We recently caught up with Domenic “Nicky” Palermo, vocalist and front man of Philadelphia’s emotionally poignant hardcore practitioners, Horror Show. Few hardcore bands to emerge from the early 2000s have been clouded in more myth and legend, as this ensemble has seen about as much hardship as any of their musical peers throughout history. Beginning with Palermo’s conviction and subsequent incarceration for stabbing a man during an altercation almost a decade ago, followed by the untimely death of guitarist Josh Tshirlig, Horror Show were forced into a prolonged hiatus with nothing short of a media blackout that only added to the aura of myth that envelopes the band to this day.
Their longtime label, Deathwish hit the nail on the head with this concise but accurate bio of the band: Horror Show were a poetic and powerful hardcore band from the streets of Philadelphia. Their music cried out from the darkest of depths for someone (re: anyone) to listen to their hardcore anthems of sorrow, heartbreak and violence. Unlike many of their hardcore contemporaries, Horror Show truly lived the pain of their songs every day. Deeply rooted in late night quarrels and their city’s urban decay, Horror Show were a sign of hope in an otherwise bleak and barren world.
Today, we offer Blow The Scene readers a rare glimpse into the life of Horror Show. Palermo brings us up to speed, as the band has just wrapped up their first ever European tour with Dead Swans, offering an unfiltered look at the band’s history and the events that changed their course forever. Without further ado, let’s here from Nicky..
Joshua BTS: Greetings. Thank you for taking time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world today. Let’s begin by having you introduce yourselves and state your role with Philly’s poignant and emotional hardcore legends, Horror Show.
I’m Nicky. I am the vocalist for Horror Show.
Joshua BTS: For our readers just tuning into the band- please catch us up on the formative stages of Horror Show and your subsequent signing to Deathwishinc.
Nicky: In 1999/2000 some friends and myself decided we wanted to play music. We were always into punk rock and the more fast paced hardcore records. We wanted to make some really aggressive music that could tap into both worlds because at the time everyone was wearing baggy clothes and wanted to be rappers. I was in Boston a lot around that time with Gibby Miller (Panic) and Wes Eisold (American Nightmare) and they were both in new bands that were trying some new stuff for hardcore as well. They introduced me to Jake Bannon (Converge/Deathwish Inc). We handed him a demo and we got the go ahead to record our first EP under Deathwish.
Joshua BTS: Horror Show was really picking up steam in early 2000s before a wave of tumultuous situations crashed down on the band. You were incarcerated in New Jersey for 2 years and upon coming out you lost your friend and band mate Josh Tshirlig to a motorcycle accident. Please describe the circumstances that lead to these life-changing events.
Nicky: It was the start of many tragedies that be stowed upon myself and my circle of friends. I was involved in an altercation that led to a stabbing that led to me serving a seven year sentence in Garden State Correctional Facility in New Jersey, far away from my home in Philadelphia. I was eligible for an early release after 2 years, but the nature of my crime (3 counts of aggravated assault with an intent, attempted murder, etc) and past offenses weighed heavily on their decision.
I kept my nose clean and was released after only 2 years, but the worst was yet to come.
Only being home for a year our good friend Dan “Stony” Stone was killed and only a year or so after that we lost Josh [Tshirlig] as well. The music, at that point for me had died with them. Too many friends and family were falling apart all around me and I moved on.
Joshua BTS: I know you have described what you felt to be “beautiful” moments while incarcerated. What were some of these moments that resonated so profoundly with you and helped you pass the time without loosing your senses?
Nicky: I always believe that you can find beauty in anything. The most wretched, tragic, and ugly things in this world are just reminders of what we go through to achieve what we need and want. Like scars. We need them to experience the other side, the joyous times. They make us who we are. I wear all of my scars proudly.
Joshua BTS: Living in a lower-middle class neighborhood in Philadelphia or any major city in the US, violence is never far off. Now having so many years of distance between the incident that spawned your incarceration- Looking back would you have approached the situation differently and how do you deal with implications of violence in your everyday life?
Nicky: Things happen and i believe how you react to something can spawn an unthinkable amount of change. I am very content these days, even when I’m miserable. I wouldn’t have done anything differently just for the fear of what may have become of me. I didn’t care about much at that time.
Joshua BTS: I understand that you made the best of your time while incarcerated, sifting through numerous works by leading writers throughout history. What were some of the authors that sparked your interest the most? Are you currently writing new lyrics or non-music-related pieces?
Nicky: I did. I was lucky enough to have a huge support from friends and fans who were sending massive amounts of literature. I made it clear I didn’t want anything from anyone but if they felt compelled to send something, a letter would be best. A book would be incredible, but never money. I hated the idea of someone sending money and I always sent it back.
I started reading into a lot of darker philosophy. Dostoevsky and Sartre. Nausea was the first novel I read inside. It changed many things for me.
After reading “Our Lady Of Flowers” I wanted to read everything by Genet. Same for Richard Brautigan‘s assorted poetry and short stories. They were my best friends in there and allowed me to be somewhere else then where I was. They also made it a little bit clearer on why I had such a disdain for the majority of human beings and more importantly, that I wasn’t alone.
I still write constantly and plan on putting together another short book of poetry to follow up “You’re Very Beautiful,” a small photography/poetry thing I did with my longtime friend and most excellent photographer Matthew Gallagher. I’m also writing constantly for my new musical project, Nothing.
Joshua BTS: What sparked the idea to hit the road and tour Europe after so many years in hiatus?
Nicky: Mainly one reason. I was able to get 75% of the original band on board and we never got the chance to make it to Europe. That was the only reason Josh played music before he passed. He always wanted to travel/get out of Philadelphia. We all did. There were many things haunting us and it was lovely to have finally found a way out. He and the rest of Horror Show waited patiently for me while I was incarcerated. Even tho shamefully, Josh can’t make it with us, he would not be pleased if we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. They all deserved the trip we should have made 10 years ago. And I still feel guilty for it all. There are many “what ifs?” tied to us. While irrelevant, it’s hard not to think about them.
It’s also a minor payback for all of the European support we and I have received over the years.
Joshua BTS: Any plans of touring the US?
Nicky: Not currently, no.
Joshua BTS: Horror Show is band that has truly lived a hardcore lifestyle, unlike 99.9% of bands today that label themselves as such. I believe this is testament in the fact that you were able to sell out your comeback show in Philadelphia in days, forcing the show to be moved from The Barbary to the First Unitarian Church. It would appear there is yearning amongst fans for the real thing, as opposed to the the homogenized “hardcore” that clogs the Internet and venues all around us. What is your take on the current state of so-called “Hardcore” music and what role role do you see Horror Show playing in this context?
Nicky: Everyone has dealt with problems in life. Some are greater then others, but it is their problems regardless and hold the same weight as mine. I wouldn’t ever say I’ve had it worse then anyone. Life is shit… for everyone. I have a small circle and like my privacy and really don’t care what anyone else is saying or doing.
We played a show last night with a group of young kids called Up River in Stuttgart. Nice kids. Got to chatting with them a little about how everyone in their town works in these factories and their parents are pressuring them to sell the music equipment and get to work, but all they do is tour and make no money. That fills me with a little relief. That’s the vessel most of us got here in. I think people are missing the point these days.
Joshua BTS: Any bands out right now that are really exciting you?
Nicky: Not much has excited me lately. Dives out of Brooklyn, the newest Ringo Deathstarr record is great, playing these dates with Dead Swans has really made the band grow on me. Lots of energy and emotion behind them. Was honored to do the tour with them.
Joshua BTS: Your Holiday EP that was released in 2004 on Deathwish has become something of an underground legend. Can you describe the writing and recording processes behind this record? Do you feel with your current rehearsals that band is reliving the emotion of that time period or beginning to forge a new chapter?
Nicky: Has it? We wrote it musically the same way we wrote all of our releases. It was pretty emotionally charged because we were all getting ready to deal with my absence. There is a ton of anxiety and sadness coming in from all angles on that recording. And uncertainty. None of us really knew what to expect or what the outcome would be. I think all of that is pretty evident on that EP. Ultimately, Holiday was a eulogy of sorts.
Joshua BTS: When you are not practicing and playing out with Horror Show– What does your daily life look like?
Nicky: I’ve learned that routines are the only things that keep me sane. I’m a pretty well scheduled person. I work to keep food on the plates. I still write a ton. Music and words. I hate to say it, but I’d probably be a full time recluse if my schedule allowed it.
Joshua BTS: Do you follow politics or any political grassroots movements? Anything that really gets your fire burning that you feel more of us should be aware of?
Nicky: I could care less about any of it. I think before we can look to any politics or government issues we have to look at ourselves. We have too much freedom and I think it allows us to be irresponsible. It doesn’t really matter. We’re all headed for extinction anyway.
Joshua BTS: Does Horror Show have any plans of releasing new material?
Nicky: We’re tossing a few ideas around. Maybe a final third EP. As of now it’s merely just talk tho.
Joshua BTS: I want to switch gears a little bit into some lighthearted questions, because I know you guys do more than simply focus on the all of the negative aspects in the world.
So who in the band can had some of the odder touring habits to emerge from? We’ve heard some good ones over the years, from collections of urine-filled Coca-Cola bottles to adrenaline junkies…
Nicky: It was really late and we were doing an overnight drive to our next destination. Our driver was very tired. We were on a small road when suddenly I was awaken by a fierce shake and the noise of the breaks being jammed, followed immediately by a huge thud. It was really dark and whatever we had hit had damaged the left headlight. We all exited the vehicle hesitantly only to be crushed to see we had hit an old man walking his dog. As we pulled him from under the van his dog, still leashed was barking at us furiously. He wasn’t moving and one of the guys from Dead Swans checked his pulse. He was dead. We had a serious decision to make and there was quite a bit of arguing over the morality of the situation. We finally agreed. We’d just pull the body into some bushes on the side of the road and never talk about it again.
Joshua BTS: Favorite G-rated movie?
Joshua BTS: OK back to some music-related topics to close us out. Do the members of Horror Show have any side-projects in the works?
Nicky: I have been working furiously on my newest project, NOTHING for the past year and a half. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do since “Our Design” was released. It is somewhat of a heavier shoe gaze project that tends to lend a hand to the darker side. We just finished recording our second EP and are trying to figure out whose hands we want to put it in.
Rick plays in a awesome band called Faux Slang as well.
Joshua BTS: What else does Horror Show have in store for 2012 after you wrap up your European tour run?
Nicky: Can’t really say as of now. Everything is merely speculation, but there is definite talks of a final EP.
Joshua BTS: Thank you kindly for taking time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world, we greatly appreciate your time and willingness to share your story with us as we look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors. Any final thoughts?
Nicky: “The despondency that follows makes me feel somewhat like a shipwrecked man who spies a sail, sees himself saved, and suddenly remembers that the lens of his spyglass has a flaw, a blurred spot — the sail he has seen.”
Horror Show – “One for the Angels”
[youtube width=”420″ height=”315″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McgCLBglVdg[/youtube]
Interview by Joshua T. Cohen
Live pictures by Anne Spina and Dante Torrieri – Full Gallery from the Jan 22, 2012 Philadelphia performance HERE
Individual Pictures by Dante Torrieri.
More info at:
Horror Show Facebook
Horror Show at Deathwish Inc.