By Shannon Carlin
“It sounds so dramatic,” Domenic Palermo told Radio.com. “I don’t necessarily think I’d be dead, but if there was no music in my life, I probably would have gone down a much more terrible road than I’ve been on.”
This means a lot coming from Palermo, the lead singer and guitarist of the band Nothing, who grew up in Kensington, Philadelphia, a neighborhood that is considered to be one of the most violent sections in one of America’s most murder-plagued major cities.
“I think growing up here has obviously shaped me as a person,” Palermo, who goes by his nickname “Nicky,” said. “It definitely weighs in on you, and comes through in the music. It’s a pretty grim city so most of the time it’s going to lean on the darker side.”
Raised by a single mother who he says was “listening to anything that was sad,” Palermo grew up on a steady diet of Britpop bands like Joy Division, Pulp and Suede. But it was My Bloody Valentine, which Palermo said he heard for the first time in the late ’90s while driving around with his friends in a car full of “cocaine and guns,” that would influence him the most.
By the time he was 18 years old, he was playing in the local hardcore band Horror Show. But in 2002, after one of the band’s gigs, the then 20-year-old Palermo stabbed another man during a fight and spent two years in jail for aggravated assault and attempted murder. While serving his time, Palermo took to reading the Russian greats like Gogol, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, who all play a significant role in his songwriting now. “It was a kickstart in the right direction to find likeminded people who were helping me explain how I felt,” he explained.
For a few years after being released, Palermo felt lost, admitting that the idea of taking his own life crossed his mind once or twice, but it was a drug-filled experience out in Joshua Tree nearly four years ago that would inspire him to get back to making music. “I got f***ed up on acid, mushrooms, and got so scared I thought I needed to get home or I would kill myself,” Palermo said.
A few days later he headed back to Philadelphia, met bandmate Brandon Setta and started Nothing with a mission to make a record that was like the ones he loved when he was growing up. The two guys locked themselves away in a room to write all nine songs on the band’s debut, Guilty of Everything. Shortly after they headed to the studio, relying on Adderall, cigarettes and boxed wine to get them through.
The album-making process was stressful and chaotic, but helped the band, which includes drummer Joshua Jancewicz and guitarist Ryan Grotz, find their sound: a mix of shoegaze, hardcore and punk.
“I think it helped the record, but probably shaved years off our lives. Probably, came close to being junkies,” Palermo said laughing. “It was a pretty aggravating process, but it made us be able to see into another zone of the music and pull stuff out if it didn’t sound right. You know, things nobody else could probably hear.”
Nothing’s debut also gave Palermo a chance to address his past for the first time. “It seemed like an appropriate time,” he said. “A lot has built up to the LP for me personally, so I figured it was a good chance to express that point in my life.”
On the title track off Nothing’s debut – a beautiful but gritty strummer – Palermo sings, “My hands are up/I’m on my knees/I don’t have a gun/You can search me please/I’ve given up/But you shoot anyway/I’m guilty of everything.” It’s a reference to a revelation he had a few years back, in which he felt he gotten to a point in his life where he had given up. “I just remember coming to the realization of how pointless all this is and how, you know, cancerous of a species we are,” he explained. “I just stepped over that line, where you know, you don’t really care about anything.”
Now Palermo is a bit less apathetic and wants to see his band do well. In the end, music really was his saving grace. It was his reason to live. No matter how dramatic that might sound.
“I guess in a sense,” Palermo explained, “life would be even more pointless if it wasn’t for music.”
Stream the band’s recently released debut, Guilty of Everything, below.