Palberta is a band characterized by movement. The songs bounce here and there, with unpredictable melodies that might burst out of the confines of sheet music. The members of the upstate New York-based three-piece move around as they play, of course, but those movements occasionally turn into synchronized routines. And throughout any Palberta set, each member plays drums, bass and guitar, an approach that gives the band a feel of radical egalitarianism.
But while the members value equal participation, this configuration wasn’t intentional. During practices someone would be like, ‘I want to try playing drums!’ and we would jam in that formation and come up with a few different songs,” explains Nina Ryser from the road in Redding, Calif., halfway through the band’s seven-week tour. “It was definitely a little scary for all of us for different reasons. I had never played bass before Palberta, but now it’s, like, my favorite thing to play.”
Ryser met Lily Konigsberg and Anina Ivry-Block at Bard College about two years ago, when Ryser invited Konigsberg and Ivry-Block to perform at a solo-artist showcase she had organized. They started playing together soon after but, at first, weren’t sure what to make of what they were doing.
“The three of us come from pretty different musical backgrounds,” says Ryser. She studied music composition and comes from the contemporary-classical world, in contrast to Konigsberg’s background of acoustic-based songwriting and Ivry-Block’s focus on video and performance art. “I think we were just more confused about what exactly we were trying to do and what to make out of it.”
Since then, things have fallen into place, though the music retains a jammy, unpolished weirdness. Palberta hits an elusively engaging sweet spot: As a band, they’re clearly having a lot of fun, but they’re happy to include the listener in on the party. There’s always an element of the loud, fast and experimental, but these ladies also have a knack for hooks: A song like “When I Come” could be a hit on any college radio station. “The songwriting process is really easy for us,” Ryser says. “I think we’re pretty fortunate in that way.”
But Palberta’s vibe can be confusing for some. “I would say 95 percent of the time, we play with bands that are all men or bands with mostly men, and I think when people first hear us they’re shocked by what we do,” Ryser says. “We’ve encountered men before who have said our music is ‘aggressive,’ and it’s frustrating because, yeah, we do like making aggressive music and getting in people’s faces. But it shouldn’t be a surprise.” Gender ratios in the music world might be slowly shifting, but Palberta isn’t going to pretend it’s suddenly a non-issue. “We’re always fully aware of our gender, especially when we’re performing,” Ryser explains. “I think there’s a perception that the progressive thing to do is just not talk about it. Even though we don’t want to be labeled as an ‘all-girl band,’ we are always willing to have the conversation.”