Few new acts breaking onto the scene today ooze such charm and charisma as fresh-faced four-piece Public Access TV, a bunch of retro rockers from New York City. Their steady release of lo-fi indie bangers over the past couple of years has garnered them a considerable following on home turf and overseas. With a debut album finished and in the shops soon, frontman John Eatherly and drummer Pete Star sat down with Vapour Trail to chat shit and talk business.
You’re touring with Hinds at the moment. How’s it going?
JE: It’s great! We’ve only done one show so far but we toured with Hinds before in the US so it kind of feels like a continuation of that. Although we were in Cambridge last night and it was a little stiff! There were a lot of parents there, which is fine, but there was an eight year old at the show and one of her parents got mad at us for cursing on stage. Actually, you know what, it was awful! I hated it! The lights were so bright on stage so I couldn’t see a thing.
PS: The room was like a small gymnasium, so it was loud and echo-y and the lights were right on us the whole time, like mad fucking bright. Tonight looks really cool though. We had a look around Norwich earlier and you’ve got loads of record shops, which is always great.
What’s the story behind Public Access TV? How did you get together?
JE: The band formed about two years ago because I had some demos that I’d recorded but I wasn’t really sure what to do with them, so I decided that I would put a band together. I’d known Max, the bass player, since high school so he was easy to get in the band and Xan, the guitar player, and I had played in other bands together before.
PS: I came through random people in the social/business scene, sort of. I didn’t actually know the guys that well to start with.
What is the scene like in NYC for new/developing bands?
JE: In New York the biggest scene for bands is in Brooklyn. There are so many DIY venues there, which I think can help bands because you can play a show to all these people who you can also be friends with. But in Manhattan, where we’re from, there’s really not much of anything. Manhattan is a hard place to have a scene to begin with. In Brooklyn it’s easier for people to live in the places where they play music, like practice spaces, and to play shows in their houses. But in the city it’s not so much like that. I think that it’s encouraging for us because there’s not so much happening in Manhattan, so it’s exciting to feel like something new. I feel like we have our own little clubhouse and none of us really step outside of it.
PS: In the city itself, it always feels like there are things going on, even if it’s not busy musically. So that can make you feel like you should be doing something. You really get out of it what you put into it. It’s hard to be lazy when you step outside and so much is going on.
You’ve lived and worked in London too. How did that compare to being at home?
JE: When we came over here last summer we wanted to be working and as busy as possible. Recording overseas really feels like there’s a little bit of magic in the air, a little electricity from not just being at home. It feels like something really fun is happening. In a way, when we were recording here we were really living in a little bubble, especially when we were at The Doghouse [Studio, Oxfordshire]. We did a week there, and three days in London. It was exciting and cool and also we’d been playing the songs so much on tour that we really felt ready to get the good takes. We recorded live with the whole band. Most of the stuff from those sessions is on the record.
JE: It was so cool! It was really exciting.
PS: It was just a blast to be a part of it. And to see some of the bands, like to watch the Strokes’ set, to watch Beck, was just amazing. I’d never seen either of those acts live until then. Apparently there’s a pretty strict decibel law in Hyde Park because of all the houses around it so a lot of people were talking about how quiet it was, but I didn’t really notice. I wasn’t really paying attention. We were partying! We had no idea how loud it was, we were just like, “Ah the Strokes! This is fucking cool!” It was a lot of fun.
There are rumours online that you know The Strokes.
JE: We’re not like “mates” but they live in New York so we brush shoulders from time to time. I don’t call up Julian for brunch or anything like that. In the right setting, around the right person, maybe I could say, “what’s up” and it wouldn’t be taken too badly. But randomly on the street I think it would probably be awkward.
However, you do know Palma Violets, right?
JE: Yeah! We love those guys. We toured with them in America. Being with Palma Violets felt really fun. They were just on the same page as us, in regards to hanging out and the music that they liked. As dudes, we could have a good time with them. They were like us. Or we were like them, in some sense. And all those guys are great performers; they’re an exciting live band for sure.
Didn’t Chilli work with you on some tracks?
JE: Chilli and Milo [Ross, PV’s manager] were producing the sessions we did as a live band in London. It was great because there wasn’t anybody in the studio with some wild idea of what to do with the songs, and their whole attitude was wanting it to sound exciting and loud. We’d be recording and Chilli would be hopping up and down in the control room shouting “Play it harder!”
Which bands do you listen to for inspiration?
JE: Max usually DJs and he listens to a lot of classic rock, like Thin Lizzy. We’ve also been on a bit of an 80s Bob Dylan kick, listening to a lot of Saved, Shot of Love, Oh Mercy… he has so many eras and we’re all really big fans. I’m getting back into this band called Sparks [as in, Franz Ferdinand and-] from L.A. The earlier stuff sounds to me like Queen if Queen were a little dumber, because it has that operatic sound to the vocals. They really transition with the times flawlessly because they started with classic rock, then when disco came out they did a song with Georgio Moroder called The Number One Song in Heaven, which is a great song title too. It’s so cool.
Tell us about the album you’ve worked on.
JE: We finished it up in New York a couple of weeks ago. It was recorded in a few different places, so I wanted to sprinkle the magic dust over everything to tie it all together. When can we expect to hear it? You know, I have no fucking idea. I don’t really know the protocol behind how it works. If it were up to me I’d put it out tomorrow, but because of labels and business things, it probably won’t come out until August or September. But it’s done.
The only things on the record that we’ve put out so far are In Love and Alone, On Location and Patti Peru. All the old shit will exist on its own because I don’t want to over-bombard the record with things that have already come out. That’s boring. Not just for other people, but for us too. We want to be playing new songs live. We’re playing five new songs for the first time on this tour.
PS: We performed them for the first time last night, actually. Not that that audience would have cared!
Last spring, you lost your New York apartment in a gas explosion. For people who don’t know the story, what happened, and what was the aftermath?
JE: At the time, we were finishing a tour with Gang of Four and we were in L.A., waking up from a night of partying and we were getting text messages from our friends. We were actually watching our house blow up on the Internet, we were streaming it, and we were supposed to drive home the next day.
PS: We stayed in L.A. an extra amount of time, simply because there was no home to go back to.
JE: We got home to this awful situation – two people died. We just needed to get out of there because it was crazy and we didn’t know what else to do. Everything we owned was gone and half the band had lived there since 2010 so it was very “what the fuck”. When we went to England we wanted to do as much as we could and we basically lived here when we started making the album. It’s hard to say if it’s a topic that comes up on the album. But because of the way that it made me feel and the place that it put me in my life, I’m sure it will have worked its way in, definitely. A lot of themes on the record have to do with hitting a rock bottom situation and trying to keep an eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s the time of year when festival line-ups are announced. Who would your dream headliners be?
JE: I’d probably bring Bob Dylan back from 1965. Or maybe Leonard Cohen. I would see The Clash, Combat Rock tour, now. And I’d want to see The Sex Pistols live too.
PS: I’d want to see Kiss. Fucking fireworks and seven-inch boots and all that.
JE: I’d want to see Kiss when they were playing weird little high school dances in the suburbs. Or there’s a Lou Reed and John Cale concert where they play Berlin live in 1972, which would be so cool. That would be crazy, and really intense.
Finally, we get to find out tonight, but what do you want people to take away from a PATV gig?
JE: I’d like people to be half listening and then half cutting loose and enjoying themselves. We give it our all because playing shows is what we’re here for. It’s really awesome when people aren’t thinking too much and they’re just having a good time. Some people go to shows and they’re so concerned and judge-y and even if they do like something they don’t allow themselves to like it. I’d rather people forget about that because I know what we’re doing. They don’t have to worry; we’ll take care of that.
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Public Access TV play Birthdays in Dalston this Thursday, Feb 25th, as part of NME’s Awards Shows 2016. Support comes from Misty Miller and Strange Bones.
(Words: Alex Cabré)