INTERVIEW: Indie-folk singer/songwriter Shane Palko

Hi Shane, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hi, thanks! It’s good to be back. I’ve been enjoying doing the normal mix of shows, spreadsheets, recording birds in the jungle, spreadsheets, writing songs, staying up all night, and some more spreadsheets…

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Metamorphosis Of A Dream”?

This was one of the most fun songs ever to write and record. I was in Dodoma, walking down a dusty road. We were supposed to be recording at a studio that day, which had not worked out. I saw a tiny barber shop that was busting with fun. When I say tiny, I mean tiny. Your average North American car wouldn’t fit inside the shop – neither did the amount of fun that people were having inside the shop. Music and singing and laughter were spilling through the beaded curtain door into the street. I popped in to get a shave cause why not? Wazzy, a stable in the Tanzanian music scene was in there with some friends. We hit it off immediately. I invited him to come record a song in my hotel room that night after his gigs. If we couldn’t make the studio work that day, we would make our own. We recorded a few tracks together that night that are on my new album, Swahili Surreal.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

The song is about the life cycle of good memories. Much like a caterpillar turns into a chrysalis, turns into a butterfly, a dream turns into a plan, turns into a memory. Some of the freest experiences that happen in life are only able to occur when someone will work hard and put themselves out there.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

Since Wazzy and I wrote and recorded the song in the middle of the night, just a couple hours before I left the province, we did not have time to film together. We made the plan that he would show a local story of hard work and success that turns dreams into plans into memories. The archetypal story of success in his community is clearly laid out in the storyline. He sent me his shots when I was back in the US, staying on a friend’s farm in West Virginia. We were able to pretty seamlessly gather similar shots from our everyday life there in Pendleton County.

The single comes off your new album Swahili Surreal – what’s the story behind the title?

It’s a long and winding story. Swahili is a language in the Bantu family that is widely spoken across East Africa. My music producer friend, Zuli Tums, and I were welcomed into many communities to record my music and to record music for people in those communities. Often, we stood on opposite sides of a language gap, but danced to the music in the middle. It was a dream of a time that gave birth to this album.

How was the recording and writing process?

It is hard to believe all that went into the tornado of events that resulted in this album.  Tanzanian Member of Parliament, Mendrad Kigola, gave me an irresistible offer. He invited me to come to Tanzania and bring any producer in the world that I wanted to. We were invited to record an album of my music, and work to record communities for free that had never before had access to recording studios. Some towns where we got to go had great recording studios, some were too far into the hills to have any. These songs unfolded out of thin air over the few weeks that we were at it. It was an absolute honor to be there.

What role does Tanzania play in your music?

Tanzania accidentally has become a much larger force in my music than I ever meant for. I was in Uganda where I already have a lot going on. I got a gig next door, and stopped to play on my way south. Through a crazy series of events, I met Parliament Member Kigola. He brought me back to perform in Tanzania a few times. While we were together there, he told me about his dreams of building a community recording studio in his town. There are many great studios in Tanzania, but none in the small town of Mafinga. I partnered with him and the surrounding community in designing and beginning the building of such a place. Construction is partially complete. Half of the funding so far has come from local sources. I am using the profits from my album, “Swahili Surreal” to donate to the building of the studio. I want to find more outside support for the project. Construction is partially complete, and the human excitement there is already buzzing.

What aspect of your travels throughout Tanzania did you get to explore on this record?

I think the track, “Somehow” says it all. The song is a realization that we are in control of nothing, and can look for the beauty in the spiral of life.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

I found inspiration everywhichwhere. All the little things along the way that have fallen into my brain came tumbling out in some songs. Some songs juat sort of arrived out of the sky and slapped me, ready to be sung. This happens with a lot of the songs I like the most. I also co-wrote a few of these songs with the people I was collaborating with. Wazzy, Zuli and Francis all wrote verses. That is not normal to my process; it felt good to share in the creation of music together.

Any plans to hit the road?

I am currently living in Madrid, Spain. Even when I gig close to my spot, it’s kind of like hitting the road, as I am new here. I will always love and at least sometimes return to Pennsylvania; for now, I am glad to be basing tours out of here. It’s easy to grab a quick flight to places that I need to get to. I’ll be returning to East Africa in February to perform at Maro’s ten-year anniversary show. I’ll be hopping a bus down to Morocco to record with another friend in January. I miss hitting the road instead of hitting the sky. A couple years ago, Tyler Yoder and Evan Stout and I toured from Pennsylvania to Panama, playing shows in every country minus El Salvador. There is a freedom in taking the smaller roads on purpose…

What else is happening next in Shane Palko’s world?

While I am in East Africa, Maro and I will be working to finish our collaborative album, called “Home Places.” He writes about Uganda, I write about Pennsylvania. It’s a full-length mashup that is the lovechild of Afro-pop RnB and fast-picking Pennsyltucky woodsy folk. I am also working with a research program called Songs of Adaptation. We work with communities around the world to make bioacoustic documentation of their natural landscapes. It sounds fancy, but we record bird noises and such. I’m hoping to make some electronic beats out of bird sounds. Like pitch-shift woodpeckers down a few octaves to be bass drums and the like. It want to help people celebrate the sounds of nature in their own places. That’ll be pretty cool. I’m also planning to release some more eulogistic music. I wrote a lot of really dark songs the past few years, as many of the people I love slipped out of this life. So, I guess it’s the usual. I’ll be celebrating death and life, listening to nature sing, making music with friends in various communities around the globe, and wondering if I’ll ever sit on the porch that I built in Pennsylvania.


About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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