BY TATIANA SWEDEK In 2002, the adored hardcore band Horror Show ceased to exist when front-man Dominic “Nicky” Palermo was arrested for stabbing a man in Camden and was later convicted and sentenced to two years behind bars. If that isn’t punk as fuck then I don’t know what is. After two long years of harsh confinement, crazy-making isolation and ceaseless self-recrimination, an embittered Palermo left jail with a newfound contempt for humanity. Though, he continued to write, he would not release any music for the better part of 10 years. In 2011, nearly a decade after his arrest, Palermo formed Nothing, a shoegaze band in the grand tradition of My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver and Slowdive. Dizzy guitars and hazy vocals. Gorgeous stuff. In 2013, Nothing signed with Upper Darby-based indie Relapse Records and released the aptly-titled Guilty Of Everything a year later. Perched halfway between transcendence and nihilism, Nothing builds towering, mesmerizing odes to defeat, loss and seclusion. Recently, I got Palermo on the horn to talk about his stint in prison, his leap from hardcore to shoegaze and the artists who irrevocably changed the way he looks at the world. Trouble seems to have a way of finding Palermo. When we talked Palermo was licking his wounds from a recent dust-up on the road he doesn’t want to talk about. He’d just got off the phone with his doctor when I called.
PHAWKER: Hey, Nicky. It’s Tatiana.
DOMINIC PALERMO: Hey, Tatiana. Sorry I gave you the wrong phone number.
DOMINIC PALERMO: Yeah.
PHAWKER: How was the doctor call? Good?
DOMINIC PALERMO: It was pretty good, actually. My eyeballs are working alright now. They thought my eyeballs weren’t going to work anymore.
PHAWKER: Oh no, you can’t live without your eyeballs.
DOMINIC PALERMO: Yeah, I need at least one eyeball.
PHAWKER: Agreed. So, I just wanna start with the stabbing and incarceration questions to get them out of the way.
DOMINIC PALERMO: Ok.
PHAWKER: So, back in the early 2000s, where and when did the stabbing take place? Was that in Philly?
DOMINIC PALERMO: That was in Camden, New Jersey. Right across the bridge, though.
PHAWKER: And what happened?
DOMINIC PALERMO: It’s a bit of a long story but to make it short: I was hanging out with a friend and we ran into some kids who, you know, wound up jumping me and my friend and things kind of got out of hand at that point. I happened to have a knife on me and stabbed one of the kids who was punching me in the face and I proceeded to get punched in the face a whole lot more until I was able to slide out of there and run through a parking lot.
PHAWKER: Gotta protect yourself, right?
DOMINIC PALERMO: I mean, yeah. There was probably a point where I could’ve gotten away but I didn’t really see it that way at the time.
PHAWKER: So that happened and then where did you do your two years at?
DOMINIC PALERMO: A place called Garden State Correctional Facility. I did like 19 months there and I did five months in Camden County.
PHAWKER: Damn, that must have been terrible.
DOMINIC PALERMO: It wasn’t very fun, no.
PHAWKER: So, how did you make it through? I read in some other interviews you mention you read a lot.
DOMINIC PALERMO: I did as many things as I could to keep my fragile mind at ease. Reading became a pretty huge crutch, a pretty healthy crutch, for the most part, with what’s available in that situation. So yeah, I read a lot, wrote a lot and so on.
PHAWKER: A lot of time of self-reflection, I bet.
DOMINIC PALERMO: Mmm, yeah, self-loathing.
PHAWKER: Yeah, I can imagine. So, prior to that stint in prison you fronted the hardcore band Horror Show. What lead you to make the switch from making hardcore music to shoegaze?
DOMINIC PALERMO: I’ve always had an itch that couldn’t be scratched to play that kind of music mainly because I never was too good at too many instruments. My friend, who I had written all the Horror Show stuff with and, you know, also writing stuff more along the lines of what Nothing’s demos were, was killed in a motorcycle accident by a drunk driver. So, that was a year after I came home, maybe two years. That was a really defeating crush for me. It took me a while to even think about playing music and I kind of fell into a really dark unpleasant place for a while. I would still play guitar and stuff but I had no plans of ever doing anything with it, I just had some demos. One day, in a coked-out rage, I had all these people over listening to it all and they convinced me to release a demo in a cool artistic way, you know, minimal packaging, in what seemed at the time the appropriate way to do it. It’s kind of funny to me now but what isn’t after you’ve done it. But, I recorded the stuff and reluctantly released it and it was received really well. After that I was kind of sucked into keep doing it and now I’m still stuck.
DOMINIC PALERMO: I mean, I just consider it partial experience for the music industry but it also separates me from a lot of musicians and music industry people I deal with, you know, coming from a place where the music was raw, filled with emotion and more meaningful than people who may have not come from such a small heartfelt scene. I really appreciate where I came from and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
PHAWKER: Now, a couple fun questions. Name three artists, whether they’re musical, literary or visual artists, whatever, that changed the way you look at the world and how did they do that?
DOMINIC PALERMO: Uh, well the main one for me was obviously Jean-Paul Sartre. That was one of the first authors I got into. After reading Nausea, I began to evolve as a human being. It just changed my perspective on a lot of things and led me into a lot. He’s not even my favorite author but I hold him accountable for everything that I do to this day philosophy-wise and art-wise. Allen Ginsberg is another person. Someone sent me a really thick book filled with his poetry and he turned me onto a lot of the other Beat writers that were a little bit less known like [Richard] Brautigan. I started collecting paper ‘zines and stuff, all this bull shit that’s in my house, all this shit that I don’t even know why I have it. Yeah, I got sucked into that for a while. I was heavily influenced by writers; music has always been a passion of mine but writing has always trumped everything. But, that’s a tough question. There are so many musical people I’m really infatuated with. Evan Dando has been a guy I’ve always appreciated more than I probably should. Leonard Cohen has had a lasting musical effect on me as well. I guess I’d have to list him on there as being what I always wish I could even come close to being like.
PHAWKER: That’s a sturdy line-up.
DOMINIC PALERMO: Yeah, pretty good. I’d back that one up.
PHAWKER: Here’s a hypothetical question: you wake up in the middle of the night to your house on fire. Everyone’s safe but you can only save one album. Which album would that be?
DOMINIC PALERMO: It’s kind of a relief to not have any of it anymore if it’s all gone. But one record that never goes back on the shelf is Sun City Girls’ Funeral Mariachi LP. My friends put me onto this record and, I don’t know how to explain it, but it does something to me when I listen to it that no other record can do. It just can pull so many emotions and the recording is perfect. It’s literally my favorite record, I think.
PHAWKER: Lastly, you got any good tour stories?
DOMINIC PALERMO: Okay, we got to hang out with Roky Erickson for a little bit last year down in Austin which was really cool for me. I talked to him for like twenty minutes and I don’t think he heard anything I was really saying to him but it was pretty surreal. I’m a huge [13th Floor] Elevators fan and I love Roky’s stuff so it was pretty cool.
PHAWKER: Is that your favorite person you met while on the road?
DOMINIC PALERMO: No, not necessarily. That year we played the FADER FORT tent and I met Bun B of UGK which was really cool and this past year I snuck into the Vice 20 year anniversary party in Brooklyn. I like hopped the fence and snuck in and I got to meet Ghost Face, I met Jarvis Cocker from Pulp, I met Scarlett Johannson. I was literally just walking around fan-boying it, like making all these people take selfies with me. I took a bottle of rye from the back and was just walking around with a bottle of rye in the back room, covered in rain water and making all these people take selfies with me. It was pretty funny. Pussy Riot was there too so I took a selfie with those girls.
PHAWKER: Damn, that’s awesome. Maybe next year you’ll get an invite so you won’t need to hop the fence.
DOMINIC PALERMO: Well, I had an invite but I got there so late cause I ate a bunch of Percocets and got on the wrong train like three places. So, by the time I got there they stopped letting people in so I just snuck in.