What do you do when the salve that helps you survive is also something that brings you closer to death? In his 10 years as frontman for Nothing — a band who exist somewhere in the hazy dream world between shoegaze and hardcore — this is the double-bind Domenic "Nicky" Palermo has struggled to reconcile. A homebody who loves his dog and savors routine, the hardcore-turned-shoegazing musician has often slipped into an unregulated and rampageous lifestyle that has both endangered him and given him a reason to continue existing. That he emerged from a troubled childhood in Philadelphia and a two-year stint in prison for attempted murder, before finding a lifeline in music, is common knowledge. His story has been taken from him, wrenched out from its context, and repackaged into pithy headlines, to the point where Palermo barely recognizes his own life.
The bellicose reputation he's developed exists independently of him, and seems a far cry from the gracious man on the other of this phone call, who talks with his whole heart, even as he admits that he dreads interviews like this one. But he's here. He's recorded another album, the captivating The Great Dismal, due out October 30th via Relapse Records. (Revolver's exclusive vinyl variant of the LP sold out in less than 24 hours.) He's trying to explain himself once more, simply because music has yet to kill him. Now, determined to reemerge into the world again, it's possible that Nicky has found a way to live with the thing he's unable to live without.
Revolver spoke with the Nothing frontman about questioning reality, how he and his band (which includes Jesus Piece frontman Aaron Heard on bass) recorded their fourth album while locked down together in a creepy town outside of Philly, and the decade that changed his life forever.
JUST SO I KNOW WHERE YOU'RE AT, ARE YOU SOBER RIGHT NOW?
Uh, I wouldn't say that. I've had a couple. It's three o'clock here. This quarantine thing has shifted my reality a bit. I'm sure it's the same for everybody, but the week is kind of like one long Tuesday. The fine line of when to start and stop is in the grey area. I'm not inebriated, just maybe a little something.
HAS IT BEEN HARDER TO REGULATE YOURSELF DURING LOCKDOWN?
It's a day-by-day thing. For me, personally, it's been a lull, monotone feel. Some days I deal with it and have the energy to try to be a human being, and other days, it slides away a bit.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN PASSING YOUR DAYS?
I guess the record rollout has been occupying my days at this point. I'm pretty hands-on with anything around this band, and I've really been getting involved with this one, considering touring's been taken off the table, and there's really no means of financial reimbursement in the near future. I wanted to try and come up with some savvy ways to present this project. It's been a long time coming getting to this record in a lot of different ways. This record really means a lot to me, and while it makes sense to me that all this stuff would happen to me around this, I want to give it the attention it deserves, and do everything I can to help it and help it reach people. So I've definitely been working on that a lot and trying to keep my head on straight, basically. Seeing a lot of peers around my circle and just being in this ecosystem in which we all learn to suffer in a really awful way, and then when you get out of our world and start looking everywhere else, it's a really difficult time to do anything. I'm just trying to keep going forward, or at least not move backwards.
WHAT WOULD LIFE IN LOCKDOWN HAVE BEEN LIKE IF YOU DIDN'T HAVE THIS ALBUM TO FOCUS ON AND HELP MOVE YOU FORWARD?
I don't know honestly. I probably wouldn't have been in a good place. The past year has been difficult, and it's an unexpected difficulty. It's a strange world to navigate right now, especially being a bit cynical like I am. I can find the humor in all of it, but it's kind of hard to do in that aspect.
DOES MUSIC HELP YOU MAKE GOOD DECISIONS?
Wow. That's a loaded question. I would say no, for the most part. Music is a necessity for me and my survival, but it's also been a scapegoat for a lot of bad decisions and injuries and hospital visits and all types of stuff like that. I don't know where I would be without it, but also, it's brought me pretty close to the end of it all, as well.
DO YOU SEE A WAY TO HAVE A HEALTHY LIFE AND LIFESTYLE? OR IS THAT AN OPTION THAT FEELS COMPLETELY OUT OF REACH?
Hell, you know I don't have one! I mean, I don't think I'm unhealthy. Mentally, probably not the healthiest. But yeah, when I'm not touring, I'm usually pretty laid-back. I know I just told you that I wake up and start having drinks, but that's not always typical. When I'm at home, I might have a cocktail or a beer, and that's it. When I'm on tour, that's when it can get sticky. Typically, when I'm at home, I'm able to lock myself in the house and cause no bodily harm to myself. I guess that's why this lockdown situation has been good for someone like me
DO YOU GO TO THERAPY AND DO ALL THE STUFF PEOPLE SAY IS GOOD FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?
Somebody just sent me a photo of Jamey Jasta from Hatebreed and his "Jasta Pasta." What do you think of that?
DO YOU SEE A THERAPIST?
Yeah, I do. I have a neurologist I see pretty often. I sit in at a PTSD group that involves a lot of ex-military stuff. I do that occasionally, if I feel the need to. I try to do whatever I need to do, basically.
WHAT MAJOR CHANGES OR EPIPHANIES HAVE YOU HAD SINCE RELEASING YOUR LAST ALBUM DANCE ON THE BLACKTOP?
There's a constant amount of massive change with everything going on around me. I think going into that record was a strange time, and I somehow managed to pull myself through it. It was a strange couple years after that. Next thing you know, there was a decision about whether I wanted to get into it all again. That's tough — to secure the decision that you're gonna open that book up again, and revisit a lot of things that you probably don't want to revisit.
HAS THE BAND'S SOUND CHANGED SINCE THE LAST ALBUM?
Well, we moved through another lineup change again for this album. We have Doyle Martin from Cloakroom, who's replaced Brandon [Setta]. This has been my project from the beginning, so when Brandon's involvement went away, it opened a door to get back to some of the original ideas I had, around Guilty of Everything and stuff like that. I wouldn't say the sound has changed too much, but I feel like I try to keep this thing progressive as much as I can without alienating anyone who enjoys what we do. I'm really happy with it. I've never worked on anything this thoroughly in my life before. I was never this prepared to record like this. I think there's definitely some change but it's still a Nothing record.
HOW DID YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE FOR YOU TO FEEL SO PREPARED THIS TIME AROUND?
It was such a memorable moment. New Year's Eve in 2018. I was here in New York, it was closing in on midnight and the streets were live with celebration, I could hear it through the windows. I was just sitting at my desk with a guitar, with a session opened, and I really decided at that point whether I was going to step into this record and give it a-go. There are a lot of different things that pushed me to do it. We're rolling around on our 10-year anniversary next year, so it felt, in a weird way, like a complete 360. The first Nothing records were very much about the previous decade of my life and the things I was going through. When we released Guilty of Everything, it summed up those 10 years of my life. And now we're reaching the backend of this thing, we've made this complete circle. Revisiting that time again and once again, looking at that same decade. Not even this past decade that I've been through, but that decade I was trying to examine and what its effects were on me as a person. It seemed important for me to do. I started that night and played through New Year's day, demoing songs. A year and a half later, we started recording those songs
WHAT ABOUT THAT DECADE STUCK WITH YOU?
I don't wanna sound like a broken record or anything, everyone knows my story. I've had to carry that with me for the past 10 years of this, and having it thrown back in my face in different ways, hearing about prison and the deaths, and seeing it being taken out of its context, and being used in ways that's almost embarrassing to me. The fact of the matter is that decade shaped everything that I've become. It's the most fascinating thing for me, to just see how I'm still here. I honestly didn't foresee myself still being here at this point. I definitely didn't foresee us on our fourth album, and me coming back in and writing a whole record by myself, and reliving all of that, and being able to relive all of that, and everything that comes with it. I see things a lot differently. The more I move through it, the clearer things get. I started to notice things I didn't notice before. I don't know where any of it goes, but it's intriguing enough for me to keep a foot in the water
YOU SAY THAT THE PRESS AND WHOEVER ELSE HAVE TAKEN YOUR STORY AND REPRESENTED A DEGRADED VERSION OF IT. DID THAT MAKE YOU WANT TO FORGET ABOUT YOUR PAST EVEN MORE?
It made me not wanna think about it even more, yeah, the way it was all loosely put together for headlines and thrown into a bio. Every time I have to read this shit, it makes me cringe. I don't Google our band or read reviews typically, because it's really hard for me. I don't think it helped me in any way. It was good for me to bring it out and to take it out of my subconscious and start to deal with it, but being young and not really understanding how this was all gonna work, it all got taken out of my hands and thrown back into my face in ways that made me want to hide from it again. And I did. I hid from it in all sorts of different ways that didn't help for rehabilitation
I'M TRYING TO IMAGINE WHAT THAT MUST FEEL LIKE ...
It's sort of like being inside a fishbowl, because everyone who was speaking about it didn't look like they were in a human shape to me. They looked intimidating. It wasn't good for me mentally, and I definitely didn't deal with it in the proper ways. I deflected and did things that were further counterproductive, not productive in any sense.
I GUESS THAT COMES WITH BEING A FIGURE ON A STAGE, WHEN YOU CAN'T REALLY SEE FACES ANYMORE, YOU CAN ONLY SEE THE CROWD.
Yeah, you said it. That's how it starts to become. Then when you get home, the last thing you wanna do is think about it. Next thing you know, you're ducking in and things get dark fast. That's just how it goes.
HAS THAT FED INTO THE CREATIVE PROCESS FOR YOU?
Yeah, always. That's what we do as musicians and artists. If it's worthwhile, there's usually some sort of substance behind it. Without it, there's not much. It's what everything draws from. It's just a fine line of whether it's being abused. It's something you can only really learn by going through it. Moving through Dance on the Blacktop, we were taken for a ride in some places we really didn't understand, and it affected all of us in different ways. You get to a point where you can kind of see things a little bit clearer, but it's always too late. I feel lucky to be able to be on the other side of it. I think a lot of people don't get past it.
HOW HAS THAT AFFECTED YOUR APPROACH THIS TIME AROUND?
I'm more comfortable and feel way less eager to explain myself. I don't necessarily want to spend my time explaining everything I do because it's exhausting to me. I did everything I was told to do for these 10 years and it burned me out. Now I feel way better in my own skin, since I've learned more about myself and who I am. In that regard, it made things easier to decipher, but not any easier to think about. Approaching this with a clear mind, but with the same fear, and opening up those closed pages once again, it was liberating in a sense, but it also takes its toll. The course of the planet didn't have me in mind at all. Rolling into this was a strange thing. To finally get some of the stuff off my chest. To have this epiphany in some sort of sense, and have it fall into the times that we're in right now. It made sense in a fucked-up type of way
IF SO MUCH OF YOUR ART IS DRAWING FROM THE SAME DECADE, HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU WON'T LOOK BACK IN 10 YEARS' TIME AT THIS RECORD AND THINK, "SHIT, ALL OF MY EPIPHANIES WERE WRONG"?
I don't think that I could ever tell whether I was right or wrong about anything, my perspective just shifts. The things that I discussed in those early days about that decade, there were things that resonated from it — things with my father, with my family, in Philadelphia, the childhood days — they all live through that decade. I'm opening doors and letting things in. Typically, before in the past, I was going down this hallway opening every door, but never really turning around to go and look at what was in each doorway. I felt that was the answer, and it wasn't really. All I really did was bring things to the light, without really dealing with them. This time I had a little bit more faith in myself to face some of the stuff that I've tricked myself into think I had already addressed
DO YOU THINK YOU COULD OVERCOME YOUR CHILDHOOD?
I don't think you're supposed to. I think you're supposed to find peace with it. I don't necessarily know that I have, my head is still fucked up. I remember things, I forget things, in a really sharp way. Occasionally, I have a memory or a smell that brings me back and I don't know how to make sense of any of it anymore. I try to deal with what's normal and what's normal confusion and what's possibly going on inside my head, and whether it's related to traumatic brain injuries, or whether it's just how you're supposed to think. It's a really confusing place to be. It's scary, to be honest. What's more scary than not being able to tell what's real and what's not? That's the top of the line for me when you talk about fear. For me, it's important to visit this stuff and to analyze it, because it's not just dealing with it, it's keeping it there, and not losing it completely — what's being pushed out of your subconscious, and what's vanished because of some degenerative disease you have inside your brain.
HOW HAS LOCKDOWN FELT COMPARED TO BEING IN PRISON?
I feel like I handled it a little better than most people, maybe. It was strange being in the studio first off. We had studio time booked for March and we were keeping an eye on the news, and didn't really know what was gonna happen, and we all, as a unit, decided we were gonna stay put and not go outside, just so we were all prepared. First week of March rolls around, we made a pact to head in and if shit hits the fan we'll just be stuck there, in this little town outside of Philadelphia. If you were there, you wouldn't be able to tell if you were in a Stephen King novel or somewhere in Maine. It seems like you're on another planet. We knew that was going to be the case, and we all agreed that was gonna be our plan. Next thing you know, we're in the studio, and a couple weeks later they start throwing words around like "quarantine in place." So, that was it. We didn't go home, we didn't get to see anybody. I didn't get to see my dog for five weeks. We all learned to kind of live with each other, and it was really reminiscent of jail. Everyone has their routine. The best way to get through something like that is to have a routine, they're one of the most important things for survival and maintaining sanity. Also, if you see someone's routine get disrupted, that's the first sign that some shit is about to go down. I dealt with this the same way. I need to have that routine, and that's another reason why when I'm on tour I'm a bit of a maniac sometimes because I'm off my pivot and I'm thrusted into a do-whatever-you-wanna-do kinda thing, and that's not good for me. I need constructive discipline.
DO YOU DREAD HAVING TO GO BACK ON TOUR?
Not necessarily. I miss playing shows, I miss my friends all over the place. I'm a sucker for my friends, man. Being away from the people I love wears and tears on me, and it's sad because this hole we've been placed into has made me lose touch with certain people, and not speak to people as much as I'd like to. It's not even intentional. It's just hard to remember who you need to contact occasionally, and who you need to check up on. It's a task and it's tedious. I've dealt with it a couple times in my life where I've lost someone I really care about, and I didn't check in on them. You never stop thinking about that kind of stuff, it stays with you forever. I try to keep an eye on that. The never-ending task. I don't remember what you asked me. I do that sometimes, and I really apologize.
IS THERE SOMETHING YOU'D RATHER BE TALKING ABOUT?
I don't want to sound negative, but I was really dreading this interview. You know, because of what I mentioned before. I've gotten really tired of hearing myself talk. I've told my label and publicist that I don't really wanna do this anymore, I'm sick of telling the same story over and over again. I'm not fond of it anymore. I told them I didn't wanna do any interviews for this upcoming record, which is not what a label and publicist wants to hear. But now I have talked, and I don't hate myself for it.