Palma Violets founder Samuel Fryer still can’t quite believe the level of success the English band are experiencing.
After all, they didn’t go looking for it. “Everything that got us to this point is down to word of mouth,” the vocalist and guitarist says. “We didn’t really know how to put ourselves online; we didn’t know how to put songs up on YouTube or anything like that. We didn’t have anything to video ourselves, all we had was a small recorder to play our songs back.”
Despite an inability to launch themselves digitally, Fryer and Chilli Jesson (vocals, bass) were keeping busy. Along with drummer William Doyle and keyboardist Pete Mayhew the band was playing to up to 70 people in the South London house they share – house parties that have become the stuff of infamy. “It was only our friends we told about us playing, and that kept it small,” Fryer says.
Word got around, and before long the band was hosting label types in their living room. “We kind of played the industry a bit,” Fryer says. “We never set out to do it like that, but it looks like we were out to fool them. We do appreciate some of the people in the music industry, but we tend to avoid some of the people from the majors.
“When we were first approached, we weren’t really ready,” he continues, changing tack slightly. “We only had four or five songs, and then we had the industry people come knocking on our door. I didn’t really think we were ready, so we got ourselves a manager, and he kind of helped us out. We continued to not put ourselves online, which frustrated a lot of music people. They had to come down to ours and watch us play.”
Last year Palma Violets signed to influential imprint Rough Trade (The Libertines, The Hold Steady). The label arranged for the band to meet a range of possible producers, before they settled on Pulp’s Steve Mackey. “He’s great, he’s such a sweet and genuine guy,” Fryer says. “It was funny because he was really excited about recording, and the potential for the album. On the other side, we were quite excited about being in a studio because we’d never been in one before. This is the first band that any of us have been in, and Steve knew that and made us feel really comfortable. He put us in a room with our instruments, and told us to play a live show for him. It probably took about three takes for us get into it. Three weeks later, we had an album.”
The album is called 180 and has two big singles in ‘Best of Friends’ and ‘Step Up For the Cool Cats’. “All the songs we used to play at our house, during parties, are on the album,” Fryer says. “They’ve changed massively. Lyrically and structurally they haven’t changed at all, but they’ve changed in the way we play them. Steve helped us find that edge that they needed, without changing the stronger parts.
“We’re not really a band who like to plan things out very much. None of us have good organisational skills. We just like to go into a room, and scream and shout into a corner and make loud noises until we’ve got a song. That’s the way we do it.”
The way they do it live is starting to become legendary. And they do gig, a lot. “We’ve just got back from America, and it was a pretty big tour,” Fryer says. “We played in places I’d never even heard of. You can never tell when you go in what it’s going to be like. You’re flying blind, in a way. Some of the places there weren’t very many people, but then we’d get to the next show and there’s this massive turnout and people are dancing like crazy and it’s deafening. We didn’t think that kind of thing would ever happen.”
The American tour was their second tour of the country. In March last year, shortly after signing to Rough Trade, the four-piece went to Austin for South by Southwest. “Those shows were surprisingly good,” Fryer says. “The audience there has a reputation of being aloof, because it’s mainly industry people. There were a few shows where people stood there, but mainly people were pretty happy to get drunk and throw themselves around. We also had one really good daytime show that blew us away, but it was still strange because you’re playing so early.”
The band left Texas and travelled west to California. “We drove all around California, checked out the wine country,” Fryer says. “Then we headed north to Canada, drove along the top and ended up in New York. We stopped off in about 20 different places and played shows. It was quite the experience for four young guys.”
North American tours have bookended their European travels. “We’ve played most of the major cities in Europe, we’ve done them all basically,” Fryer says. “Now we’re making an effort to visit places we haven’t been before. We’re trying to visit all the ones we’ve missed, and we’re doing them one at a time. At the moment we’re in Holland, and we’re playing a bunch of dates just in Holland. Once it’s finished we get a break for a bit.”
That break will be the first in quite some time, and is much deserved. However, there won’t be much relaxing. “We’ve got nine days off, which has been a long time coming,” Fryer says. “We’re going to head to a mate’s place and make the most of it by recording some new stuff. We’re still trying to get Steve to come and work with us, but he’s a busy man so he may not have time. In any case, we’ll definitely be making a lot of noise.”
The degree of attention that has been foisted on the band, including lavish praise from none other than NME, does not worry Fryer. “It’s strange at first,” he says, “but you get quite used to it. I don’t read too much into what’s happening, I just enjoy being with friends. I don’t go online and I think it’s better that way, otherwise you end up getting yourself worked up over nothing.
“It’s definitely exciting that it’s happening,” he continues, “but we just do our thing. We’re pretty close as a band, and we spend every day together, pretty much. I think I’ve hung out with Pete every day for the last seven or eight years. I’m not sick of him yet, and I can’t see it happening.”
This winter is the first time Palma Violets have toured Australia, but it’s not Fryer’s first visit. “I came out there in 2006. My dad took me over to watch the Ashes, and we went to Melbourne. That seemed like a really lovely city. It’ll be good come back as adult. I’ve told the guys good things about Australia. They’re all pretty excited to get there. And Australia seems like the natural next thing to do after Holland,” he laughs. “I don’t think we’ll be going to the beach, but we’ll wait and see. You never know how things will turn out.”
BY BEN COOPER
Palma Violets play Splendour in The Grass July 27, before heading to Sydney for a sideshow at the Oxford Art Factory July 30.