Emerson Barrett on Palaye Royale graphic novel: “It’s taken over my life”
Soon Palaye Royale will have completed work on The Bastards, the hotly anticipated follow-up to Boom Boom Room (Side B). In addition, the band’s “tragic book” graphic novel based on the album from drummer Emerson Barrett will also be out into the world early next year.
Barrett has been working on this yet-to-be-announced book for years. He’s just been keeping it in his head all this time. Teaming up with artist/Palaye fan XOBillie, Barrett has been navigating all aspects of the storyline since Palaye have been a band. Eagle-eyed fans will catch the references to their mythology in nearly every aspect of Palaye’s output.
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The book features our heroes navigating the world of Obsidian Island, which is controlled by two semi-shady, co-dependent organizations, Lieseil and Warhol Stars. The two groups work in tandem like better-dressed crime families. Seemingly one part Dumas’ The Count Of Monte Cristo, one part Orwell’s 1984 and Shakespeare listening to the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, Barrett’s creation comes off like a valentine to an era remanded to history books but seemingly prescient in conveying the cloak-and-dagger intrigue that’s permeated the planet as of late.
He talked with Jason Pettigrew about plot, process and not killing his brothers during the making of both the album and the book.
The “tragic book” graphic novel has seemingly turned into not just an artistic endeavor but a downright obsession.
EMERSON BARRETT: For the last seven years or so, it’s completely taken over my life. The pages and panel of the first volume, we've been working on it for about a year, drawing every single page by hand. And then I think about maybe four or five months ago, we completely restarted from the beginning. I think when you love something obsessively, you're willing to do it twice because if you put that extra intensity into it, it will be what I always imagined. So this first volume is painstakingly detailed. And I'm very excited to open the doors to this world that we've created.
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You’re also doing this with a talented illustrator, XOBillie, who is a massive fan of your band.
She is a fan from Sweden. It is amazing to do this with a fan actually, because the level of intensity is around the clock. I couldn’t have asked for a better artistic partner to work with.
Where are you now in its completion? A few more panels, lettering…
We're just wrapping up the back end of the story through the first volume and getting to the island of Obsidian. I thought it was very important for this comic book to read [so] if you didn't know anything about the band, you could just read it for what it is. So they obviously go hand in hand, but they're also standing alone on themselves, logistically.
The book is called The Bastards?
The first volume is called The Bastards. The name of the book will be revealed later.
We've been telling that story visually through the recent “Hang On To Yourself” music video and the “Initiation” video, which I directed. I’ve been doing what I’ve always done but on a much bigger scale and budget. So I've been having fun. That location in the “Hang On To Yourself” music video, we scouted that location for the initial concept of this world and this story. And obviously, everything was quoted way too high.
We were going to do six music videos for the whole The Ends Beginning EP, our first EP as Palaye Royale. It was obviously too expensive to make it, so that’s when I took the story and put it on the back burner. But anything that we did artistically, I always put traces or hints of this story into everything. So now [that] we've gotten to a point of success, that story has always been there, and now I can tell it to its fullest degree.
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Are the three of you still using the personas of the Gentleman, the Vampire and the Pirate?
Yeah, but it's not that on the nose. I never really read comics growing up. I was approaching a comic book in a whole different way. It's not like a traditional comic book in the sense of very obvious things. It's more like a very in-depth story told in visuals and in the form in the graphic novel, like just a film. And that's eventually what I’d like to turn it into. I'd like to make this generation's Yellow Submarine into an anime series around this story.
With the advent of The Bastards album, does the comic reflect new personas outside of the three I mentioned, or is this a new platform for something else being developed?
At the start of the volume, the reader is introduced to each individual separately, and you get a feel for us. And [there’s] also this characterized version of ourselves that we've developed. So it's like five to 10 pages of each member, and you are introduced to them, and then they meet up, and then the new volume starts.
There are individual backstories, and then there’s the journey they embark on together.
Exactly. Because a lot of the storytelling has been reflective of our own lives, as well. The characters of the brothers have been traveling in search of finding significance or a home in general for the past three, four years—which is indicative of the four years that we've been on tours, constantly on the go.
There are little hints along the way. We invented a drug. The slang term for it is called Boom Boom. [Laughs.] The longform word for it is Anhedonia.
Nice. In other symbolic gestures, Palaye are using gas masks. I am compelled to tell you that in the late 1800s, Cleveland native Garrett Morgan invented the gas mask.
Really? To me, when we were writing this story, it started off as the gas mask [representing] the evil character. And then as the years went on and I developed as a person, my interest in certain things changed. I looked at storytelling as not good versus evil, but that you could almost find good in each character. That's when the gas mask became almost like the universal image for me of this world.
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To me, [the gas mask] represents remaining a pure and true individual and to protect yourself. In today's society, when you wear a gas mask, it's showing that you're trying to stay true to yourself. To me, The Bastards is more than just a band or album. It's a revolution of artists and thinkers, like people that want to grow together. So to me, the gas mask [has] always represented this bigger thing.
The people with the gas masks are heroic rebels? Like a secret society of protectors of Obsidian Island who are in opposition to the powers of Lieseil and Warhol Stars?
Yes. There's a backstory of the whole island. Our characters take place around 1881. Everything's time-pieced in. Everything's thought out. A lot of the revolutions on the island and the changes of power and everything, all of those wars have been fought with one of the sides seeing gas and then the members knowing to have their gas masks, put them on and clear out a whole city, essentially.
Every resident understands that you have to be part of the party, and you're the mass majority if you're a part of Lieseil and Warhol Stars. You represent, and you show it when you walk down the street: There's flags hanging from people's windows. [The gas masks are] almost like something that they wear on their chest for a normal resident of Obsidian. And having a gas mask is a normal thing because they understand that there's always changes of power and an unfair part of society where they're running experiments. And if you're not a “model citizen,” then you're abducted and taken away from society, and you go elsewhere.
This is pretty ambitious. You’re making connections to the current state of affairs in the world, but you’re putting it through a historical prism and contouring it with Palaye Royale’s personal mythology.
I'm having fun with this world, combining real life and fiction. So it's like for me as the creator: This is my real life. And I think it shows in the work. This isn’t just something that I'm throwing together, because everyone seems to be doing a comic book nowadays. This is something that I have artistically completely thrown myself into and let my soul bleed into every part and every turn of every page.
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That's a tall order, considering you also have to play on and finish a record.
[Laughs.] That’s easy. Obviously, you've talked to Sebastian [Danzig, guitarist] and Remington [Leith, vocals], and I'm sure they were quite explicit in [saying] this album almost broke us, for sure. We didn’t know if the three of us would make it through and not kill each other. Toward the back end of the four-year touring stretch, shit got very intense, for sure.
What were the situations that had things peaking into the red, as it were?
Artistic. I wouldn’t say disagreements as [much as] I would say artistic direction. As a person who has listened to this album [and] also [had] a part [in] making it, I can so clearly hear our individuality. And at the end of the day, that's what you have to realize. When you take a step back, you have a moment of reflection. You realize that each of us cares so passionately, and we show it in different ways.
I think it was our producer, actually, that made us realize [that]. “Even if you guys are screaming at each other, it comes from love, because it comes from love from each of you and for yourselves.” It was a growing process, for sure.