Domenic Palermo had a rough upbringing. In Philadelphia, his family lived next to “the heroin capital of the country throughout the ’90s,” but at least he had the coolest mom on the block. “We had a one-bedroom place. I would sleep in the room with her, and she would listen to the radio: The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cocteau Twins, stuff like that,” he says, now 32. “I was terrified of the music when I was a kid. It just sounded scary to me.”
He eventually got over his fears. Guilty of Everything, this spring’s debut from his punky shoegaze outfit, Nothing, is a bracing listen, moving from swamps of echoing guitars to serene pools of reverb, neck-snapping breakdowns and riff outbursts tough enough to get the group signed to Relapse. You can do the goth sway to it, but you might get your Ankh ripped off in the mosh pit.
It’s whiplash-inducing music, violent yet beautiful, and in conversation Palermo can be the same way. When we speak, he’s languid and nursing a hangover, but quickly perks up when talking about Sartre, Dostoyevsky and other thinkers that influenced the writing of Guilty of Everything. But don’t presume he was always the bookish sort: “I got kicked out of high school for hitting a kid with a brick.”
Around then, Palermo’s brother introduced him to hardcore. From 1999 through 2002, Palermo fronted the brutal Horror Show; it was after one of their concerts that he and his friends were jumped by a gang. “There was a quite a few of them. I got beat up pretty bad and left, and then came back with a couple more people,” he says. “I tried to even it up, and life changed a little bit.”
Palermo stabbed someone during the fight, and in 2002 was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and “all this other shit,” as he puts it. “I had a pretty terrible lawyer, and I ended up getting a seven-year sentence.” He was paroled after only two years, but things hardly improved. “When I came home, my life literally spun out of control even worse, friends and family passing. Life almost got the best of me for a little while. I became somewhat of a recluse for a few years.”
Still, Palermo never quit writing. His friends pushed him to start playing some of the songs he had demoed, and he eventually partnered with fellow guitarist and vocalist Brandon Setta, using Palermo’s old prison chapbooks for inspiration: “There was some really emotionally explosive shit that I had written that was heavy to look into,” he remembers. Taking sonic cues from early Smashing Pumpkins and late Nirvana, the pair recorded Guilty of Everything in 12-hour shifts. “We were going so hard. Waking up, eating a shitload of Adderall and just chain smoking and listening to the songs over and over again. By the end of the night, we were swallowing boxes of red wine just to fucking fall asleep, to get up and do it all over again.”
There’s a lot of violence in Nothing’s music, but Palermo insists there’s no more violence in him as a person. And as much as his music seeks release, there are also meditative, tranquil moments, like “Endlessly,” which sighs like an Ivo Watts-Russell fugue before erupting into a cleansing percussion coda that mirrors its author’s attempts to move past the darkness that has long followed him. “I wanted to make a soundtrack to what life is,” he says. “That’s what me and Brandon wanted to do. Life is a sad thing, but there’s beauty hidden throughout it.”