Let’s Palmdale! A Chat with Kay Hanley and Linus of Hollywood

by John M. Borack

Palmdale - "Get Wasted!"

Palmdale — it’s more than just a nondescript Southern California city… it’s the new “nom de rock” of former Letters to Cleo lead vocalist Kay Hanley and in-demand producer/solo pop guy Linus of Hollywood. Between the two of them, Hanley and Linus have quite varied musical resumes: he’s worked with hot alt-punkers Bowling For Soup and has served as a guitar slinger for Diddy, while she’s toured with Miley Cyrus, sings the theme for a Disney Channel kids’ show and served as the Voice of Josie (capitalization intentional) in the 2001 flick Josie and the Pussycats.

In 2010 they’ve come together, merging their talents and birthing an excellent five-song, download-only EP, Get Wasted. The sound is instantly likeable, slightly edgy guitar-based pop, with Hanley’s expressive vocals alternating between sweet and snotty. The four originals are all top-drawer (“Here Comes the Summer” should, by all rights, be blasting from iPods from coast-to-coast as we speak) and a prettied-up cover of Local H’s 1996 hit “Bound For the Floor” is nice, too. Good stuff, indeed.

I had the opportunity to ask Hanley and Linus a series of questions about their new project. Here’s what the talented – and damned funny – duo had to say…

Okay, so the obvious question first: How did the two of you get together?
Linus: We first met about five years ago while we were “doing the rounds” – meeting new writers to write pop hits for other artists. We wrote a fairly good but average song and then lost touch for several years. I found Kay on Facebook last year and we went and got lunch to catch up on things. We decided to write again, but this time we just wanted to write for ourselves and next thing you know, we turned into Palmdale!

Yeah, so let’s talk about that name for a sec. Palmdale (a rather icky city in Southern California) is not exactly the most glamorous place, to put it kindly. How did you two settle on the name?
Kay: When Linus and I decided that our collaboration should be a band, we did the usual goofing off and coming up with silly ideas like “Tubesock” or “Boneriffic.” It literally took two minutes to go with Palmdale. The reason it’s perfect is because Palmdale sounds like a happy, beautiful place, but it’s actually a bleak, concrete-encased desert town with a very high meth lab-to-people ratio. That contradiction describes the Palmdale sound as well as anything could.

You guys seem to be having a hell of a lot of fun doing this. Is that the ultimate goal?
Linus: Definitely! We have no expectations of having a “hit” or selling a kazillion records. We are doing it for the love of the music we make together, and we genuinely like hanging out with each other and have a lot in common.

I know you’re both big fans of Twitter and update your followers (in often hilarious fashion) quite a bit. How do you think social media has changed how bands communicate with their fans and vice versa? Do you think it’s beneficial?
Linus:
I think it’s beneficial if you have something to say! Kay and I both just use our Twitter accounts as a creative outlet more than a promotional tool. I would say that less than 10% of our tweets have anything to do with what we’re working on or promoting…we’re just talking about life and trying to make people laugh. Or “making stuff up,” as Kay calls it.

Tell us about your Youtube video blogs. I love the freeform hilarity of those.
Linus:We just started doing them to document the “making of” our music and videos. It’s a nice little “time capsule” and we’re happy that people seem to be enjoying them!

“Here Comes the Summer” sounds like a surefire summer radio song to these ears. Since both of you have had mainstream success as artists and/or producers, are your songs written with some sort of commercial slant in mind?
Linus: When Kay and I started writing together, we discussed the fact that anything we do was going to be pop because that is what we write…so we didn’t really have to TRY and be pop. I can’t speak for Kay, but from my point of view, Palmdale allows us to stretch out a little bit and try some different things while staying in a pop context. For instance, “Here Comes The Summer” and “Pick Your Poison” almost have an “anti-chorus” and in “West Coast Serenade” we go into the bridge and never come back to the chorus again. Those are things you can’t really do when you’re trying to write hits for other artists.

Linus, you’ve worked with artists as diverse as Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Bowling For Soup, Puffy Amiyumi, Lil’ Kim, Margo Guryan, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Jennifer Lopez, Puff Daddy, Smashing Pumpkins, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Nerf Herder. You must have some great stories. Any you can share?
Linus: I’ve been very fortunate to work with some amazing people! I think the stories that people like the best are from my experiences with Diddy (back then he was Puff Daddy). He is an amazing and funny guy, and I have a bunch of hilarious stories about the stuff he would say. He called me “guitar man” (rather than Linus) for the first year I worked for him and was always asking me to play “like you’re committing a murder.”

And Kay, you must have some stories to share as well, since you grew up across the street from Donnie and Mark Wahlberg, AND have been a backup vocalist for Miley Cyrus. Any juicy tales?
Kay: Crikey, I wouldn’t even know where to start. Funny you should mention the Wahlbergs AND Miley, though. A while back, when I was rehearsing with Miley for a European tour, NKOTB was rehearsing next door. Donnie and I would meet in the parking lot during breaks and catch up. Coming from the neighborhood that we did, we share an immense gratitude for the things we’ve accomplished in our lives. I also got to be an audience of one whenever they wanted to show me a new performance to a song they were working up. That was cute. Other than that, my good stories are pretty much the standard fare: Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Yawn. (winks)

Linus, your solo records are more soft pop, as opposed to Palmdale’s harder-edged sound. Any plans for a new solo record, and what sort of sound will it reflect? Do you have a preference?
Linus: I am working on new material this year. It will still be the same style as my previous records, but may have a few more “rough edges.” My solo stuff is fun for me because I get to explore a lot more of the soft pop and power pop influences that I have, but most of the stuff I’ve been doing lately has been more rocking (Palmdale, Bowling For Soup, Allstar Weekend, etc.). I like it all!

Okay, here’s one for both of you – tell us about some of your all-time favorite records, either specific songs or albums.
Linus: My tastes are all over the map. I grew up on ‘80s metal, I was in a pop/punk band in the ‘90s, I went through a huge Beach Boys phase and of course I love the Beatles, but I have to say my all-time favorite artist right now (and since the early 90s) has been Justin Currie and his former band Del Amitri. I love his new solo stuff and he just seems to consistently make amazing music. As for a favorite record of his/theirs, I would say Some Other Suckers Parade by Del Amitri would be the one.

Kay: The first album I ever bought was a Barry Manilow live album, which my parents made save up for with my 35 cents-per-week allowance when I was like 8. I STILL love The Manilow. Run DMC, Doug E. Fresh, EPMD and ‘80s hip hop in general was huge for me; that was my punk rock. The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” literally changed my life. When I heard it, I burned my cheerleader uniform, threw away my Aqua Net hairspray and blue eyeliner, started dressing in black and joined my first band.

A sampler of soundtracks to my life over the years: Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Sloan’s Twice Removed, Wilco’s Summerteeth, Big Star’s #1 Record/Radio City, Husker Du’s Candy Apple Grey, the Sugarcubes’ Life’s Too Good, Cocteau Twins’ Heaven Or Las Vegas, The Who’s Who’s Next and Simon and Garfunkel’s Live In Central Park. My favorite song of all-time is “Don’t Worry Baby” by The Beach Boys.

Kay, I’ll admit to being a HUGE fan of the stuff you recorded for the Josie & the Pussycats movie soundtrack (which included contributions from Adam Schlesinger, Matthew Sweet, Jason Falkner and Jane Wiedlin, among others). What can you tell us about those sessions? The sound is not all that far removed from the sound of Get Wasted.
Kay: I was initially hired by my longtime pal Dave Gibbs (Gigolo Aunts), who was co-writing the tunes for the movie, to be the voice of the Pussycats. By the time I got L.A. with my husband USA Mike and our 11-month-old daughter to record, they had let the Josie singer go. I was able to swoop in and get the gig. It was an unbelievable twist of good fortune.

Working with Babyface [on the soundtrack tunes] was a turning point for me. I had never thought of myself as a real singer, but he insisted that I WAS one and treated me that way. He brought performances out of me that I had no idea I was capable of. Case in point, the ballad “You Don’t See Me”; I had no idea I could sing a song like that. I will be grateful to him forever for giving me the confidence to be a singer.

What’s the songwriting process like for you guys?
Kay: One of the most interesting things for me is that Linus and I collaborate on lyrics and melody, as well as music. I tend to write obscure lyrics while Linus is much more direct. I was a bit prickly about the arrangement at first, and we still argue (on pretty much every song) but ultimately the songs represent both of us and I’ve never walked away on the losing end of a lyric battle feeling like I should have stood my ground. (The chorus of “Pick Your Poison” instantly comes to mind.)  Aside from that, the songwriting process is fast and easy. It reminds me of Cleo in that way. We have an innate shorthand that comes from our shared appreciation of classic pop structure and relentless need to write songs.

So what’s next for Palmdale?
Linus: We’re working on new material already! It’ll hopefully be out sometime around late October. We are also filming a new video for the song “Happiness Has A Half-Life” that will be out soon as well.

Finally, describe your band mate in just two words.
Linus: Totally batshit!

Kay: Cruel taskmaster.

For more information on Palmdale, visit www.wearepalmdale.com


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3 thoughts on “Let’s Palmdale! A Chat with Kay Hanley and Linus of Hollywood

  1. It is true that Palmdale is more than a non nondescript city in California. It is a great city.

    I downloaded their songs and I think they rock. Question: what Disney kids theme song does she sing?

  2. Chris – Kay performs the theme to the Playhouse Disney Series “My Friends Tigger and Pooh.” Not sure if it’s still on the air or not. I think there’s a Youtube video of it floating around…

  3. I just watched, “Here Comes the Summer” on Youtube. Very nice, poppy song. I like how it’s got a beat I can dance to. Kay is just cute in the video too.

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