Way back at the beginning of the Slow Breathing Circuit mix series, our second show came from Sam Friedman, who was at the time producing as Nerve Leak. A Virginia native, Sam now calls New York City home, and has been quite active under the name Past Palms lately. He released the Vernal EP early in the year, and most recently shared a two track offering, When the Sun Reaches Its Highest Point in the Sky. You can hear unreleased tunes and other highlights of his recent output in his latest guest mix, alongside tracks by Arca, Dedekind Cut, and Johnny Greenwood. Plus read on for his thoughts about working multiple jobs in the music industry, the pros and cons of turning your apartment into a jungle, and more.
You were working at music venues before the pandemic struck. Where did you work, and how have you had to adapt this year? What’s the last great gig you worked before everything shut down?
I worked for a handful of music venues throughout the city, but most prominently at Brooklyn Steel and Webster Hall. I’ve been working in the live music industry since I moved to New York over six years ago. I have been able to work with some of my favorite artists, discover tons of new music, and see firsthand all that goes into putting on a show. It can be a tough job, though, and really requires a great deal of patience. It also desensitizes that special feeling of seeing live music. It used to be my favorite thing in the world, and now I would rather just go home and listen to the album, haha. However, the most recent show I really enjoyed was Angel Olsen. She performed three nights at Brooklyn Steel, and I got to work really closely with her whole team. They were all incredibly nice and professional, and of course the music was brilliant.
Like many, I lost a good chunk of my employment and income when the pandemic took over. Thankfully, I also write music for commercials and teach music production, so I’ve been able to stay busy with work from home, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t taken a financial hit.
What’s it like making music for commercials?
Over the last four or so years, I have been freelance producing and composing music for picture through a music agency that works with advertisers, labels, film companies, etc. I’ve been able to land a few big ads for brands like Taco Bell and Apeel. And I’ve written on projects for dozens of others like Google, WhatsApp, Hulu, Sketchers, Converse, and more. It’s challenging work because you have to pump out so much music in such a short period of time, and it really taught me to write quickly. It also taught me how disjointed the music in commercials actually is. In order to fit a whole song into 15 – 30 seconds, you have to splice it in awkward places, but still make it feel natural. Also, I only get tapped to work on projects that fit my production style, so I’ve never had to write a corny jingle or anything that makes me cringe. I’m mostly making hip-hop and electronic beats. It’s actually refreshing how modern some of the music is in these ads. I’ve turned several ad demos into actual Past Palms songs, and vice versa. “Hoya” from my last EP was originally a demo I wrote for an ad project that didn’t make it past pre-production, so I fleshed it out for my EP.
How has this year been for your creative work as Past Palms?
As for Past Palms, I started off making a ton of music once we were all ordered to stay home. In a way, it was sort of the break I had been aching for, where I could focus on writing new music and finishing old songs. I actually put out my Vernal EP the second week into lockdown. But around June, I really lost momentum, and things got pretty bleak for a while in terms of creative output.
I’ve recently hit a stride with writing new music the past month or so, and I now have enough material for another release. It’ll really just come down to choosing the right songs and refining them. I’ve included several of the new tracks in the mix. They will probably change form before they get officially released, but I feel happy with where they are right now.
We’ve talked about how you’re torn between staying in New York and moving somewhere, like back to Richmond, VA. How was New York life treating you before CoViD? I’m sure it’s hard enough living there without a lockdown, civil unrest, and a lunatic president.
At this point, I have lived in New York for six years, and it definitely feels like home. It’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. But I think like many people who live in large, expensive, fast-paced cities, you eventually crave an escape from the constant noise. New York is a one-of-a-kind place, and I have loved living here, but I really miss nature and having more home space. I’d love to move somewhere with a backyard and enough room for a big, proper studio. Everything in New York is miniaturized, and you pay a fortune for it. I guess I’m just getting old and want a more simple life, haha.
One of your solutions for the city life was filling your apartment with greenery, which led to you creating “music for watering plants.” The tunes have managed to get nods from some big names like MixMag, Exclaim!, and Billboard. How did it feel seeing yourself in that Billboard article alongside names like Hudson Mohawke and Diplo? And how are all those house plants doing these days?
Candidly, I have been neglecting my plants since lockdown began. They are all still doing quite well, but a few of them have been pushed to the edge more times than they would like, I’m sure. I think when I first got into house plants, I was so determined to turn my home into a literal jungle that I went a bit overboard, and now I just want to downsize. I’m too attached to all of my current plants to get rid of any of them, but if we ever end up moving and starting over, I would take a more minimal approach with a few staple pieces, rather than trying to fill every nook and cranny with some type of green living thing. I will say, though, that too much care is often the reason people kill house plants. They water them too much or give them too much light or re-pot them too soon, and the plant ends up dying. I have always taken the “neglect them until the last second” approach with my plants, and they’re all quite healthy!
It always feels good to get press from publications that interview several of my favorite artists. It really helps validate your work and encourage you to keep going. When you’re alone with your music and listening to it over and over without an audience, you can really second guess yourself and wonder if there’s any point in putting it out. So, when you get some positive reception, especially from big names like Billboard, it helps to make that process feel more purposeful. I am working on putting more faith into my music and the process, and less in the response. If you end up thinking too much about how you’re going to be perceived, your work tends to become artificial, at least in my experience. The more I focus on creating what I want to hear, the better, and if people like it, that’s just a bonus.
-photo by Nuria Rius