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Port City Music: An Interview and Review
Phillip Palmer’s voice reminds me of The Magnetic Fields' lead singer Stephen Merrit on their 1995 album Get Lost. It’s deep, melodic and hypnotizing. Philip Palmer is the voice and talent behind musical solo-project, Port City Music. Self-described as “melodic dissonance,” Port City Music reminds me less of Palmer’s rock and roll influences and more of an emerging Indie project accidentally stumbled upon—a nice sound with vocals that make me want to stop, sit for a while and just listen.
Port City Music was formed from the ashes of former Savannah band, Vermillion X, by members Phillip Palmer and Toby Taylor. They were later joined by Chris Van Brackle, Aami Stafford and Amanda Dickey. But, those are the basics… anyone with the internet can find that information. I want to know what everyone meeting a musician wants to know—the meat & bones question, the one where I seek to find what makes Palmer’s music truly a sound of the port city…
Key to Savannah: What’s your favorite Girl Scout Cookie?
Port City Music: The chocolate cookies with mint in them—the best by a long shot.
KTS: Thin Mints! Yes! Mine too, but samosas are also a definite favorite. [laughs] So, now that this interview is off to the right start, why Port City Music?
PCM: When I formed what was to become Vermillion X, I actually had a lot of other name ideas, many of them involving some kind of word play such as "Joan of Arkansas." Every single name I came up with, including "Infamous They", one that I particularly liked, had already been taken. There were even like 4 other Vermillions, hence the added X. I never liked that name. I noticed how many businesses we have around our town that involve the name "Port City"—Port City Couriers, Port City Steel and quite a few others. But they all relate to goods or services. I decided it would be neat to attach the name to an artistic endeavor, something less concrete, more nebulous. Plus, there really is no description of the music in a name like that, could be anything. I know, I know, probably not smart from a marketing perspective. People always think I own a music store… but in a different way, I do. Of course, one local writer said that my music was a combination of the city's industrial ugliness and its antebellum charms, so I guess you can make your own connection.
KTS: What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received as a musician?
PCM: Well, Tadd Trueb, Owner and Publisher of the now defunct Murmur Magazine said that my self-released CD was one of the best to come out of Savannah in the last few years. […] People are always telling me I should be making a living at it. I wish it were that easy. I'm still working on it though
Now Port City Music is Palmer’s solo-project. He’s got an alter-ego, but that seems to be another story for another time. What’s interesting to me is the history of this one man musical group and where he’s going in the future. Palmer, the songwriter and manager, and generally the live bassist, was a driving force in Vermillion X. He put in time, dedication, talent and money but, after a five year run, the band went their separate ways. Palmer discovered what many musicians know too well: “all of the band's image was tied up in the lead singer.”
“I had learned a valuable lesson—I would never put that kind of time and energy into a project that could be toppled by such shallow waves. I decided to follow in the footsteps of artists like Tom Waits and Mark Oliver Everette (Eels). PCM would be my own project and I would have the freedom to play with whomever I choose and not worry about a band.”
KTS: I know you and Toby got things moving after Vermillion X, but how did Aami Stafford, Chris Van Brackle and Amanda Dickey (the original line-up) come on board?
PCM: Aami Stafford designed my first website and she really liked the music, so she joined in. She introduced me to her friend Amanda Dickey, so that went well, and I met Chris through a friend. A great lineup was formed. [They] stayed a good while, and I hoped things would stay put for a while 'cause we really clicked, but I knew that it might not last […] Toby and Chris have moved out of town, and Aami owns The Wormhole now, which takes up all her time, understandably. I am now working with other local talent, such as Joe Nelson, one of the best folk and old timey players in this town.
KTS: So what are your goals for 2010?
PCM: My goals for this year are to release two new records, one home recorded and one from a professional studio, probably with Kevin Rose of Elevated Basement, make a couple of videos, get a bigger presence online, and play some local shows. I probably won't be trying to get back out of town ‘til 2011.
KTS: How would you describe Port City Music’s dynamic with other musicians?
PCM: Well, getting back to the band thing, I plan on taking on most of the studio stuff myself, with some talented guests like Joe Nelson, Kevin Rose and Gregory Geller, but then I won't rule out some song collaboration as well. And as far as the stage goes, the dynamic always changes 'cause of the various lineups… keeps things interesting. Some shows are rather mellow and introspective, and some rock out a good bit more.
KTS: Who have you been listening to and really enjoying lately?
PCM: I have been enjoying the Retribution Gospel Choir, one of Alan Sparhawks extracurricular endeavors. I also just purchased Rick Shaffers (The Reds)
solo record, "Necessary Illusion", aptly described as a neo-sixties garage blues excursion. Great stuff! Also Morphine, Syd Barrett and lots of blues recordings, particularly Lightning Hopkins.
Port City Music is a rock and roll reinvention with a taste of Palmer’s musical forefathers. Palmer doesn’t sound like Jim Morrison and isn’t Robby Kreiger, but, somewhere in the midst of “Sunday Best”, Port City Music reminds me of a scene from a new film about the sixties—recreated trips and psychedelic visions in a blur of synesthetic sounds that aren’t from the era, but manage, for one subtle moment, to recreate it… and then twist it to Palmer’s whim. Listening to “Sunday Best” & “Rachael”, (two of the most played songs on PCM’s MySpace,) reminds me of spinning—carefree, blurred-blue skies and utterly enjoyable.
There’s an eerie dissonance in some of the songs, like “Liable”. Here Angela Fish reminds me of Meg Baird from Espers. Her voice has a lofty sound that blends, just eerily enough, with Palmer’s guitar and harmony. You don’t expect Fish and Palmer’s distinct voices to blend together or to even make sense, but they do and it works. It’s not what you expect, in sound or in verse.
Palmer assures me that Port City Music will have a new album out soon. “[It’s] very dark, minor blues, with a dash of southern gothic and voodoo,” he says. “How's that for a mouthful?!” I got a chance to preview some of this work, including "Joyride", which he has recently added to his MySpace page. A true story put to verse, Palmer weaves a tale that keeps your entranced while the guitar keeps your fingers tapping to the beat. In addition to this studio album, Palmer is working on a lo’fi home recording, a possible tour in 2011, and some local shows. Palmer will certainly have his hands full, but we wish him the best, and we look forward to seeing more from this local talent and how he’ll impress us, and the Savannah music scene, next.
You can find out more about Port City Music via MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/sauriandream