It’s so difficult for members of Rocket Paloma’s to accurately describe their sound that at one time they used a geological gag to represent their music.
As silly as “metamorphic rock” sounds as a genre, it’s pretty accurate.
Sitting around a small, circular table, the four personalities behind the band explain the themes and creative processes behind their debut, full-length album Mother Mountain.
As they talk, it becomes easier to understand how Rocket Paloma’s layered sound developed.
Each member brings something different to the table and they enjoy one-upping each other in a competitive but playful way — similar to the way genres compete to define the band’s sound.
“What we’re finding out is that we all come from very different musical backgrounds and we’re all skilled songwriters,” says Joanna Kerner, guitarist and vocalist for Rocket Paloma. “We’re in this place of exploring everybody’s ideas.”
Rocket Paloma started as a solo project for Kerner in 2012.
She didn’t have any connections in the music scene but still began performing and honing her skills as a songwriter. Evidence of this initial form of Rocket Paloma exists on the 2016 EP Great, which can be streamed on the group’s Bandcamp page.
Kerner felt there was something missing in the early sound.
“When I’m writing a song, I think about all of the other things that should be going on — like harmonies and backup vocals,” Kerner says. “I envision a larger thing happening.”
She decided it was time to enlist some bandmates. She met drummer Bob Schaab and bassist Jonathan Blohm through mutual friends.
Blohm was playing in ska bands, opening for big names in the genre like Reel Big Fish.
Lead guitarist Jack Beyler was a coworker of Kerner’s and, when she learned he was playing guitar for a play, she asked him to join the group.
The band members proved so compatible that songs come quickly. The musicians write songs faster than they can record them and they wrote much of Mother Mountain around the time they released their self-titled EP in 2017. The EP consisted mostly of songs that Kerner had written as a solo artist, and she put her faith in her new bandmates to add their own finishing touches.
“We can trust each other’s impulses and we can create something that’s just way different and better than the original idea,” Kerner says.
Mother Mountain is the most collaborative effort yet from the band in terms of songwriting and production.
“I think it represents who we are,” Schaab says.
Recorded by Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Recordings and scheduled for a Sept. 21 release, the nuanced album is just under an hour long. Lyrically, the album can be heavy and dark, but musically it isn’t solemn or gloomy — it’s as if the band is pleasantly wallowing in its own despair.
The album begins at “The End,” an epic build-up that transitions into the first single, “Ghosted.” The two songs are written to be performed together — like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.”
Kerner’s vocals shine on “Ghosted” as she flexes her opera-worthy pipes in the chorus and particularly during a break toward the end of the song. She sings of heartbreak, but her bold attitude and the upbeat instrumentals convey confidence.
“‘Ghosted’ is fun because it’s a badass song and I don’t really behave that way in real life,” Kerner says.
The title track is a 10-minute rollercoaster ride, with a gradual ascent into soaring harmonized vocals and a dive culminating in a progressive jam. The musicians agree “Mother Mountain” is the best example of a well-rounded Rocket Paloma song.
“It’s the most fun to play, at least for me,” Schaab says. “It covers a really broad range of moods and tempos.”
The song is an example of all four members working together, where everyone contributed 25 percent, adds Blohm.
On “Metropolis,” Kerner weaves a narrative that explores the voices of various characters. As it plays out, the song descends into a gloomy, chaotic finale that showcases the heavier side to the band.
“I studied theater and, even though I don’t do theater anymore, I’m constantly trying to explore characters as a lead vocalist,” Kerner says.
“Staring at Polaris” resets, with a gentle opening into one of the lighter tracks on an album that isn’t afraid to show its darker side.
“I really like ‘Staring at Polaris’ because I think it’s some of our most beautiful work as a group,” Kerner says. “It’s stunning to listen and sing to.”
Each song tells a different chapter of the grander whole, as Rocket Paloma experiments with its sound in ways we haven’t heard before. So listen in one sitting, from front to back.
Or listen live — as Rocket Paloma celebrates the release of Mother Mountain with a performance of the entire album Sept. 21 at Falcon Bowl, 801 E. Clarke St.
“It’ll probably be the only time we do it, so it’s going to be a special treat and we’re playing it essentially as its written,” Schaab says.
The show marks the end to a busy summer for the band, which played some large Milwaukee festivals, including PrideFest and Summerfest.
For the rest of the year, while the band will promote the album with shows as well as gear up for another recording.
“We love writing, it’s the most fun part,” Beyer says.
“When we write, we’re not like, ‘Let’s write a pop song’ or ‘Lets write a metal song,’” Schaab says.
It’s more like, check out this Rocket Paloma song, adds Blohm.
Rocket Paloma performs at the Falcon Bowl, 801 E. Clarke St., Sept. 21. The show is a celebration of the band’s debut full-length album Mother Mountain. Also performing is Funk Summit Bass Team and For the Culture. Admission to the show varies: $5 grants entry to the show, $10 includes entry to the show and a CD copy of Mother Mountain and $15 includes entry to the show, a CD copy of Mother Mountain and an all-you-can-drink wristband. Hot Tamale 414 will be supplying food.