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Palma Violets Discuss Summer Festivals, the Breeders, Twerking + More

Palma Violets, Mark Metcalfe, Getty Images
Mark Metcalfe, Getty Images

Punky garage rockers Palma Violets are one of Britain’s biggest buzz bands of late — the most talked about since the Arctic Monkeys or the xx, for sure.

Formed in London in 2011, the young quartet– Sam Fryer (vocals/guitar), Alexander “Chili” Jesson (vocals/bass), Pete Mayhew (keyboards), and Will Doyle (drums) — has received comparisons to formative U.K. punks like the Clash, and you can hear the similarities in their singles ‘Best of Friends’ and ‘Rattlesnake Highway.’

Like their ragged-rock forefathers, the Palmas’ plunky guitars and talky, deep-voiced vocals are awash in reverb, and the keyboards sound like they were recorded inside Westminster Abbey. And the songs themselves have that working-class-anthem vibe that made bands like the Clash and the Smiths so universally likeable — and highly British. Another band that comes to mind is the Kinks, whose lyrics the Violets’ nick in their tune ‘All the Garden Birds.’

Touring in support of their fantastically catchy debut album, ‘108’ (Rough Trade), the Palmas head to the States this month and play New York City’s Webster Hall on Oct. 9 (with SKATERS supporting). In advance of the trek, we caught up with keyboardist Pete Mayhew, who called in from Wales, midway through a Guinness.

You guys are on tour. How’s it going so far?

We’ve done quite a few festivals.

You did the Reading Festival, right?

We did Reading quite recently [Aug. 24]. Reading and Leeds both. It was fun. I mean, it’s one of the biggest music festivals in England. There are a lot of bands to see, and it’s a bit hectic, because it’s a festival that people go to when they’re 15. So there are a lot of kids. So you tend to get a lot of kids who are going to a festival for the first time and discovering everything. Quite interesting.

Which festival has the best-looking female fans?

Best? I don’t know. Quite hard to tell.

Is it hard to tell because you’re so far up on stage?

It’s very hard to say. I don’t really want to say anything stupid. I never thought about it, actually. I’m always sort of concentrating on what I’m doing onstage.

Have you been down to Ibiza and done one of those foam parties?

No, but we did actually play Ibiza once — Ibiza Rocks. It was interesting, if anything. There’s a lot of English people there getting drunk and causing a lot of trouble.

How did your bandmate Alexander get his nickname “Chilli”? Is he a fan of the red bean-filled soup, or is he just always cold?

I don’t know — it’s a myth. He’s actually never told us. There’s a big myth behind it, but nobody actually knows what it is. It’s a big secret. He doesn’t even tell his best friends. I don’t even think his family knows.

So apparently you guys are going to have to get him drunk on tour and make him spill the beans.

He’s very secretive. I don’t think he even knows.

All of our British friends are way smarter than we are. Did you go to college and pass your A-levels; or did you just say, ‘F— it,’ start a band, and go on tour?

I suppose it kind of went the latter way, yeah. We just left school and didn’t go to university. Too expensive, isn’t it?

How have your parents reacted to your budding music careers?

I don’t know. They pretend like they don’t care when they see me, but they tell everybody.

It’s really hard to come up with a good band name these days. Where did you come up with the name Palma Violets?

It’s different for Americans, because you never had Parma Violets in America.

What are those?

It’s a very traditional kind of candy you get over in England. It’s been around for a really long time. You kind of have to taste it to find out. It’s a bit soapy. It’s the kind of thing that people eat when they’re really young.

Have the candy company’s lawyers tried to sue you?

No, it’s spelled differently. We don’t really have a big suing culture over here. People just kind of get over it.

Your sound is very garage rock and has some strains of early punk in it. What is one band that you’re embarrassed to admit you listen to?

I don’t know. I don’t really think there’s anything you should be embarrassed listening to. Well, there’s a lot of Nick Cave, which is probably not exactly like our music. At the beginning, we got [compared to] the Clash. There’s a mix of a lot of things. We never had a specific influence that we wanted. Our music’s a big amalgamation of everything we listen to together. And we all, each individually, have slightly varied music tastes, so we’re not all set upon one sound.

We noticed that Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr recently dedicated a song to you onstage. Do you worship at the altar of the Smiths?

We are fans of them, but I wouldn’t say we worship them. It was a lovely gesture.

What are the three bands you listen most to on your iPod?

I actually don’t have an iPod. But mine personally are the Pixies, the Velvet Underground … and I’ve actually listened to the Breeders’ album ‘Last Splash’ a lot, recently. We’re going to go see them in Mexico. It’s the 20th anniversary, so they’re only playing ‘Last Splash’ for the whole set.

In America, their big hit was ‘Cannonball.’

Yeah, all the other songs on the album are better than that one.

Do you listen to pop radio at all? Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines,’ for example.

Who?

You’ve never heard of Robin Thicke?

Oh wait, hang on, hang on. I was reading something about this. I’ve never actually heard the song, but I read that he got banned from Edinburgh University campus, because the song had connotations of consensual and nonconsensual sex assault. That’s the only thing I’ve heard about it, so it sounds like it’s getting off to a bad start.

So we take it you haven’t heard anything about “twerking” or Miley Cyrus?

You know, that whole Miley Cyrus thing doesn’t really translate over into England. We hear about it, but it doesn’t actually happen.

What would you consider to be England’s version of twerking?

We had this thing called “planking.” But I don’t think that people really did it. America’s always got five new things that’ve already happened. It’s tough to reach us over here. When we start talking about twerking, you’ll probably have five new things ahead of that.

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