Going green has been an important initiative in the music business of late with events reducing waste, artist’s carbon offsetting their travel and fans looking for alternatives to massive trash piles in a field. However, few are channeling the power of plants in their music. Past Palms is a producer that looks to channel plants into his lush and tranquil ambient music. The New York has released his new EP Vernal that gives the most complete picture of how he distills those influences into his sound. The project blends together downtempo, experimental rhythms and ambient melodies into something that is right at home with your life at home.
With the new EP out now, we asked Palms to show us how the project was made. In these features, producers take us into their studio and explain how they used various pieces of gear on their record. Listen to Vernal now and get your copy here.
See other How It Was Made features now.
I got this MPD years ago, and mostly use it to tap out drum beats. I will load multiple samples into a Drum Rack in Ableton, and from there, create a loop and start tapping out drum patterns. This way, I can insert a natural rhythm into the song and intuitively map out the beat I’m going for. For example, on “Sun Storm,” I had the harp loop layered with a few textural sounds, loaded a kick and a snare I liked into the drum rack, then just tapped out the pattern until I found something that worked. I also love using the faders for EQ sweeps.
Akai MPK mini
The MPK Mini is great because it serves as a sample pad and a MIDI keyboard. I typically use it for writing bass lines. Its short range can be limiting, but when you’re just working with an octave or two, it’s the perfect tool. Anywhere there’s a sub or synth bass line on the EP, I wrote it with the MPK. Occasionally, I will use the sample pad to also tap out beats, but I usually stick with the MPD for that.
Microtech Gefell M930Ts
While I’m not a conventional vocalist, I am actually singing on the majority of the EP. You can hear my voice most clearly on the first half of “Equinox.” I run my vocals through the Microtech condenser mic, then throw on the Antares AutoTune plugin, and from there, pile on layers of reverb, delay, distortion, etc. I also sidechain my vocals to the kick drum of the beat, in order to keep them rhythmic. I like to use my voice as a textural and spatial instrument. The only two tracks where I’m not singing on Vernal are “Hoya” and “Of Paradise.” Otherwise, the majority of the vocals you hear come from me.
Nektar Impact Gx61
While I usually use my MPK mini for bass lines, I turn to the Nektar Impact for any type of melodic writing or chord progressions. In nearly all of my Past Palms songs, I use a MIDI Harp that a friend of a friend created by recording every note on his harp and converting them to a MIDI map. I’ll create a loop in Ableton and just play around with melody variations until I find something I like, and having the range of 61 keys gives me a ton of flexibility. You can hear the harp most prominently on “Equinox” and “Hoya.”
Raven West RG450 Hollowbody Electric Guitar
I’ve had this guitar since I was 15, and it’s the only electric guitar I’ve ever owned. The hollowbody gives it a depth and warmth that I love. On Vernal, I mostly use my guitar for subtle textures, but on the second half of “Of Paradise,” you can hear me bowing the guitar with a cello bow and all of my pedals turned up to ten, similar to the way Jonsi of Sigur Rós bows his guitar. I wanted to create a post-rock-esque wall of sound to wash over everything.
Guitar Pedal Board
I run my electric guitar through a small array of pedals: analogman bi-compressor, two Ibanez tube screamers, boss delay + reverb. I tend to keep it simple and mostly in the post-rock realm when it comes to pedals and tone. If I’m going to use additional effects, I will just apply them in Ableton.
Vox Valvetronix Amp
This was originally a friend’s amp who lived in Virginia at the time, and right before a gig, mine broke, so as he was driving up to New York, he tossed it in the trunk and drove it up to me. Now that’s a true friend. I record it with my Microtech condenser mic. Typically, I just stick with a clean tone and let my pedals do the work. I’ve always been a fan of Vox and the full-body tone you get from their amps. I like my guitar tone to be more on the bass-y side.
iPhone Field Recordings: Thailand and Japan
The whole concept of Past Palms is capturing nature through music. So, when I travel, I try to do just that. Throughout the EP, there are field recordings taken from my iPhone of the beaches of Ko Lanta, Thailand and the mountains of Nara, Japan. I also use royalty-free samples of nature from websites like Splice, but when I can, I like to use an original recording to recreate the environment of the plants I’m inspired by, which are more often than not tropical varieties. My aim is to capture the sound of plants in their natural environment, and pair that with more traditional sounds like drums and bass and vocals. But I make an effort to keep everything blurry and lush, like a tropical atmosphere washing over you.
I predominantly use Ableton’s stock plugins: EQ Eight, Simple Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Utility, Compressor, etc. I mastered the whole EP with the iZotope Ozone Suite and UpStereo plug-in. I also love the iZotope Trash plug-in for fattening up an 808, like the ending of “Hoya.” For vocals, I use the iZotope Nectar plug-in and crank the distortion, delay, reverb, and chorus, like on “Sun Storm.” And as I mentioned earlier, if I’m ever singing, I’m using the Antares Auto-Tune plug-in because, well, my intonation is pretty terrible, and I’m just going for background melodies, so I rely on Auto-Tune to keep things in key.