BANDSPEAK, Basement Babes Zine, Music

Basement Babes Issue 10: Interview with Ellen Kempner


Basement Babes: For our readers who aren’t yet familiar with you or your music, how would you like to introduce yourself?

Ellen Kempner: Hello! I’m Ellen, I’m a 21-year-old college dropout born and raised in Connecticut and currently living in Boston! I have two guinea pigs named Billie and Phyllis who are really wonderful/in love and watch TV with me (currently I’m watching Louie). Up until recently I worked as a cook at a vegan restaurant and still very much enjoy cooking when I’m not on tour or doing anything music related.

BB: Palehound’s newest release “Dry Food” has received a lot of press in publications like Rolling Stone, SPIN, the Boston Globe, NPR — how do you feel about this kind of media attention? How do you think it affects Boston as a scene?

EK:The media attention has been weird, but all positive, so rewarding in that sense! The album has been done for about a year now as far as the songwriting goes, and I’ve spent almost all of that time really anxious about whether or not people will like it, especially because it’s an especially vulnerable project. Getting feedback from cool writers/publications has been surreal in that it feels like all of the stuff that I struggled with leading up to the album has paid off, which is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

To be honest I’m still pretty new to Boston (I’ve only been living here for a year), and I’m not really sure how/if it affects the Boston scene! More than anything though I hope it draws attention to the music that’s happening here/gives me an outlet to promote awesome local bands such as Ursula and Puppy Problems.

BB: Who are your biggest influences? Musical or otherwise.

EK: Musically I think my big current influences are Angel Olsen, Courtney Barnett, and Girlpool. As for longtime influences I’d say I have the biggest roots with The Breeders, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Avril Lavigne.

This may sound really weird but lately I’ve actually been really inspired by comedians. I’ve never been super into comedy before and I’m really not that funny of a person (at least not to other people most of the time), but after watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and transitioning to Louie, I got turned onto the WTF podcast with Marc Maron, who is a comedian who will regularly interview his peers. He and Kathy Griffin (who I don’t necessarily love) are longtime friends and basically had this conversation about what it’s like coming up as a comedian and I was completely intrigued by how much more difficult it is to make it in that form of entertainment and to hear these insanely successful people talk about endless failures before they reached a place where they could feed themselves. So in that way it was especially inspiring and kind of a relief to know that most people who get to a comfortable place with their art had a lot of struggle behind it, which can be hard to remember. Also I think I was particularly drawn to comedy because sometimes having to do stage banter during a set can feel like having to do a stand-up set haha.

BB: Palehound has been a favorite to open for touring acts, like Basement, Ava Luna, Hop Along, Viet Cong, and soon gardens & villa and Mitski  – which shows have been your favorite so far?

EK:Well Ava Luna is basically my favorite band ever/some of the best people I know, so playing with them is always a favorite for me. I’ve been heavily inspired by them since I was in high school and getting to see them perform is an amazing and unique experience every time, which is something I definitely strive to achieve someday. They’re unlike anything I ever get to see.

A couple of months ago we also got to tour with Alex G who is my current favorite songwriter and has an incredible live band. They’re also all incredibly nice/fun and the entire tour was a trip haha. We were also traveling with Speedy Ortiz, who are good friends of ours, so that tour basically just felt like a vacation.

BB: We always ask our interviewees to impart their wisdom on other girls who want to pursue music — what’s yours?

EK:Be sure to educate yourself on more than just the music itself. Unfortunately dumb, shitty people will see a girl with an instrument and think that they can take advantage of her either financially, physically, emotionally, and in countless other ways really. It’s very important to know enough to guard yourself against these people whether it be at a house show, or on tour in a bar in a completely foreign state. While I wish I could just tell you that all people are good and the only thing you have to do is “follow your dreams,” that’s just not the case, and as a girl in music it takes a lot more than just the music to get anywhere safely, sanely, and productively. Part of this includes standing up for yourself, which I know can be really hard, I was an insanely shy pushover until very recently when I realized that I was getting screwed with in certain situations that could’ve been avoided if I had spoken up. Speaking up doesn’t make you a “diva” or a “crazy bitch,” it shows you’re passionate, serious, and don’t need to take shit from any asshole.


You can check out Palehound’s music on Bandcamp


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