Fake Palms is a noise-pop band based in Toronto. Their latest record, Lemons, is out September 2022 on Hand Drawn Dracula.
(Photo Credit: Alex Carre)
Michael le Riche leads the Toronto noise pop band Fake Palms; Graham Walsh, also based in Toronto, is a Juno and Polaris Prize-winning producer, and a member of the electronic rock band Holy Fuck. Fake Palms’ third record, Lemons, is out tomorrow on Hand Drawn Dracula, so to celebrate, the two friends hopped on the phone to catch up, about it and much more.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Michael le Riche: What’s going on?
Graham Walsh: Nothing. I’ve just been recalibrating because I just got home [from tours with Holy Fuck].
Michael: Is that super jarring for you? I mean, I assume at this point you’re kind of a pro at it, but are there specific things you do when you have to go from one to the other — from Road Graham to Home Graham?
Graham: [Laughs.] Yeah. Well, it’s different now, for the past 10 years, because of our daughter, so now I kind of have no choice but to hit the ground running when I come back. When I go, obviously there’s preparations leading up to tour, and then when I get in the van and go meet the guys, that’s the easy transition. And then coming home, just hit the ground running back into family life. I forgot, obviously, over the past little while that there was a transition, so I had to be reminded. Because it’s still jet lag, and the schedules are different.
Michael: Yeah. I mean, I can only speculate, but for me — I’ve kind of slowed down in the last couple of years, but when I was doing a lot, it always took me a week to get into the tour and then a week to get out of the tour. There was always this kind of period of… not depression, I don’t think, but it was this weird adjustment. Especially coming home, there was this period of like, OK, I’m back in the city, what do I do? And then recalibrating was always really jarring for me.
Michael: Do you find that now, since you’re a family man with a kid, do you not get that anymore because you kind of don’t have a choice?
Graham: Dude, you know what it is, 100%? Routine. We’ve gotten to this point of embracing the routine — and as you know, it can be pretty boring, other than the hour you’re playing on stage. It’s just so monotonous: Wake up early, drive, load in, sound check, wait around, play, load out, sleep. Wake up, do the whole thing. So because of family life, there is more of a routine [all around]. Before child, I could feel that adjustment period, because you’ve just lived this regimented, organized life — you just have to follow this routine and play and it’s fun and everything’s kind of set out for you to do all the tasks. And then when I came home, it was just sitting around. I mean, some early days, I had my my job to do, but then fortunately I was able to leave that job and then have nothing to do. And then, yeah, you’re kind of just wandering around aimlessly like, what do I do? Who’s hanging? Where’s my per diem? But now, I can’t really feel aimless because there’s all these other tasks to do.
Michael: Totally, that makes sense. Are there things that you find that you do on the road to keep you sane, or keep you more tethered home or in a routine?
Graham: Yeah, we made a decision this time to not book any days off. I mean, days off can be good to rest up, but they kind of throw you off your game. So that was one big thing, to book a show every day. And it helps us be away less. As far as other things to do, not really. I’ve kind of been leaning into the monotony of it, and enjoying each town that I’m in and trying to experience one thing there and eat good food. And then of course call home and as much as I can. But yeah, that’s how I keep it together.
Michael: Yeah. I ask because I like to go for runs when I’m at home, and with running and exercise in general, it’s always routine and repetition. [When I got into running,] I was like, OK, going on tour, I need to keep running or else I’m not going to get back into it. So I brought my running stuff, and for a few days I didn’t really do it. Then somewhere in Edmonton, someone in the band had friends out there, so we were staying with some friends of friends of friends — people I didn’t really know that well. I was like, “You know what? I’m going to go for a jog.” I finally found a moment. So I go for a run and immediately get lost. And this is dating me, but this was before I had a smartphone, so it immediately blew up in my face. I was walking around, and it was a suburb of Edmonton; I didn’t know Edmonton, and it was one of those suburbs where every house kind of looks the same, so I was just wandering the streets for an hour or two.
Graham: Oh, my god.
Michael: Then finally someone stopped like, “Hey, you look lost. Are you okay?” I was like, “Oh, I’m in a band and we’re staying with…” And this poor, nice person drove me around in my sweaty running gear, and it was just like, “Does this look like the area?” And eventually I ran into to my bandmates, because they were out looking for me because I’d been gone that long.
Michael: So it’s funny, because I have always tried to find these routines that work for me at home on tour, but it never works. I can never find a routine on tour that is similar to at home. It’s gotta be completely different for some reason.
Graham: I envy you and the running thing, because obviously exercise is good for your mental health, and on the road that’s a great thing to keep going. I yearn to run and I can never get into it. It is hard to do.
Michael: Well, I imagine especially if you guys are doing no days off. Which to me sounds great, because that was always what destroyed me on tour — not even just getting out of the routine of playing and being like, “OK, we’ve gotta keep up the rehearsal aspect of playing every night,” but just the mental time off and sitting there. I was never good at doing that, because I was just always thinking, But I’m in a different place, I’m not at home, I’m just spending money and losing money because we’re not making money tonight, there’s no show.
Michael: And then it’s that boredom and anxiety of like, what we do. And you don’t want to treat it like vacation — or maybe that’s my own thing, but I never wanted to treat it like vacation, because it’s not vacation. It’s work. Like, quote-unquote “work.” Yeah. But then if you’re always playing a show every night, you’re around the same three other people all the time, a day off at least presents you with some separate personal time and all that stuff. I mean, I guess at this point you’ve just gotten used to it?
Graham: Fortunately, our longevity is a lot because we get along well. We can hang, you know. So that helps for sure. And yeah, I think over the years, we’ve learned to tour smart, I guess. We know where to find those little minute things that you need within the day to get through. When you can sort of break your experiences down — because you know you could be in the town for only a few hours and see a couple of things, so if I can go eat a really good meal and check out a rad record shop, then I’ll be happy. And that usually is a pretty easy goal to accomplish on tour.
And then the big days off I try and plan stuff for. It’s a lot easier now with the internet. You can find parks and stuff to go to. But yeah, that’s is a whole other end of planning that you have to want to do. And then sometimes you do feel like you’ve wasted days off in a hotel room just staring at the ceiling, losing money and not doing anything.
Michael: Yeah. It’s funny you bring up food, which to me is kind of the linchpin that keeps a tour going. It’s like, if I can have a good meal, then everything else is OK for the most part.
If you go to a place and you all order different meals together, and then one person — I always call it “winning the meal,” like the lottery of the food. You’re going to a place that you probably haven’t been to before, and if all of you get something different and then one clearly hits the one thing that restaurant’s known for, but then the rest of you are like — you’re going to a Thai restaurant getting a hamburger or something like that‚ it’s like, “Oh, maybe that was a bad decision. I clearly lost this meal, and the one thing I was looking forward to after driving for 12 hours. This is awful.”
Graham: [Laughs.] It’s funny to hear you mention that because we have that a little bit in our in our crew as well. You see what everyone else is ordering, and somebody clearly ordered the most food for the least amount of money and they win. Like, “Look what I got! I hacked the menu!” It’s funny but, you know, that’s the things you do.
Michael: Yeah. Speaking of which, it reminds me of some life advice that Brian [Borcherdt, Graham’s bandmate in Holy Fuck] gave me one time. He told me, “You can eat fast food on the road as much as you want, but just don’t get full on fast food.” Which was honestly so genius in its like simplicity, and it stuck with me. It’s true because, you always get sick because you feel full of this gross processed food. But if you don’t get full, somehow your body tricks itself into being like, Oh, you know what? That was gross but I don’t feel that gross.
Graham: It’s really good. That’s another thing, not to overeat. All of us in the band talk about that and try to support each other not overeating. It’s so easy after your show to go get poutine or McDonalds at 2 in the morning. It’s like, “No, don’t do that!” Because the next morning, you are going to regret it.
I remember like early days, one of Brian’s crowning achievements was discovering that if you ordered a veggie sub at Subway and then got them to add bacon on it, it was cheaper than ordering a BLT sub, which is basically the same thing. And so that was his main order.
Michael: Amazing. My hack that I had for years, and then they finally caught on, was going to Tim Hortons and — at the time, one of their proper sandwiches made on a bagel was, I don’t know, eight bucks, something like that. And I was like, OK, how am I going to get this to be the cheapest possible thing it can be? So I found out that if you order just the bagel and then you got it toasted with a slice of cheese and mustard and a tomato — which I’m vegetarian, so that was enough of a sandwich for me — that was like a $1.70.
Graham: Oh, nice.
Michael: So I would do that three times a day, and live off of, like, $6 worth of food tops.
Graham: Oh, boy. Yeah, we were rocking the Taco Bell potato tacos. They’re a pretty good road snack, and they’re like a dollar or something. See, this is how we have to tour. It’s hard to tour, and it’s getting even more difficult. I’ve been analyzing how we’ve been touring and making it work financially, and seeing bands who don’t know how to make it work, and you really do have to come up with the little hacks here and there.
Michael: Yeah, it’s crazy. I haven’t toured in a while, like I was saying, and it seems like the amount of thought you have to put into things, but also be able to pivot to make things work if the whole band gets COVID… Or now all of a sudden, gas prices have doubled in two weeks, it’s just kind of nuts.
I was also curious: I’ve always wanted to tour with really basic gear, like stuff that could be easily fixed or easily replaced. Especially with Fake Palms, it’s just a guitar and maybe a tuner pedal, and then I go straight into whatever amp is there. But you guys have some really specific, esoteric gear, and I’m wondering what the ritual routine is like. I’m sure your stuff breaks all the time — how do you handle that? Because I’m sure you’ve been somewhere random and all of a sudden a Casio goes down, or one of your oscillators or something. What do you do?
Graham: Well, we’ve refined it over the years. We’ve troubleshot all these problems, and we’ve eliminated a lot of problems. The Casios and stuff, a lot of them did break on the road, and in the early days it was like, “Well, we just can’t play that song, I guess.” Introducing the sampler into the band, that was kind of one reason for it. It was like, “Well, we can back up all these loops that we were jamming with into a sampler and just play them from that.” So that eliminated that problem with a lot of these janky toy keyboards we’d use.
Fortunately, the nature of our band and our music, and how we translate our music from album to live, there’s leeway there. So we kind of can get away with things — if the oscillator goes down, “Well, I have two, so I can just use the other one,” and then it’ll be slightly different, but it’s dealing with that limitation, or figuring out how to lean into that and make that part of the song work.
Michael: And then, what happens if Brian loses his butter knife? Does he just borrow a butter knife from someone?
Graham: Well, there’s also stress behind that, because his butter knife’s got serrations in it that are very specific. I think he’s had to borrow a butter knife a couple of times, and he’s had to kind of treat it… [Laughs.]
Michael: Oh, tone secrets of the butter knife.
Graham: Yes, exactly. There’s some secrets behind the butter knife. What’s your plan, man? What’s up with you doing shows?
Michael: We’re going to do some, yeah. We have a band together and all that stuff. But everyone’s in other bands, so everyone’s just busy, and so the plan is kind of just to start nailing some things down as we can. Especially now with playing shows, although we want to return back to normal, we have some immunocompromised stuff we gotta consider and be careful of, so it’s tricky. It’s hard not to take your health for granted until you start dealing with stuff like this.
Graham: Yeah, for sure. I’ve been questioning touring — like, it’s fun and I obviously recognize the privileged position that I’m in to be able to tour. But we went and played in Sacramento and there were 12 people there, and it’s like, Should we go do that again? On one hand, I’m like, it’s awesome. Who gets to go and play in Sacramento for 12 people? It’s fine, I got to go there, that’s great. But then there’s another part that’s kind of tugging at me like, Yeah, but also maybe the tour could have been a day shorter and I could have gone home. Obviously it’s not like we’re coming home with bankrolls of money in our pockets. So it’s definitely an investment — but it’s a fun investment. So I don’t know. All these thoughts are tumbling around in my head lately.
Michael: Yeah, well, I feel the same. I mean we’ve all played in some random town to four people — maybe just to the people working at the bar.
Graham: Oh, I’ve done that. Yeah.
Michael: But these days with — I mean, broken record here, but the way everything’s going, obviously you’re not making money off of streaming. So the way you make money as a band is you play shows and sell merch, and that’s pretty much it, unless you get a really nice sync deal or something like that. I mean, you have your producer career, which is great. You’ve made a lot of awesome records. But for a lot of people that don’t do that and are focusing on being a songwriter or in a band, it’s scary. I don’t envy those people that like, this is their singular thing, because how do you do it? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Graham: Me neither. And that’s why I’ve tried from the get go — I mean, I’ve always loved every aspect of making music, so I’ve signed up for whatever. And then the fact that I’ve diversified, it’s definitely helped for sure. I encourage anybody who wants to be in a band and tour to diversify and do as much as possible.
(Photo Credit: left, Alex Carre; right, Julie Fader)