Nai Palm has no problem napping like a dragon. Shimmering scales rest heavily on a high mound of treasures as leathery wings encapsulate a world of dreams, recharging her before she walks on stage with her band, Hiatus Kaiyote.
“I lost both my parents when I was young, and that really informed my writing and the capacity for myself to heal,” Palm said in an interview with The Daily Californian, running on three hours of sleep. “By being able to tour the world and share that vulnerability, other people can connect to parts of themselves emotionally to help make sense of their own trauma. And it’s not all trauma, but it’s good to notice the hard stuff.”
The Melbourne-based band kicked off the United States part of their Mood Valiant Tour at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival. With change being an integral part of its music, Hiatus Kaiyote’s return to the festival after a six-year gap acts as a mirror, reflecting on individual and collective metamorphoses.
“This time around, we have another album up our sleeves, we have beautiful harmonies with us, there’s been a pandemic, I went through a breast cancer diagnosis — it’s been a crazy time,” Palm shared, linking past and present.
From embodying a leopard slug that encircles in its lover’s luminescent goo to mummifying metaphors of the mortal lure toward preservation, Hiatus Kaiyote opens up fun-size worlds that stretch imaginations. These fantastic narratives interlace with personal vulnerabilities, the heart of the band’s music pulsating with empathy.
“If you can lean into the cracks of yourself and nurture them, then you can become stronger and more full,” Palm said. “I always have that theme in my writing. It’s my ethos. It’s okay to suffer as long as you see the beauty and the lessons because most people learn compassion through suffering.”
Seeing music as an art form that transcends aural senses and language barriers opens Palm to finding personal ways to connect with people on a multi-sensory level. Whether it’s airing out a venue with the antibacterial properties of earthy frankincense or incorporating the optical flavors of visual artist Timeboy, Hiatus Kaiyote trickles sound across the skin.
“The thing about music is it’s not just this one-dimensional thing; it leans into everything,” Palm said. “Once you access your own divinity, it connects to other art forms. It’s like a gumbo. Having Timeboy with us is really dope because our music’s intricate and nerdy. When you can also offer visual beauty, everything else gets enhanced.”
Hiatus Kaiyote released Mood Variant (The Remixes) in April 2022, a remixed edition of Mood Valiant that features unique covers from the band’s dream team of artists. It acknowledges art as a living, breathing entity to be interacted with and constantly reshaped, building on the band’s long love of beat battles while also recalling Beyoncé, Drake and Kendrick Lamar’s remixes that gave Hiatus Kaiyote mainstream exposure.
“Very early on in our musical journey, there was this element of reworking things. (Mood Variant (The Remixes)) is an homage to that; it’s celebrating that creativity in people,” Palm said. (Salami Rose Joe Louis’ incognito cover of “Chivalry is Not Dead,” by the way, is Palm’s favorite.)
“We’ve done remixes for people where the song is completely unrecognizable, and they get upset,” Palm laughed. “But for me as an artist, it’s really cool when people make it their own; it’s more exciting.”
Whether it be through a Wikipedia rabbit hole or a spontaneous conversation with a shibari artist, Palm keeps her artistry activated through curiosity. She leans into her alter ego, Doctor Detective, when the thirst for knowledge needs quenching. She even keeps a list of electric words on hand, adding to it when unknown terms spark her interest and removing words once they’ve been incorporated into a song.
Weighing the unconscious habit of relying on the passivity of old patterns, Palm explained, “I like to extend my vocabulary, so if I hear a word I like — whether it’s really opulent or a word I don’t understand — instead of being embarrassed, I’ll ask people what it is. You don’t have to have all the answers all the time; you can puzzle pieces together.”
Viscosity is the latest word Palm’s pondered at, sitting on her list until her next search for lyrical inspiration. Gelatinous tree sap drippings, slippery mucous membranes, gooey snail trails — it’s anyone’s guess what microcosm this one little word will unfold in the next Hiatus Kaiyote song. Amid thick and thin, Palm and her band soar forward, gliding through even the murkiest clouds with buoyancy and radiance.
“You battle a lot with your purpose and why it is you do what you do,” Palm expressed. “More than ever, people need beauty and joy. That’s what my job is. If I can offer any kind of positivity to the world, then that’s a beautiful thing. And I feel really ready to offer that.”