Palehound – El Kempner on “Eye on the Bat” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, March 3rd, 2024  

Palehound – El Kempner on “Eye on the Bat”

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Jul 14, 2023 Photography by Shervin Lainez (for Under the Radar) Web Exclusive
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Make no mistake that Palehound’s (aka El Kempner) latest album, Eye on the Bat (released today on Polyvinyl), is of the breakup variety. But that’s hard to assess from its opening track, “Good Sex.” It’s a slowly chugging stream of consciousness remembrance of a birthday seduction gone sideways. The type of situation where one partner has a vision for the evening gets derailed, or seriously delayed, by the other being initially unaware of the effort. “That song was written as an inside joke at the time for just me and my ex. I was writing the song just word for word as it happened and when the relationship ended I revisited it. I realized the song wasn’t actually as funny as I thought. With 20/20 hindsight, it’s actually kind of sad,” Kempner explains.

When Under the Radar last interviewed Kempner (who uses they/them pronouns), it was in anticipation of their collaborative album with Jay Som (aka Melina Duterte) as Bachelor. The duo’s Doomin’ Sun (also released on Polyvinyl) album was a rollicking one and efforts were underway to take the show on the road. With the specter of Omicron on the horizon, tour plans were ultimately scrapped with Palehound moving forward on their own playing dates with Lucy Dacus. “That was just a period of time when people had different levels of comfort with [touring]. Touring during COVID was just a huge risk and Melina and I didn’t really want to start out on that foot. Because I’ve toured so much and have such a rhythm with my bandmates, we were able to take the tour because we had a lot less to lose,” Kempner shares.

At the time of Doomin’ Sun’s release, Kempner and their longterm partner were living in Upstate New York. In the aftermath of their breakup, which is detailed most clearly on the new album’s “Independence Day,” Kempner relocated to the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. “There’s a lot of moments on this record where people are like, ‘That’s a great metaphor,’ but they aren’t metaphors. We literally broke up on July 4,” Kempner recalls nearly two years later to the day this interview took place. “There were lights from the fireworks on our faces as we were crying and breaking up because our neighbors were throwing a party.” “Independence Day” also details a harrowing shared experience where a deer barrels into the passenger side of Kempner’s car during the final days of the relationship. Doomin’ Sun’s “Stay in the Car” also came from a time of togetherness for Kempner and their partner. These shared moments create a feel of connectedness, but not ones that guarantee a lifelong outcome. “That was a really long relationship that spanned nearly all of my 20s. I can’t separate [myself] from this person and the times we shared. So there are these illuminated moments that I wanted to believe would bring us together, but it [also] made me realize there’s a lot more to life,” Kempner explains.

Spending any amount of time with Kempner, their warmth and eagerness to make meaningful connections are readily apparent. So Kempner’s self-reflective song, “My Evil,” is hard to take at face value. Kempner (who owns up to being a Gemini) insists they have two sides. The song was written while emotions from the breakup were still raw. “I was pretty devastated when I wrote that. I was coming to terms with the breakup and realizing that I was capable of hurting someone I would never have dreamed of hurting before. It’s my shame song. But now that I’m on the other side of the whole debacle, where things were said that I didn’t even want to say, I can see how those instincts, even though painful, led to a lot of necessary change,” Kempner says.

Though Eye on the Bat’s themes may run to the darker side, it’s also Kempner’s most musically ambitious and varied album. Co-produced with Sam Evian (Big Thief, Cass McCombs), Kempner also relies on the skills picked up during the recording of Doomin’ Sun. They put the hyperkinetic “U Want It U Got It” together themselves. And while “The Clutch” revels in a heavily psychedelic crush of guitars, the gorgeously low key and pointedly specific “Right About You” showcases delicately intricate dynamics. Understandably proud of what they have brought to bear on their latest and greatest album, it’s not surprising to hear where Kempner’s final thoughts are focused. “I love putting out albums, but playing live is the reason I do this. It’s been really hard not to tour. It’s been like an identity crisis. I have the best lineup ready for this tour [including longtime collaborator Larz Brogan] and I’m fucking stoked,” Kempner concludes. “It’s a group of people who I love personally and who I really adore as musicians and I’m just like, let’s go!”

Check out our COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check-In interview with Palehound from 2020.

Check out our 2021 interview with Bachelor.

Check out our My Favorite Album interview with Palehound.

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