As a guitarist for Bellingham-based death metal band Black Breath, Mark Palm was a driving force behind some of the most adventurous heavy music to come out of Washington over the past decade.
But when the band wasn't busy laying waste to everything in sight, Palm would throw on some headphones and pump his ears full of pitch-perfect guitar-pop bands like Teenage Fanclub, Sugar and Sloan.
"It's a balance, you know?" says Palm, pictured in the orange shirt. "You don't always want to be listening to the same type of music that you're playing."
Palm still seeks balance, though the pendulum has swung in the other direction.
These days, he fronts Supercrush, a Seattle power-pop band that would've sounded at home alongside all those standout '90s bands in Palm's headphones years ago. (And as a natural counterbalance, he's now listening to more heavy music than ever before.)
After years playing punk and metal, Palm recognized (and accepted) his primary strength as a musician and songwriter: pairing fuzzy electric guitars with catchy, candy-coated melodies. So he left his other musical ventures and turned his attention to Supercrush, which started as a low-pressure, just-for-fun project.
"At that time, I was touring with Black Breath and with another band called Devotion, and both of those bands were in the process of working on full-length albums," Palm says. "So I started Supercrush to have something to do in between. The plan was really just to do it occasionally, when the mood struck."
The mood struck often. From 2013 to 2018, Supercrush released four 7-inch singles, each containing two sugary sweet songs that showcased Palm's promise as a writer, while also leaving listeners wanting more.
In 2018, he finally moved Supercrush to the front burner, compiling those singles on a collection called Never Let You Drift Away and working in earnest on the band's debut full-length, SODO Pop, which dropped in October 2020.
With 10 irresistible tunes and nary a note out of place, SODO Pop would go down as a power-pop cult classic in a just world. It's jam-packed with memorable moments, from the perfectly sculpted keyboard lines that kick off "On the Telephone" and the understated twang of "Have You Called Him By My Name?" to the way the lead guitar mirrors the vocal melody in the chorus of "Be Kind to Me." Speaking of guitars, searing J. Mascis-style solos slice through a handful of the album's songs, while an airy acoustic ballad ("When I'm Gone") brings the album to a beautiful end.
"When it comes to songwriting, I have a very organized mind and organized approach, for better or worse," Palm says. "For me, it would be unnatural to try to create chaotic music because I'm just a very detail-oriented person."
Palm's meticulousness extends beyond songwriting and into the design of Supercrush's striking visual aesthetic. The art for each of the band's first four singles features a close-up photo of a woman, a particular color scheme (first purple, then light blue, orange, then pink) and the word SUPERCRUSH running vertically up the side of the cover. Never Let You Drift Away's art is colorful and nostalgic, while the cover of SODO Pop is a photo of Supercrush-branded tennis balls that match the color schemes of the first four singles. All of this visual detail is carried through the band's shirts and other merch.
A band does not have to have a cool and cohesive visual aesthetic to be good, of course. But it's a nice bonus, and for Palm it's an important part of the whole.
"I went into the early singles with an idea of what I wanted to do, and that I wanted people to be able to lay them all next to each other and to be able to get what we're all about," he says. "I think all the design work is definitely a reflection of that same sort of low-level OCD that I bring to the music."
He calls it low-level OCD, but it's easy to spin it this way: Palm has a strong vision for Supercrush, and he puts in the time and effort to bring that vision to life. It's a vision with roots in the '90s grunge and alt-rock of his youth, and those pop bands he'd listen to in the heavy metal tour van hurtling down the highway.
"Even a band like Black Breath, it was loud and aggressive, but there was always kind of a pop or rock 'n' roll sensibility to the music, and there were melodic elements that came through," Palm says. "At some point, it just occurred to me that melody is what I do. It's always just kind of been my natural inclination." ♦
CANCELED: Supercrush, Militarie Gun, Shine, Lipsick · Fri, Jan. 21, 7 pm · $15 · All ages · The Big Dipper · 171 S. Washington St. · bigdipperevents.com · 509-863-8098