Hometown: London, England
Members:Sam Fryer, Chilli Jesson, Peter Mayhew, Will Doyle
Current Release: 180
For Fans of: Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, The Libertines
It’s a familiar tale. A group of friends, dissatisfied with the music they hear and underwhelmed with the concerts they attend, decide to do what most creative youths of a certain age do: They start their own band.
That was the case for the boys of Palma Violets, a scrappy, young rock outfit straight out of south London whose members are still below the legal drinking age here in America.
“It all started because we were paying to get into these shows that we didn’t like, seeing these rubbish bands we didn’t like,” drummer Will Doyle recalls. “Instead of just complaining all the time about bands and how we can be unsatisfied when we go to shows, we thought, ‘Maybe we could do better.’”
After bonding with each other while attending the Reading Festival, the band members—Doyle on drums, co-frontman Sam Fryer on guitar, fellow frontman Alexander “Chilli” Jesson on bass and Peter Mayhew on keyboard—quickly found both their sound (garage rock with shades of psychedelic influences) and their personal headquarters (a small space called Studio 180 that Jesson stumbled onto by chance).
To say their subsequent success was instantaneous would be an understatement. Within a year-and-a-half of their formation, Palma Violets developed a devoted fanbase, were signed to legendary London label Rough Trade and named Britain’s “Best New Band” by NME.
Currently, the band is in the midst of a massive, worldwide tour, with an exhausted Doyle calling in for his interview from Seoul, South Korea.
“I don’t have a body clock anymore,” Doyle says of his sleep habits while touring. “You just got to try to stay up as late as you can until you’re as tired as you can be. That gets you through jetlag.”
Of course, becoming Britain’s “next big thing” was nowhere close to the master plan. Not that they necessarily ever had one. If anything, part of the quartet’s appeal comes precisely from their decidedly unpretentious nature. Their earliest shows, for instance, were free events composed primarily of friends and associates, with drinks galore to set the atmosphere. Likewise, the group’s decision to call themselves Palma Violets proved to be a last-minute decision made when booking a gig necessitated a name (“there was a few other band names that we wanted to call ourselves but we never got around to it,” Doyle states).
Moreover, whereas countless start-up bands today commonly employ social media and streaming sites like SoundCloud to distribute their material, the band primarily relied on traditional word-of-mouth, partially because none of them really knew how to put their music online and partially because they had no real work to show.
“When you start off, you have loads of bands put up a really bad demo or really bad recording of themselves online,” Doyle explains. “Why would you want to put a rubbish recording of yourself online for the rest of the world to see? We just started off, there was no point putting up shit recordings when we could just wait…None of us even had enough money to go record or buy anything to record with.”
Even without an online presence, however, news of the band’s raucous live shows at Studio 180 quickly spread through the greater London area. Soon, the small performance space was drawing crowds that severely strained its 60-person capacity.
Palma Violets’ burgeoning popularity led to Rough Trade signing them in early 2012. Boasting an album’s worth of songs by the end of the year, the band entered the studio with producer/Pulp bassist Steve Mackey to record their debut album, 180 (named for the group’s beloved space). In an attempt to both capture the energy of their live shows as well as avoid overthinking the proceedings, they imposed a strict three-take limit on each track, using the best take each time.
The band’s Spartan, punk-esque approach appeared to pay off, as 180 opened in England to considerable fanfare, with the album’s single “Best of Friends” gaining major traction among the British press. Ironically, it was a song that the band originally thought of as little more than a pandering attempt at a pop single.
“When we first wrote [‘Best of Friends’], it was actually called the ‘Shit Song’ just because it was so poppy and we didn’t want to do the whole ‘pop group’ thing,” Doyle admits. “But when we played it more and more, people did say, ‘Actually, this a really good song,” and we did learn to love it because then, once you have that feeling behind it of seeing a crowd react to a song in that way, then it completely changes the song.”
Good fortune aside, Doyle also acknowledges that the love of the British press can be a double-edged sword, with the band’s rapid ascension bringing to mind other guitar-oriented groups (Viva Brother, Terris and Gay Dad, to name a few) who were similarly hyped by the British media only to disappear off the music radar just as quickly as they appeared.
“It wasn’t until I discovered we were being called a ‘buzz band’ that I realized there’d be other bands before us who’d been hyped to be the next big thing and then just shot down,” Doyle claims, adding, “we shielded ourselves from it as well; you don’t pay attention to these sort of things because it will just eat away at you.”
Despite the baggage that inevitably comes with being England’s newest, hottest export, Doyle says the group remains confident in its skills, particularly as a live act.
“We played what we thought was missing when we’d go to see certain bands,” Doyle explains. “The day we stop playing great live shows, or putting all our energy into our live shows, then the band’s going to stop.”
Furthermore, Doyle says the group is already looking forward, eschewing several potential tour dates in the U.S. later this year in order to hash out some new songs.
Riding in on a cloud of hype, Palma Violets has nevertheless proven a steadfast devotion to their original goals: play music that rocks and have some serious fun in the process.