Nothing comes easy to Nothing.
When the Philadelphia rock band led by Domenic "Nicky" Palermo emerged on the national stage in 2014 with their debut album Guilty of Everything, their band bio was fraught with peril.
Palermo grew up in the 1990s in the Frankford section of Philadelphia at a time when the neighborhood was, as he put it, "the heroin capital of the world. Half the neighborhood was hooked on junk."
The now 34-year-old guitarist and singer got his start around the turn of the millennium as the leader of the hardcore punk outfit Horror Show.
That band met its end when Palermo was convicted of aggravated assault and attempted murder after trying to stab a man outside a Blink-182 concert in Camden in 2001. "There was a lot of violence on the scene at that time, and I got sucked into that whole world," he says.
Then, out after serving two years in a New Jersey prison, his Horror Show cowriter Joshua Tshirlig was killed by a drunk driver while riding a motorcycle in California.
"There's been some strife, for sure," Palermo says with considerable understatement.
Along with guitarist Brandon Setta, 28, his songwriting collaborator in Nothing, Palermo was sitting for a post-rehearsal interview at Ortlieb's, the Northern Liberties music room he recently became a co-owner of after working as a bartender and manager at several of former owner Avram Hornik's bars around town in recent years.
Nothing was getting ready to head to London for a promotional tour. The band plays a hometown show at Union Transfer on July 8. Setta, dressed in black, sat cross-legged on the stage. Palermo, wearing a shirt emblazoned with Rod Stewart's face, pulled up a bar stool.
Palermo's left forearm is tattooed with lyrics by David Bowie, Oasis, and the Smiths. Under a skull and crossbones, there's an excerpt from an e.e. cummings poem: "How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mr. Death?" And on his inner wrist are lyrics to a song called "Eaten By Worms" that Palermo is wont to forget, serving as a sort of low-tech teleprompter.
That song was the first Palermo wrote for Tired of Tomorrow, and it was written in a California hospital. He had ended up there last May when thieves broke into a venue after a Nothing gig and beat him up. The attack left him with head and spine fractures - and without a cellphone.
It did provide him, however, with precious writing time and - like Bob Dylan's 1966 motorcycle accident - an involuntary break after two years on the road of "drinking and partying and not dealing with reality."
Palermo found himself in that Oakland hospital room "in a bit of a transient state, in and out, up and down, doped up from the meperidine pain pills and anesthesia. When I was awake, I would take turns reading The Soft Machine by [William S.] Burroughs and writing feverishly in a yellow legal pad."
Palermo has been an avid reader of Burroughs and other Beat Generation writers going back to his youth in Frankford, listening to his mother's Cocteau Twins and Cure albums and his older brother and sisters' punk and metal records.
In prison, though, he dug deep into existentialism. Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea, sent to him by his brother, was "a life-changing book. It was that, and then a little bit of Dostoyevsky," he recalls. "I realized this was a different type of sad. This wasn't, 'I'm-drunk-and-having-love-trouble sad.' It was a 'This-life-is-pretty-bleak kind of sad.' "
Released from incarceration in 2004, "I came home without a chip on my shoulder," he says. "I learned that I wasn't meant to be in there. I was doing things that, obviously, meant I deserved to be there. And I didn't know what I was meant to be doing. But it wasn't being in there."
More recently, working on what would become Tired of Tomorrow, he was trying to emulate Burroughs' " 'cut-up technique' [rearranging text in different order], but I was really stoned out of my mind and in a great deal of pain."
The words tatted on Palermo's arm are: "Unavailable Irresistible Educational Recreational Confrontational Inescapable."
With "Worms" as a starting point, Nothing - who usually perform at crushingly high volume - recorded a drenched-in-reverb album full of bottomless despair, which you might not realize as you're carried away by washes of shimmering sound and melody.
Two of the prettiest songs, "Nineteen Ninety Heaven" and the title cut, feature strings played by Shelly Weiss, who arranged them along with Palermo and Yip.
"It's a really meaningful record," Setta says. "The sad stuff is more intense, and the pop stuff is more pronounced."
With the album finished since June, the band was set to move forward with Collect, a label run by Geoff Rickly of the band Thursday and funded, as far as Palermo knew, by "some rich guy who was a big Thursday fan."
That guy turned out to be Martin Shkreli, the infamous "pharma bro" who jacked up the price of an AIDS drug 5,000 percent last year, later paid $2 million for sole possession of a Wu Tang Clan album, and is now facing charges of securities fraud.
When Palermo learned as much, he set to work getting Nothing off the label - difficult, considering he was "dealing with a guy who loves to be a problem." With Rickly's help, Nothing extricated themselves. "Martin had so much . . . going on. The front of the house was on fire, and we got out the back door."
Still, Palermo's travails weren't over.
Last fall, after the band returned from the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Texas, he learned that his father, from whom he had been long estranged but with whom he had recently reconciled, had died. Father and son had spent a rare day together a few weeks before. "He was bragging to his buddies, 'They pay this guy to go to Paris to play music!' He was real proud."
Nothing got offers from several labels, but rather than risk delaying Tomorrow further, they want back to Relapse. "We were through rolling the dice," Palermo says.
Tired of Tomorrow is a crafty mixture of darkness and light, a far more inviting experience than you might expect from song titles like "Curse of the Sun" and "ACD (Absessive Compulsive Disorder)," which promises, "I will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth."
"We thought about this one a lot more than we thought about the last one," Palermo says. "With Guilty, we didn't really know what we were doing. This is the first record you could really listen to and say: 'This is what Nothing sounds like.' "