Interview: Palma Violets

Music

Ashley Cooke talks leather jackets, media hype, and Snatch & The Poontangs with Palma Violets

After releasing just two songs, Palma Violets are quickly becoming the British buzzband of 2012. ‘Best of Friends’ was released as a double A-side with ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ two weeks ago, and they’ve almost finished work on their debut album due to be released in February or March next year. I met up with bassist and vocalist Chilli Jesson, and drummer Will Doyle ahead of their gig at the Jericho Tavern to discuss the journey so far.

“We just wanted to make music so our friends could come and party,” Jesson tells me. Bored with the pub – and with clubbing, the only other option on a Saturday night – Palma Violets hosted events at Studio 180, a converted Georgian terrace in Lambeth. It’s an arts centre that plays host to music events, theatre, and exhibitions. “Lots of different people from lots of different walks of life, but all in a creative mindset,” apparently. They started playing there last autumn, and earlier this year, with just a handful of tracks written and no physical release, they were signed to Rough Trade Records.

Starting out and playing gigs with very few songs released does make it harder for the audience to get involved when what they’re hearing is brand new, Jesson tells me. “I know how hard it is to go and see a new group and dance around.” It’s much easier with an album out, but Palma Violets have been astounded by the feedback. The group had feared the crowd wouldn’t be very engaged. “They’ve been in this article and that…We’re just gonna stroke our chins at the back.” Seeing the band perform later that evening couldn’t have been more different. It was the busiest I’ve ever seen the Jericho, and the atmosphere was electric. “They know the words, they know the riffs.” As Doyle later explains, “Live music is what people are attracted to.” When I asked what advice they would give to a new band starting up, they told me, “Tell your friends to come down and see you live and then later on record, you don’t need to record straightway. Live music is where it’s at.” At their first shows they only had four songs, and had to do a ten minute cover of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’ to fill the set.

The approach certainly seems to be working for the four-piece. NME put them on the front cover a few weeks ago, and called them ‘the best new band in Britain.’ Instead of getting caught-up with the hype though, Doyle praises their management for shielding them from most of it, and a strong group of friends has kept them grounded. “You could be the best new band in Britain, but we’ve only got two songs out,” Doyle explains. It’s a bit of an overstatement at such an early stage. What’s more, when people are coming along to see the ‘best new band in Britain’, they have to deliver. There’s certainly a sense that the band don’t find the exposure entirely positive.

Palma Violets are working on their debut with Pulp bassist Steve Mackey. “He gets us,” Jesson explains. Mackey went along to a show and, liking what he heard, asked to work with the group. “It’s not like getting some Kings Of Leon producer in who does The Vaccines,” he continues, “that’s quite an obvious choice. I wanted someone who really wants to do it.” The band stress the importance of genuine emotion in their work, and having someone produce it that really wants to be there is a part of that. “For me and the band, it’s all about feeling. If the album’s about anything, it’s about real emotions.” Rather than a songwriting method, it’s a vibe that dictates their music. “If we write a song and it doesn’t feel good to us, that’s it, it’s over.”

Media coverage of the group has tried to force them into an unfilled gap in the music market. Since The Strokes lost their way, and The Libertines broke up almost a decade ago, NME have has attempted to uncover their successors. Doyle doesn’t think this pigeonholes the band though, or restricts their creativity. It’s a compliment. “We grew up listening to those bands,” but at the same time they recognise the need to carve out their own path. “It’s only over time that you get to define your own sound,” he says. Geoff Travis, the founder of Rough Trade Records, recently came down to the studio and heard some new songs. “Now if I was to listen to those songs, that’s the Palma Violets,” he told the band, so they’re well on the way. They may draw their influences from old punk bands like The Clash and The Gun Club, but they’re crafting their own sound.

The band that got Palma Violets into music however, is Snatch & The Poontangs. I admitted to never having heard of them, and they urged me to give them a listen. No one knows much about the group and they only released one album, but it’s more the attitude and approach to music that Jesson and Doyle advocated. “It’s music as it should be. No worries about how it’s going to sell, or any egos involved. They’re just writing music because they want to write music.” A quick google search reveals Snatch & The Poontangs to be a side-project of Johnny Otis, the ‘Godfather of Rhythm & Blues,’ and the album is a collection of profane and sexually explicit tracks complete with moans of female pleasure. Whether this was genuinely the album that brought the band together, or a joke at my expense, I’ll never know.

Since Palma Violets became a feasible and financial reality when they were signed to Rough Trade earlier this year, the guys have quit their full-time jobs. Getting signed within such a small space of time might seem like a good break, but they’ve worked hard for it. What made the whole process easier though was having Studio 180 to perform at. Getting gigs is hard, especially living in London without cars or vans to transport equipment. “We were lucky because we had the basement. To put on gigs and get people to come to us.”

The band are very grateful to be where they are. When people are paying £7 for a ticket, Jesson stresses that you have to give it your all. “We’re lucky enough to even be standing on that stage.” You have to give it “110%” and have people walk away amazed by their enthusiasm, and they’re very critical of the groups, defined by their “posy leather jackets” who are frauds. “I’ve seen a lot of bands wearing these leather jackets, and strutting around the stage. They barely even break a sweat.” Now, Twin Shadow likes his leather jacket, and I don’t think anyone could claim he was a sham, but I think it’s more the DIY ethics of punk that they’re alluding to.

Any final questions? Oh, Jesson’s favourite colour is red, and Doyle’s is blue. “I wouldn’t say one colour of blue, it’d be like the whole spectrum of blue… apart from turquoise.”