With their eagerly anticipated second album, ‘Danger In Club’ now only a matter of weeks away, ‘pre-punk’ band, Palma Violets are on the brink of outgrowing the sweaty riots of Studio 180 that they became so renowned for at the start of their currently short-lived time as an established outfit.
So, I caught up with co-frontman and songwriter Sam Fryer, to talk about recording their new album on a Welsh farm, Radio 1, working with legendary producer, John Leckie and their slightly more sensible approach to being in a band that’s constantly on the road – the only task I have, is to conduct the entirety of the interview before Sam feels the full force of last nights alcohol consumption and throws up in the van.
Louder Than War: Hello Sam, how are you doing?
Sam Fryer: Hello mate, yeah not too bad thank you – we’re just in the van at the moment on the way to a show in the Olympic Park, so it might not be that easy to hear you, but we’ll definitely make a good try of it. Oh, and if I throw up, I might have to hang up haha.
Haha, yeah that’s absolutely fine. Right, so you were recently at SXSW – how was that for you all this time round?
Sam Fryer: Well, this year at SXSW I actually had my birthday there, which was really good. I believe it was on the same day as the only night time show we played and that was a really good show – we all really enjoyed it. We played at like 1 in the morning at Bar 96, with a band called Broncho and Twin Peaks – who we’ve played with before – and yeah, it was actually a really good night. We did have some dodgy shows during the day time though, but that’s kind of a given really.
Well, that’s a good way to celebrate your birthday nonetheless – would you say that, that was your favourite show this year then?
Sam Fryer: Yeah definitely, it was definitely the best one. All the others, especially the shows during the day, all seemed a bit rushed and hectic – so they were harder to enjoy as much as that show in the evening.
So, would you say that your time at SXSW was better this time round because you are more of an established act now, or better the first time you played there as a brand new band?
Sam Fryer: It was such a long time ago now, the first time we played there. I think it was more exciting the first time round because we had always wanted to go and play SXSW and when we had just started as a band, we knew that would be somewhere that enabled us to be heard. I think it’s really good for new bands to start out to go there. I personally think that it’s much better to be a new band there, than it is to be a more established band. So, for that reason I’m going to say that your first time there, is probably going to be the better time.
Okay, so your eagerly anticipated second album is due out on May 4th, and the first song that you premiered from it was the title track, Danger In The Club. Was there any particular reason that you chose to lead the album with that song?
Sam Fryer: Well, at the time of us trying to think of a name for the record, I think that was the song that just seemed to sum up the entirety of the album and I think it’s a song that sums up all the different emotions and writing styles that exist throughout the album. I think it’s a really British sounding track and a really British accumulation of words, so I just think it really sums up the feeling of the record and it’s the only song that was worthy of an album title.
So, when it comes to deciding on the album’s lead single – is that a decision primarily made by you and the band or do Rough Trade listen to all the songs and then decide themselves?
Sam Fryer: We actually normally go the complete opposite way – if they say a certain song is the best one and we should release it, we will usually go for something completely different. It’s always down to us really in the end.
Was Danger In The Club written quite early into the second album process?
Sam Fryer: It actually came more in the middle of everything. We had about six or seven songs that we had already written down in Wales on the farm and then we came back to London and wrote a couple more and Danger In The Club was one of songs we did back in London. And then when we met up with John Leckie we wrote a couple more in his company.
So, what made you all decide to take the trip up to Wales to write and record some of the album?
Sam Fryer: I think we just all needed to get out of London for a while. We had used 180 quite a lot and we’ve spent a lot of time there over the last few years when we was putting on shows and stuff – so, we just needed to get out really and rehabilitate after two years of touring.
I understand that you or Chilli said that you wanted this record to sound like a young record and you didn’t want to overcomplicate the process of writing and recording it – was this a decision made prior to the initial process, what are the key elements required to ensure a record sounds ‘young’ and why did you decide to opt for that specific theme?
Sam Fryer: Yeah, it was definitely something that we all spoke about during the very early stages of this album – especially during our time in Wales, we spoke about it a lot. I think, we never really had any initial strategies when it came to writing new songs and we didn’t really talk about many ways of doing it. We just knew that we wanted to try and keep it sounding like a young record and we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves and over complicate it like so many bands try to do on their second album.
So, you never felt any pressure at all to take your sound in a completely different direction to ensure you didn’t just produce a regurgitation of the first album?
Sam Fryer: I think, we all knew in ourselves that we had all naturally come on as musicians since the first record and although we were yet to know how that had affected our songwriting, we always knew that this album was always going to sound somewhat different from the first, because we had been listening to a lot of different music as well this time round.
I see. Was there any particular records that you were all listening to a lot during this album process and did anything from those albums influence any particular sounds or themes on the new new album?
Sam Fryer: Well, we were listening to quite a lot of The Kinks this time round, but I wouldn’t say that we attempted to try and directly channel anything from the records we were listening to. We just wanted it to sound as natural as possible, so we didn’t really want to think about things to much. We were also listening to quite a lot of pre-punk records – some people call it pub-rock but we call it pre-punk – people like Graham Parker and the Rumour and Nick Love. That type of music is the only type that we really all agree on as a band.
Was it difficult to get back into the mindset of writing after what was close to two years of endless touring?
Sam Fryer: Yeah it was very tough, very very tough. When you’ve been on tour for nearly two years and you haven’t written a song it’s very hard to get back into it. You try to write on the road, and you come up with loads of little parts that you record onto your phone whilst you are away, but you never finish them. It gets quite worrying because you start to question whether you will ever write a song again, but I guess a majority of artists can go through that at some point. But, yeah, that’s what really helped about being in Wales because we just took our time with it and it paid off in the end.
So there was no pressure from the label then regarding a time limit?
Sam Fryer: No, no thankfully not. We went with the right people in picking Rough Trade because they are never going to pressure us or tell us that we need to hurry up – even if they might think it, they are likely never going to say to us we need to get on with it and we’d never really get anywhere if we had that kind of relationship and they know that, so they let us be as creative as we want and take our time.
I was wondering, with the first album how much of it was already written before you got signed and had to go into the studio to produce it?
Sam Fryer: By the time we got signed by Rough Trade, I think we had written about half of the record – it was about five songs and they were the same five songs that we had shown to all the labels that came to see us at 180. So, yeah after we got signed we had to quite frantically write another four or five decent songs to make the album and to make a decent live show as well – that was all pretty hectic.
Seeing as how much interest surrounded you after you had only released one song 2012’s Best of Friends – would you say you were more nervous when it came to writing and releasing your first album or more nervous having to follow it up with an album written entirely from scratch?
Sam Fryer: If I’m honest, personally I never feel that nervous when it comes to releasing a record because all my nerves kind of come a long time before that – I’d say I get a lot more nervous going into a studio rather than when it comes to releasing it. I’d say that it actually feels more like a relief when it finally comes to releasing an album because it just gets it out there and means that it is no longer ours to deal with, it’s everyone else’s and you are just giving it away then. So, on May 4th when Danger In The Club comes out, there will be no nerves at all, just a huge sense of relief.
In congestion with what you have just said about releasing an album and giving it away, on your new album there’s a track called, ‘Coming Over To My Place’ that features the line, ‘I’d rather die, being loved’. Would you say that as a band, you sometimes fear what critics and even your fans make of your releases? Do you ever write with there potential opinions in mind or are you happy regardless with a release if you know yourselves that you have produced something you are proud of?
Sam Fryer: Yeah, yeah I suppose that’s completely correct to be fair, as long as we know in ourselves that we are pleased with what we have produced then that’s what really matters. But with song meanings etc. it’s really hard to know what they mean because they change and change over time and in fact it’s sometimes the songs you are not conscious of that end up being the most truthful.
So, how many songs were written for the album and were there any songs that were left off that you believe should have made the final tracklisting?
Sam Fryer: I think there was a lot of songs that were left off that I personally definitely think could have made it onto the album, but I now feel as if the final tracklisting we have decided on is definitely the best one we could have chose. There was loads of songs that we left off that we all really loved, and I’m sure we’ll release them over the next year or two, but I think, like we was saying earlier, this collection of songs that we’ve picked really helps to make it the young sounding record with the youthful energy that we wanted. We actually wrote about eighteen or nineteen songs for this album and I think that we are going to be releasing a deluxe-edition of that album as well which will feature some of those leftover songs on it, but there are still even more songs on top of that which we really love and that we are going to keep in the bank.
Are all the tracks that made the album entirely new songs or are any of them developed ideas that initially might have been produced during the writing sessions for the first album?
Sam Fryer: Ermm, I’d say no not really. If we did have any other unfinished ideas I think they were probably scrapped once the first album was finished. Although, that’s not a bad idea actually – maybe we should go back and listen to the recording from the early days to get some new ideas if we get stuck. But yeah, for this album they are all completely fresh ideas. All of the songs would have started from scratch at the farm in Wales and then we had loads of half-written songs that we could work with. There was still loads of song ideas left over from this album that never got finished as well, so maybe if we ever get stuck we can revisit those ideas. But Wales was just a really creative place and time for us, maybe there was something in the water there – either way, it was good and it worked.
Okay, so when it comes to writing new songs, what’s the process? Do you and Chilli write together or do you write separately, come up with separate ideas and then bring them to each other to work on?
Sam Fryer: Well, it’s a bit of both really, we’ll always go to like our separate places or our own houses and know that we’ll both be working on separate songs that night, but then sometimes we do write songs together. It’s always obvious as well when we listen back to a song of ours because we can hear who out of the two of us wrote it – I don’t know if anyone else can hear that in the songs, but yeah sometimes the songs will be real accumulations of what we have both come up with together, where other tracks we’ll individually have gone off completely in our own little world. Then if we have been off working separately, we’ll finally come together to show each other our ideas and then that person will either completely slate it or sometimes the one of us that is listening to the idea will actually believe in it more than the person who wrote it does – you have to be entirely honest with each other as well.
Seeing as you are both the chief songwriters within the band, do the pair of you ever clash over ideas at all?
Sam Fryer: Haha, do we ever clash? Oh no never, we NEVER clash haha. Everyone else in the fan is laughing at that answer right now.
Okay, so as you already mentioned, on your new album you worked with John Leckie – how was it working with someone who has worked with the likes of John Lennon, The Fall, Paul McCartney, Muse, Radiohead and the Stone Roses and how was it different from working with Rory Attwell and Steve Mackey – who you had worked with on your debut?
Sam Fryer: Well first of all, Leckie is a legend himself, but yeah I think what was good about Steve and Rory was that they completely understood the specific moment that was happening with our band at the time and how special and exciting it was to just be that band that was emerging from being absolutely nothing to something and they captured the whole 180 thing perfectly. They even came along to 180 and tried to capture what was happening at these shows at 180 and capture the sounds and feel of us live on record and they did that. Whereas John and us wanted this time round for the new album to sound a lot fuller, slightly less ‘live’ I suppose and overall more rich. John loves his drums and that’s all I can hear on this album, the drums just sound so big and even the guitars I feel sound really good on this album. But most importantly John was really good in the way that he really brought out the best in us and brought out a lot of songs in us that neither of us had the courage to show each other because you get a little self-conscience in the studio, but he showed us how easy it is to actually write in the studio. And that’s how we wrote so many songs in the end, because John just encouraged us to put out all of our ideas in the open, he said no one is going to laugh at you and no one gives a shit. So, in the end a good six songs that made it onto the album were done in the studio and were only written because John made us show each other and believe in them and stop being pussys.
Okay, I just want to ask you a slightly off topic question now. Zane Lowe has been a massive supporter of Palma Violets and has made your singles his ‘Hottest Record in the Wolrd’ on a number of occasions. Do you think that his departure from Radio 1 could at all hinder the level of mainstream exposure that new bands and slightly smaller bands like yourself could be exposed to?
Sam Fryer: I guess it will to some extent, but then on the other hand you have people like Huw Stephens now that champion new music quite a lot as well. I do think though that although Radio 1 play us a lot, they don’t play us enough haha – I have to be careful with my words now. You know, I grew up listening to Zane Lowe and the Hottest Record In The World so it was very sad to see him go, although he did play a lot of Dub-step on his show which pissed me off a bit haha – I was never sure where his heart truly was. He liked his Queens of the Stone Age as well, but he liked a bit of everything really – he was one of those guys.
I recently read in a copy of NME magazine that you all do vocal warm-ups now prior to all of your gigs. When and why did your mindset change in regards to your approach to looking after yourselves slightly more and taking everything a bit more seriously?
Sam Fryer: Well, it all came really when we started getting asked to play for like an hour or so, because towards the end of the sets we’d just starting losing our voices and we wouldn’t be able to sing any of the songs whilst we were onstage. We’d get to the last three songs and you’d go to sing but just nothing would be coming out. I think we just were singing from the wrong part of our bodies so we started to do warm-ups before we went on so we knew we could see it through until the end. Our songs as well take a lot out of you and playing a whole set full of them can make you feel like you’ve sprinted 400m.
Seeing as your shows are so energetic, do you ever get worn out having to do it night after night and do you ever almost dread having to put yourself through it all again some nights?
Sam Fryer: It just all becomes part of the cycle really and it turns into an everyday thing for you. Even if one day you aren’t really feeling it, by the time you get into the first song of the show you start to feel it again and you completely forget that only a few hours prior, you weren’t really up for it that night. And of course if the crowd is good, that helps you a lot too.
Palma Violets hadn’t been together very long before you were signed and then thrown into that very lengthy two years on the road – how did you adapt from your normal life to your new life of playing gigs every night? How was the transition for you?
Sam Fryer: It’s actually quite hard to answer this question without sounding like a dick haha. But, I think that that type of life was all that we really knew because it all happened so quickly. It was tough when we first started the band and had no songs, but then when we had written five songs and got signed to the label and started playing live we didn’t really think about it. We had our fair share of empty rooms, but we didn’t really play to an empty room that much, even in the early stages. I remember when we done our first tour, we were still getting used to being onstage because we had never been in bands before but we’d go out onstage and there wouldn’t be many people there at all. Then we supported a few bands whose fans I don’t really think understood what we was about, but that was just us getting ready. We were lucky that people got on board with us pretty quick. All we really wanted was to take 180 around with us everywhere we went and have that same kind of reception – and we got that eventually when all the kids started coming down.
Your upcoming short tour is made up of all small venues, that band’s usually overlook – what was your reason for doing this?
Sam Fryer: I think even if we manage to be a band for a long time, we’ll always do this because it will always be an important part of who we are – we are always going to go out and play the small venues. We want to play the likes of Southend and Middlesborough because it’s more fun and Middlesborough is actually our favourite place to play. We aren’t going to MIddlesborough on this tour, but we are going to Hull which is almost as good haha. We just love playing those types of venues and they are always a good laugh because the kids come down and they give it as much as we do.
(Now confirmed) Reading holds a huge place in your heart – can we expect to see you there this year?
Sam Fryer: What do you think? YES! We are playing definitely. I don’t think it’s been announced yet, but we’ll be there – I think we’ll play there every year.
When you played in Scunthorpe recently I understand people were willing to pay hundreds of pounds to get in and apparently it was pretty hectic. How was it for you?
Sam Fryer: It was a great show, it was actually one of my favourite gigs – they actually had to get the army in on the stage to keep the peace and to keep the people from knocking my teeth out. That’s another reason why we are going on this small venue tour, because we are hoping to get a show as good as the Scunthorpe one. You might play all these main places, like London and Manchester, but they just aren’t as good as Scunthorpe
And finally, what would you say your favourite track off of the new album is?
Sam Fryer: It’s constantly changing at a very rapid rate everyday really and every time I listen to the album. Right now I really like Hollywood – I actually had a bit of a problem with it when we were recording it, but I recently listened to the album on the way back from America on the plane and yeah I really like that track now. I think it’s a great opener for the record and it’s very rock and roll and it’s got that youthful energy and it’s a step forward for us, which is what we wanted to achieve.
Palma Violets will release their second album, ‘Danger In The Club’ on May 4th.
All words by George Henry King. More from George can be found at his Louder Than War author archive.