Everyone grieves differently. If you’re Ellen Kempner, the frontwoman behind Allston-based indie rock trio Palehound, your pathway to healing just happens to sound melodic no matter how solemn it gets.
Kempner has been penning songs about pet carrots, young adulthood, and a plethora of insecurities ever since she released her first EP under the moniker back in 2013. It wasn’t until losing both a close friend and her grandmother that Kempner began facing heavier issues in her music. The band’s sophomore LP, A Place I’ll Always Go, gave her room to discuss loss and sadness, and she does with a surprisingly swift and mature hand. Kempner’s voice hangs like a raspy whisper, clinging to her pained guitar, while drummer Jesse Weiss and bassist Larz Brogan carry her forward on a propulsive rhythm. The trio’s sound makes songs like sleeper hit “Carnations” and heavy memoriam “If You Met Her” easier to swallow, even if they’re sad in subject.
“I’m proud of ‘If You Met Her’ because it’s impacted people like it impacted me,” Kempner says over the phone. “To see it have a real impact on people in real time was special. Something that’s weird about writing songs from a vulnerable place is playing them every night on tour, because you eventually play it at times where you spend the whole set feeling hungry, or you’re giddy, or you’re in a bar with a loud couple talking the whole time. You’re not always in a position to totally tap into the feeling of a song. In a way, I think that’s good, because it would be hard to be that emotional every night.”
To shed some light on some of Palehound’s goofier interests, we interviewed Ellen Kempner for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. Somewhat like A Place I’ll Always Go, the answers highlight Kempner’s nurturing, thoughtful side—a perfect complement to the band’s headlining the Sinclair this Friday.
1) “Hunter’s Gun”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever shot a gun for sport, like hunting, or for fun, like in a shooting range?
KEMPNER: I have, actually, which is weird. My mom moved to Wyoming and I went out there with her two years ago. We went to a shooting range where we shot disks. I would never go hunting because I love animals too much. I don’t know if I could ever kill something, but I did agree to do that because we were shooting at targets. It was outdoors and beautiful. The guy [who] instructed us was super nice. I was really good at disk shooting, too, which was very surprising! It’s something I don’t think I ever need to do again, though.
DIGBOSTON: When is the last time you bought a carnation?
KEMPNER: Oh my god, maybe prom? [laughs] Honestly, I haven’t bought a carnation since then. I don’t remember much, just that it was one of those things where you have to get it for the dumb guy taking you to prom. I should buy some, though. It feels weird to have a song named after them but not buy them.
DIGBOSTON: Can you describe what your current bedroom looks like?
KEMPNER: Yeah, I’m in it right now! There’s the bed, the cat who is pacing around, and a really big wall with a rug hanging on it that has a reclining woman—with a very big body and a very small head, mind you—with a snail at her feet. It’s weird. There’s a few guitars hanging because [my partner] Ari and I both play guitar, and we live together. There’s two guitars and a bass, two dressers, baseball caps, and some art on the wall — some by Sami [Martasian], some from art fairs.
4) “If You Met Her”
DIGBOSTON: How would you describe your significant other to someone that has never met them?
KEMPNER: Aww. I feel like I have to say the right thing. [laughs] Just so gentle and sweet, but also very goofy with a really, really good sense of humor. She’s someone who has always made me laugh. On our first date, she was dancing really hilariously and I was dying. Yeah, she is just someone who honestly makes me feel very good about myself for the first time in a while. There are so many things I could say, honestly.
5) “Silver Toaster”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your choice of bread to toast?
KEMPNER: Rye. It’s always rye. If I’m at a diner and they ask what kind of toast I want, it’s rye. We don’t really buy it at the apartment though because Ari doesn’t like it I don’t think. So we buy whole wheat bread, which I’m okay with. But if I’m at a diner, it’s rye always. Or sourdough. When it comes buttered? Ugh, it’s so good.
6) “Turning 21”
DIGBOSTON: How did you spend your 21st birthday?
KEMPNER: I actually went to the Silhouette Lounge with Sadie [Dupuis] and Dylan [Baldi] and some other friends. I guess I kind of got drunk because I don’t really remember. [laughs] Then I went to Maura Johnston’s house with some friends. It was nice. That’s like the only time I’ve gone to a bar, too, because I don’t really go out to drink like that.
7) “Flowing Over”
DIGBOSTON: What’s something you have too much of but continue to buy?
KEMPNER: Oh gosh. For the past month, Girl Scout cookies. That’s the most recent one. When we were on tour, we would stop at gas stations and there would be Girl Scout cookies, so we kept buying them. When you see them, you have to buy them because you feel like you’ll never see them again. But then we kept on seeing them. [laughs] I bought some forgetting Ari had already taken an order, so we have a ton stacked up right now. It’s great because I love cookies.
DIGBOSTON: Where do you sit in an Uber ride if it’s only you and the driver in the car?
KEMPNER: I usually sit in the back right, so behind the passenger side. I like that. I don’t like being right behind the driver because it feels like I’m breathing down their neck or something.
9) “Feeling Fruit”
DIGBOSTON: What’s a fruit you love but are picky about when it comes to judging it by its exterior?
KEMPNER: Hm, let me think about that. It’s a good question. Probably mangoes, because you can tell from the color where it’s at and how firm it is. If I know I’ll be at home, then I’ll get a ripe one, but sometimes I’ll buy a couple unripe ones because I know they will sit for a few days.
10) “At Night I’m Alright With You”
DIGBOSTON: Who is a loved one that calms you down simply by being in their presence?
KEMPNER: My mom. She’s always been super good with that. I have very bad anxiety and always have. She’s someone who has learned how to calm me down. Seriously. When I’m on tour and I can’t sleep at night, I call her for help and she always picks up.
PALEHOUND, OOMPA, MELISSA LOZADA-OLIVA, DAZEY AND THE SCOUTS. FRI 3.16. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. 7:30PM/ALL AGES/$18. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM