While stopping off in NYC, Samuel Thomas Fryer & Alexander ‘Chilli’ Jesson of Palma Violets talked to QRO. In the conversation, the singer/guitarist & bassist/singer discussed their high-energy, primal shows, recording in the far end of Wales, returning to Shea Stadium (where the lights went out), playing New York vs. playing London, NME hype, stage invasions, their award-winning “proper geezer” of a manager, and much more…
QRO: How was it playing Shea Stadium (QRO venue review) again? It’s where you guys played your first ever US show!
Alexander ‘Chilli’ Jesson: It was just great being back to Shea and being back in New York in general. And it’s just a great room. We came on and during the first song…
Samuel Thomas Fryer: The lights went out! All the electricity in the building went out but we still played any way. [laughs]
QRO: The first time I saw you guys was after all the NME hype, and I remember wondering how I would take to you guys because the hype was so strong. So for me I figured that I’d leave it to the live show, and then wow… you guys just ended up blowing me away with the way you’d perform. The second you guys went on stage you were already on our knees while holding your instruments and screaming. You honestly don’t see that in New York.
SF: That’s one of the things we love about playing here, especially in a place like Shea Stadium. Shea reminds us of our own place actually. It reminds us a lot of Studio 180 where we recorded our debut.
AJ: Yeah Shea represents that but just on a very large scale.
QRO: I can still remember the fanfare that surrounded you guys when you first emerged onto the music world. Looking back now, was that kind of fervor ever intimidating for you?
AJ: I don’t know. I think we just rolled with it.
SF: I think we honestly enjoyed the immediacy of all of that.
AJ: Yeah, especially because it gives you this feeling that what you’re doing is right.
SF: We always knew not to take the hype seriously. It was never lost on us that the excitement surrounding us would be another band’s problem in only a couple weeks time.
AJ: You just have to enjoy it while it’s happening really. The next step was always about establishing ourselves past the hype. Surpassing expectations almost.
QRO: It’s good to hear that, because I’ve noticed that’s not something a lot of newer bands tend to think about, establishing themselves.
AJ: Oh yeah, it’s definitely important to us. We have a good manager who’s…
SF: He’s actually never managed bands before actually.
QRO: Has he never done music before?
SF: No, he’s been involved in music before, he’s just never worked with a band that went on to make a second album.
AJ: I think what’s good about that is he has a great instinct and hunger for it. He’s more knowledgeable than most people out there, there’s no element of greed.
SF: Yeah and there’s also no settling with him. I’ve noticed with other bands they’ll have teams/management that’ll just go, ‘OK, let’s get them to this point,’ and do it that way.
QRO: I guess what fuels that is you can tell that he definitely believes in you guys?
SF: Yeah, he takes it quite the extra mile. [laughs] Just a couple nights back he was out in the street with me at 2:00 AM trying to find a diner. [laughs]
QRO: I’m sure you guys would agree that anyone being on your team would have to be able to handle it. It must be a bit of an endurance test for him.
AJ: It’s mental for him too because he doesn’t party or drink at all really.
QRO: He doesn’t drink? Is he like a proper geezer than?
AJ: He’d like you to call him a “proper geezer,” for sure. [laughs] But really he’s from Ladbroke Grove. [laughs]
QRO: Not many people from Ladbrick Grove managing rock bands uh?
SF: Yeah, he was in a band back in the day called La Gehoda. They were a great band.
AJ: But yeah that’s been a really important part to everything, it’s been having him along.
SF: Come to think of it, his band were one of the first ever bands to use special effects in their music videos.
AJ: Fuck, really?
SF: Yeah they won an award for it! We win an award for doing the most festivals one year and meanwhile here’s a band winning awards for pioneering special effects. [laughs]
Palma Violets’ video for “Best of Friends”:
QRO: What caught me right away was how everyone would talk about your live shows, and I can even remember being blown away by the first U.S. show you guys ever did. It probably goes without saying, but Palma Violets shows are quite unlike any other. Was that always intentional? To play such high energy shows?
SF: A lot of things are very unspoken in our band. We really don’t discuss much of what we want to do in our band at all, never have a strategy for what we want to achieve honestly. We just get out there and do it.
AJ: And It’s a very primal thing I think.
QRO: That’s probably the word I’d use to describe your music to newcomers: primal.
AJ: Well that’s it and it kind of… yeah, that’s just it really.
SF: Even with making a new album, we didn’t sit and think how we wanted it to come across. The songs that are screaming out in our heads are the ones that end up coming out.
QRO: Do you think there’s ever a conversation after the fact? Maybe after a song is written or performed live for the first time?
AJ: Yeah we’ll definitely talk about it afterwards. We don’t really dwell on things too much, which is a good thing I think honestly.
QRO: Do you feel the way you guys play live was a reaction to the lack of such a primal energy around you?
AJ: Absolutely. That’s exactly what it was. We just saw a lot of nothing going on with bands and we just thought, ‘Fucking hell if they can do it…’
SF: Yeah seriously. We would look at bands and think, ‘Fucking hell if they can do it than clearly we can…’
AJ: Yeah some bands we’ve seen in the past were just shit.
QRO: It amazes me, something I’ve noticed in terms of differences between London and New York is that in New York you’re always told to smash a gig and play crazy, but in London there always seems to be some more prep/resting up. Like a label rep constantly reminding you, ‘Hey guys, so we have London tomorrow!’
AJ: Aw man yeah! Well that’s the thing isn’t it? I saw a band called Show Me The Bodies yesterday, a New York band and they had played a gig right before our gig at Shea. So they played one gig, then played Shea, and then another gig. Three gigs in one day!
QRO: Wow, and so many bands would probably only do that for something like SXSW, yet here’s a band just playing as much as they can on a regular night.
AJ: Yeah, that kind of dedication to a live show is amazing. I really like that band as well.
SF: I definitely do get a bit nervous before a London show, but I think it has to do…
AJ: With the fact that at a London show it’s a lot of people who’ve seen us right from the start, and lots of mates and that, so there is a bit of worry about doing well you know what I mean?
SF: Yeah, I think those people probably judge us the harshest. [laughs]
QRO: Something I’ve noticed about London shows is that people always love to remind you about the fact you’re about to play a London show. [laughs]
AJ: Yeah totally, luckily Rough Trade are quite better at handling that than other labels.
QRO: Yeah, you know come to think of it I’ve noticed over the years that Rough Trade seems to just sign on bands they know that they can work with rather than just anybody/everyone.
AJ: Absolutely, or they won’t even bother. It’s very much a family affair.
SF: Yeah, any label that talked to us at the beginning of our career ended up saying, ‘Fair play, we always knew Rough Trade was the perfect fit.’ I honestly can’t imagine us being with any other label.
AJ: It felt very surreal honestly because you always think, ‘Oh so we’ll start a band, and find a label.’ But to have it work out the way it did for us was just mental. And then to come off of two years of touring like that for me wasn’t easy at all you know.
QRO: Well it’s interesting you bought that up, because it’s not a new thing to tour for two years and then have that intense come down afterwards. What’s shocked me over the years is how it seems that most labels don’t know how to deal with that.
AJ: Yeah but it’s just something you have to do isn’t it? You have to go around the world and promote what you’re about.
QRO: True, but to come out of it and be told, ‘OK, be a person again now!’
AJ: That’s true, I think it’s a process that some people deal with better than others.
QRO: I remember talking to Tom [Meighan] from Kasabian (QRO spotlight on) a couple months back about touring for the first album and he mentioned how shocking it was for him to just being in the same room as his bandmates after touring for so long. Did something similar happen with you guys at all?
AJ: It is a wild endurance test really. And it’s almost a bit of a juggling act as well with: ‘OK guys make sure you get enough sleep, enough vitamins, enough time to think,’ and yeah it’s just mental. I think it’s just… you don’t sleep really; you can’t actually. And with that sensitivity grows.
SF: And then you come off of that and have to write songs together, but in reality it’s fucking awkward. It’s a strange thing to tour with your mates and come off tour and feel like you’re not as close as you were before, you know? And then it feels like
[glass shatters at the next table]
…Well, yeah… it’s like that! [laughs]
AJ: [laughs] Yeah, but I do have to say that it was a great thing to come off tour and write songs again. We ended up writing around like… twenty songs in a really short period of time.
SF: They’re split into two really. There’s a group of songs that we fully wrote together, but then there’s another batch of songs that came from us giving each other some space, and letting ourselves do our own thing.
AJ: And then we’d come back together and somewhat collaborate. It was very interesting because we never really had a formula. At first we didn’t really ‘write’ songs, they just came together. But this time everything came together in different bits and bobs. So we’d have ideas fleshed out and then we’d call Will [Martin Doyle, drums] and [Jeffrey] Pete [Mayhew, keyboards] to come down to the studio and kind of go through it. It was a lot quicker of a process that ended up being a lot more enjoyable. [laughs] We were able to avoid little annoying bits like… you know when you’re in the studio and the drummer is sat in his corner just constantly hitting/trying to get the right sound?
SF: To be fair there was a lot of that going on in Wales. [laughs]
AJ: That’s true, [laughs] but we got to smooth it out more while we were in London.
QRO: Going into Wales, it really intrigued me to hear that you guys ended up there to record music. It’s funny because some people in the states don’t even know what Wales is, let alone where it is.
AJ: Yeah! And it’s mental because it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth!
QRO: What was it that brought you guys there? Did you guys go there before, is there any attachment?
SF: My family is actually from Wales. I have a lot of cousins and aunts, and extended family there…
QRO: That you never see!
SF: Well… not exactly. [laughs] They’re lovely people [laughs] and they have Welsh as their first language. My gran lives in Cardiff. We went to the farthest part where you can take the ferry to Ireland. We just really wanted to get away and get new songs down because we ended up touring the first album for two years and we just really needed some new fucking songs to play.
Our English tour manager told us, “Look there’s a farm in Wales, I’ve been there before and they’re family friends that are ‘free folk’ and it’s a lovely place.” And we were just fucking sold on that.
QRO: And ultimately what he was really saying was, ‘These are people who probably wouldn’t mind a ‘band’ staying with them’…
AJ: Exactly! And they were totally up for it actually; it was great! That to me was the hardest moment I’ve ever come across, just thinking of how to approach all that, the album, but it all came down great.
SF: Yeah the songs just came out very naturally when we were there.
QRO: And if I remember correctly, you guys tried to record a bit in London first yeah?
SF: We thought about it at first, but always knew it wouldn’t work out. We knew we wanted to go away, especially after the first month on the farm in Wales. We came back and did some things in London with our producer, just ironing out the album. But the core of the second album really is our time spent in Wales. We wrote in three different places, but that’s…
AJ: Really the spiritual home of the album. It really is Wales.
QRO: So would you ay the album was quite thought out by the time you went into the studio?
AJ: Well, I don’t really truly believe most people know what’s going to come out the other end when they go into a studio. It was just great to have these songs, go to John and have him go, ‘Wow, well there is something here.’ You know? I actually really liked when we did go to him and he went, ‘No, you’re going to have to rehearse these.’
QRO: Was that surprising to hear?
AJ: Yeah! Especially because I thought we knew the songs pretty well but he went ‘no you fucking don’t!’ And he was right [laughs] we only had just written/recorded most of the songs the day before. We wanted to keep it fresh and exciting, but he wasn’t having it in that way.
SF: And then he took us to this studio The Doghouse where we recorded what we had, and he was just adamant about letting him know if we had any other songs, any other ideas that we wanted to put out there. And surprisingly Chili had a couple of ideas to share, I had some, the other guys did as well and yeah we just fused them together.
AJ: The great thing too was that everything we gave him was already recorded. We were all just constantly recording little ideas while we were in Wales.
SF: I remember getting a phone call from Jeanette from the label and she went, ‘Oh wow I really love that song “Strawberry Jam”!’ and I remember going, ‘How do you like that song? It’s not even a song yet!’ About five songs came from doing that and we just ended up having a good selection of songs to choose from.
QRO: I love that you guys got to work with him because something I’ve heard about John Leckie over the years is that he absolutely refuses to blow smoke up a bands ass. He doesn’t care what venues you’ve played, who you’ve toured with, none of that.
AJ: He doesn’t care at all. [laughs]
SF: But know what’s mental? He’s like that to your face, and then you’ll hear what he says behind your back, like, ‘I can’t believe he said that thing.’ I remember we talked to label once and they said, ‘Yeah John’s really liking these songs and said he’s super excited about everything.’ And I remember thinking, ‘…what? That doesn’t sound like John at all!’
AJ: I think he’s quite similar to some of us really.
SF: Yeah, he’s very good at immersing himself into a situation, which is great for us because we just want to be about the moment rather than constantly over thinking every little thing. And when you work that way you’re not always going to be polite, you’re not always going to be nice, you’re going to be about just getting on with it.
AJ: But when we came out the other end of it, I mean it was a very long process in contrast to the first record. The first record was just a very big moment in time, but this record… everything was jut so thought out. It was all very instinctive but also just more thought out.
QRO: That’s intriguing to me because it kind of goes into that cliché of, ‘You have your whole life to make your first album, and a couple of weeks for your second.’ I’m sure you’ve heard that a thousand times, but would you say that’s one of those clichés that’s a cliché for a reason?
AJ: Kind of, I mean when you write songs for the first album there really isn’t any pressure because there isn’t really any expectation at first.
QRO: So for the second album it was a bit of a goal just to have more songs?
AJ: Yeah, but it’s also just a thing of actually doing it (writing more songs). Once you get over that it’s all uphill from there.
SF: I’d love to show the world our first demos/recordings just so they can see that we really did get so much better on this album. [laughs] I don’t care about the mystique and myth; we were back at the beginning again and just re-learning everything when it came to making this album.
QRO: I love hearing about that contrast because I remember when I listened to your first album that the songs sounded like demos to me, but when you see you guys live…
SF: That’s because they are demos! [laughs]
AJ: They really are actually. [laughs] At least it definitely feels that way.
QRO: It’s interesting because some people either love or hate that ‘demo sound’ it just makes people react strongly. And I thought that was quite a cool thing to see a new band do, especially a band like yours that gained so much hype at first.
AJ: But where can you go yeah? Imagine if your first album is some polished stadium rock album, and where do you from there?
SF: Yeah it’s just weird isn’t it? We can’t imagine thinking of doing things that way. We just think about what we can do next, even five albums down the line and ideally we’d just keep things very simple, very us, you know.
AJ: And I don’t even think John Leckie could’ve polished this album up. [laughs]
SF: Yeah, and we slightly tried as well just to give it a go [laughs] even with this new guy who just did our single. He’s done a lot of pop stuff and even he couldn’t polish us up. [laughs]
QRO: Well it’s worked for you clearly; I feel that you have fans because of your approach.
AJ: Absolutely. My favourite kind of bands really are the ones where you can feel that things could possibly fuck up, the chance for things to go wrong exists, and that’s what excites me.
SF: It’s with the live show as well. I mean with that show at Shea, all the lights went out and we had no idea what was going to happen next but we just went with it you know? I remember being in the crowd dancing with someone and the lights turned on. [laughs] It’s like, ‘Wow, are we playing a show?’
QRO: You guys also love the stage invasion bit don’t you?
SF: Yeah, this time around it actually happened around the second song. [laughs] It was mental and a bit overwhelming, but I remember the crowd was actually really cool about it, [laughs] I told some of them, ‘Hey don’t step on that white pedal because it’ll cut everything out.’
QRO: I remember at the first time I saw you guys I had waves of people on top of me dancing while I was trying to take photos of you guys, and yeah it was just unlike anything else that I had seen before.
AJ: That’s something that I love about our band, the fact we can overcome a mishap like electricity going out or whatever. I think with most bands they wouldn’t know how to handle it and just pull the show entirely.
SF: We didn’t think we’d be starting our set with The Beatles, Nick Cave, or just singing covers to the fans…
AJ: I’m sure some fans hated it…
SF: Well what the fuck could you do? [laughs]
AJ: Yeah true, we were making the best out of a shit situation really. It was just mental.
QRO: So wait, absolutely no electricity at all, like completely?
SF: Yep completely none on the stage whatsoever.
AJ: Yeah the fans were singing over us though so it was pretty cool.
QRO: You know, you guys are like one of the few bands a girl could drag her boyfriend to see and the boyfriend ends up actually liking you guys.
AJ: [laughs] I know! I love that!
QRO: I’ve worked with Fat White Family (QRO photos) before and I wonder what you guys thought about their live show, especially since it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a ‘passing of the torch’ in terms of primalness?
AJ: It was very interesting, especially after you’ve heard about a band for so long and you tour with them and have some myths debunked for you. I really like them; their sets were great. It’s funny though; they’ve been at it for a while so it’s great to see this surge of interest towards them.
SF: Yeah, when I see them it’s almost a bit of a tribalistic/shamanistic type of thing, like more deep into a groove. You can feel the energy but the relaxed mood as well.
QRO: A good contrast with them is that their mental on stage and it’s a wild party but off-stage their mostly quiet dudes. Has it shocked you seeing that with bands like that?
SF: Not really, no. I think everyone would have to be different to how they are on stage just to get by you know? You have to give a shit about how you live slightly.
AJ: Especially with being in a band because you honestly never know when it’s going to end really. Also, with Fat White Family in particular, I love that contrast because Lias [Saudi] is such a focused guy, and I think we’re similar in that way. Like their work ethic as a band is really fucking high.
QRO: Was it always a goal for you guys to be in a band together, especially since you and Sam have been friends for so many years?
AJ: Kind of, I mean I always knew I wanted to be in music but I wanted to actually be more involved in management.
QRO: Wait… really?
SF: He was the manager of the band at first!
QRO: Wait really? You were the one replying to all the early booking emails and NME emails then?
SF: [laughs] No, this was way, way before all of that. That was when we were a ‘good’ band. [laughs]
AJ: We used to have band meetings. [laughs]
SF: We were looking for bassists and stuck the bass onto him; he didn’t know anything at all. We just carried on with that.
QRO: I love hearing things like that; it seems to be quite a constant particularly with bass players. Did you struggle a bit at the start?
AJ: Aw man these guys were the best teachers you could have.
SF: Yeah, we didn’t strive for any perfection at all. [laughs] Something that would’ve driven most bands mental is that he could never really time his bass with the drums properly but I actually loved that. You always managed to pull through and finish a song. We would play songs to our friends in our basement and I loved that because you could see the excitement in their eyes of, ‘Oh shit, if they finish this song it’ll actually be a really great experience!’ [laughs]
AJ: Bravo! Bravo! I just realized I did the ultimate managerial thing come to think of it. When I picked up the bass it was like a, ‘Well if no one can fucking do it, I’ll fucking do it!’ [laughs]An ultimate Bernie Roades type of thing. [laughs]
SF: [laughs] Yep getting onto the payroll. Our now manager Milo is actually trying to get onto the payroll as well. [laughs] He played harmonica on the last album, he’s pretty good surprisingly.
Palma Violets’ video for “Danger In the Club”:
QRO: Last question: When it came to recording “Danger In The Club” did you want to take the live spirit that you guys are known for into the studio? Was it paramount for you to do that?
AJ: It was the only way. I couldn’t imagine us not doing songs live.
SF: That’s ultimately how we write really; we have to imagine ourselves doing it live above all else. Maybe one day we’ll do something more… I dunno ‘studio-y’ but I don’t think it’ll be for a while.
AJ: Yeah, especially because we find energy so important. I feel that you can totally hear the energy off a record. Even if it’s just a vocal take or something, or even a slow song. It’s all about the feeling, and some times in a studio the ‘feeling’ of a song can take a backseat.
SF: Especially when you try to incorporate tempo changes, and that. We’re not trying to think about making a formulaic album. Just want to get the live feeling as much as we can.
AJ: I think there’s enough people out there making computerized sounding music, so when it comes to the live stuff… I want to hold that flag.
QRO: It’s great that you guys are known for that, the live show and sound.
AJ: I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.