The man who named his band "Nothing" has a lot of influences that shouldn't surprise you. French existentialist poets. Moody bards. Morrissey. They all guide frontman Domenic "Nicky" Palermo and help to turn the knottiness of his mind into a coherent creative worldview. But this year, he's been branching out more. Not since his prison days, in which time was measured with the turning of another page, has Nicky read so voraciously. His lockdown has been spent finishing all the books piled up on his nightstand, leaning into obscurity, and perhaps most importantly, turning to the words and music of the late David Berman.
His band's recently released fourth album, The Great Dismal, wouldn't be the same without all the finished books, all the replays of Berman's final album Purple Mountains, all the words and rhythms that have given Palermo the strength and clarity to excavate his own life and mind. Revolver spoke with him about his favorite writers, his love of Berman, and the books he takes with him to the studio.
On His Biggest Lyrical Inspirations
Leonard Cohen. I grew up listening to Morrissey, too, and I wanted to mimic his writing. He put me onto a lot of English literature. But it sucks that you have to watch every person that you respect eventually turn into the thing you don't want to see them turn into. It happens. Humans have the tendency to reveal themselves and to be humans.
My mother put me onto Cohen. I've always been a [Bill] Callahan fan, and obviously David Berman, too. For the past decade, he's been the most important lyricist, and probably my favorite there ever was at this point. The good thing about these people is that you can find some connection but it's always been difficult for me because my story is unlike most of these people's stories — the upbringing, just where I was and where I've been doesn't necessarily line up with a lot of these other writers, but I see things in them that I recognize and that hit me in the chest. I always wanted to get to a point where I could connect with someone in that way.
On His Love of David Berman
I was sitting on a [Silver Jews] cover song for a while and when I got the news [of Berman's death] I pulled it back open to see if it was usable. I had to do a couple things to it in order to allow myself to embarrass myself. His death was crushing to me. It still is. I listen to that Purple Mountains record more than anything I've listened to in the past two years, and I still have it on all the time. It's kind of fucked up, honestly. I probably should stray away from that. I play it when I'm driving in the car or when I'm sitting at home, I feel like I find something new with him all the time. He's missed all the time, for sure.
I'm surprised that I am still here, to be honest. I don't necessarily have a better vision on why, but I find energy to get out of bed everyday and move, and the mornings are great sometimes, sometimes they're not. Like I said, when I listen to that Purple Mountains record, I get different things out of it every single time. I can't think of a record that does that to me at all. It really takes. It does something to me, and music is supposed to do that to you.
On His Quarantine Reading Habits
Lockdown has been the first time since maybe prison days, where I have somehow got the attention span back to sit and read more than a chapter and move onto a different book. My bed stand has, for the longest time, had about 40 books on it that I would read for a little bit, then put it down again. Since this has happened I've broken that seal and have finished some stuff. Anytime that I'm doing a record I try to dive into stuff for inspiration.
On the Books He's Taken to the Studio
I had a few things, including Sadness by Barthelme. I typically keep a lot of the same names around anytime I'm recording because I feel it's my way of not drifting too far from how I've liked to come across on this platform. I try to write about whatever's going on, but I also try to remember that I'm doing it from a certain place. I usually have John Berryman lying around. And I did bring some new stuff in this time, because I've been getting into some of the Sixties and Seventies beat poets in New York City, and some of the lesser known writers who moved through that scene. There's a really great bookstore by me, Mast Books, and they have really, really crazy shit there that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else. They've robbed me blind because everything is expensive as shit there. I get to learn so many new poets that I never would have heard of. There's this one book, or two books — Selected Poems by Ann Riddler, and then this other book by Kenneth Patchin, Famous Boating Party, that were really with me in the studio. I liked reading through them occasionally at any point in time, just drawing some inspiration.
On a Recently Discovered Favorite
I just picked up Lydia Davis for the first time, who people have been telling me to read for a long time, and I really went all in. My friend Rebecca, it was on our first tour of Canada, she let us stay at our house and made us vegan pizza and she handed a Lydia Davis book, and she was like, "You have to read this" —maybe it was 2014 — she'll probably kill me if she ever finds out about this, because I definitely lied to her and told her I read it, but I didn't. And it took me a while. Maybe end of last year I picked up the same book that she gave me at a store, and I started sifting through it. I read it and it caused an avalanche.
On His Own Poetry Book Plans
I've been sitting on what's currently a Google Doc, so we're one step closer to that. I've been compiling things for almost 20 years at this point. I have some people around me that have been pressuring me for the past five years to start moving things from paper to digital, and they got me. So I now have that there. One step at a time, I guess. I'm a little self-conscious about it all, but I have support here, so hopefully I'll have something out at some point.