In her third full length album, Black Friday, Ellen Kempner of Palehound traverses through colossally personal topics such as exploring her own sexuality, the transitioning process of her partner, and the aftermath of a friend’s abuse, to name a few. She does this all while throwing in exceptionally light-hearted and fun tracks such as one about getting stick-n-poke tattoos. Despite the individuality of the lyrics, they still find a way to deeply resonate with each listener. Rare Candy had the chance to ask Kempner some of our questions about this powerful album.
By Paulette Arnold
Artist’s pronouns: she/her
Rare Candy: First of all, thank you for being so open with your music. It’s amazing to be able to hear songs that reflect the life and feelings of someone who has aspects of their identity that may not often be portrayed in popular media.
Ellen Kempner: Thank you! It takes a lot out of me but is also very nourishing.
RC: You said in an interview with DrunkenWerewolf that your album Dry Food was conceived at “a major transitional point in [your] life” when you finished college. This new album also has a lot to do with transitioning: physically, emotionally, mentally, etc. What is it about the process of transitioning that inspires you to write music?
EK: I usually write when I feel unsettled and I have always kind of hated change. It creates a storm of anxiety in my brain that just leads to me kind of shutting down. I’ve always dealt with that by writing about what I was leaving behind, writing about the dangers of moving forward, writing about the beauties of moving forward.
RC: How has being vulnerable through your music allowed you to cope with the changes in your life? If it has done that at all.
EK: It definitely has done that. Sometimes I’ll write a song and look back at the lyrics and think, “damn, I didn’t realize I felt that way,” in a kind of weird subconscious way. It’s like I’m not just being vulnerable with my audience, but I’m also being vulnerable with myself in ways that sometimes I’m not necessarily ready for.
RC: Did you ever feel apprehensive about releasing songs that detail not only personal experiences, but also issues that your loved ones have dealt with?
EK: For sure. This album more than ever. The night before I released “Worthy,” a song about my relationship with my body, I had the worst panic attack that I’ve had in years. I couldn’t get it out of my head that I was making a huge mistake that I couldn’t take back, or that people would think I sounded whiney, or that I was taking up too much space. For “Aaron,” a song about my partner’s transition, the two of us had a lot of conversations about how to release that song, how I should talk about it in press in a way that would make him comfortable. I put way more care into making sure I’m respecting people I write about than I do towards myself, which I’m working on.
RC: How do you feel like Black Friday fits with or conflicts with your first two albums?
EK: I feel that it fits in with my albums like the past year fits in with the rest of my life—it’s just a natural progression for me. People have told me that Black Friday feels like a “step up” and that’s exactly what I want to hear—I want to know that I’m growing with time and experience. It conflicts in that it’s definitely calmer, less chaotic, less distortion.
RC: One of the songs that stuck out to me in the album was “Where We Live,” mostly because of its unique style. Reminiscent of the story-like delivery in Childish Gambino’s “That Power,” your song seems to act more like a spoken word poem than a typical rock song. What led you to this sort-of break in the album?
EK: I had been listening to a lot of albums that had these really poignant voicemail interludes (see: CTRL by SZA) and wanted to put my own spin on that for Black Friday. The poem was actually written and spoken by my friend Melissa Lozada-Oliva, a poet who I adore and feel is a force of nature. I wanted to showcase her and expose her talent to more people who could benefit from her voice.
RC: Another one of your songs, “Stick N Poke,” has the line “I think I’m due for a shitty tattoo. I only have these thoughts when I am missing you.” Do you have any regrettable tattoo moments? Or any especially incredible ones?
EK: I don’t really have regrets about my tattoos, regardless of what my little sister tells me haha. I don’t mind getting shitty stick n pokes, they all happened in nice moments that I wanted to commemorate. I have 3 stick n pokes from my friend Fion (Sad Stab on Instagram) who lives in Toronto and I met because she offers free tattoos to touring bands. The first tattoo I got from her was a matching tattoo that I got with the rest of my bandmates. It’s of a toy frog that I won in a claw machine. We were playing a venue that didn’t have a green room so she tattooed us in the back of our van, which I’ll never forget.
RC: How does the album art help convey the content of the album? Or if it isn’t really meant to, what was the inspiration for it?
EK: I put more thought into this album art than I have before. A lot of the album deals with body image and the pain that causes me. I have always envied other, hotter artists for being able to confidently put their faces on their album covers, so I commissioned a mask of my own face. That way I could be on my album cover, but not fully.
RC: We usually like to end interviews by giving artists the chance to give any shoutouts they’d like. Do you have any music/movies/anything that you’ve been a fan of recently and would like to share?
Big Little Lies is ruining me right now, Meryl Streep is so fucking scary. Also Wild Wild Country is so good. I love TV so much. Movies are sick too, Midsommer scared the shit out of me.