Strats aren't just for 'blues dads': a conversation with Supercrush's Mark Palm
Photo by Jackson Long
Mark Palm has been swirling through power pop sounds for the better part of a decade with Supercrush, a once studio-only project that has since evolved into its current three-piece formation. Seven years on from Supercrush’s first 7-inch single, Mark and the band (bassist Phil Jones, drummer Allen Trainer) are releasing their first full-length, SODO Pop, this Friday through Don Giovanni Records. While building off the Teenage Fanclub vibes of the earlier singles, the new album also dips into delay pedal-warped, Hacienda grooves (“Parallel Lines”) and subtler, pedal steel-supported moments (“Have You Called Him By My Name”).
Before crafting lush guitar pop with Supercrush, Mark grew up in the hardcore scene. Whether writing for Go It Alone, bringing buzzsaw thrash rhythms to Black Breath, or delivering detuned gloom with Devotion, he was all-in with only the chunkiest of guitar textures— avoiding the brighter buzz of Fender guitars at all costs. Some 20 years later, his main stage guitar is a gorgeous floral print Stratocaster, and there’s a veritable army of similarly two-horned, single coil six-strings in Supercrush’s latest video for “Be Kind to Me”.
This is Gut Feeling’s first gear-focused piece, and Mark was kind enough to get into SODO Pop’s tones, his realization that Strats aren’t just for “blues dads”, and how a little fake shredding can go a long ways. The interview has been edited and condensed.
You’re shown playing four different Strats in the solo section of the “Be Kind to Me” video. How many of those made it onto the actual recording?
Mark Palm: Three of the four are on the album; on that particular song, just the Blue Flower Strat. The lucite Strat looks cool, but serves no other purpose than that. It’s a real piece of shit [laughs].
Is it in your personal collection?
M: I bought it for the first music video we ever did (“I Don’t Want to be Sad Anymore”). We had a lucite drum kit and I wanted a matching guitar, so I bought that specifically for the video. It’s actually the first Stratocaster I’ve ever owned. It’s super heavy! It’s thinner than a typical Stratocaster body, to alleviate some of the weight [of the lucite], but it’s still ungodly. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it, because I knew I’d need it in the future for something else—a photoshoot or a video. The “Be Kind to Me” video was an opportunity to break it out again.
As you mentioned, that was your first Strat. You came out of the hardcore scene, and I know that you were after more of a chunkier Gibson sound at the time. What ended up converting you?
M: When I was a kid I foolishly associated Stratocasters with dads, you know? Like, blues dads [laughs]. I didn’t think they were very cool. Like you said, for playing heavier music— hardcore music— I always liked having a Humbucker. I guess you can have one in a Strat, but the quintessential Strat sound with the single coil pickups is thin and twangy, which never really suited the music I was playing when I was younger.
When we recorded the second Supercrush single [“I Don’t Want to Feel Sad Anymore”/”How Does it Feel (To Feel Like You)”], I decided on a whim to try a Stratocaster, and rented one for that session. I had never used one before, so didn’t really know what I was doing. I kept it in the bridge position the whole time, which is the most ear-splitting, high-end sound. It’s called the ice pick position. Most people avoid that position because it’s so harsh on the ears, but I was just so used to playing a Les Paul on the bridge position. I’m pretty sure the engineer, Jackson, had to roll off the high-end like crazy. It sounds fine on the recording. Now that I’m more accustomed to playing a Strat, I would never use that position.
You recorded SODO Pop in various studio set ups. Was there a lot of gear exploration between studios?
M: One thing was I’d never owned a guitar with P-90s, so that was a sound that I’d never explored before. Our bassist Phil, who recorded the album, owns a bunch of guitars, too. He has this killer early ‘90s Gibson Les Paul Junior with a single Dog Ear P-90. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s different enough from a Humbucker or a Strat’s single coil. We used that on some of the more rock ‘n’ roll-type songs. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with it. I bought a ’62 Les Paul Junior with the single P-90 in it.
Are there any go-tos in your guitar collection, like that Blue Flower Strat?
M: It’s difficult to say, because when the band started it was just a recording project. I never gave any thought to recreating the songs live. From record to record I used different guitars, amps, pedals, and tunings. Once the band became an actual functioning live band that was playing shows and touring, I had to find a way to represent all those different sounds with one or two set ups. What I’ve settled on is the Blue Flower Strat, which I use for most of the set. And then there are a couple of songs, like the two songs from the first 7-inch [“Lifted”/ “Melt Into You (Drift Away)”], that I use a Les Paul Custom for. Most of the set is the single-coil sound, but for the more fuzzed-out, heavier ones, I use the Les Paul.
Photo by Mark Palm
In terms of the solos on SODO Pop, are you sculpting those ahead of time, or are they off-the-cuff?
M: Most of them are planned in advance. Usually I’ll record a demo of the songs before we track a record. The one exception is the long solo at the end of “Fair-Weather Fool”. That one was improvised in the studio.
When we go to make the actual record, it’s a matter of trying to recreate what I played on the demo. I often have the intention of coming up with something better, but of course in the interim I listen to the demo a million times and become accustomed to hearing that version of the solo and becoming attached to it.
Did you play all the solos on the album?
M: There are two songs where our friend Bob, who had played in the band for a long time, did the solos. The first two songs on the album, actually.
One of those is “On the Telephone”, where you’re playing the solo in the video. In the same way that you grew accustomed to your demo solos, are you continuing to play that solo now based off of Bob’s playing?
M: Yeah. Luckily we have the multi-tracks. Actually, I have a video of him tracking it in the studio, so I was able to watch the video and listen to the isolated guitar tracks to learn more or less what he was playing. He’s a much better guitar player than I am, so it was a cool learning experience to have to play what he wrote.
There aren’t any tapping sections on this record, like on “Hidden Worlds” from Never Let You Drift Away.
M: Should there have been? [laughs] I was very pleased with myself when I did the tapping solo on “Hidden Worlds,” but I also suspect that it’s probably only impressive to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. An actual skilled guitar player would recognize it as fake shredding.
You’ve got to fake it ‘til you make it, though.
M: For sure.
Is there anything you’re working on, as far as your technique goes?
M: I don’t consider myself a particularly skillful guitar player. I’ve played guitar for decades, but I didn’t become interested in the instrument as anything beyond a tool for the first 15 years. It’s only in more recent years that I’m interested in trying to improve my technique. I would love to get better at playing guitar solos. I have a couple of little tricks in my bag that I use repeatedly on all my solos. It’d be nice to learn a few different licks or techniques just so the solos could be more unique.