Meet a Loyola student band: The Palace at 4am

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos courtesy of The Palace at 4am

Named for Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture, The Palace at 4am, this band of seven members of the Class of 2013 has been playing together since their first year at Loyola. Philip Bolton, Patrick Diamond, Casey Miller, Dennis Mizzoni, Aaron Perseghin, Aaron Pinto, and Christopher Sweeney write their own songs and perform at campus events, such as Relay for Life, and Baltimore venues, such as the Recher Theatre and the Ottobar.

Three of the band members became friends as first-year students and the other four all graduated from Loyola Blakefield together. They met and started covering songs together casually. They moved on to playing campus poetry events and coffeehouses, and steadily started writing their own music and moving into larger venues.

The band now has about 50 original songs, though they haven’t recorded anything officially.

“I can’t imagine playing with a different group of people,” Pinto said. “Everything goes so deep, our relationship, so starting with new guys at this point would be almost impossible because we’ve worked so hard performing the songs each person has written.”

Loyola magazine asked them to give us an inside look at the band.

When did you realize you had something special happening with the band?

Aaron Pinto: I remember sitting in Aaron and Casey’s room and harmonizing along to “Friend of the Devil” by the Grateful Dead. I realized that by (a) covering a song like that and (b) adding harmonies, that we were different than most kids our age who play music. It probably wasn’t until we played at Loyola’s 2012 Relay for Life that I was able to feel this vibe with the guys that we were a real band—that our songs were good and that people liked them. I think everyone felt something special that night and our confidence as a band increased tenfold.

Christopher Sweeney: I think a major step was made when we started playing all original material. During our junior year, I think we started to get a lot better at playing live. It takes a while to get comfortable in the live setting, and our performances up to that point were not without rough patches. But I think it gradually started to click that year. We played at Relay for Life in early 2012, and that sticks in my mind as one of our best performances.

Back Row L to R: Chris Sweeney, Dennis Mizzoni, Patrick Diamond, Aaron Perseghin; Front Row L to R: Aaron Pinto, Casey Miller, Phil Bolton (Photo by Amanda Nolan)

Tell us about the name of the band:

Christopher Sweeney: Casey and I, along with a few other people who don’t perform with us anymore, played in coffee shops during high school. I was taking an art history class, and we learned about a piece by Alberto Giacometti called The Palace at 4am. I just liked the name and since, at that point, I didn’t feel as though we would form an actual band, I just wanted to use it casually. When all seven of us started playing together, it was casual and informal as well. We used that name simply because we couldn’t agree on anything else. It just stuck from then on. There’s been debate about it, the more serious we get about being an actual band. It’s a strange name. It’s long and it might even confuse people. Not everyone in the band is crazy about it. But at this point, I can’t see us playing under any other name.

Philip Bolton: For me, the name is something special. The sculpture itself has a crowded, almost ethereal presence to it, which is something that truly embodied how we performed our first shows at Loyola University Maryland. In those beginning stages, we were more of an unplugged, rootsy folk collective that enjoyed playing together for the sake of making music. In that sense, there have always been haunting similarities between the name and band in my mind.

Aaron Pinto: Though Chris came up with the name, I know that when I see our band name it represents a bunch of things. I once read that Giocometti’s sculpture was supposed to represent the ups and downs of building and maintaining a relationship, or something along those lines. I think that with seven people, it’s important for us to keep building our relationship with each other, especially when our fortress gets knocked down. Also, some of us are notorious night owls and I feel a lot of creative and memorable experiences happen at a time like 4 a.m. I like all of that. I feel a real connection to the name in terms of our relationship as friends, as a band.

How large a part of your Loyola experience is The Palace at 4am?

Philip Bolton: Being in The Palace at 4am has been a very big part of my Loyola experience. Even before making music together, all of us had connected on a more basic level as very close friends. Adding the component of performing music together has added a depth to these relationships that is beyond compare for me. Sharing experiences with these people as both friends and band mates is very special to me.

Patrick Diamond: The Palace at 4am has been a marked part of my Loyola experience, mostly because my fellow bandmates are also my best friends at Loyola. Our friend group has been through a lot together. We know each other well and are interested in each other’s lives. All of the members have been crucial to my experience.

Aaron Pinto: The Palace at 4am is a huge part of my Loyola experience, especially because it’s so intertwined with the formation of my friendship with the band members. More and more every year, it becomes a bigger part of our lives. I never thought I would find people who I could create good music with. The band is my baby and it’s certainly one of the biggest aspects of my Loyola experience.

Describe the band’s music.

Aaron Pinto: The current incarnation of the band plays rock music influenced heavily by ’60s pop and folk from many different eras. A lot of us are influenced by The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Phil Spector and The Zombies. Others are really into lo-fi surf music, and others are into outlaw country and classic rock. Taste-wise, there’s a lot of overlap, but each member has their own distinct style of songwriting and playing so that in little ways each person’s influences crop up on every song we do. Everyone shares a common love for The Avett Brothers.

Christopher Sweeney: It’s evolved over time. We used mostly acoustic guitars and even ukulele, mandolin, and banjo in the beginning. Recently we’ve been playing with mostly electric guitars. Since we write almost all of our songs individually, our sound varies quite a bit. My songs tend to be folksy. I can’t say I’m consciously writing folk songs, it’s just that I’m limited with what I can do recording-wise. But folk is definitely an element that is present in more than just my songs. We also have songs that have elements of 60s pop, power pop, country, classic rock, and modern rock. But I think it’s hard to accurately describe our overall sound. One thing that we try to incorporate into almost every song is vocal harmony.

Where do you find your inspiration for writing songs?

Philip Bolton: In terms of my stylistic approach to writing music, I heavily draw influence from the lofi surf, dreampop, glam, and garage outlets of artists from The Vaselines to David Bowie. I feel this is something distinct in our group that really what sets my songs apart from the others. My songwriting process typically begins with a melody I have come up that I will hum and record on my phone. I will then build the song around this hook. This typically begins with the piece’s instrumentation and is finalized through the writing and lyrics. If I were to describe the content of the songs I have written, I would say that they are strongly influenced by an idealized version of my own youth—getting scraped knees, dirty feet, and ripped clothes. I often supplement these images by references to film and literature. From this mindset, I then tap into basic human emotions, such as love, anger, and inclusion.

Aaron Pinto: I find inspiration solely in heartache; the lyrics and melody are usually written simultaneously because I’m trying to articulate exactly how I feel. Every song is deeply personal; some are less subtle than others, but they’re always based on real things. When I’m looking for lyrical content, I think about a time when I was wronged or heartbroken and everything just falls into place. Elvis Costello is probably my biggest influence in that regard.

What are your goals for the band?

Aaron Pinto: My goal is to continue writing songs and to continue scrutinizing over the live performance, getting people confident in the harmonies and trying to be a memorable act to people who don’t know us. When we play, I want people to feel like there is hope for the future of our generation’s music. I want our songs to be loved. I want people who don’t know us to see us and leave the venue as bona fide fans. We will never be able to accomplish more grandiose goals like getting signed and touring if we don’t have appreciation and support.

Philip Bolton: Over the long term, I would like to see our band develop a more professional and stimulating stage presence. This has been greatly limited by venues we have played in the past, as the stage is often much too small to accommodate a seven-piece band. One of the benefits of being so closely associated with the music scene at Loyola is that we have the frequent opportunity to perform in McGuire Hall, a place where we typically thrive. In the meantime, however, I would like to focus on taking a break from live shows for a bit to catch up the recording and release of a full-length album.

What do you do with the money the band earns?

Patrick Diamond: We’ve found a way to fuse our love of music with some greater, worldlier goals as well by donating the earnings from some of our shows to the Loyola Microfinance Cooperative. The Cooperative works locally and globally to educate students about the microfinance model of economic development while investing directly in entrepreneurs and their businesses. It’s been an ideal partnership of music and altruistic concern.

Do you hope the band can stay together after graduation?

Philip Bolton: I certainly hope that the band can continue to perform after Commencement. Since the band takes its roots in a solid friendship between the members, I firmly believe that we will continue to play shows after graduating—even if this means having to travel every once in a while. Luckily, it seems that most of us will be staying in the Baltimore area after our time at Loyola.

Aaron Pinto: That will be the true test. I hope more than anything that the band will stay together past Loyola. If we all found ourselves living in Baltimore after graduation, then there’s no reason we couldn’t keep playing. To throw away all the work we’ve done would be terribly sad. I don’t want to look back on my life and think, “What could’ve happened?” I think what we have is too special. Some people are put on this world to fall into a monotonous career and then play music as a side hobby. I truly think we’re good enough to take the gamble and really invest in the band as our life, as our career. We can’t take it for granted. The songs are too good to only be heard by a small percent of people and I think everyone in the band knows that, deep down inside.

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