In Lambeth, South London there’s a building known to British band Palma Violets, simply as Studio 180. At that location the quartet fostered a musical camaraderie, and held the first Palma Violets show. The group’s debut album, also called 180, features a photo of the group outside Studio 180, whose motto is In Times of Turmoil Find a Home to Attack From. This ethos would seem to describe the band’s approach. While many would see home as a place of shelter, Palma Violets see it as a base of operations. Even though the group does not live there any longer, the outlook remains. This band is a weapon, on the offensive.
Signed to Rough Trade Records, Palma Violets generated a lot of buzz even before their record, produced by Rory Atwell and Pulp bassist Steve Mackey, came out. I talked to Palma Violets’ singer/guitarist Samuel Fry last week, and I asked him if 180 was actually recorded at their former home base that was Studio 180? “We recorded two songs there – we stuck microphones all over the walls. Those songs never really ever made it out there. We recorded half of it on a boat in the River Thames with Rory Atwell. That was interesting, because you’re recording a song, and the tide comes in on the Thames, the boat starts to rock. It could make you fall over at times. It can get pretty intense. The other half we recorded with Steve Mackey in Fish Market Studios in London. I don’t think it was really quite our atmosphere as a studio. It was quite professional,” Fry explained, and added, “Steve made us all feel really comfortable though. “ When I asked him how it was decided which track would be the first single, Fry told me, “We had a meeting at our house, and Rough Trade and our manager were there. We all sat down in the kitchen and had a cup of tea. We got to the subject of what’s going to be our first single. We want to start with a bang, so maybe “Rattlesnake Highway.” Fry paused. “Then Geoff (Travis – Rough Trade) told us, it’s completely down to you – it’s your all decision, but you’re doing “Best of Friends.” He kind of hypnotized us on the spot. We don’t regret making that decision.” Which single would he have chosen? “We probably would have picked “Rattlesnake Highway.” At the time we were kind of getting over “Best of Friends.” We weren’t sure whether we liked it or not. We thought we’d written a One Direction song; it has such a massive chorus.”
After 180’s release, the group won a couple key NME Awards (Best New Band, 50 Best Tracks of 2012), then they went farther outside Europe – they came to America. I finally got to see the band play a spine-tingling set in Seattle last April, a show that set off some serious moshing and strong wills in the audience. I watched every single moment of this show because Palma Violets’ music is gripping. I asked Fry if that show was especially rowdy? “We loved Seattle. That was actually one of our tame shows. We were told before that Seattle could be a bit standoffish. I think we got people going,” Fry remembered.
Palma Violets’ first show took place in Studio 180’s basement. Fry recalled, “only about six people came. I think three of them were from Pete’s [drummer] family, and the other three were just random people picked off the street. We needed some attendees. We only had about three songs of our own (“14,” “Rattlesnake Highway” and “Tom the Drum,)” and we played the three songs and everybody said, is that it? We’ve come all this way to your show. We ended up playing a 20-minute “Hey Joe,” and then we played the three songs again after that.” But the night was not over, Fry continued, “then we told everyone to call some of their friends and bring them down. We played another show after that at about midnight, and it was a bit rowdier. It turned into a fun night. We did the exact same thing again. Then we had a disco.” Eventually, and only when they had their first gigs lined up) the guys decided to call themselves Palma Violets, a tribute to a violet-flavored candy: “It’s always been my favorite sweet. I was always seen as the Parma Violets guy. On Halloween all the other kids would throw their Parma Violets at me because they all hated it. They thought it tasted of perfume,” Fry told me. “I never considered it for a band name until we desperately needed a name when were going to play shows. I saw one of the wrappers in my pocket, and thought it looked great. They’re the PAR- Violets, we’re the PAL-. That was Pete’s idea.”
Vocalist was not a role Fry thought he’d have in a band, but his voice has this really cool depth to it. “People started saying that, as soon as we first started playing gigs, how they liked my voice, and it really threw me off. I thought that was the weak point in the band. I thought that none of us could really, properly sing, or ever learned how to sing. I think Chilli’s [Jesson, singer/bassist] grown as well as a singer. He’s actually tone deaf, and he’s taught himself to sing. Pete’s also got a good voice. Haven’t heard much of Will’s. We’ve started giving him a mic for the last song live. He’ll have his time.” Fry’s earliest music memories include an S Club 7 show when he was five-years-old, buying his first tape, Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”. Later, he was drawn more to a more guitar-laden sound. “The first band I ever truly fell in love with was the Libertines. It’s through them I got an understanding of music. They taught us about the Smiths, the Clash and the Sex Pistols.”
While working on Palma Violets’ debut, Fry kept a book of drawings, many correlating with 180‘s tracks (Fry: “I remember right next to “Rattlesnake Highway” there’s this massive sunset with trees.”) The actual 180 CD has one of Fry’s drawings printed on it. I wondered if art was something he studied? “That’s funny you should say that because I’m drawing right now. I never learned how to do art. I found some pastels I made while we were writing the songs for the first record. I would always draw pictures along with the songs and that flower was just one of the pictures from my book. It was a really last-minute decision. I realized it was the exact size of a CD.” Fry told me his drawings are mostly “only landscapes and things like that. I just start with a little thing and then it gets bigger and bigger and turns into something. . . . it’s all quite hippie.”
And what about the song “Last of the Summer Wine” and its video? The video for “Last of the Summer Wine” required the band to be outside in the rain, each band holding a red umbrella. It’s a great video, and I wanted to see if it was as fun to make it as it looked? “We were good actors. It was 100 % miserable. It was so wet we all had trench foot at the end of it. I don’t think Pete’s foot ever recovered from that day.” Though Fry explained that, “looking back on it I’d say it was all of our favorite videos. It was really early for us. The umbrellas were all a nice touch. We cherish that video.” And “Last of the Summer Wine” has howling sounds at its end, where did that come from? “It was a last-minute thing. We always planned going up on the guitar and the drums. We had this whole surgence of going all the way up. The howling came right at the end when everyone started howling in the studio. Steve, the producer put some effects on it and made it sound like the end of the world. “ But first the band is working in Carrig Mountain. “I think it’s the last bit of land in the U.K. before America. We’re having friends down today from London.” Fry said. “It’s going to be Will’s 21st birthday party. We’ve spent about a month here writing new songs. It’s been a godsend.”
Palma Violets Tidbit: I’d read that each band member in Palma Violets has a cat – another reason to love this band. Fry confirmed it : Will has two cats, his cats are horrible. Chilli’s cat is nice. My cat’s really nice. Sadly Pete’s cat just died recently. [It was the cat] we all got when we all got when we lived in a flat together. We gave it a good home, but I felt sorry for it because it could never go outside. He lived with Pete in East London for a bit. He was called Denzel. Cookie and all the rest of our cats are still alive.”
~ interview by Dagmar
Palma Violets Play Barboza @ 8:00 PM, Monday October 14th.