Mark Palm’s 5 Favorite Underrated Songwriters
Mark Palm’s 5 Favorite Underrated Songwriters
May 27, 2022
(Mark Palm—pictured front—with Supercrush)
Playing Favorites is an interview series where creative people pick a topic and tell us their five favorite things about it. The opinions expressed in this series are those of those interviewed and do not reflect the opinions of SW Lauden or The Big Takeover.
Mark Palm is the guitarist/vocalist of Seattle-based pop guitar band supercrush. The trio, also with the bassist Phil Jones and drummer Coach Allen — released his first album, THEN DO Popularin 2020. Their latest release, a 5-song EP titled melody makerwill be released on June 3. “There was a big indie and alternative rock thing going on in eastern Canada when I was young, with bands like Sloan and The Doughboys being played on MuchMusic all the time, so I was exposed to all of that,” Palm said. “In my mind, any melodic, guitar-based band is fair game to have an influence on Supercrush – from The Beatlesat My dear loveat Boston.” Given Palm’s range of influences, I asked him to share his five favorite underrated songwriters.
MARK PALM‘S HIGH 5 FAVORITE UNDERESTIMATED Songwriters
Describing a musician as “underrated” is always a slightly backhanded compliment. Sure, that’s complementary in that you recognize their talent, but there’s also the underlying implication that they’re not particularly well-liked, haven’t found success, or haven’t succeeded in reach an audience. To be clear, I certainly don’t mean that my assessment of the following bands and songwriters as “underrated” is an affront. Each of them is respected by those who know them, and each of them has found an audience, regardless of size, that adores and appreciates them. And yet, I hold all of their work in such high regard that I can’t help but think they should be more popular and better known than they are.
5. Sweet Death
Today’s indie rock music landscape is awash with bands mixing a kind of modern take on “grunge” with a few vague elements of the spacey stompbox adoration and dreamy vocals of the original “shoegaze” bands ( i.e. two controversial genre labels surrounded by one-sentence quotes). I’m not sure exactly what you would call this contemporary style. I guess it’s somewhere between “bubblegrunge” and “nu-gauze” (I’ve done it again). For some reason, maybe because I’m old enough to remember when a lot of the source material bands were still active, it takes something special and distinct for a band like this to really grab my attention. For what it’s worth, I think Canada’s Dead Soft is the best of the bunch. They’ve been around for over a decade and I’m guessing they predate the current genre boom, which might give them a slightly different and unique approach to style. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a case of superior writing. Either way, I think they’re great and deserve a much wider audience. Aside from writing great songs, one of their most distinctive characteristics is Nathaniel Eppthe voice. It has the enviable ability to shift from a soft, sweet chant to a heartbreaking scream, sometimes in the same line, yet always remaining melodic and melodious even in its harshest form. I would kill to have that kind of control over my voice. And when Epp’s voice is joined by that of the bassist Keeley Rochonmagnificent and surprising harmonies and counter-melody emerge.
4. Donnie Life
I’ve written about Donnie Vie before, so forgive me for being a broken record, but the man’s writing is so excellent but underrated that I feel compelled to sing his praises every time the opportunity presents itself. Life is best known for coping Enuff Z’Nuff, and especially for a few early hits in the very late 1980s. But unbeknownst to many fair-weather fans, the group continued to produce excellent music for decades after their brush with big-time success. audiences faded into oblivion for the glam/grunge nexus of the early 90s. Besides Enuff Z’Nuff, Vie released many songs on their own and continue to do so to this day. By his own admission, Donnie has been through ringing – both professionally and personally over the decades – but he seems to be in very healthy condition lately and his prolific singing and manner with a melody remains unchanged from years of tough life. and bad breaks. I can’t help but want to see him win. He’s one of the great rock stars, even if you’ve never heard of him.
Sloan is a true institution in Canada. They are a well-known, award-winning band with many gold records, mostly famous in their home country. Growing up in Canada, I saw them regularly on TV and heard their singles on mainstream rock radio. But I’m going to assume that I’m writing for a mostly American audience here, that’s how I can get away with calling them “underrated”. Here in the United States, where I have lived for many years now, Sloan is what is often called a “cult act” – a nifty term that lends more cachet than the less flattering “not particularly popular, but loved from a loyal fanbase. I guess it’s a win for me because it means I can now see them up close and personal at smaller clubs which wouldn’t have been possible for me as a youngster in the 90s in Canada. Picking Sloan from a list of “5 songwriters” is a bit of a cheat code in that he gets four in one. All four band members write and sing their own songs and each is a formidable blacksmith in their own right. These are the Canadians Teen fan club in this regard, but with yet another songwriter! And they have the most stylish and explosive Keith Moon -esque drummer in the game. I take that back – they have two of the most stylish and explosive Moon-esque drummers in the game. Take that!
In 2018, Supercrush embarked on their first North American tour. In Bloomington, Indiana, we played with a local band called Jacky Boy who I quickly declared to be my favorite band we played with during the entire 32-show tour. I’ve since taken it upon myself to show their music to any friend I think might enjoy it. Excellent 1990s style power pop that remains underrated for its quality – IMHO. Jacky Boy happens to have a brand new album called Porridge just released, which will hopefully fall on many more grateful ears. In addition to Jacky Boy, vocalist/guitarist Steve Marino releases music under his own name and despite the fact that I enjoy Jacky Boy, it might be Steve’s solo thing that I would choose in a decision on a desert island. His Down album from a few years ago really touches me. It’s a softer side of Steve’s songwriting and I like how his voice works in the quieter setting of these songs. While I’m effusive, another aspect of Marino’s songwriting that I really love is his occasional mention of sex in a number of his lyrics. He has a way of slipping an almost rude X-rated line into a beautiful, delicately moving song that can make you do a double take like “Wait, did he just say what I think he said?!” It’s refreshing because I find that aspect of life is almost completely ignored lyrically in the little corner of the music world where Supercrush exists. I certainly don’t often hear it mentioned in such a simple and shameless way. But of course it’s part of life like anything else, why wouldn’t it show up in our lyrics from time to time?
1. John Davis
I’ve often said that John Davis is the most underrated American songwriter of the last 25 years (or more). As singer, guitarist and main songwriter of Superdrag it found mainstream popularity in the mid-90s, fleeting as it turned out to be. But his songwriting gifts far outlast the momentary flash of MTV shine that Superdrag experienced with their 1996 single “Sucked Out.” But you know what…this whole narrative is about as tired as it gets at this point, so let’s move on. John Davis possesses one of my most respected qualities in a songwriter and musician: endurance. Writing a good song or two is one thing. Just like playing in a band for a few years in your early twenties. While I won’t go so far as to say “anyone can do this,” I will say that I’m not particularly moved by the fleeting “just one phase” approach to musical involvement that many seem to be taking. But doing it decade after decade is quite another thing. And to do so with ever increasing skill, with ever better results, is almost unheard of. Davis is one of that elite class of songwriters and has a 30-year catalog of consistently great songs to prove it. There are countless gems to be found not only in Superdrag’s vast discography, but also in John’s solo albums, releases with the band The Lees of Memory, and its incredible treasure trove of home demos. In fact, I think one of Lees’ newer songs, “Stay Freee,” is one of his best works to date. Of course, John’s talent is celebrated by many loyal fans who have followed his musical journey for years, and to play the game of comparing his numbers to those of some of his less talented (in my opinion) and more successful contemporaries would be a pointless exercise in sour grapes—one that I’m sure Davis himself has no interest in pursuing. My point is simply that in a perfect version of reality, a songwriter of his caliber would be celebrated as an American treasure. Scratch that, there’s no need to see Davis’ work through the prism of national identity, he’s simply a musical treasure, period.
Previously in Reading Favorites:
Mo Troper’s 5 Favorite Portland Albums
Hannah Judge’s 5 Favorite Rilo Kiley Songs
Peter Gill’s Top 5 Favorite Power Pop Albums