Next week, Nai Palm (or as most know her, vocalist and guitarist from Hiatus Kaiyote Naomi Saalfield) releases her new solo work, Needle Paw, an album she describes as “a sonic journal… the most sincere thing I have to offer so far.”

Indeed, Needle Paw feels intimate, like flipping through a diary that gives us a glimpse into Nai Palm’s takes on songs fans are already familiar with—be it the raw versions of the Hiatus Kaiyote songs or covers of the likes of Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Radiohead.

We had the chance to hear more about Nai Palm’s new album before her October 10th Brighton Music Hall performance. Read on to hear more about the themes on Needle Paw, the decisions behind the impressive vocal layering featured on the album, and more.

KB: In an interview with This Is Jazz Standard you said: “Adornment is empowerment, like war paint or a uniform. It can enhance or transform your internal mood. I love experimenting with treasures I’ve collected from around the world.” Can you tell me about any particular outfits or jewelry that hold special meaning to you, or are go-to pieces when you are dressing to perform?

NP: I pretty much never take off these hand-beaded anklets that my best friend, Maria made me. They represent my mother and father who both passed away and she made these for me as protection. I also have a wolf tooth earring that my brother gave me. Pretty much a playful combination of sequins or things that are really sentimental.

KB: Tell me about the recording process of Needle Paw, and if/how it was different from recording Hiatus Kaiyote albums.

NP: It was very different. With Hiatus Kaiyote we all write and produce but with this I was in the driver’s seat a lot more. I had a lot more time and flexibility to work on my guitar sounds. The combination of that and it being a raw and personal record was really challenging but also rewarding because I had never really gone that deep on my own ideas. It was deeply challenging and I’m really proud of it.

KB: You mentioned in your Beats 1 interview with Julie Adenuga that you thought “Needle Paw” was the name of a desert flower. If Needle Paw was a desert flower, what would it look like?

NP: Yea, this is just a visual that came to me when I heard it. In my own imagination it’s a desert flower. It’s like a cactus flower, definitely red, and it’s covered in like snake teeth cactus spikes and can endure a long time without water like a Jericho rose.

KB: You also spoke with Julie Adenuga about the journey of getting the rights to release a cover of Bowie’s “Blackstar.” Can you tell me why that particular Bowie song felt like important addition to the album? What made you want to have “Blackstar” blend into “Breathing Underwater?”

NP: It was just a natural progression. Some things are deeply conceptual and intentional and other things just happen really organically. That was the case of those two songs. “Blackstar” was his sonic eulogy and as an artist it was consistently innovative and groundbreaking without isolating his listeners and breaking through to a pop market. I think a man of that creative elegance, his final offering to the world is gonna have some juju in it. It was the lyric “only women kneel and smile” that really got me because it this element of endurance and grace in the face of grief and trauma.


KB: Can you talk to me about the album art? Who was the artist, and how did you choose to work with them?

NP: Her name is Jowy Maasdamme (@iseejowy). I just found her on Instagram and fell in love with her stuff, so I hit her up and she was happy to do it. She’s a Chilean artist that’s based in Rotterdam and we’re homies now, we Skype.

KB: Was there any overarching themes you were trying to achieve, or topics you wanted to tackle with this album, or was it simply an opportunity to give your fans a closer look at your contributions to Hiatus Kaiyote and better understand where you’re coming from as a writer?

NP: Opening and closing the album with an indigenous Australian singer (Jason Gurruwiwi) was really important to me as Australian artist to celebrate and educate people on the rich, vast, ancient culture that is still alive today. I feel that this culture is suppressed and oppressed and you don’t really learn about indigenous issues in school, so I feel a responsibility and also a privilege and honor to be able to share art that I feel is deeply important and powerful. I just wanted to give people with the record as a whole the message that the humanity in music is being crushed. There’s pressure for perfection and I just wanted to showcase something that is very raw and live. Remind people that the power is the songwriting and arrangement and the emotional delivery is the highest priority, in my opinion. I feel like it takes the backseat in a lot of mainstream art forms.

KB: A lot of Needle Paw uses layering of voices. How do you decide when you have enough layers? And, can you talk about any moments in the album you intentionally used additional voices or took away voices to emphasize the meaning of the lyrics, create tension, etc.?

NP: I actually crashed two engineers’ computers because of the amount of vocal layers on one track of this album which I didn’t even know was possible. I think it was “Mobius.” I’m obsessed with vocal density and vocal harmony and it was really kind of a selfish record because there wasn’t any other instruments to have to mix things with. It’s quite a diplomatic process when you’re in a band. We all sit there and mix everything together and have massive discussions on whether a snare should be half a db louder. So to just have full creative freedom to just put everything in there as loud as I want it to be was really liberating and awesome. “Homebody” I really struggled to put any harmony on. It was such a vulnerable and naked song and I went to add layers, but I just couldn’t. I try and cut it down for the most part, but in the process I tend to put all the layers that I hear and then go back and take bits out depending on what is distracting or not. That is maybe the hardest part of being a producer.

Needle Paw comes out on October 20th, but Bostonians can hear Nai Palm perform songs off of the album live at Brighton Music Hall on Tuesday, October 10th.

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