Americans have a tendency to make celebrities out of schmucks. Sure, that statement is abrasive, but it’s also undeniably true. There’s a long list of people who bask in the limelight as if it’s owed to them, not a gift from their fans. This unfortunate phenomenon covers all corners of the entertainment spectrum, from actors like Johnny Depp and Mel Gibson to musicians like 50 Cent and John Mayer to just about everything Kanye West has ever done.
Metal is not immune, either. Enter metalcore’s chief wanker, Emmure lead singer Frankie Palmeri. Admittedly, I did not assign him this dubious title; he earned it himself with conduct so misanthropic and unpleasant that his entire band once abandoned him on tour. Afterward, even Palmeri himself admitted he was, quote, "sorry for being a moronic douche.”
Still, his apology must have been short-lived, because Palmeri recently hit the PR trail to promote Emmure's new album, Look at Yourself. In what became the most uncomfortable interview exchange I’ve ever participated in, I found myself on the receiving end of Palmeri’s belligerence. I started to feel like Dr. Phil interviewing the "Cash Me Outside" girl. Palmeri lived up to his raucous reputation, that's for sure.
Houston Press: Hello there. How are things going? Frankie Palmeri: Great.
Let’s start with the tour. I see you’re opening Emmure's set with your most controversial song, “Bring a Gun to School.” This isn’t a song off the new album, and has received quite a bit of negative feedback. How do you defend playing it to those who would criticize you?
I don’t care what people think about the song. I don’t give a fuck. If people would stop bringing it up, it wouldn’t be a problem. People like you keep bringing it up. I have no reason to defend it [laughs].
So, you don’t find it reckless or irresponsible to create a song about killing children at school, and don’t believe you should defend why you created it in the first place?
No. Why do you fucking care anyway?
Because I’m also a teacher.
I guess you’ve never had to deal with frightened students on a school campus, a lockdown or the idea of taking a bullet for a child? Or which students you’d hide in the coat closet and which you won’t? Or wonder if school desks can really shield bullets?
Why are you interviewing me then?
I’m curious how you’d respond to these questions, Frankie.
If you don’t like it, don’t fucking listen to it. If you don’t like my music, why are you even talking to me?
Your publicist contacted us for an interview, and we agreed. That’s how this works.
What is this?
[Laughs] Never heard of them. Whatever. Look, I don’t care if people like me, or like my music. It’s ridiculous to have this argument. It’s a form of stupidity. Don’t fucking listen to it. I don’t fucking care.
I think it's gross negligence to sell a song about killing students to kids that are still students themselves.
If you feel music is the reason people kill each other, you’ve got it fucking back-assward. I’ve felt this way my whole life; do you think that’s dangerous? If you think it’s dangerous, or I’m mentally ill because of a song, then you’re the one that’s fucked up.
You don’t see this as gratuitous posturing? Creating an offensive song in order to create a buzz where none would be otherwise?
No, I don’t. I mean, what was Napoleon reading when he invaded [unintelligible]? What was he listening to? Look, I make music as a release. That’s the whole point. People come to the show and let their fucking energy out. That’s what I do.
Yes, that’s what Palmeri does. In a 2014 interview with Revolver (as relayed by metalsucks.net), he claimed he makes songs that glorify killing children because he was once bullied himself, saying, "I was fat, I wore glasses, had suspenders…" But, apparently, he doesn’t make the connection that encouraging a horrific crime, even in his songs, makes him complicit and an instigator. He may be an artist, but he also has a professional responsibility to his community and fan base to not be a provocateur by promoting violence on school campuses.
"Bring a Gun" isn’t his first time to publicize school shooter crimes, either. Palmeri’s now-defunct clothing company, Cold Soul, once came under fire because its shirts depicted, among similar themes, ISIS, racism against African-Americans (scenes from American History X) and a still photo of the crime scene of the Columbine shooting. One of the band's T-shirts on its current tour mocks victims of domestic abuse.
So what? It’s his art, right? Yes, but it's also his responsibility. Consider how Stephen King once wrote a novel about a school shooter but later retracted it. Under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, King published Rage, which he later pulled from print himself, fearing it could influence a compromised young person to act on it — and indeed it did.
Further consider the pretentious and entitled disposition of someone who shrugs at the idea that he could possibly influence the next school shooting. It’s not so much that Palmeri screamed at me, or insulted my profession or even mocked the Houston Press, but the fact that he felt no responsibility to defend the art he created or his own contentious manner.
Why do we give these people a voice? We parade their boorish behavior over our social-media feeds, creating a platform to honor this break in social niceties and decorum, celebrating their incendiary antics while simultaneously seething at their audacity. We feign outrage at their tasteless displays, all the while anticipating the next outburst. We rile them to encourage their contrary attitude because it entertains us. We poke the bear in the cage and laugh at its anger.
Emmure does not make music that is unique or offers a creative and compelling point of view. Unsurprisingly, they sound like every other metalcore band that had some fleeting popularity in the mid-2000s — monotone guttural growls and music that sounds like a wood-shop buzz saw repeatedly slipping a gear. The auditory differences in tone, composition, arrangement or sound from song to song, album to album, ad nauseam, are negligible.
But this is why inferior bands make inferior songs about killing kids: That’s all they have to offer. It's simply easier to create shocking lyrics intended to offend and provoke rather than intelligent, well-practiced music that comes from actual talent and hard work. Emmure is nothing more than tawdry, off-brand, mediocre, bootleg entertainment.
Emmure and special guests After the Burial, Fit For a King, Fit For an Autopsy, Invent and Animate perform Saturday, March 11 at Walters Downtown, 1120 Naylor. Tickets are $20- $22
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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.