Interview with vocalist/guitarist Ellen Kemper | By Samantha Spoto
Loss is an inevitable part of life, yet we are never prepared for how much pain weighs when it is measured against a loved one’s absence. Ellen Kempner, the Boston-based vocalist and guitarist of Palehound, experienced this firsthand when both her close friend and her grandmother suddenly passed away within the same year.
“The only way I know how to describe the loss is to say it threw me for a loop—to have this hole in my life turned my world upside-down,” Kempner says. “During this period of time, I was like, ‘Fuck it, I don’t know anything about the world. Everything I thought I knew about life and relationships is bullshit, it was invented in my brain. Things can just disappear and appear,’ and I didn’t think that way before this happened.”
Kempner, a lifelong musician, processed this tremendous loss by turning to what she knows best: she picked up her guitar and took to writing the songs that would later become the cohesive track list for A Place I’ll Always Go, the sophomore follow-up to the band’s 2015 debut, Dry Food.
Released in June on Polyvinyl Records, the album helped Kempner grieve by forcing her to be vulnerable with herself as she formulated her feelings into words and chords, replaying the most tumultuous moments of her life. While Kempner admits that the experience was painful, it also helped her heal, as did finding a partner and a community of other musicians who reminded her what equilibrium feels like.
“The album deals with finding love for the first time after losing someone close to you for the first time. It’s about balancing this really intense loss with this really beautiful gain,” she shares. “For the first time in my life, I have found a real queer community that I’m a part of. That has been such a gift and so inspiring for this record. Being surrounded by queer people, I’ve been able to learn more about myself as a queer person and assess my own identity as part of a greater thing. For the first time, that’s tangible to me now, instead of just in theory.”
Palehound’s fans have also gained something important in A Place I’ll Always Go. This collection of songs serves as a reminder that we can find solace and connectivity even in the darkest of places, even when we feel most detached from the things and the people who keep us grounded.
“My friend texted me out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been listening to your album, and, to me, it’s a place I will always go to feel close to my best friend,’” Kempner says.
A Place I’ll Always Go is a place many of us will go to feel a sense of security when our worlds seem anything but secure.