Technology makes the world feel smaller every day. Instant forms of communication can shorten vast physical gaps, making it feasible to easily start city/state/nation-spanning projects that would have sounded ridiculous a decade ago. Painted Palms are proof of this, as cousins Christopher Prudhomme and Reese Donohue assembled their verdant, psychedelic synth-pop while the former lived in Louisiana and the latter was at school in California. They kept in touch through e-mails and phone calls, gradually tinkering with concepts and coloring in the blanks. The payoff justified the collaboration: Painted Palms’ debut EP, Canopy, was picked up by Secretly Canadian, and the duo’s playing the Church tonight with Braids and Pepper Rabbit. The A.V. Club caught up with Prudhomme, who sings and triggers some synths live, to discuss the group’s unusual genesis and how Painted Palms conceptualize the Internet.
The A.V. Club: Both you and Reese had musical projects before Painted Palms, but had you ever been in a band together?
Christopher Prudhomme: No, we hadn’t. We were just back home from school for winter break or something, and decided to work on something in our free time. I would e-mail him five-song tapes I had made, or he would e-mail me bedroom projects he made at school. We would talk to each other about them, but no collaboration was involved. We got to a thing where one night we started working on a song and really enjoyed what came out, so we continued with that.
AVC: How did you construct songs when you were so far apart?
CP: Originally, we would have a goal to do it as quickly as possible—a week or something to come up with a song. I would send him a sample or something I had manipulated, and he would turn it into a song. We slowly started spending more time with songs, and our respective goals got better defined. I was focusing heavily on creating the vocals, and he was producing the tracks. Now, we try to take our time and get everything straight before we decide something’s finished.
AVC: What plans did you have for this project from the outset?
CP: We weren’t planning much at all—we were just doing it for fun. When we finished a song, we were like, “Well, we might as well send it to a blog,” so we did. The next day, it got posted, so we were like, “Whoa, okay.” We both had to get back to our schools and were across the country from each other. Over the phone one day, I was like, “Let’s this give this a shot with making songs.”
AVC: What would the average e-mail between you two look like?
CP: Reese would send me a 15- to 20-second loop and be like, “What do you think?” I would spend some time with it, trying to create vocal lines repetitively. From there, I would send it back to him. More conversations took place over the phone than e-mail, because it’s a lot easier to have a conversation. If it was ever a late-night thing or something hard to formulate into words, some dense e-mails were sent back and forth in terms of what we wanted production value-wise: tone, attitude, vocal moods, anything like that.
AVC: Do you remember any amusing or evocative things you wrote in those e-mails?
CP: Our musical vocabulary is definitely abstract because we don’t know a lot of musical theory—which we wish we did. If we want something to be fluid, we talk a lot about water, or if we want something to be more spacious, we’ll use words like that [or] “cascading.” There won’t be any specific direction in terms of, “This is the chord progression we want to do.” It’s left up to the interpretation of the person being informed.
AVC: Would you ever collaborate via e-mails and calls with a stranger?
CP: Probably not. That would be kind of weird, just because [Reese and I have] known each other for so long that there is this really intense trust already there. We are totally comfortable with one another being like, “Look, this is lame. You need to do something else.” Receiving criticism would probably be difficult from someone I didn’t know, and being able to openly criticize each other is probably one of the most important elements in this whole thing.
AVC: Going through Canopy, which tracks are most significant to Painted Palms’ gestation?
CP: “Falling Asleep,” the third track, was the first we ever made. We were in the same room for that. We were really psyched about that song because it came together pretty quickly and sounded fresh to us, instead of what we had been making—one of those feelings you have in your gut when [you think], “Wow, this is cool.” Then, we had “Water Hymn.” We wanted to make a song where there were no words spoken, but [a song that] communicated this specific kind of feeling. We were really excited about that because of how seamlessly we managed to communicate an idea that was rather abstract. That meant a lot to us.
AVC: At the beginning of “Water Hymn,” you can hear the sound of birds chirping. What are those effects, and what sort of environment did you use them to create?
CP: Those are jungle noises, with kookaburras and the lyrebird. This heavy delay on them creates this lush environment. Canopy was kind of a concept album. The idea of the exotic was interesting to us because we were far away and communicating in a space that was exotic to us. We had never done anything like this over the Internet or the phone, or whatever. You have to project an ideal self in that environment. Your communications are limited. “Water Hymn” has a very Amazonian or equatorial feel, but it’s also [about] the idea of the sacred. Being in our bedrooms when we made this EP creates a sacred space. The whole idea is that you’re there with yourself. It’s a very personal process.
AVC: Were you going for any specific cultural vibes?
CP: We were listening to Afrobeat, Afropop stuff. [It was] more of a lighthearted and bouncy [vibe]—something optimistic, in a way. We wanted to make something that was familiar to particular places and mindsets and also unique in the sense of it [being] in our own minds. We always thought of the Internet as a tertiary space where we could create islands or deserts that didn’t actually exist.
AVC: What do you enjoy about looking at the Internet in that way?
CP: I just think it’s a wonderful thing. It’s one of the ideal creative environments. For someone who wants to make something very personal, it’s great to have this unused space to build from the ground up.