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With their sublime second album, Palace have pulled off a rare pop trick. Songs steeped in darkness emerge in to light, from bleak situations spring fresh starts. Bathed in the band’s atmospheric alt-rock, the future feels brighter and more optimistic.
Life After is both an album about loss and a manual to moving on. “I’m writing this song, to help you breathe again,” sings Leo Wyndham on the opening title track, a shimmering ode to survival. By the epic, seven minute-plus closer Heaven Up There, the theme of Life After is obvious.
“Hope,” says Leo. “Hope and positivity – seeing the light at the end of a long tunnel. It’s about going through tough times and coming out the other side.”
Palace didn’t start their second album with any plans in place. Buoyed by the reception of their debut, 2016’s So Long Forever, and near two years of sold-out shows and festival slots that won them fans worldwide, the London-based trio of former Dorset school friends had a new-found confidence that they were keen to capture on record.
Between tours in 2017, Palace returned to their Tottenham studio-come-shared warehouse space, The Arch, where So Long Forever was demoed, and simply plugged in and played.
Our sole aim was to write better songs “Some songs have an all-enveloping wall of guitars, others are stripped right down. It was about finding the right mood for each song, not settling on one sound.”
Some of the songs had been written on the road, referencing both relationships that had broken down and new bonds that had been forged. Others took shape in the studio and captured events that were taking place in the trio’s lives, often only realised in retrospect.
“Touring our first album definitely changed our outlook on life,” says Leo. “So Long Forever dealt a lot with loss, but to stand on stage and hear those songs sung back at us, to witness the impact they’d had on our fans was incredible. From a bad situation came so much positivity.”
“We took that energy back to The Arch. As a band, we felt much more confident. We could hear that we’d stepped up a gear. Writing and recording came more naturally, and my lyrics became more outward looking.”
Confidence shines through Life After. Touring has improved the trio’s playing; their song structures have become more varied. They’re now not afraid to take risks, whether stripping back songs such as the sensual Bones and the acoustic Face In The Crowd or playing with tempos as on the sensational, shape-shifting Caught My Breath, on which the outro turns in to a chant.
Leo’s vocals are more exposed, and the band’s always emotional songs have gained gravitas.
“Before Palace I’d never sung to anyone,” says Leo “I genuinely had no idea that I could sing or write songs. It’s been a case of learning on the job and building our confidence.”
That confidence was key to recording. For the first time, many of the original demos made it on to the album, which was largely produced by Catherine Marks (2018’s UK Producer of the Year, who has previously worked with St Vincent, Wolf Alice and PJ Harvey) and Luke Smith (Foals, Slow Club) at Willesden’s Assault & Battery studios.
“Catherine loved the demos we’d done at The Arch and wanted to build those up rather than re-record them,” explains Rupert. “There was a purity and a spontaneity to them that she spotted straight away.”
“The big lesson we learnt was not to over analyse,” says Leo. “That goes for life as well as the music. There’s a track on the album called All In My Stride, which is really a note to self. It’s about putting problems in to perspective, dealing with them and moving on. No matter how hard life seems at times, there’s always hope.”