The Palma Violets are currently working on their next album, a follow-up to their successful debut, “180” and spending quite a bit of their time listening to San Francisco’s own, The Grateful Dead. So the Brit garage-rock band known for their short three-minute songs are now jamming and playing songs that are seven to 12 minutes long.
Though “180” was very well received by the UK press especially the NME, critics did come out to say that the writing was somewhat ‘undercooked’. Meaning they were a bit thin on the ground lyrically but the sheer emotional rawness of their energy and soaring guitar-rock melodies melded with a Doors-like organ moodiness made them utterly insatiable.
In an interview at the recent Treasure Island Music Festival with bassist, Chilli Jesson and guitarist, Samuel Fryer - the two frontmen who both share vocal duties, they respond to the criticism. Says Fryer: “It’s okay if people see it that way, we see it as something to address in the future. We want to keep things youthful. We are a young band, we can’t pretend to be anything else. But it does give us some room to grow.” Adds Chilli: “We are not going to do political albums or anything like that now. I mean even Billy Bragg wrote zero political songs at our age. ” The oldest of the four members is only 21.
But these youths have wasted no time opening themselves to new influences. Explains Jesson: “Yes we have been writing our songs on a mountain in Wales and listening to Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead.” Adds Fryer: “Mike one of the guys there is a Deadhead (a fan of the Grateful Dead). And we have been listening to “Friend of the Devil” and watching this documentary. I guess we’re now Deadheads too.”
Thanks to the keyboard stylings of Pete Mayhew, the band have always had psychedelic influences and a step in the direction of The Grateful Dead is not as unlikely as you would first think. The Deads were legendary at promoting the DIY aesthetic, choosing to tour in their early years to stay connected to fans rather than tethered to the confines of a studio. Plus The Grateful Dead’s ringleader, Jerry Garcia encouraged Deadheads to capture the energy of their live shows by recording and sharing it with others – a revolutionary take at social media marketing before the dawn of the medium itself. The Palma Violets in their nascent days just concentrated on playing good gigs at their Studio180 residency. They left it up to eager fans who captured these moments on their camera phones and uploaded it to the internet and social media sites.
And while the Palma Violets are true millennials, they confess they are partial to a journalist with an old school black notebook which makes for a pleasant change from the iPhone mic which is constantly shoved in front of their faces. Also in the new age of digital recording technology and the sea of electronic bedroom-laptop musicians, they are happy with guitars, amp and a 4-track tape any day. Their first album has that throwback to the stripped-down, high-energy punk aesthetic.
The band found Jerry Garcia’s words inspirational and the fact that he could play a jam session for 12 hours. But writing music while in the midst of a whirlwind touring schedule has sometimes frustrated Fryer. He explained: “It gets frustrating, you don’t have the guitar or something to record it. Like if you are on a plane or a bus or something and you get an idea. What I do now is I try to carry a recorder (dictaphone) and I just sing a vocal melody into it as it comes into my head. And then when I’m with the rest of the band, we can come back to it. But it can be hard to write on the road.”
Similarly when they have spent time out jamming in a studio and writing their new album to suddenly have to come back on the road for the second leg of their tour has also taken some getting used to. They mentioned that they have all hardly slept after doing their Berkeley show on Friday, then driving down to make their LA show on Saturday and this morning they are back in the Bay Area to play Treasure Island before getting on a plane back to London.
Touring can be grueling, so have you had enough? “Yeah, I have had enough of these groupies. I want to go work in a clothes shop and sell some shoes,” laughs Jesson who worked in a clothes shop before the band took off. Clearly they are incredibly grateful to be in this position and are careful not to mess it up.
What about exploring the world that The Grateful Dead inhabited – Haight Ashbury and the Summer of Love? “We’d love to explore San Francisco and do the tourist thing but we didn’t have a day off when we were here in the Spring and neither do we this time. We always seem to get a day off in New York but not San Francisco.”
Last time, they were in New York, they got to hang out with somewhat kindred spirits, the So So Glos even playing at their DIY all ages space, Shea Stadium. Says Chilli: “Yeah they’re really nice guys and took us in with open arms.” Adds Sam: “It’s also funny cause they look like real punk rockers but when we played the Kinks, they all got so emotional and were all hugging each other. They have a real connection to the Kinks.”
That’s much like these lads then. On stage rousing up the audience they come across as merry punksters but sitting in front of me they are just the sweetest boys, well behaved and soft-spoken – the kind that every mother would be proud of. But give them some guitars and a stage, and they transform into hyper-shrieking pogo-jumping rebel rousers who love nothing more than getting sweaty.
Says Chilli: “Dancing is so important, we want our audience to dance and enjoy them selves at our gigs. It’s an ethos isn’t it? We don’t necessarily play the same sort of songs as the So So Glos but we have the same ethos. We want our audience to know that they can come to our gigs no matter who they are and just have a good time.”
The love it when people come up to them after and proclaim that they came to just stand in the back but wound up in the moshpit crowd surfing. Adds Fryer: “To have even those that come in suits, scratching their chins to leave the gig sweaty, that’s the best.” Watch the bands “Rattlesnake Highway” video to see just how sweaty they all get and if they don’t end up throwing themselves in the audience then the audience has been known to storm onto their stages.
Still, the band is young and though they have acted on the right instincts so far, it takes a lot more than just being able to string some chords together to make it in a business that is notorious for spitting out young bands as quick as they heap the praises and hype. Anyone remember, Brother? I didn’t think so.
However, Palma Violets were wise enough to sign to independent label, Rough Trade Records, run by legendary founder Geoff Travis and long-time associate, Jeanette Lee. In the more than 30 years that they have been on the music scene, they have had a knack for unearthing some of indie music's best-known voices from The Smiths, to Mazzy Star, The Strokes, Jarvis Cocker, The Libertines and Arcade Fire.
And the boys pay attention to what Lee has to say, right down to what not to wear. “Yes, no wearing shorts on stage. Jeanette - she’s our goddess, our muse. I reckon if it wasn’t for her we would have fucked it up already by now. If we were surrounded by suit and tie-types in the big labels you know, they don’t really take care of you.”
He might have a good point here. The Palma Violets might be going down the path of Arctic Monkeys, managed by another great UK independent label, Domino Records happy to tour America doing small venues across the country despite being a big deal back home already. Today, here on Treasure Island, they are featured relatively low on the bill but this does not bother them in the slightest.
Says Chilli, “We love playing in America. And as long as we can keep coming back and playing here, we would love to just keep connecting with audiences here.” And so they go on the Bridge Stage at 1.25pm and give a raucous performance that gets many in the audience of varying age demographics dancing along. A trio of 30, maybe 40something pushes in the crowd with their beer and are overheard remarking that they don't know who's on stage but midway through the set, are head-banging with the rest of us. Palma Violets have succeeded again in winning a few more fans.
It will be interesting to see how they distill the sounds of the Grateful Dead for the Palma Violets brand of garage-punk but we will be waiting with bated breath to find out.
To buy the Palma Violets debut album, "180" please click here.