There are some alt takes that are amazing.
It’s summer time in Cali, so it’s time to whip out the Dub.
(((o))): Whilst two of you remain at the core of Date Palms, you do also perform as an ensemble. Would you say there's a great difference between the two formats?
Marielle: We started out in our first album Of Psalms, as a duo, both in the studio overdubbing all the parts, but also while performing live. At shows, I played violin and bass and would switch back and forth, which had obvious limitations. Gregg would play synths, cassettes, and keyboards, also multitasking on many different layers at any given moment. The vibe was more lofi and intimate with a lot of space and drone, but we wanted something more full and to be able to create the momentum live that could only be done by having someone else play bass, so that both instruments could flourish at the same time. So, eventually we started playing with a bassist, and then added tanpura, and most recently, electric guitar into the mix. Playing live as an ensemble, our sound has a depth we couldn’t achieve as a duo. The way we arrange pieces now as a five piece, with minimal interlocking parts and rhythms in slow tempos, allows a similar sense of open space even though there may be more going on.
(((o))): Do creative approaches vary greatly from working as a two-piece to a full-band? What difficulties can arise when banging more heads together?
Marielle: Writing our first album, Of Psalms, was a learning experience for us as a duo to combine our separate musical ideas for the sound of Date Palms into a unified vision. Once we settled on that, and worked out the kinks of communicating these ideas between each other, it wasn’t as difficult to translate these ideas to other musicians as they had already been defined and polished. With extra hands and ideas floating around, it can sometimes be difficult to carve out the core intention or create the open spaciousness we desire. But, at the same time, when things click, there is a magic that transcends individuals into some sort of collective understanding. The Dusted Sessions, being a live album, was an attempt to capture that.
(((o))): The instrumentation of your music could be considered a little unconventional to some people. Who covers which instruments mainly, or do you both typically cast your hand to whatever is nearby?
Marielle: On The Dusted Sessions, you’ll mainly hear us as Gregg on Rhodes and synth, Ben Bracken on bass, Michael Elrod on tanpura, Noah Phillips on electric guitar, and me on violin and flute. But, all the members of Date Palms are multi-instrumentalists individually, so there’s been a little bit of swapping around for different songs and trying out different arrangements for fun. For example, Six Hands To The Light, is Gregg, Ben, and I all playing the Crumar synthesizer at the same time. A few times when we played Honey Devash live, Michael would play cymbal. Gregg has this new instrument the swarmandal, which we are looking forward to using on some new material.
(((o))): Marielle, we're told that you spend your time as an Audio Lead for Electronic Arts when you're not one half of Date Palms. Do you have much experience with the many elaborate and often creative ways to dispose of your prized nonsense-talking characters?
Marielle: Hahaha, yeah, “The Sims” is quite a large part of my life outside of Date Palms! I’ve been working as a sound designer and all around audio lady there now for several years, and there are always new delights when torturing those endearing digital renditions of human beings. Of course a lot of the time that I’m playing the game, I’m testing the audio. So, I often have specific goals like, get cursed by a mummy to make sure the sound plays right when you plead to the Soulpeace Statue and hope that it will release you. The devious aspects are always the most fun for me, I can remember a lot of satisfaction terrorizing and then destroying my Sims family with a meteor shower or earthquake that I sound designed. And then, all the Simlish gibberish talking definitely gets inside your brain and comes out in peculiar ways.
(((o))): Gregg, you've previously released music outside of the Thrill Jockey family with space-label Kranky (amongst others). How do you find translating your outputs to the different contexts and audiences of these two labels, and is there ever a conscious when fitting one piece of music into one group over another?
Gregg: I started Date Palms with Marielle as a reaction to my solo work, and wanting to do something completely different, forcing me to learn a new way of composing and performing. I was still active with my solo work when we did the first two Date Palms records, but I have put my solo work to the side for the last year and half. To me there is much overlap between my solo material and Date Palms; it’s only natural. I am using similar processes to mixing and working with long form drones in both solo and Date Palms. But, the mood, the vibes, the instrumentation, the influences differ between my two projects. I wasn’t thinking of tayloring Date Palms material for Kranky or any label specifically. I think my development with playing proper instruments and working with time signatures will definitely influence my future solo work in some way.
(((o))): What's next for Date Palms? Can we expect to see a full tour outside of the dates already confirmed in the US? How's the European tour shaping up?
Marielle: We’re heading over to Europe in September, and super excited about some of the dates already confirmed. The Incubate Festival in the Netherlands has a stellar lineup including our friends from the Bay Area Barn Owl, and we are looking forward to returning Café Oto in London, such a lovely venue and vibe there. Before heading over the pond we’re going to sneak in a few dates on the East Coast.
(((o))): What about more music from you guys? Perhaps some music of a wintery inclination to chaperone The Dusted Sessions?
Marielle: Haha it might be hard to make wintery music in coastal California, but we’ll see what we can do. Maybe a mountain retreat is an order.