Night Palace on Athens, dreams, magic genies and debut album Diving Rings

Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Night Palace sat down with HighClouds to talk about debut album Diving Rings, out via Park The Van.

The music of Night Palace is pleasantly difficult to define. The project defies genre, switching effortlessly from surf rock in one moment, to full-on orchestral in another, to straight pop in a flash. On Night Palace‘s stunning debut album Diving Rings, each song shepherds in fresh instruments, sounds, and ideas, resulting in a listening experience that is dynamic and constantly surprising.

Avery Draught—the mastermind behind Night Palace—contains as many surprises as her music. The artist studied classical music at the University of Georgia in Athens and has spent her professional life working at the acclaimed Metropolitan Opera. Despite her impressive background and accolades, Draught is anything but self-serious. Her fantasy-filled music seems to be an extension of her spectacular life—A place where friendships can morph into tracks, dreams can become music videos, and organs purchased for $40 at a thrift store can jumpstart an entire music career.

Draught sat down with HighClouds to discuss the seven years that went into the making of Diving Rings, the secret to creating such lush soundscapes, and what is coming next for Night Palace. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

HIGHCLOUDS: Who are your biggest musical influences?

NIGHT PALACE: I started writing [Diving Rings] several years ago. I was listening to a lot of Alvvays, and Frankie Cosmos, and Broadcast. Definitely always Kadhja Bonet. And some old classics—Love some Brian Wilson harmonies.

HIGHCLOUDS: How did you solidify your own unique sound?

NIGHT PALACE: This is something I think about too much. At some point, I realized that I don’t have to pick a certain way. This album is not off the walls. Everything falls within a certain sound world, but it was really freeing to realize that I didn’t have to hone in on a specific type of sound that every song needed to fall in. I found that super freeing to just add elements in as they came to me. I get blown away by one song and one genre, and then blown away by a different song in another genre, and later find that I pulled from those two places to make something different

HIGHCLOUDS: Athens seems to be an important part of your story. What is the scene like in town and how has it shaped you as an artist?

NIGHT PALACE: I loved bands in Athens before I even knew that they were in Athens. I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta called Snellville. The motto there is, “Where everybody is somebody.” We love that. I grew up there, went to high school there, and then became aware of all these Orange Twin, Elephant Six bands and didn’t even realize that they were from Athens, which was an hour from my suburban home.

I started going over to shows after I could drive. I always had a midnight curfew—Which, of course, shows in Athens don’t even start till after midnight. It was this glimpse into the scene of Athens before I moved there for college. I was totally enamored to be in a town where so many incredibly creative and influential minds have called home.

Some people who are around and who I’m inspired by right now are Linqua Franqa. That’s my friend Mariah who makes music under that moniker and I sing on their record, which will be really amazing. It’s coming out soon. Then Locate S,1, which is the project of Christina Schneider. I just think she’s so incredible, and she’s around in Athens after having moved down from New York. And klark sound, who is somebody who’s based in Atlanta and Athens and is making unbelievable music right now. Those are three highlights that come to mind.

HIGHCLOUDS: You use a ton of interesting sounds on the record, and your music really does have incredible depth. How do you build your songs?

NIGHT PALACE: A lot of these started super simple—Like, me holding down sustaining chords on a little electric organ. Even from the beginning, I would hear these little string parts or harmonies and know that there were so many layers to be had. Playing out as early Night Palace was interesting because I always kind of felt like the songs weren’t really the songs when we play them live because they needed this chamber ensemble or something. I have come to love the difference between our live shows and the record.

As far as building them, I definitely layered and layered and layered into oblivion, and then went back and pulled out a lot of things. Maybe we would do a take where we added harp to this entire song. Then, I would only use it in two bars. It felt very luxurious to have friends who could come play on things and then I got to put the puzzle together afterwards.

I did some arranging ahead of time. All of the parts that feel written– like the strings and the woodwinds– I wrote those the night before we recorded them or the morning of. But the other little blips and shimmers just happened when we were recording, which was really amazing.

HIGHCLOUDS: You mentioned your electric organ, which I know is a focal point in your musical journey. Talk to me more about this instrument. How did you come across it and what does it represent when it comes to your music?

NIGHT PALACE: I feel like I’m always talking about this organ. I won’t shut up about it.

I graduated from the University of Georgia in Athens. I [did] this really intensive classical music degree. It was amazing in a lot of ways. I learned so much and I stretched so much. Some of the more punitive aspects of classical music and academia were not resonating.

Anyway, I had gone on this little trip to the thrift store down the street and [the organ] was there. It was, you know, $40 or something. I was like, “Okay, this is coming home with me.” I have a habit of collecting items that I think are special and filling my house with them. It was kind of a struggle to fit the organ, which was very large, into my tiny living room. But then it really became the centerpiece.

I wrote the first Night Palace songs on it. As a new songwriter, it provided this complete musical tool for me to use because there were so many sounds and options available. You can create this really enormous sound just by yourself. It makes flute sounds, and these warm organ sounds, and these brassy organ sounds. It has a built-in drum machine! There’s so much to work with on it. I didn’t have that on any other instruments besides my voice. It was a new thing for me to be self-sustaining or self-accompanying musician at that point.

HIGHCLOUDS: Let’s dig into the record. The album is divided into tracks and interludes. Why did you structure the album this way? Other than the length of the song, how do you decide which pieces are songs and which are interludes?

NIGHT PALACE: There are a couple of songs on this record which I was sure were just going to be an interlude. Then, I would get inspired by them, and end up spending a bunch of time, and layering things on them, and writing a whole set of lyrics for them. Then, it was like, “Oh, I guess this is a song now.”

I’m interested in the differentiation between interludes. I think the interludes are these little pathways in these candle lit hallways to lead us to the next room on the album.

“Titania” is one of those that really surprised me because it’s just a guitar loop. The entire thing is just one guitar loop and it’s kind of droning in that way. And then, it’s like, “Oh, let’s have these instruments, and add this, and this.” And then, I was like, “I think I’m going to add vocals to this.” Then, it ended up being one of our singles that people really resonate with. I remember being super surprised by that because it had grown from such a small seed.

HIGHCLOUDS: “Titania” really is such a beautiful track, especially accompanied by its dreamy music video. What does this song mean to you? What was the process like filming the video?

NIGHT PALACE: It’s about my grandma. My grandma is Titania. I had a very special relationship with her growing up where I just feel like she taught me, along with my parents. My grandma specifically taught me about being in community with others. She taught me how to swim and to love the ocean.

I woke up In the middle of the night one night and I was crying. I had a dream that I was building a bouquet for her. I had been wondering what I was going to do for some of these music videos because some of them were made years after the songs were recorded. For that one, I just knew that I wanted to be building this bouquet for her. I’m a person who doesn’t remember dreams at all, so it was very impactful to me to remember this dream.

It seemed like this video was going to be really simple. Then, when it came time to shoot it, I didn’t know if it was interesting enough—Just me sitting here doing this in a single shot. As I always do, I called on my friends and was like, “This is special. I want you all to be in this.” I sketched out the activities. I knew I wanted us to be doing some movement together and build this still portrait that I felt like reflected the song. We shot it on my birthday. It was a big, nice emotional day.

I worked with my friend Robert Lambert, who I’ve worked with on several videos. I directed. He assistant directed. We edited together. It was done in a week.

HIGHCLOUDS: It’s interesting that the idea for the music video came to you in a dream because many of your songs are allude to nighttime. Some of them even directly mention sleep or lullabies. Even your project’s name—”Night Palace”— contains the word night. Can you talk more about this theme?

NIGHT PALACE: It’s funny because I’m more of a morning person. I think that adds to my admiration of the night. It feels like a rarity. I’m painting this hermit portrait of myself, but I have just never been someone to go out late and party a lot. I remember these certain specific scenes in my life and so many of them are surrounded by nighttime.

In Athens, when you go for a walk at night in the springtime, the flowers are absolutely exploding with perfume. It’s something about the dust in the nighttime hour– I don’t know if it’s that there’s more moisture in the air or what, but all of the flowers are super perfumed. It’s very intoxicating thing and it feels kind of otherworldly.

HIGHCLOUDS: Strong female figures and your relationship with them seem to be a focus of the album. That said, it is being marketed as a record of love songs from your past, present, and future. Can you talk about some of the women who inspired the album? What does love mean to you?

NIGHT PALACE: This album has really grown with me. When we first started playing some of these songs, they were written about maybe somebody I dated briefly. I was never quite convinced of the lyrics myself. When we performed them, I always meant to work on them. It almost took the pressure of recording to dig a bit and figure out why they weren’t quite resonating.

I completely changed “Stranger Powers.” I ended up rewriting the whole thing to be about my best friend Prosper and their journey into self-empowerment, and mine with them. We went to college together in Athens. It’s a place where you can afford to feel in-between for a minute and not quite know what was going to happen next.

This album also has two or three songs about my grandma. I was writing it at a time when her life was coming to an end. She had been so influential to me in so many ways. I was just starting to recognize this as an adult.

Friendships and these relationships are everything to me. I keep a journal with the names of different friends, family members, and loved ones. I return to it every so often and add things. Some of these are experiences that have spanned ten years, and some are maybe just one afternoon. Each of these songs on the record feel like a different person—Whether that be one experience or my whole lifetime of experience with them wrapped together.

HIGHCLOUDS: How did you come to work with Drew Vandenberg? What does he bring to the project?

NIGHT PALACE: I knew of him just from being in Athens. I really admired his work with of Montreal, and Kishi Bashi, and on so many things. His name kept popping up so we met up. I showed him some demos that were ultimately misrepresentative of what we ended up recording.

Night Palace started out as a circular project and has just really evolved over the years in different ways, but I knew based on the sounds that I had heard him facilitate that he was going to be an amazing co-imaginer of this record.

We worked on this project from 2016 to 2020. I would be back and forth from Athens to New York a lot and we would record whenever I was in town. It just became this extensive, multi-year spanning project. I can’t wait to make the next one much faster.

HIGHCLOUDS: After working on an album for seven years, how do you know that it’s done?

NIGHT PALACE: I had such a hard time with this. I just had to decide. I have a tendency to drag things through life with me and change them along the way with my changing tastes. I was able to indulge in that because we recorded it in so many mini sections. At some point, I realized that I don’t have to make these songs everything I’ve ever wanted to sound like because that’s not possible. I get to try again on the next one, and try again, and all of the body of work that will eventually form will hopefully sometime be representative of everything that I’ve wanted to sound like.

HIGHCLOUDS: Let’s do some rapid fire questions. If you had to recommend an environment to listen to this album, what setting would it be?

NIGHT PALACE: With headphones on the beach at night because I think that’s where so many of these songs live.

HIGHCLOUDS: If you had to describe the album in one word or phrase, what would it be?

NIGHT PALACE: Let’s see. I think I like, “Love songs from the ocean.” We’ll go with that. If you get an unhinged email from me in three hours with a different phrase, my apologies.

HIGHCLOUDS: What are you looking forward to this year?

NIGHT PALACE: We’re touring in April with my friend Mia Joy who is based in Chicago. She’s super amazing and rad. I’m so excited to play with her. Then, we will also tour again on the West Coast in August. We’re in the midst of booking that.

I’m never not writing, but I’m really excited to think about a next album.

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