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Palberta and No One And The Somebodies Discuss Origins, Songwriting, and Chips | Feature Interview

by Palberta (@palberta5000) and No One And The Somebodies (@NOATSny)
forward by Dan Goldin (@post_trash_)

Back in 2015, DIY favorites Palberta and No One And The Somebodies got together to release Chips For Dinner, the type of split that really makes you believe in the format. It was a pairing of illogical perfection, combining two great bands under one strange collection, an eccentric record that found magic on both sides. Chips For Dinner is a split that captures both bands operating at their best, finding inspiration in one another (and it was NOATS' first release in three years). Recognizing the lasting importance of Chips For Dinner, Wharf Cat Records and Ramp Local teamed up to reissue the album on vinyl. To celebrate the occasion Palberta and No One And The Somebodies were kind enough to interview each other, asking the hard hitting questions you've always wanted to know about Palberta's royal origins, what kind of chip they would be, and the prospects of a NOATS family restaurant. The following is pretty much unedited. 

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Palberta Interviews No One & The Somebodies

Palberta: When did you first start as a band and what was the first band name you had? Were you in other bands before No One and the Somebodies? Did the instrument lineup change over the years? What was the first initial set up like? What was the first song you all wrote? What was your first show?

NOATS: No One and the Somebodies started in 2001 and was initially just the three older Yankou brothers. Bobby, the youngest, joined in April 2002 the moment he unwrapped the keyboard our parents got him for his 11th birthday. 

The main instrumental line up has never changed but we sometimes switch or add instruments, especially on our new songs, some of which involve an additional half-drumset. We've always loved incorporating non-instruments in our songs like electric toothbrushes, metal chains, chunks of highway guardrail and Halloween voice-changers.

Since we're brothers we started coming up with goofy songs and making tape recordings as soon as Steve started learning guitar. Our first song depicts a time on summer vacation in 1998 when Kevin buried himself up to his neck on the beach and tried to get seagulls to eat cheese fries off a bucket on his head. Pre-NOATS, Kevin and Steve played bass and guitar in teenage Black Sabbath/Metallica cover bands. The first NOATS show we played a short set of covers at Fordham Prep in the Bronx in November 2001. We played a Nirvana song with a then unironic, but retrospectively waaaay too shreddy guitar solo. There is video tape of this but it may never see the light of day.

We have always been No One and the Somebodies except the second time we played CBGBs in 2003ish. We were banned from playing there after our first show because we had written our band name on their world famous awning. So, when our friends asked us to play there again a few months later, we called ourselves "The Lords of Suck". We must have jinxed ourselves because that was probably the worst we ever played.

Palberta: How did Westchester shape your musical upbringing? Do you think it has had a big influence on your work?

NOATS: The part of Westchester we grew up in is a pretty stereotypical white suburb, not super wealthy, but no public housing either. We attended Catholic schools and played Little League baseball (which all 4 of us sucked at). As is the case for many suburban kids, "punk rock" changed everything. Within this conservative world there were smart angry progressive kids creating their own culture. It was breathtaking. No more teen nights and dance clubs for us! Some of our songs such as "Awake in the Dark" are about coming out of that bubble and relearning how the world works.

Palberta: What is all of your ideal dinner menus?

NOATS: A Pizza place with vegan options but is not 100% vegan.

Palberta: What was the first artist that inspired you to start making music?

NOATS: The Banned. They were a Westchester punk band from 1995 - 2003. 3 of the 4 of them were brothers. They're the smart angry kids we mentioned earlier. Bill Manning from that band continues to write amazing things for his folk-ish band The Drinkers Themselves, which has been around almost as long as NOATS has.

Palberta: How has the New York DIY scene changed from when you first started playing to now?

NOATS: I don't really know how to talk about "THE" scene because NY is too big for anyone to really have a complete grasp on what's going on. I can talk about our experience of it though. At first "the scene" was an intimidating impenetrable concept, but occasionally we'd get a show at a cool spot like the Manhattan Knitting Factory or the old Silent Barn (where Trans-Pecos now stands) and it became a little less intimidating. Then we kept doing that for 15 years, and now we're often described as "legendary" despite never having any commercial success. It's been a lot of fun. One thing I CAN say somewhat objectively is that NYC DIY venues used to have remarkable shelf-lives. Then after Vice bought and destroyed Death By Audio (never forget, never forgive) and the fire at Ghost Ship in San Francisco, the cops seem to have changed their general look-the-other-way policy as far as illegal venues are concerned. Maybe they used to look the other way because DIY helped the power brokers’ gentrification agenda (yes, we are part of the problem) but now they have gotten out of us what they wanted. Happily, the DIY spirit lives on and new venues keep popping up. Hopefully that continues until after we're all dead. 

Palberta: Are there venues not around today that you played at often? / What were/are your favorite venues?

NOATS: We used to play at the Knitting Factory a lot back when they were still in Manhattan, mostly in the Old Office (the smallest of the 3 rooms, down in the sub-basement). They were sort of an anomaly as far as Manhattan venues are concerned because they actually treated performers decently and usually paid well, as opposed to so many awful Manhattan clubs that seemed to make rent by scamming young bands with pay-to-play-esque "minimum 20 advanced tickets sold" sorta deals (fuck you forever, Don Hill's). They were also usually all-ages or 16+ which separated them from most Manhattan venues.

We've played most of the NYC DIY venues at least once and of course we loved those spots and miss them all but I'd be remiss if I didn't specifically mention Shea Stadium. We had so many great shows there, including our 10th & 15th anniversary shows. They were there for us and so many people for so long and were such nice & decent people. We can't wait for them to find a new home and reclaim their role as an integral part of NYC DIY!

Palberta: How do you all write songs? And how does being siblings affect that process?

NOATS: The songwriting process is pretty much exclusively a collaborative affair. I think there's maybe 2 songs in our catalog where Steve wrote the guitar & vocals and then everyone else just wrote parts around that. Generally it's the 4 of us in a room and figuring things out together: "someone came up with an idea so let's all noodle around with it and see what sticks" that sorta thing. There are plenty of examples of songs where Brian wrote the guitar part Steve plays, or Steve wrote Kevin's bass part etc. We are very lucky and fortunate that we all have very similar tastes, so it's generally easy to come to an agreement on what idea is "best" at a given time. Occasionally it requires making a quick/crappy cell phone-recorded demo to be able to actually hear the part without concentrating on playing it. None of us are super-egotistical so there isn't a "band Nazi” (a term that should maybe be retired now that actual real Nazis are a “thing” again…) or "leader" (an idea so important to our group that it inspired the band name) so all of the decision making is done in a best effort to make the song as good as we can make it. Sometimes that means spending hours building something and mashing things together only to take a step back and realize something is wrong and we need to demolish it and rebuild it differently. The process can definitely be time-consuming but I think the process and end result is much more satisfying than if one of us was "the songwriter" and the rest of us just filled in the gaps.

Palberta: Are your parents musicians / have they ever played with you all?

NOATS: Our parents aren't musicians, though out Mom took piano lessons as a kid. The only song she remembers how to play is "Stairway to Heaven." Our Dad has an acoustic guitar that he messed around with a bit. They're both fans of music and we grew up listening to a lot of classic rock and whatnot growing up. Our Dad has a bunch of siblings, including a brother who was a live sound guy at CBGB's & did The Offspring's "Smash" tour and a sister who used to rock a big purple mohawk and work the register at the St. Mark's Sounds record store back in the day.

When we started getting into punk our Dad bought us a few CDs for Christmas, I think maybe based on looking at recommendations on Amazon (not that he was totally unfamiliar with the genre, having seen The Clash play and having younger siblings that came up during that era). He really nailed it 1 year early in NOATS' existence by getting us albums by The Dead Kennedys, Mission of Burma, Television, Minor Threat, & Gang of Four one year. 

Our folks were also super-supportive and important to us being a band: buying us our first instruments, letting us borrow their minivan for shows back in the day, even coming down to a lot of our gigs back when Kevin and Bobby were underage, seemingly the only work-around for the under-16-crowd to play gigs at bar-venues. We wouldn't exist (both as people and a band) without them. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Palberta: Any bands you are excited about right now?

NOATS: Palberta (duh!) hahaha. Most of the current bands that we're into are friends or friends of friends. None of us really have our fingers on the pulse of "what's happening" in the "scene" or whatever. I know that, at least for me personally, if I've heard OF a band a whole bunch of times (via social media/magazines/blogs/etc.) before I've gotten to actually see/hear them I'm way less likely to make an effort to listen to them. My logic being: "these folks are blowing up and being listened to by hundreds or thousands of people... meanwhile, my friend is making amazing music and has been heard by maybe dozens. So why am I gonna use my ears on someone that's already succeeding?" Obviously this is sort of silly and I'm sure that I'm missing out on some good stuff but there's an ENDLESS supply of good stuff so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

That being said, bands I'm excited about are: Climax Landers (better than Old Table and I'm allowed to say that because I'm in Old Table), The Cradle, Snow Caps, Hermit Thrushes, Yucky Duster, Human People, Palm, Thelma, Porches, gobbinjr, Bad History Month, Frankie Cosmos, Vagabon, Real Life Buildings, Danny Christmas, Jordan Martin, I could go on. 

Palberta: If God came to your door and offered you a million bucks to abandon the band and  start a family restaurant and you could entertain but you were only allowed to play soft old jazz...

NOATS: Well, considering that 59% of hospitality facilities fail in the period of 3 years (according to recent studies done by Professor Dr. HG Parsa)... nah, that shit doesn't matter. We love making music together and I don't think any of us would trade that for anything. We're planning on keeping it up for as long as we're physically capable... And even if we get really rickety in our old age maybe we'll just pull a Kraftwerk and become a "laptop band" (only I'd imagine we'd utilize way more samples of fart sounds and Wilhelm Screams).

Palberta: Are you a doody potato or a moody tomato?

NOATS: (All in a barbershop quartet style harmony): A DOODY POTATO!

Palberta: Are you a chicken liver or pigeon quiver?

Kevin: Ya mean, like, one of them over-the-shoulder arrow holders but made for a pigeon? Yeah, I guess I'll go with that. 

Steve: In some cultures the liver is considered just as important if not MORE important than the brain, and new studies published in the NY Times show that that's not far from the truth! In other news, Snoop Dogg has recently transformed into a giant chicken. So imma go with Pigeon Quiver. 

Brian: Pidg-Quiv. 

Bobby: Uhh, chicken liver? Is that like a chicken that really knows how to live, or like, the body part? If the former chicken liver most definitely. 

Palberta: What else? muah hahahahah

Kevin: Did you know that AstroTurf® is not only edible but it's also smokable?? 4/5 doctors wreck-o-mend it!

Steve: 69 minutes after 3:11 is 4:20. 

Bobby: Check out Check Out Old Table. 

Brian: We've already said too much. 

Palberta: A lot of your lyrics are political. Are there specific topics within that you all feel passionate about / topics that you feel are important to address?

NOATS: Injustice in all forms, I suppose? (Fuck Donald Trump.)


No One & The Somebodies Interviews Palberta

NOATS: What is the Palberta origin story? Please answer honestly or mythologically.

Palberta: The origin story of Palberta is one of cosmic wonder. But the sparks were there. The Palberta dynamic immediately emerged, ablaze with laughter and shouting. Some seltzer was shared. The gals went out for burritos after. It was understood that the three would become a band. 

NOATS: Where does the name Palberta come from? Canada?

Palberta: A special stew. We would always cook this sauce that really called upon the three of our spice sensibilities. Ani with the cayenne, Nina with the za'atar, and Lily with the organ basil time and sage. One day after digesting one of our special stews, the aroma still hanging in the air, the sweat still dripping from the hairs of chins and noses and our ears, we heard the sound of the trumpet outside our window. We looked outside and the king had arrived. She had smelled the lingering aromas of the special stew and demanded the recipe. We refused but invited her in to have a taste. Of course, we had eaten it all but there was still a bit of pot to lick. She was in bliss. In fact, we didn't even have to wash the pot! She gave such a thorough lick! After, she sat around the round table with us and told us she wanted it served at her castle function Wednesday day every day through Sunday Friday. But in order to do so, she needed a name for the royal menu. The pallbearer would be coming to dine and she was a fanciful lady. So with a zip and a zing at 123 we all hollered "Palberta for the pallbearer Wednesday diner with queen lady herself! The royal menu at last has been completed. whoo hoo! zip!zing! 123". 

NOATS: You all constantly swap between guitar, bass and drums during your live sets. Do you have a favorite Palberta configuration? Do any of you have one instrument that you just can't wait to get your mitts on?

Ani: It is always changing. There is no favorite lineup because each one has such a specific sound. The way we jam is always changing depending on who is on the kit. It often revolves around who wants to lay a beat down. Then one of us might decide that we haven't been on the bass for a few songs and there we have the configuration for the next song. We really make a point of rotating because everyone wants to get on the kit, slap the bass, and shred the guitar. I can really anticipate at this point what one configuration might sound like verses another. Like I might know how I would play guitar with Nina on bass or how Lily and Nina would play off each other when I am on the drums. That is only something I've recently been discovering while writing this new album.  

NOATS: If Palberta was a potato chip, what kind of potato chip would it be? Any dip?

Palberta: Palberta would be a Ruffles-style wavy BBQ chip and if Palberta was a bag of potato chips, all of them would be double crunch folded chips that you usually have to search through the bag to find.

What was Palberta's most triumphant moment as of yet?

Palberta: We practiced for the month of October every single day and wrote 22 songs. It's been three years since we have all lived in the same place so practicing and writing is less frequent. That felt like a pretty great accomplishment for us. The fire is still burning too. We just need all the time. 

NOATS: What other bands do people often compare you to? Does that ever get annoying?

Palberta: It used to be The Slits and The Raincoats which is funny. Now it is more Captain Beefheart, Minutemen, Primus, Old Table... From girl bands to boy bands... There are moments where it has been frustrating because the comparisons seem shallow. Other times, it is pretty interesting when someone tells you you sound like a band you never expected you would've sounded like. For instance, Primus. None of us have ever listened to Primus. We couldn't name a single song but i'm definitely curious to check them out now after multiple people on separate occasions have said we remind them of Primus. 

NOATS: Palberta seems like such a cohesive, mind-melded trio but all of your side projects, solo projects and school compositions reveal your surprisingly varied approaches to composition and performance. Can each of you tell us about your background/training in composition and performance?

Ani: I grew up same as Nina and Lily playing piano. I switched over to accordion in 8th grade. I went to music high school in NYC, Laguardia. I realized I had no skill-set to be a professional jazz or classical or pop musician so I figured I had to drop music all together. Then I met Paco Cathcart (The Cradle) and Hugo Stanley (Palm) and we started playing music together under the name Ray. I realized I still loved playing music. Started playing in other projects and was introduced to experimental / improvisational / sound / music / performance. Studied composition, experimental / electronic music at Bard. Met Lily and Nina my end of sophomore year. The band set it off. During that time I got really into performance art and did mainly solo sets of that sort. Everything else happened and is happening still. Lots of other projects and creative endeavors I am very excited about, and really excited to be in Palberta. Playing with Lily and Nina changed my freaking god damn life. I love them.

Nina: Took piano lessons from ages 6 till 18, spent a lot of that time composing my own songs on piano. Recorded a lot of solo bedroom-pop/folk music on GarageBand in middle and high school, which barely anyone heard expect my parents and close friends. Until one day! When I was hit up by a very rad artist from Mexico, David R. Cornejo, who said he had checked out my music MySpace page and wanted to put my music out on his small label. The internet is crazy! So then music I had recorded when I was 16 was being released on tape and 7" records, which was very exciting, but I had never played a live show and didn't have anyone to sell them to. To this day I still break out those 7"s at the Palberta merch table. Then I went to Bard! And studied music composition. Met some very amazing musicians there, went to shows at the Rat Shack a lot, was introduced to experimental music/performance art. Continued to write and perform as my solo project, and played in a two-piece band (first called High Tide, then we changed our name to Holy Mountain) where we switched between drums and guitar. Then in 2013 I met my soulmates Ani and Lily, Palberta formed as a band, which changed the fuckin game forever.

Lily: So much shit I can't begin and I love the pals.

NOATS: Have you ever experienced the joy and/or pain of rollerblading (in-line skating)? Describe your experiences. 

Nina: When I was in middle school I was really into rollerblading. Then one day when I was in 6th grade, I was with a friend and tried to impress him with a cool trick, but it ended very badly, and I still have the scar on my knee. I would like to pick up rollerblading again, sometime in the very near future.

NOATS: Beavis or Butt-Head or DGAF?

Palberta: All three

NOATS: We were recently shocked to hear that you practiced every single day for a month straight! What the...?

Palberta: What the indeed! We set out time to play every day, though we didn't think we would actually do it. We really did it though! Honestly, the practices were the highlight of our days and we got increasingly excited. The writing became easier and better each day and we were sad to end the month. December brings more Palberta on Palberta on Palberta times though! We record the album and go on a lil tour with The Cradle beforehand. 

NOATS: How the heck do you write those crazy songs, anyhow?

Palberta: Example: Nina plays a bass line that is sick. Ani says "hold up" and in 3 minutes they are playing something together that seems even cooler than Nina's bass line. The whole time Lily has been crashing the drums but they haven't talked about it. Now they turn to Lily. She shows them what she has got. They play together and stumble for 4 more minutes and then they have the first part. Then they giggle about it and continue this process in a different order. 

NOATS: What's your favorite body of water?

Lily: 4th Connecticut Lake 

Ani: That one outside of Hudson. A secret lake.

Nina: Jones Beach, Mount Hope Bay in RI, Rock Run in PA, Hudson Valley secret lake

NOATS: What's your least favorite interview question?

Palberta: "Why??"

NOATS: What sort of fun hijinks do you get up to in the car on long road trips?

Palberta: Many word games. Essences, twist, think of the same word, build a story, ghost, contact. A lot of contact gets us in dangerous situations. 

NOATS: What musician(s), living or dead, would you most want to play a show with?

Palberta: Walter Kuhr, my old accordion teacher. He was the most amazing man and I wish he could've had the chance to see Palberta play. I think he would've been down. RIP Walter and Main Squeeze Accordions. Lucinda Williams, Three Six Mafia, Freaky Friday Lindsay Lohan, Guided By Voices, Tommy Wright III, No Doubt, Tears for Fears, Grace Jones, Janet Jackson, Rihanna, Space Lady, Arthur Russell, The Beatles, Elliott Smith, Karen Carpenter as guest vocalist, Roky Erikson, Michael Jackson, ESG.