Ellen Kempner used to not be a skateboard-riding guitar-shredding rockstar. Now she is. On her last night of tour, the Palehound front-woman talks about her favorite music and graphic novels, the importance of sleep and the guinea pigs she calls her “girls.”
So I just want to preface this interview by saying that I ordered tacos two hours ago, and I have a sneaking suspicion that they will be delivered at some point during this.
Ellen Kempner: That’s cool.
It’s your last couple of nights of tour — what does it feel like to go from opener to headliner?
EK: It’s been pretty stressful, actually. I’ve never actually had to do that before. This is our first time headlining. It’s stressful to be the one in charge of bringing people, you know? Usually we just kind of tag along and had everything laid out nicely.
Have you had a good turnout at the shows so far?
EK: Yeah, we have.
I know this is kind of a cop-out, and I’m basically making you interview yourself, but is there anything you wish you got asked about more in interviews? Or anything you despise being asked about?
EK: There’s not really anything I wish people asked me more about. I just want to answer questions that people want to know the answer to. I guess the only question that weirds me out nowadays is the “what’s it like being a woman in music?” one. Cause it’s kind of just gotten to the point where people will preface it by being like “I know you probably get this a lot and I’m really sorry,” so it’s kind of annoying. Everything else is fair game.
Worst question in the world. “What’s it like being a woman?” Uh, I don’t know.
EK: Yeah, it’s like being a man, but harder!
How do you not go absolutely crazy on tour? Do you read physical books or just VICE articles on your phone like the rest of us?
EK: I read books sometimes. I read graphic novels a lot of time on tour. I recently just started downloading seasons on of TV onto my phone so I can watch in the car. I’ve been watching iZombie on this tour.
Is it good?
EK: It’s okay. I don’t know. It’s a good concept and it’s entertaining but not great.
I don’t expect much from a show with a lowercase “i” in front of it, but glad to hear that it’s not that bad.
EK: It’s not that bad.
Who are your favorite artists and authors?
EK: That’s a good question. I’ve read a lot of different stuff, but I think my favorite is the Love and Rockets series. I really like that.
What’s your personal history with a guitar? Did you pick it up when you were a little kid?
EK: Yeah, I picked it up when I was a little kid. My dad kind of taught me how to play when I was like 7.
Where do songs spur from for you? Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night like “damn, gotta write this down?”
EK: I don’t wake up in the middle of the night. Ever. Sleep is very important to me. I’ll be at work or something and come up with an idea and record it on my phone.
So you have another job?
EK:Yeah. I work at the Harvard Bookstore warehouse. It’s a pretty good deal.
So you’re in Boston full-time mostly?
What are the best acts to come out of Boston in the last few years? Not that have necessarily made it big, just Boston-based acts you think are good.
EK: Well we’re on tour with URSULA, they’re a Boston band and they’re like amazing. That’s one of my favorites. There’s a band called daephne that’s really awesome. My friends are in a band called GAY SIN that I love. Puppy Problems too.
So, I know you did a Tiny Desk back in April. What’s your favorite Tiny Desk?
EK:I love the one that The Internet did.
*A knock* One second, the delivery guy is here.
EK: Oh, sweet.
Delivery Guy: No problem.
Anyway, was there ever a moment that you thought this might not be a hobby, but something I really want to do forever?
EK: Once Exploding in Sound wanted to release my EP, I had that moment that was like “Oh, shit. People actually care.” Before, I had recorded those songs just so I could show my friends. I always wanted to do music, but I never thought I could. I never thought I was cool enough, honestly. I never thought I’d meet the right people to play at the right shows and stuff. Or anything would come of it. Cause I grew up in Connecticut, so I had very limited opportunities to play cool stuff or meet cool people. And I was kind of really weird so. I didn’t think I was cut out for it. And I still kind of don’t.
Well, now you’re a very cool rockstar so congrats.
EK: Thank you.
Alright, now for a few questions related to creepy social media combing. I saw that you got a skateboard. Can you do a trick? What I mean is, can you do a kickflip?
EK: I’m on it right now! I can’t do a trick. I’m just trying to learn how to push it around. When I was a kid I used to skateboard a lot. I never could do tricks then either. Then I kind of fell off of a skateboard one day and hurt my back and went to the doctor and was diagnosed with scoliosis.
Wait, falling off of a skateboard can’t give you scoliosis right?
EK: No, no it can’t. But after that they put me in a back brace and I ended up having surgery and wasn’t able to skateboard again for a while and got really scared. But then I decided I wanted to pick it up again cause I really love it and I think it’s really fun to just push around. Then my girlfriend bought me a skateboard for my birthday. Sorry — it just rolled under a car?
You just rolled under a car or your skateboard did?
EK: My skateboard did.
EK: *Retrieves her skateboard*
I used to have a skateboard when I was a little kid and I would always gear way up with kneepads and wrist pads and elbow pads.
EK: I need to get all that shit, it’s really bad that I don’t have it.
I saw a picture you posted the other day — do you have guinea pigs?
EK: I do have guinea pigs. I love them.
What are their names?
EK: Billie and Phyllis. They’re my girls.
I have a really traumatic guinea pig related story that I’m going to share with you for the purpose of journalism.
EK: Oh no. But ok.
When I was nine I was a girl scout, and I really wanted to make it to the top so I could show my guinea pigs. But my dad left them outside during a heat wave in August and they both died. They melted.
EK: Oh my god no. That’s so sad.
I haven’t forgiven my family.
EK: That’s so fucked up. I’m sorry. But I take good care of them I think. It’s hard when I’m gone, but my girlfriend also really loves them so she takes care of them.
Ok, unrelated but can we talk about how good Weaves and Dilly Dally are?
EK: Ahhhhhh! So good. Those records is killin’ it. I didn’t even know who they were and then I heard Dilly Dally and I was like, “Well, this is the best record that’s ever been put out ever.”
No one should ever put out another record.
EK: No. No one should. I saw them recently, they probably think I’m some weird stalker. I tweet at them all the time. I met them recently cause I went to one of their shows, I don’t think I’ve ever been more star struck. And Weaves is so fucking cool. I can’t even believe how cool they are. Nobody sounds like them. It’s fucked up. It’s so good. I hate that shit.
Ellen and the rest of Palehound will be at Baby’s All Right tonight — Wednesday, May 25th — for the last night of their tour. Get your tickets here.