Domenic “Nicky” Palermo, 34, is in a pretty successful band, but that doesn’t mean he’s had a glamorous life. The frontman of the Philadelphia-based quartet Nothing, founded in 2010, plays more than 100 shows per year for up to 1,000 people per show, but he grew up poor in a single-parent family. He’s even done time in jail.
And he could never afford health care.
“I’ve been a person who hasn’t had health insurance for pretty much my whole life since I was a kid,” Palermo said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. “I’ve had broken bones. I’ve had to Super Glue my forehead shut when I hit myself with a guitar. I owe money to hospitals for things.”
So Palermo was horrified this week to learn that Collect Records, with which Nothing had signed to release two albums, was bankrolled in part by Martin Shkreli. The Turing Pharmaceuticals chief executive was shredded this week by Hillary Clinton, among many, many others, for raising the price of a drug used to treat HIV/AIDS from $18 to $750, or more than 4,000 percent.
“Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous,” Clinton wrote on Twitter.
For Palermo, the problem was political. But it was also personal.
“I just can’t spend that five years and then attach myself to someone who is doing what Martin is doing,” Palermo said of his time in Nothing.
After facing global outrage and criticism of price-gouging customers for Daraprim, an important treatment for a parasitic infection that can be fatal to those with compromised immune systems, Shkreli retreated Tuesday.
“We’ve agreed to lower the price on Daraprim to a point that is more affordable and is able to allow the company to make a profit, but a very small profit,” he told ABC News. “We think these changes will be welcomed.”
Shkreli’s compromise may alleviate the concerns of humanitarians — but punk rock has a longer memory. Collect was founded by Geoff Rickly of the iconic band Thursday, who is known for his leftist politics — and now, his regret for Shkreli’s involvement with his label.
“My head is still spinning, and though I want to believe that there is some reason that he would do this that is some remotely positive way, the only thing I can see is that it is totally and completely heartbreaking,” Rickly told Noisey about the CEO.
Rickly said that he met Shkreli when the CEO — a Thursday fan — contacted him on Twitter to buy his guitar. “As a musician, steady income is hard to come by, so sometimes you do things to make ends meet,” Rickly said of the sale.
But the transaction was the beginning of conversations that resulted in Shkreli becoming a “silent partner” in Collect. Rickly said the CEO’s involvement was limited — that he “never asked to see the bottom line” and had no “check and balance.” Morever, Shkreli supported Rickly when he tried to give more control to artists on the label — a punk-rock must.
“There were no red flags at that time,” Rickly told Noisey. “I genuinely enjoyed his company, and I was just excited for the opportunity to work with him and to have someone who believed in my vision for the future.”
Now, that bright future has turned to ashes.
“I can’t see my future at all in the label,” he told Noisey.
He pointed a finger at the system.
“Artists get blamed for everything and capitalism is never held accountable,” he told Noisey. “I really think that if Collect is going to be scrutinized as being capitalism, but that is how music survives. I’m not making excuses for what has happened, but there is no corner of the music industry that doesn’t live and breathe from subsidies from business. It’s reductive and hypocritical to hold us and only us accountable though, we are all at fault in some greater way.”
Some bands on the Collect roster, meanwhile, stood by Rickly — while stridently distancing themselves from Shkreli, saying they had never met him.
“I personally 100% am NOT F—KING OK with this guy and his business tactics,” Hether Fortune of Wax Idols, a Collect band, wrote on the band’s Facebook page. “If any of you have learned anything about me through being a fan of the band, I hope that you would know by now that this kind of advantageous rich guy greed goes against everything that I stand for.”
She added: “Shkreli essentially donates money to the label. … Therefore by supporting Wax Idols and buying our record, you are NOT contributing to this a—hole’s bank account.”
“We would like to make one thing clear — we would never knowingly work with Martin Shkreli, or anybody willing to walk across the backs of the sick and dying with a smile on their face for the sake of making a profit,” Creepoid, another Collect band, wrote on Facebook. “As long as Shkreli is involved with Collect Records, directly or indirectly, we cannot be.”
Palermo of Nothing, meanwhile, said he has a new record — “Tired of Tomorrow” — that belongs to Collect, and isn’t sure how, when or if he can get his music away from the label and the stigma Shkreli has brought it. The CEO’s name isn’t on the contracts Palermo signed, he said, and the band is looking at its legal options.
But what will Shkreli do if Nothing jumps ship?
“We would probably need to speak to another label,” Palermo said. “We really don’t know what’s going on. That’s the f—ked part. Who knows how this guy could react?”
Palermo added: “It’s kind of a bum out.”