Carl Palmer is an icon in the world of Progressive Rock having contributed to the overall success of both, but not limited to, Asia and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. His drumming style is often described as unique in the way that he incorporates speed, finesse, and maintains an aura of sophistication. On Friday night, fans from across the continental US filled South Orange Performing Arts Center in musical celebration of Palmer’s tribute to the late Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. Our own Katie N. briefly spoke to the legendary musician shortly after the performance.
PiercingMetal: Emerson, Lake and Palmer is notorious for their use of keyboards. In your band, you omit them. How does that change the musical dynamic?
Carl Palmer: We use two guitars. Paul Bielatowicz on the lead guitar and there is Simon Fitzpatrick who plays the Chapman Stick, which is a 10 stringed instrument. He also plays the 6-stringed bass. It’s the three of us- what you would consider to be a power trio I suppose. It’s completely different because we’re using stringed instruments as opposed to synthesizers. Some of the dynamic changes in such a way where it can be more exciting in certain areas, and there are certain areas where the music might not be quite as strong, or possibly stronger in a different way. It’s difficult to explain. Music is very difficult to talk about. It’s better to listen to it and hear it. But I didn’t really want to have keyboards in the group. I wanted to present music in a different way using guitar and just show how versatile the music is and how great the players are today because they can properly represent this music on guitars which probably wouldn’t have happened years ago because the players weren’t good enough.
PiercingMetal: How did you get involved in visual art?
Carl Palmer: I was trying to capture the movement of light and the actual shadows and reflections. It started in ’68 when I was in a band called the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. I used to play with lots of strobe lights around me. What I used to notice was that when I was playing, I would see the drumstick pass through the air, and I’d see these shadows as the strobe light would hit the drumstick as it moved through the actual movement of light. So what I did, I decided to tape light bulbs to the end of my drumstick, and I tried playing the drums. Obviously, I couldn’t physically play the drums, but I played the lights- I tried miming. I wanted to capture the art of light, the reflections, whatever would come out. So a local photographer came to take some pictures and we were really impressed. It started in ’68 and the idea was born in ’73, and with the development of the LED drumstick, I began to actually physically play the drums and we could get different shadows, a different movement of light, and I could actually play pieces of music and capture that in light and see what it looks like.
PiercingMetal: What is this process of producing the art?
Carl Palmer: I use two different handheld digital cameras, and obviously they’ve got different shutter speeds. It’s all a bit of trial and error. It probably takes about 7 hours, and you’re not guaranteed you’ll get something. It’s down to luck, really. Sometimes you get something that’s really good, sometimes you get something that’s not so good. Whether we’re lucky or not depends. I can have everything set up exactly the same. I can play exactly the same, have the shutters go off at the same time, but it might not be the same product. If we get something we get something if we don’t we don’t. But when you capture it, it’s a true art form. It’s something that I always say was hidden. The art has always been there, but we could never capture it because we didn’t have the technology.
PiercingMetal: Do you record an entire song, or are these photos displaying segments?
Carl Palmer: I go for segments of music. I take the most dynamic moments in those songs of my playing and try to capture that moment- the most expressive, the most impressive.
PiercingMetal: You often raise money for multiple causes- Music On Call, St Jude’s, and many more- what drives you to give back to these groups?
Carl Palmer: I’ve been developing the form of art since 1973, but it only came to fruition once we had things like digital cameras, computer programs, LED drumsticks. In my opinion, this art is created in such a way by using lots of other people, so we figured that it would be a nice thing to give some money back to the people, and charities seems to be the best way to do it. So money is given back to various charities. We try to spread it out as much as we can because I think this is the artwork which belongs to everyone. I might have had the idea, but it’s accessible now, in our time, because of what’s available to us, so it belongs to everybody.
PiercingMetal: As a college student in 2016, this is a very obscure genre to be listening to. Why do you think kids shy away from this music?
Carl Palmer: It’s difficult to say that they shy away from it because I don’t know if it has actually been presented to them in the right way. I mean this isn’t music that you hear on the radio every day. I think it’s because they haven’t been exposed to this type of music. Prog Rock will never be as popular as in the 70s, but there will always be people who want to hear it. It’s a minority, but it will always be that. It’s obviously still very big in Europe. There are some places in Europe that love to hear it all the time. Here, I’m seeing more young people at the concerts on a daily basis because they are wanting to search for something a little different. They don’t want the mainstream music all the time. And there are some great bands out there, it’s just the case of searching for them.
PiercingMetal: How many hours have you put into perfecting the art of drumming?
Carl Palmer: There is a common denominator that you 10,000 hours before you get really good at anything. I would say to you that that is probably not enough because I’m quite old and I’m still learning today, so I think a skill is something that evolves throughout your life. It’s about commitment and enthusiasm and how much you really want to do it. I believe that if you really enjoy what you do for a living, that’s fantastic. It’s all about being enthusiastic about what you do. If you’re doing something that is a 9-5 situation, but it’s not the 9-5 job that you really want, then you’re not going to want to do it for very long. But when you’re in a creative environment, and you want to create, and you want to improve, and you want to set the bar high, you automatically do it. It’s all just down to hard work and commitment, and I think that’s what it’s all about. I think that’s the premise for life- being committed to what you want to do and getting on and doing it to the best of your ability.
Since the time that this interview was conducted the world also lost the talented Greg Lake which makes Palmer the sole remaining member of the legendary ELP that is with us. PiercingMetal raised a glass to his memory on THIS LINK As no photos were captured during the thrilling performance Carl delivered, some unused images from a 2014 NYC appearance have been offered up.
Official Website: http://www.carlpalmer.com