By 2014, Joseph Lekkas had long given up making music to work in freelance marketing, PR, and concert promotion. When stress became too much for him to handle, he started having constant panic attacks and agoraphobia, leading to a complete nervous breakdown that kept him housebound for six months. He sought the help of a psychiatrist, psychologist, and a professional in mindfulness-based stress reduction, hoping to achieve some degree of normalcy.
During this really dark time, he decided to form Palm Ghosts in Philadelphia as a solo studio project.
“Spending eight-plus hours a day in a warehouse in Kensington, Philadelphia, in the freezing winter of 2013-14, I penned the self-titled Palm Ghosts record,” Lekkas tells SPIN. “The response from friends was positive, and the daily structure of recording and creating music started to bring me out of my anxiety.”
Lekkas also found community through his songwriting: Now, almost a decade later, Palm Ghosts is an actual band, with a sound that’s evolved considerably.
Having grown tired of the rootsy Americana he was writing, Lekkas pivoted back into punk, early alternative, and new wave. Following a move to Nashville, he formed his crew: In 2020, after a hiatus to work on other projects, early drummer Walt Epting rejoined for the following year’s Lifeboat Candidate, solidifying the current lineup alongside Ben Douglas (guitars, keyboards) and Jason Springman (guitars).
On their sixth LP, Post Preservation, Palm Ghosts embrace their ‘80s influences (like The Cure, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Peter Gabriel), conjuring the soundtrack to a long-lost John Hughes film. The songs twinkle with a warm nostalgia for a place that no longer exists. Let’s face it: The world is probably ending, so get on the dance floor while you can.
“We are like a heat-seeking missile to fans of early alternative music,” says Lekkas.
Their style stands out among the honky-tonks and pedal taverns of Nashville. “We are certainly unlike any other band here, which at times makes it hard to find bands to play shows with, but also makes us a good option for people looking for something a bit different,” says Lekkas. “The one thing that ties us to Nashville is the love of songwriting. We approach everything we do with the song in mind.”
Now Palm Ghosts’ music is starting to reach an even wider audience. Their songs were recently featured on CBS’s Clarice and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, which will expand the band’s visibility — something that Lekkas wouldn’t have expected when he was starting out in a Philadelphia warehouse.
The career boost is welcome news. But for Lekkas, whose songwriting helped him overcome anxiety, Palm Ghosts has a deeper importance — it’s also a form of self-care. “I don’t do it to make it or for adulation or widespread recognition,” he says. “I do it for survival, and I know there are others just like me.”