New York four-piece Public Access T.V. first appeared four years ago amidst a wave of industry-led hype and expectation. Formed in 2014 by former Be Your Own Pet drummer John Eatherly, their earliest shows saw labels rub shoulders with international celebrities, such was the clamour for a piece of their action.
However, since then, the foursome - Eatherly (who sings and plays guitar as well as writes the songs), Xan Aird (guitar, vocals), Max Peebles (bass) and Pete Star (drums) - have gone about their business like any other band. Having put out their critically acclaimed debut Never Enough in 2016, they've spent most of the interim period touring, stopping only last year to construct its successor, Street Safari, which came out last month.
Currently in the middle of their first UK tour in over a year, DiS caught up with amiable frontman Eatherly prior to the band's recent show at Bristol's Crofters Rights.
DiS: How's the tour been so far?
John Eatherly: It's going fucking great! We played a lot of these cities the last time we toured here about a year ago. I remember playing in Manchester and Newcastle to about ten people back then, whereas this time we played to packed rooms. So we can see the progress which makes it fun and exciting for us.
Do you think your music is more accessible to UK audiences than it is back home? There are several reference points within your music, particularly on the new album, that resonate with people here.
Yeah, I think our music is quite suited to UK audiences. Possibly more than it is back home. We get kids coming to the shows here that understand what we're trying to do. That we're about much more than just putting on a simple rock and roll show. I think that kind of thing works better in the UK, even just being in a guitar band. People seem to get it more here than they do in the States.
Do you feel there's less pressure on the band now than there was the last time you were over here? Has the weight of expectation decreased since the initial buzz around the band before the first album came out?
We've never really felt any of that since the band started. There was never a desire on our part where we felt the need to impress anybody or live up to someone's expectation of us. We're just trying to be the best band that we think we can be. I think we all have our own standards within the band and that's as much as we can do. Even in the beginning when people were writing about us before we'd played that many live shows we didn't feel any pressure to have to prove ourselves. We've all been in this game making music and playing in different bands for a long time, well before we started this band. So it didn't feel like we were chasing a scene or anything. I've known we were a good band from day one, it just took us a little bit of time to put out our first record. But we're putting out the second one pretty quickly, so as far as expectation goes we're just trying to make this record better than the last one.
When did the writing process begin for Street Safari? Which is the oldest song on the record?
The oldest song on the record is 'Shell No. 2'. I wrote that the last time we ever here doing a show at The Lexington about a year ago. Compared to the first record, this one came together really quickly. Some of the songs off the first one date back to my teenage years and early twenties. Several of those songs were six years old but then some of the later ones like 'Evil Disco' and 'End Of An Era' were written about a week before we started mastering the record. So the nice thing about this record is none of the ideas are old; it was a completely fresh, clean slate. Everything was written within the last year, even down to the demo and the idea where and when it came from, so it's much better to play these songs live as well because they feel fresh. It feels good to be supporting the new record and promoting it.
Has the way you approach songwriting and making records changed over time?
I was writing and demoing even before I started this band. It wasn't geared towards whichever band I was playing in at the time, I was doing it for myself. I've always really been into making demos, and even now, when I finish a four track or eight track demo of a new song and listen back for the first time I tend to get pretty attached to it. I tend to start off by collecting ideas and voice demos on my phone then I'll write ideas down as they pop into my head. Most of them come pretty naturally, I don't force them. Then when I go into the studio to record I just pull from this bank of ideas I have and try different things. Mix and match some of the different ideas I've had over the past few months. More often than not they go together pretty well, whether musically or lyrically, just because they're coming from the same time in my life.
Do you tend to write more while you're on the road or in studio?
The ideas might come at any point but as far as doing the work of putting them into a song goes, I do need to isolate myself away a little bit. The initial inspiration or idea can certainly come on the road or anywhere.
Listening to both the first album (Never Enough) then the new one straight after the transition in musical styles is quite reminiscent of The Clash going from Give Em Enough Rope to London Calling. Was that the kind of leap you were aiming for?
Yeah, it was very intentional to try out as many new ideas as we could. With the first record we just banged it out live in a room for the most part. There weren't many overdubs at all. Whereas on this one I wanted it to have more of a layered production. A lot of my favourite records that have been staples of mine for many years are like that. Ones where you listen to it five times and fall in love with the record then you forget about it for a while, only to go back to it years later and discover something you might not have heard first time round. A lot of that comes from having more layers in the sound. More textures. So the more you go back to it - depending on where you listen to it - how many times you listen to it - these other sounds pop out at you every now and then. Its not so much about being detail orientated as it is about having more layers.
Are the new songs more difficult to replicate live than those off the first record?
It's funny because I actually thought some of these songs would be a little more difficult to replicate live. Just because the recording feels a little more slick. But its actually been much easier than learning the songs on the first record. Each song kind of rides its own wave from the beginning to the end. It has its own kind of vibe within the variety of the record. On the first album, it might feel like one song is cramming in a lot from an arrangement point of view; the bridge might sound like a different song to the verse or something like that. Whereas with this record there's a steady flow throughout every song which makes it easier to play them live. It only took a couple of plays for us to get our bearings with the new record, and its just a matter of repeating it every night. Structurally its actually much more simple than the first record. It may be more layered in sound but we've simplified things dramatically compared to the first album.
Now you have a comprehensive body of work to choose from, is it difficult putting together a setlist for the live show?
The new record's not out until later this week so we're not playing many of those songs yet. This tour - which only started about a week ago - is the first time we've ever played any of the new songs live. We're playing 'MetroTech' and 'Lost In The Game' because they're the two singles, and also 'Rough Boy' because that works well with the older songs in the live set and another called 'Meltdown'. We know all of the new songs but it's probably too soon to introduce them right now. Most people in the crowd are only just figuring out the lyrics to the songs off the first record so it's about making sure we strike a fine balance between the two. So the set will lean a little bit heavier towards the first record until the new one comes out.
Patrick Wimberly - whose previous credits include the most recent Beyonce and Solange albums as well as being a former member of Chairlift - worked on the album. How did he become involved with Street Safari? Was he always your first choice to produce the record?
I've known Patrick for a few years now. I filled in on drums with Chairlift for a couple of shows and we've stayed in contact ever since, so I was aware he was producing records. I liked him a lot and knew he was very talented from when I played with him so basically I texted him and asked if he'd be into recording a couple of songs. So I went to his studio in this big factory building and everything worked out great; he totally got it. He isn't one of those producers that wants to change everything for the sake of changing things. By the time I went to record the album everything was already demoed, so it was a breeze to make. He immediately understood what I wanted, and he knew how to amplify what I was going for and did a great job. It wasn't one of those processes where you spent every day pulling your hair out in the studio trying to come up with another song or something. I did the bulk of the work before we started recording so it was pretty straightforward.
Is Patrick someone you'd choose to work with again in the future?
Ideally I'd like to make the next record with him too. That's the first time I've ever said that about anybody who's ever produced a record I've worked on before.
Aside from the 11 songs which made it onto Street Safari, were there any others left over which might be revisited at a later date?
There are, but I have to go and record them! It's just a matter of finding some time to track some B-sides. We were joking about that when we finished the album; that maybe I can go back in the studio and record a couple more songs. Hopefully I will when we have a break.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
We're hoping to make a video for every song on the record after we've finished this tour. We're home for four days then we go on a month long tour of the States. I'd imagine we'll be coming back over here later in the year and playing a few festivals. I don't know which ones but I think that's the plan.
What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Be as committed to what you're doing as you can possibly be. It's easy to be afraid when you don't see any results for a while but that's all part of the process. If you treat it like work but are still able to have fun at the same time you'll get there more often than not in the end.
I guess you've seen a lot of changes within the music industry over the past decade. Do you see things changing even more quickly in the future?
Maybe. I guess I lean towards a place that's more old fashioned. Everything's become so convoluted. There are so many bands and so many resources with the internet, I find it difficult searching for things I like because I'm not very good at digging around. I tend to discover music now in the same way I did as a teenager. I've adapted to the way things are now but I do struggle at times; on the one hand it's good because there's space for everybody but then on the other it's bad because that also creates room for a lot of trash. Looking for new music nowadays is like diving through a dumpster!
Street Safari is out now via Cinematic Music Group. For more information on Public Access T.V. please visit their official website.
Photo Credit: Jonah Freud