Interview with Frankie Palmeri of Emmure

Posted February 4, 2013 in

Emmure hold nothing back as a band. Photo: Megan Kennedy
Once every few decades, a band comes along that drives the extreme music scene into a veritable Wall of Death, dividing fans between love and hatred for inexplicable reasons. There’s no greater example of this phenomenon in the last decade than the story of Emmure, who, since emerging from Queens, N.Y. in 2003, have endured more than their fair share of scalding criticism, and simultaneously gained a loyal-to-the-death fan following. Frontman Frankie Palmeri is the poster boy of this controversy, long trotted out as the whipping boy for the angry masses that are put off by his brutal and unfiltered honesty and opinions. I got to sit down with Palmeri before their set on the Brothers of Brutality Tour and get some actual, firsthand insight and answers about this polarizing band, and how he’s dealt with a decade under a microscope.

SLUG: How’s the tour been so far?
Palmeri: The tour has been a success. Every show has been better than expected, and this has been probably the best way to start 2013. Considering this is the start of a new year for us as a band, looking back on 2012, I think we took a lot of risks and we were touring with bands that maybe our fanbase normally may not have been very interested in. So to come and reconnect with our fans and people that are really genuinely excited for our music is refreshing, and the turnouts have been excellent. Our fans have shown us tons of love.

SLUG: I love that you’re not only so open with your fans on social media, but that you seem to make a very concerted effort to hang with fans at shows. I imagine that kind of interaction is a real positive boost, even on bad days.
Palmeri: Everyone’s got their moods, but honestly, I feel pretty blessed and lucky to be able to do what I do. Every day, I wake up with that same drive to connect with people and make sure they can feel the appreciation as much as I do.

SLUG: Drummer Mark Castillo is still kind of the “new kid on the block.” How has it been getting into a rhythm playing live with him?
Palmeri: Terrible [laughs]. No, it’s a dream. He really is one of my favorite people. We honestly have our favorite drummer ever in our band. We were already such fans of his prior work with other artists, we’ve toured with him when he was in Bury Your Dead. We loved his entire style for so long that when we needed a drummer, we were like, “Man, we wish he played for our band.” It, it was like a dream for us. Then he called us up and was like “Hey, can I be in the band?” And we were like “Of course!”

SLUG: It’s getting close to a year since the release of Slave To The Game. How do you think it’s endured compared to your past work? Where would you rank it in your creative catalogue?
Palmeri: For my personal creation catalogue, it’s my least favorite. I have to be honest when answering this question: It’s our least received record because I think that, honestly, there’s not really a lot of content inside the album. When we were doing the CD, we were internally in such a bad place that I think that’s just how the record ended up: no communication, no vibing, no sharing of ideas. There was nothing that actually made the album what it was. It was a bunch of stuff that my band wrote that I didn’t like, and then I tried to inject my lyrics or whatever it was into the music, and it just didn’t work out. And I think that that shined through, and naturally so. I’m not gonna sit here and say I gave it 110 percent on that album, because I didn’t, cause I wasn’t feeling it. I don’t think anybody was feeling it. But it’s good because we’re able to now look back on those mistakes and this past year has made us so much more internally stronger, having to face that together, that now we are really at a place where we’ve needed to be for a long time. Hopefully"not even hopefully, I know, I guarantee, our next release is going to completely trump our last album. I’m very excited for that.

SLUG: I’ve read that in writing the lyrics for Slave To The Game, it was more difficult for you than past albums to put personal stuff in. Given what you’ve just said, it’s easy to see why that was the case for you.
Palmeri: Yeah, it was a lot of me being unable to inject myself into the music"I wasn’t feeling it. And if I’m not feeling the music, it’s hard for me to actually put myself in that place where I can be open and creative in the way I usually am. I usually am very transparent and brutally honest with my lyrics and what I do with the track. Looking back, I kind of regret not having the chance to go back at it one more time and have a different view on it and try again to put myself in the music. But it is what it is. I think it’s OK that we have that little bump in the road creatively, so now we can actually create something that’s awesome.

SLUG: You guys have endured a lopsided amount of criticism over the years, for everything from lyrics to “personality” and “fashion sense.” While some of them are legitimate criticisms of musicianship, some of these issues, in my opinion, are incredibly petty and weird to be criticizing. What is it, from your perspective, that makes Emmure so divisive?
Palmeri: I think it’s because we have this air about us that either you’re gonna breathe it in and accept it or you’re going to absolutely hate it, and there’s no area in between, no grey area about our band. I think that’s why people genuinely tend to take time out of their day to have an opinion. Which is great because people that are driven to feel so agitated by us as people and as artists and everything, that’s what made us the band we are today, like it really is. If it wasn’t for all these people who just decided we were a joke or something to poke fun at or whatever the case was, it has brought us to this place that has become even bigger than me. It’s a blessing, and I think it’s great that people tend to have such a swayed opinion about us. I mean, where does it come from? Stupidity. I don’t know when people will figure it out, maybe a hundred years from now or a thousand years from now: The more you perpetuate something, the stronger it becomes, the bigger it gets. When you truly despise something, you have to act like it doesn’t exist"you have to ignore it. That’s the only way to truly diminish anything that you want to see in life go away, and these people just don’t get it. It works out for us that people are stupid enough to think that talking crap about us on Facebook or something like that is going to make our band go away. In fact, it’s only made us more present. Maybe it’s not cool to like us, and I have no problem with that. I didn’t set out with the intent to make it cool for everybody. I don’t think that’s what music should be. If your music is cool for everybody, then I don’t think you’re really saying anything.

SLUG: It seems to me that your style of expression is based on an ability to step in to the shoes of a situation without having endured it, and that’s kind of misunderstood and could be the source of a lot of this criticism. Is that at all accurate?
Palmeri: I started the band when I was 16, and I’m 26 now, so you take 10 years of lyrics and songs, and you’re going to have a coming-of-age story. That’s essentially what I consider the band to be, and I think that’s why people gravitate towards us because I have spoken about places in my life that other people have been along the way to adulthood or that place in life where you feel comfortable with where you are. The fact I’m able to speak so openly about situations I actually have been in is why people do gravitate towards me. Maybe the fact that I talk about situations other people have not been a part of yet, maybe that’s where the friction comes from. Where you have a crude opinion about the band they haven’t been able to step in my shoes and understand where I’m coming from yet, and that’s fine: I don’t expect everyone to be at the same place in life as me, but as an artist, it’s not my job to act like I’m in the same place as everyone else. I don’t wish it upon anyone"I don’t think any of the hardships of my life should be shared by other people"it’s just that I, for one, know that pain is universal, and I feel like I’m part of a bigger whole that people are feeling. And if that’s my purpose in life, to make those people feel a part of that whole with me, then I’m cool with that.

SLUG: The past few years have been heinous for the music industry and particularly metal, with guys quitting left and right who can’t afford to tour. Have you felt the financial heat?
Palmeri: When you stop doing it for the love and for the people, that’s when you’re truly unable to continue going on, because you have nothing else to do it for anymore. I’m very lucky that the band has been able to make the money we have made. I pay my own bills, I live my own life, I have no one to depend on financially, which is great. It’s hard"it’s not easy. We’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve been touring nonstop for eight, going on nine years now, and it’s not easy. When you start out, you don’t make money. I’d say the first five or six years of the band, I was completely broke. I was lucky enough to have parents who didn’t kick me out even though I was completely the black sheep. And you know, that’s it: I was lucky enough to have a place to go. I’m very grateful to have such a supporting backing like that, and not everyone has that. As far as other bands quitting or dismembering, I get that. Internally, a relationship can go sour and that’s it. When you have two personalities in the band that are so strong and so necessary and they can’t seem to meet at head, things usually end poorly. Trust me, being in a band is like being married to at least four or five people. You have to learn to accept things about yourself that are flawed and accept the flaws of the people around you. Once you do that, everything’s easier. Let’s say, for example, someone has some nervous tick I don’t like"they suck their teeth or tap their leg when they’re nervous or whatever. After a while, you start to become immune to it, and you actually start to appreciate that person in other ways, because even though that bothers you, the thing that makes the relationship work which is the creativity and the amazing things you accomplish together makes it worth it. I’ve never been married or had a relationship that was worth telling about, but this is the healthiest thing I’ve ever been a part of.

SLUG: What do you think of the independent movements, for example, Protest The Hero’s recent, ridiculously successful IndieGoGo campaign that will completely fund their next album and tour cycle? Do you think the industry has gotten to such a state that a move like that is a necessity or at least a good idea for all but the Metallicas and Megadeths of the world?
Palmeri: I think that should be lighting some fires underneath labels. I think it’s amazing, because that band is, Number One, super talented. I really dig what they’re doing, and it’s awesome to know there were like-minded people interested to see what they’re going to do next and wanted to help them. I think that’s incredible. I mean, hey, do I think every single dollar came from a random person on the street? No, I don’t"I think there might have been a couple smart investors to get the ball rolling. But I think what that should say as whole for the industry is never underestimate the power of the people who are passionate about their music. I would really like for labels to start realizing that, too. It’s hard to see the value in certain bands because their album doesn’t sell well or maybe certain markets they go to don’t do well enough, but the fact that we’re all so connected now with technology today, there’s no reason to look past those kinds of numbers or the kind of impact you’ve made on certain people. Hopefully, that does speak volumes to the industry and make them look at bands in different light and be like, “Wow, maybe these bands are worth giving the time to.” Protest The Hero, to me, is a band that’s worth the time"they’re really, really good. It sucks that they’re maybe not as widely received as I think they should be.

SLUG: You guys have a decade under your belt as of this year. Has your perspective changed on why you make music?
Palmeri: It is still very much a catharsis for me to be creative and speak my mind and be able to get onstage and take those 40 minutes of my life and make them incredible for not only me, but the people in the room. For the past 10 years, that has remained. But as far as the outlook on myself and the impact I have on other people, that’s really changed. There was a certain time when I was really insecure and not comfortable with myself to where I didn’t want to meet anyone after a show. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or hear what people thought about the band or anything. I completely shut out my career as a part of my life. It was almost like a diary I kept opening up to read and didn’t want to deal with anymore. Now, I kind of learned to really embrace that. Maybe this open book of my life might be something that I feel is a stain on me, but that’s not the same story for everyone else, and maybe people are picking up that book and finding themselves inside of it, and maybe that’s the whole, bigger purpose. So that’s really the thing that’s changed the most of 10 years of meeting people and being onstage: that what I’m doing is really having an impact in some small way or another, so I really take every day to make sure I give that kind of appreciation back.

SLUG: Are you planning on returning to the studio anytime soon?
Palmeri: We have a dream of putting a CD out this summer. We’ll see how that comes together, but that’s as far as I can say as far as the music goes. We’re always writing and in a creative state. We’re constantly feeding off each other and wanting to do something we all are really stoked on, which is inevitably the biggest payoff for us: making something we’re really excited about. That’s the Number One thing about our band is: We are very self-serving in that sense"we’re not worried about pleasing other people. It’s about us being excited first, and then we believe that if we’re excited first, we’ll be able to connect that energy to other people.

SLUG: What’s going on with Cold Soul Clothing? I know you closed it this summer after that overblown controversy regarding some of your shirts, but I read that you were planning to relaunch. Has that experience changed the way you think about expressing yourself?
Palmeri: I did relaunch on Big Cartel. I reopened my store in 2012, and it was the biggest year for it and made the biggest impact, obviously due to controversy, but that’s how it goes. I don’t think that the brand will be as offensive from here out, because I’ve realized how sensitive people are. I guess, maybe, I didn’t really understand that at first. I’ve seen other offensive things in life by artists, by bands, by people, that I could just as easily start a march about it and say, “Oh let’s get this ruined, burn these books and T-shirts that I don’t agree with,” but because of who I am, and the place I’m at in my career, I think it’s important I be more wary of the example I’m setting. Rather than being so cautious, whether or not I’m happy with a product, which I will be no matter what, I doubt I’d do anything like a Columbine shirt again. I realize people are still not ready to face those realities, and rightfully so"I totally understand. The store still exists, and I’m putting out new stuff really soon. It’s another project I’m really excited about.

To catch SLUG’s exclusive coverage of the Emmure show last Saturday"including exclusive photos"click here.
Emmure hold nothing back as a band. Photo: Megan Kennedy