For reasons that are as understandable as they are to be expected, the men of Palma Violets are more than a little excited when reached on a cellphone in Los Angeles.
Their triple-caffeinated behaviour is completely justifiable. After all, the four Londoners who make up the band are in the process of realizing a lifelong goal. And, no, talking to the Georgia Straight—as special as that might be—isn’t one of them.
“It’s a dream of ours to come to the U.S., especially to L.A.,” says bassist-singer Alexander “Chilli” Jesson. “It’s incredible, and even better, it’s exactly how I pictured it. I’ve only been here 20 minutes, but I can’t believe how incredible it is. This is something that we’ve always dreamed of doing, but I never thought it would become a reality.”
How excited is Jesson? Well, let’s just say that five minutes into the conversation he suddenly apologizes and announces that he’s going to have to briefly hand the phone over to Harry Violent—the Palma Violets’ merch guy. The reason? He’s so hopped up, he has to pee.
While Jesson is taking care of business, Violent also comes off like a kid who’s palmed his Ritalin and then snorted six Pixy Stix straight from the straw.
“It’s so good to be in fucking California,” bellows Palma Violet’s official “mascot”. “We’re so excited, and then at the same time delirious from the plane ride, which is adding all sorts of extra excitement. Right now we’re at In-N-Out Burgers, which means we’re having lots of meat. Lots and lots of meat. I’m excited to be soaking all this up, and see where our adventure takes us.”
The members of Palma Violets—who also include singer-guitarist Sam Fryer, keyboardist Jeffrey Mayhew, and drummer William Doyle—have every reason to be pumped. Most bands trying to crack America for the first time end up playing tiny bars where the staff often outnumber the paying customers. They don’t land at LAX and then start their conquest with a slot at Coachella, which is where Palma Violets is headed once Jesson has finished peeing.
That gilded invite is largely due to the shitstorm of positive press that the quartet has whipped up at home with its cacophonic debut album, 180. Given that EDM has been pop music’s flavour of the minute for a good few weeks now, it’s no surprise that the ever-opinionated British press is calling for someone to lead a palace revolution. On that front, Palma Violets has been anointed the most likely saviours of rock ’n’ roll since the White Stripes back in ’01. Or at least since Arctic Monkeys.
Accolades at home have included being named NME’s best new band for 2013, covers on all the U.K. music magazines that matter, and fawning reviews across the blogosphere.
Much of the buzz has positioned Palma Violets as a good old-fashioned guitar band, which perhaps has something to do with the group pledging undying allegiance to the likes of the Gun Club, the Velvet Underground, and the Clash in its interviews. 180 isn’t completely without its jail-guitar-doors rockers, with “Johnny Bagga’ Donuts” making you wish you’d been around to see the 100 Club circa ’77.
Overall, though, the new-punk-rawk label doesn’t really fit, as the band instead trafficks in an organ-flooded, ’60s-meet-the-’80s hybrid of garage grime and white soul. Think the bands of circa-2001 Detroit—the White Stripes, the Von Bondies, and the Sights—if Snatch and the Poontangs had been a bigger influence than Iggy and the Stooges. Witness, for example, the way that “Chicken Dippers” starts out as a low-key blues jam before blowing up into a sweat-dripping Howlin’ Wolf party.
Where the press has got it right is that Palma Violets has done a great job of keeping things gloriously raw and sloppy on 180, thanks in no small part to producer Steve Mackey of Pulp. Tracks like “Tom the Drum” and “Rattlesnake Highway” mix trash-can drums with oversaturated organ, the reverb-bathed vocals pushing the recording needle well into the red.
Ultimately, it sounds like the band just plugged in and let things rip, channelling everything it ever learned at Studio 180, a South London art space/crash pad where it spent two years honing its songs and sound with beer-soaked basement parties.
“We’re mainly a live band, so the record is really just a live record,” Jesson explains, once he’s back from the can. “Each song was done very quickly with just a couple of takes. When you over-think things, that’s where it kind of goes to shit. Steve was perfect for us. He would let us make mistakes and stuff, and then just keep the mistakes in the songs. His argument was that it all added charm and character. That was very different from other producers who make you do songs over and over and over again. We were out to capture a moment in time, and I think this record does that really well.”
And looking back, what a time that was. Palma Violets might be living in the here-and-now on this day in L.A., but it’s clear that the past couple of years have been equally thrilling and magical for the band. Check out the druggy football chant “14”, which makes the seemingly mundane—a boozy late-night bus ride through the streets of London—seem only marginally less exciting than landing in Los Angeles.
“I remember we were really drunk, and just started singing ‘Oh 14, take me home through the night/Take me home,’ over and over again,” Jesson says. “Later, I sent Sam a voice mail, ’cause I remember thinking it would make a good song. He put a guitar riff to it, and that became our first song.”
After a pause, the bassist pipes up with: “That was really badly explained. I’ve explained that a lot better in the past.”
If he’s being too hard on himself, at least he has a reason for feeling less than focused. It has something to do with being in L.A. and hyper to the point where he’s had to pee.
“I’m sitting here snaking out after that In-N-Out burger,” Jesson practically groans. “Oh, wait, I have to explain to you what snaking is. That’s like when you’ve eaten so much that you can’t move, like a snake that’s eaten a deer, and can only sit there digesting it. That’s the situation that I’m in right now.”
Weirdly, he manages to sound both uncomfortably stuffed and yet excited while relaying this. Blame America and all that it has to offer four kids living their dream.
Follow Mike Usinger on the Tweeter at twitter.com/mikeusinger.