Pete Palladino is cracking jokes and spicing our conversation with his trademark wit and laughter.
The longtime Badlees vocalist is upbeat and relaxed, and there's an air of lightness and enthusiasm in his voice reminiscent of our first interview nearly five years ago.
After a stormy year — personally and professionally — Palladino says he's back. Feeling recharged, he is treading new waters: performing a few solo shows, playing more guitar and writing more songs.
On Saturday, he'll be taking the stage at Jitterbugs in Edwardsville, sharing the bill with fellow national recording artist Fuel and Solution A.D. and local favorites Cider and Pinch.
But before we get to that, let's let Palladino reiterate what Badlees' guitarist Bret Alexander recently told us when discussing The Cellarbirds, another side-project featuring Badlees members.
"The band is fine," says Palladino with a laugh, squelching rumors that current outside endeavors are a sign of trouble within the group.
"We're all feeling great, we all love each other and we're excited to get back out and tour as the Badlees. ... Dear God, we just spent a year of our lives together making record, and we made a pretty darn good record.
"We're very proud of it."
Still, Palladino says he understands the fans' concerns regarding the status of the group.
"It's funny, because a lot of times people can digest you in one role, and they see you doing something else, and they get a little nervous," he says. "They don't want you to deviate from their perception of you. ... Everybody's doing different things, but automatically, if it's something to do with music and it's something done out in front of an audience, they question the status of the mothership.
"I've been building a lot of furniture," he adds. "That doesn't mean I'm leaving the Badlees to become a carpenter. There's no sense jumping out of a perfectly good airplane."
With the new album, tentatively titled "Up There Down Here," nearly completed and the band off the road, Palladino says the time is right for members of the group to branch off and enjoy whatever outside projects and hobbies interest them. For him, that's meant more time for carpentry, skiing, and working on his own music.
(Although Palladino is the lead vocalist of the Badlees and stamps the groups' songs with his vocal interpretations, the bulk of the band's songwriting duties fall on the shoulders of Alexander and collaborator Mike Naydock.)
"It's something I've always wanted to do — play guitar and sing and actually do it in front of people," he says. "I was sitting here one day and I thought 'The only way I'm ever going to do this is to actually just book some shows and go do it. ... That's the way I've always done anything in my life. Just dive in and figure it out as I'm going along."
Palladino — an admirer of storytelling songwriters such as Dylan and Springsteen and contemporary artists such as Adam Duritz — says many of the songs he's written carry more of a pop flare and that don't necessarily fit the eclectic style most associated with The Badlees. At first, he says, this troubled him. But — with the advice of Alexander and Naydock — he's come to accept his music and continue working at it.
"Those guys are so far along and the song structures are just so intricate and great — I was constantly comparing myself to that," he says. "You're sitting here, trying to write songs for a Badlees record, and I was constantly trying to keep up with where Bret is at as a songwriter, and where Mike's at as a songwriter...
"The one important thing that I think both of them had said to me was 'Just write it. Get it out, and don't necessarily judge it as it's coming out. Don't censor yourself, because you'll wind up stifling yourself, and you'll never finish the song. Just do it.'"
He's doing it. Palladino's songs are personal and observational, often carrying heavy sentiment. One song, "Standing By Your Side" came after he read a newspaper story about an elderly couple who were best of friends and inseparable in life. The man, who was in perfect health, died only a few hours after the death of his wife.
"He died of a broken heart," says Palladino. "I guess that inspired the song."
Other song titles include "I Don't Mind," "Tonight I'll Lay Beside You While You Sleep," and "Whose Bright Idea Was This Anyway?"
Although Palladino did co-write, "Lost In You," a terrific ballad that appeared on an early Badlees EP, none of his more recently written tracks appear on the new Badlees album. Still, he says if he ever does write a song that fits the Badlees' bill, he'd welcome the opportunity for it to be recorded.
"If a song came out that happened to fit that format — that would be great," he says. "But I think over the years, the Badlees have become — and Badlees' songs have become — a lot of like what Bret and Mike are doing. As far as where I'm at as a songwriter, it's going to take me a while to get to that point."
Palladino's solo shows will run about 30 minutes, featuring a handful of his own compositions and a favorite cover or two. Although he's given a few performances near his Selinsgrove home, Saturday's show at Jitterbugs will be his debut in the Wyoming Valley.
"It's a good exercise in focus for me," he says. "I'm very nervous, and it's nice to have that nervous energy back. I've been in the role of lead singer, frontman and ringleader for so long, that when I step on stage with the four other guys, I'm not really nervous anymore. Whether it be a crowd at Jitterbugs or 20,000 people in an arena, it's still basically the same thing ...
"This is nice, because you get in front of 50 people per say, and there's nobody around you," he adds. "It completely falls on you, and it's just a completely different animal for me.
"It's something else that I wanted to conquer."