Look at Danger and Laugh Your Head Off: Nothing on the New LP and the Unluckiest Six Months Ever
A glimpse at the world of Domenic "Nicky" Palermo: from knife-wielding family members to crashing airplanes, jail time, death, the Intensive Care Unit, suicide, addiction, religious zealotry, and more.
It could have started six months ago, but then again maybe it began the day he was born.
Domenic “Nicky” Palermo, vocalist/guitarist of Philadelphia favorites Nothing, has been plagued with turmoil for as far back as he cares to remember, dealing with death, alcoholism, an attempted murder conviction, subsequent jail time, and the day-to-day trials of living in a hard-knock city like Philadelphia. And though 2014 was a banner year for Nicky and the band, releasing their 2014 Noisey Reader’s Choice Favorite Guilty of Everything and touring the world, 2015 was a bit of a different story. Since May, Polermo and Nothing have dealt with broken bones, a pair of canceled tours, deaths, controversy, a scandal involving pharmaceutical drug prices (who saw that coming?), and more. Through all of the darkness emerged a single, piercing ray of sunshine, a new album.
We talked to Nicky Palermo about the new LP Tired of Tomorrow and its label home, the Oakland incident that resulted in a fractured skull and nearly cost him an ear, the recent mysterious death of his father, the Collect Records scandal, almost dying in a plane crash, and, of course, Twitter beef.
Noisey: The past six months have been pretty tumultuous for you. And looking at just your life in total, it seems like there is just this black cloud that hangs over you in general. Do you feel cursed?
Domenic Palermo: I think it’s almost amusing to an extent, the amount of things that can happen in a time period. Frankly, I didn’t even realize it was six months until we started doing the math. That is so much to happen in six months.
To be fair, I’m also looking at your life as a whole. You've had this crazy upbringing with your dad, got locked up, had a hardcore band that a lot of people loved and was cut short by death…
And that was a year after another best friend of mine was killed in a drunk driving accident. He was wearing a seatbelt. It was just three months after I got home from jail, and my friend Stony was riding home with this girl when he was thrown through the windshield on the passenger side. It was rough.
I tried to start making music again with Josh, the guy that I wrote the Horror Show stuff with. He was living in LA and was sober on his motorcycle when a car hit him. There are definitely people who have it worse than I do though. These past six months though, they’ve been particularly rough. Just trying to keep a clear head and make sure this record is the best it can be. It’s almost like “what else can you throw at me.”
Are you a negative person by nature?
I wouldn’t say I’m a negative person, more just that I live day to day and try to cope.
How do you cope? I mean, all of the tragedy that you’ve been through, not only in the last six months but in general… It’s a lot to take.
Well, mostly drinking and trying to keep busy with the work. My drinking does come and go though—there are times when I go two months without drinking. But heavier drinking also coincides with life on the road.
I am so sorry to hear about your father’s recent passing. Do you have any specific memories of your dad growing up?
Well, I have a crazy story about him. One night, my dad and mom were asleep and my dad woke up and opened the bedroom window. He went into the other bedroom, put on a ski mask, hopped out of that bedroom window and back into his bedroom, then jumped on top my mom and held a knife to her throat. He did that for two minutes and then took his ski mask off and just laughed at her. He was crazy. Really really crazy.
So you guys were estranged?
Well, he always took really good care of me, but when I got older I started to realize some of the shit he did. He divorced my mother and became a born again Christian, so around 13 or 14 when I started to get into punk rock, he started to take me to one of those “healing” churches… I think it was a Pentecostal church. Pushing on your forehead, talking in tongues, all of that. I sort of distanced myself through my teen years.
But when I got locked up, he was a union guy and had a lot of connections in the Corrections Department. It was my first violent offense, but it was a big one with attempted murder/aggravated assault, so you don’t get a parole date for that, ever. I think he pulled some strings. After that, he kind of went from an abusive crazy-person to a non-abusive religious crazy-person to someone who was just sort of “spent” on life.
So I was in contact with him, but mostly just over the phone. And it was sort of weird because I had this odd premonition a month ago before Fun Fun Fun Fest that something terrible was going to happen to me, so I went to see him for the first time in three years in early November. Hung out with him for a little bit and then a week later they found him dead in a ditch by the side of the road.
He’s always been trying to fight alcoholism, so whenever he is feeling froggy he’ll head to an AA meeting on his bike—he can’t drive because of four DUIs. He was coming back from that AA meeting and it was pouring rain. He was found with a huge laceration on part of his face, so he must have somehow hit his head, and slid into a ditch and drowned. They found him face down in a puddle basically.
I’m so sorry to hear that. Considering your father’s past with alcoholism and the fact that it runs in the family, are you concerned about addiction?
Definitely. It runs in the family. When I was growing up, I had an uncle that had all of these little purple bags around the house that I used to put my toys in. They were everywhere. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that those were all Crown Royal bags. He died of cancer, but I’m sure it was related to alcohol.
It’s something I think about, but sometimes it’s just the only way to get through the day for me to be able to think.
This is one of several awful things to happen to you in the past six months. Take me back to that day in Oakland in May, the one that caused you to cancel that string of dates with Merchandise and Cloakroom.
We finished playing and I was packing up my guitar. Everyone else was in the other room and I saw five really big guys come in out of the corner of my eye. One of them asked me if they could use my phone, which to me means they’re going to try and take it and I’m about to get robbed. The first guy took a swing at me and I managed to fight him off, but there is no fighting five guys. They just beat me. I remember being on the ground and the five of them were kicking me and I just said “You win. You got it” and they said “nah, we’ll tell you when it’s done.” I thought to myself that could be it for me. They went at me for literally two minutes. Two minutes in a situation like that is a lifetime.
The guys from Cloakroom took me to the hospital, pouring water on my head as we drove. When we arrived I remember thinking “aw man, I gotta stay in this hospital all night,” but then once the staff saw me I realized this might be more serious than I originally thought. I spent quite a long time in recovery with a fractured skull, fractured orbital, two small fractures in my spine, and twelve staples. I almost lost my ear. [NSFW: Photo of Nicky in the hospital]
Another recent incident has to do with Whirr, which features your bassist Nick Bassett. Obviously Nick has been with you for a while, and Whirr recently had that issue with Twitter.
Nick was, and has been, dealing with the recent passing of his mother, one of the only family members that he was still in contact with. Their Facebook and Twitter accounts have always been a trolling thing for the band in total. While Nick was definitely involved with trolling, and I told him he should watch out for that, he had nothing to do with that specific incident. Anyone who knows me or some of the actions we’ve taken in the name of equality and tolerance in general, they know that I would have nothing to do with anyone like that. All of our signs of solidarity, with merch or the label or whatever it was, all of that happened before any of this Whirr shit.
What happened with his mother exactly?
We were right about to go on tour with Failure and Hum, at dinner the night before the tour, and Nick gets a call and ducks out to take it. Her mother passed five days prior and no one discovered her until then. He has a bit of a small family so no one knew.
That's incredibly sad. Obviously, another issue you've guys been dealing with is the controversy surrounding Collect Records. You are leaving the label, which comes as no surprise. Now that everything has sort of blown over, what are your thoughts on the entire ordeal?
Happy that it’s done with and we’ve managed to get out of it and end up in a good place. It’s nice to know that we’re somewhere that understands us and that gets us. We’ve have several labels approach us after the whole debacle, but we just decided to go with what worked in the first place.
NOTHING at Levitation 2015 (more)
Have you spoken or seen Geoff Rickly recently? How are things with him and you?
Totally peaceful. Everything is all good. He was happy to make this as easy as possible.
As you said, your new label is your old, Relapse, and the title of the new LP is being announced with the crazy teaser above. Considering everything that has happened in the past and lately, Tired of Tomorrow really comes at no surprise.
I had the title name before we even had the songs pretty much. It’s become much more animated now that we’ve had to endure so much to get this record out. It’s not meant to sound as hopeless as it does—I’m never suicidal or anything, it’s not in my DNA.
The number of crazy things that happen to me are almost a joke. We were flying back from Chicago once and the plane hit some insane turbulence. The luggage holders started popping open and suitcases were falling out on top of people’s heads. I was sitting with Kyle, who is already not a fan of flying and extremely philosophical, always talking about the meaning of life. So most people would just be freaking out, but I just started hysterically laughing and I just couldn’t stop. Just kept on thinking to myself “this is what it is? after all of this stuff, this is how it’s gonna be?” and I finally looked at Kyle and he was laughing too. Everyone on this plane is holding on for dear life and freaking out, and here we are doubled over with laughter.
Finally the plane sorted itself out, but it just sort of showed where we are. With all of this tragedy, all you can do is just sit and laugh at the utter insanity that we live in every day.
Nicky recording Tired of Tomorrow (more)
You are the living embodiment of the Morrissey lyric, “They look at danger and they laugh their heads off.” So after watching that teaser, where was it shot?
In Bushwick, Brooklyn. It took 15 gallons of pink bucket paint, rollers, paint suits, 14 hours of sweaty labor, all of it. Each letter was 24 feet by 20 feet and the building maintenance guy wanted to bash our heads in.
Any indication as to when we can expect it?
Spring or Summer 2016. Looking early summer hopefully and expect us out on tour heavily after that.
How many songs are on the new LP and are the lyrics reflective of the turmoil of the past six months, save for your father’s passing and obviously the post-Collect insanity?
Basically, Brandon and I did the bulk of it, with the other guys contributing all along the way and adding a couple songs as well. In total, there are ten songs on the record and four other tracks that will be B-sides on some special releases to be announced.
I basically had no lyrics until I was sitting in the hospital in Oakland, and then they sort of all came to me. And even the stuff that I had written prior to that day, I rewrote once we got to the studio. That day in Oakland had a lot of impact on me.
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