Palma Violets: TAS In Session

The members of Palma Violets might have honed their garage rock chops in a drafty squat, but the quartet is a hot commodity in the UK music press, marked as ascendents to The Libertines' long-vacated throne.

The band's debut album, 180, is released this week on Rough Trade, a label picked by the four friends because of a rich, rock 'n' roll legacy that included their major influences, namely The Libertines and The Strokes.  Stepping out of their unheated studio to embark on a lengthy tour next month, Palma Violets are bound for SXSW and have also lined up UK and European dates, a visit to Coachella, and a North American jaunt beginning in late April, returning to New York on May 9 (Music Hall of Williamsburg) and March 10 (Bowery Ballroom).

Recently, the band — guitarist/vocalist Sam Fryer, bassist/vocalist Chilli Jesson, keyboardist Pete Mayhew and drummer Will Doyle — tumbled into The Alternate Side's Studio A for a raucous set and a conversation with Eric Holland.

Below, watch exclusive videos of the Palma Violets' live performance and listen to the session this Friday, March 1, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m.  ET, also streaming online.

Eric Holland: What’s the story on the name [Palma Violets]?

Chilli Jesson: Well, we wanted to be cool.  The Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but both of those names had been taken.  So Sam had this great idea.

Sam Fryer: Calling it after my favorite sweet. Palma Violets are very lovely sweets, but everybody hates them.  I love them.  Do you like them? We pretend to like them just because it’s the band.

Chilli: No, no.  I’ve been an avid fan of Palma Violets, probably before you were born, Sam.

Eric: Have you been in bands before the Palma Violets? Did you get your chops going in other groups and then hook up?

Chilli: This is my first proper band.

Sam: It’s my first proper band too.  We’ve done little talent shows in school festivals and things like that, but no bands that play shows to the general public.  This is the first serious band.  We’re very serious.

Eric: Did you all go to school together?

Chilli: I didn’t.  Pete and Will both went to school with Sam.  I went to a different school.  But I met them all at a festival in England.  Reading.  Who was playing that year?

Sam: Radiohead headlining.  The Arctic Monkeys.

Eric: Where’s Lambeth in London?

Chilli: You know Waterloo, right? It’s literally right next to Waterloo.

Sam: Very close to Big Ben.  Just the opposite side of the river, a few blocks down.

Chilli: We’ve got a little squat there and it’s called Studio 180.  It’s quite an affluent area but then there’s this one rubbish looking house and that’s ours.

Eric: The four band members live there?

Chilli: We did.  But it gets cold during the winter.

Eric: No heat? And that’s where the name of the album comes from?

Chilli: Exactly.  All the songs were born there so it seemed like a fitting name.

Eric: Do you guys write together?

Chilli and Sam (together): Yeah.

Chilli: We have separate ideas and then come together.

Sam: We’ll go away from each other and then come back with the ideas that we’ve gathered and formulate them together.

Eric: Then you’ll write music and lyrics? One more than the other.

Chilli: Who ever sings the song normally writes the lyrics.

Eric: After “Best of Friends” started to get attention, is that when the record companies started knocking on the door?

Chilli: No, we didn’t have “Best of Friends’ then.  Record labels are desperate.

Sam: They’ll jump on anything.

Chilli: So it was like, we just had this squat kind of place and they found it quite interesting.

Sam: We played one show and a person in the industry was there.  I think people begin to talk very quickly.  We weren’t very good then, but people saw potential in us.  We did about three or four songs and a few covers.  Eventually people started coming along and we played to anyone who wanted to hear us in our little room which was quite exciting for them, I think, to come to a really strange place and see a band.  It must be very different because, normally, they’d just go on MySpace or Facebook and listen to one of the demos.  They'll listen to 30 seconds of it and then move on.  Whereas with us, they had to come and listen to a whole set.

Chilli: And if you wanted to walk out during our set … to walk out of a show, you’ve got to really mean it.

Sam: Lucikly no one did.

Chilli: No one did so we knew we were kind of on to something.

Eric: Did you have a few different labels courting you?

Chilli: Yeah, we were wined and dined, weren’t we?

Sam: They’d bring us gifts.

Chilli: Yeah, that was all good, but now they don’t even care about us.  We’ve seen them in the streets and they just shrug us off.  Now we’re with the beloved Rough Trade Records.

Eric: A legendary label with people like The Smiths.

Chilli: Yeah, the Smiths, the Libertines.

Eric: The Strokes.

Sam: Arcade Fire and stuff.

Eric: Did that play a role? My favorite groups and I want to follow?

Sam: Definitely.  Groups that we grew up listening to and have been very inspired by.  Every rock and roll band wants to be on Rough Trade.  It’s the rock ‘n’ roll label, isn’t it? They come as a pair, rock ‘n’ roll and Rough Trade.  It’s exciting.  The Libertines were a starting point for me as a 13-year-old kid and from the Libertines, came the Clash, Sex Pistols and then so on.  The Pixies.  The Velvet Underground.  It all unfolds, goes onto the next.  I’m very grateful to the Libertines.

Eric: Someone had a Nick Cave t-shirt on in one of the videos.

Chilli: We’ve all got ‘em! He was my favorite kind of musician.  When I met Sam, I gave him all my Nick Cave records and he gave me all his Clash records.  We swapped and exchanged.  A happy relationship with Nick ever since.

Eric: Did that song title make it into the song?

Sam: Yeah! It did.  I don’t think we say “step up.”

Eric: I noticed in a few of the songs that I didn’t understand the natural connection between song title and song.  “Chicken Dippers?”

Sam: That was a song … I didn’t have a fitting title! I couldn’t come up with one so I just gave it to Will.  I said, “You’ll have control now, Will.” He came up with “Chicken Dippers.”

Chilli: He’s a genius that boy.  A genius.

Eric: When it came time to record, was that daunting? Fun?

Sam: I felt daunted.

Chilli: I didn’t like it.

Sam: We still don’t like being in studios that much.  We’re a three take band.

Chilli: It was easier with Steve.

Sam: Steve Mackey, the producer, made us feel quite comfortable.  He knew we were new to the whole thing.

Chilli: He’d been in the same position as us and knew how to deal with it.  He embraced mistakes and that was a good thing for us.

Sam: He was a very excitable gent as well which made us very excited.

Eric: He was isolating instruments?

Chilli: Live.  No, it was completely live.  We tried to do the vocals all live.

Sam: There are songs, like “Three Stars” on the record, that’s actually live vocals on the record.  We wouldn’t be able to do overdubs.  We’re not good enough yet!

Chilli: We’ll get there.


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