Q&A | Palehound

by Christopher Andrew Armstrong

Self-love has been all the rage in humanity since 2016, when the notion of what is normal and acceptable to say in public was flipped on it’s head while all sense of decency from our leaders was aggressively tossed out the window. It’s also a major theme which circulates throughout Black Friday, the newest release from Palehound.

Palehound exists as the brainchild of Ellen Kempner, a badass, queer positive, singer-songwriter who writes her lyrics in a personal, almost confessional style which makes you feel as if she’s whispering them right into your ear. Since the group’s first album, Dry Food, she’s went from someone uncomfortable with accepting her identity into a fully grown warrior, whose proud to be cruising down the “gay rainbow.”

After 2017’s A Place I’ll Alway’s Go established the band as critical darlings, Black Friday aims to capitalize on their burgeoning success behind the strength of lead single “Aaron.” The track loosely details the plight of Ellen’s partner, who is in the midst of transitioning. It’s a life-affirming single which echoes other themes throughout the album such as identity and body-empowerment.

Flaunt spoke with Ellen Kempner about her song-writing process, the loaded meaning behind the phrase “Black Friday,” and being comfortable with one’s own identity and sexuality.

The songs on Black Friday as well as most of your works rely heavily on the lyrics, which are very confessional, almost as if you’re reading them from a diary. Can you tell us what your songwriting process is like?

Very loose, there is no structure. Certain lyrics and concepts pop up in my head at different points. I never sit down and like “i’m going to write a song right now.” While running errands or whatever, something will pop in my head and I write it down.

You recorded this album at Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, California, a lodge perched right off the coast, a place which seems far different from Boston. Did California’s landscape or the energy radiating from the Pacific play a role when recording this album?

For sure, my dream is to live on the West Coast. It was our producer’s idea to use the studio, being surrounded by beauty and nature. The first day we got there we saw a bobcat in the yard. When there is that magic happening, when you can retreat from your home and drop yourself in the middle of nowhere it really helps the creative process. It was really hard to leave, a week of heaven.

The album is named Black Friday, a loaded term which contains several different meanings There’s of course the biblical one and then the mass consumerism aspect of the term. Lyrically it derives from the title track, where you sing “you’re black Friday and I’m going to the mall,” What was the thought process when deciding it would be the oname for this collection of songs?

After the album was done, I listened to it and Black Friday was the name which kept coming back to me. For the album, there’s a lot about longing, wanting what everyone else wants, and this aspect of our culture where we are told we have to look like this, and talk like this. How we all strive to be this one thing which none of us are. It’s kind of like Black Friday, all of us rushing towards this thing we all want, competing in violence and the ugliness of that.

In the video for “Aaron,” it features these expressionless masks which looks to be made out of yarn, one of the masks is modelled after you. The album’s artwork features the same image. What is it about this particular image which made you feel like it should represent not only the video but the album as well as yourself?

The mask came before the idea for the video. I commissioned the mask from this person who goes by Godmother, she's a fiber artist who is a very good friend of mine. I was thinking about how a lot of people put there faces on album covers, and I'm self-conscious about how I look...I'm a bigger person and I would love to feel confident enough to put my own face on an album cover but I don't think that will ever happen for me. So that's when I got the idea to make a mask of my own face I could wear. It wouldn't be something I would look back on with anxiety and complete regret, to be completely honest.

It also fits in with themes of the album with not being comfortable with your body and putting something out into the world that's a dulled down, faker version of yourself.

"Aaron," was written while your partner was in the midst of transitioning. Tell us about writing this particular song, how close to real life is it and how did your partner feel when hearing the final version?

My partner is still transitioning, he's about six months in the physical transition process. The song came about because we were having lots of conversations about his anxiety and how he needed to do this for his mental health and happiness. That reminded me of swimming, because I, as a fat person, and him as a trans person, are both uncomfortable in different ways. I started thinking about how when you're swimming in public, it's when you're the most vulnerable, when you actually put your body out there for everyone to see and you're practically naked. You're hyper-aware of your body, but when you get into the water you can't feel your body anymore, you feel weightless. As your entering the water, the transition between hyper-awareness and weightless, is a weirdly painful process. It seemed to illustrate that  situation to me and to him, and I played it for him. We had a lot of conversations, with me asking "are you sure"

In press for your last album you mentioned how you're becoming more comfortable with identifying yourself as queer, and the community which comes along with it, as opposed to before when it wasn't something you felt like airing out into the open. Has this newfound confidence with your identity and sexuality showed itself with Black Friday?

For sure, I feel like now I'm cured. I didn't hesitate to write any weird stuff that would "expose me." I was so much more free to write about my truth, and the truth of my life, which is so inherently queer. Queerness is in every fiber of my being. Now, I'm soaring on a gay rainbow, writing what I want to write.


Photographed by Bao Ngo