Public Access TV Q&A: New York's most wanted on escaping the city, binging on Nick Lowe and the lost art of the B-side
It's been ages since we've got truly excited about a band from New York here at NME. But with Public Access TV, we've finally got reason to sit up and take notice.
We put them straight in our Top 40 New Bands For 2014 playlist at the start of the year, when they appeared seemingly out of nowhere. But since then information has been hard to come by. The sole quote online from the band spoke of Manhattan being stale, of "too many bands trying too hard to be seen as cool and not actually writing good songs". It ended, boldly, by declaring: "With Public Access TV we want to draw a line in the sand between us and them". Backed up by a short, sharp, thriller of a debut track in 'Monaco' - urgent in all the right ways - it seemed the trio were taking a refreshingly open (and accurate) approach to things.
I think they've got a point with that quote. It has been ages since Manhattan's produced anything genuinely awe-inspiring. Warpaint, Haim and Ariel Pink have all been ruling the roost on the west coast, Chicago's got Twin Peaks, The Orwells and Smith Westerns, and even Canada's aced it in every way possible recently (Mac DeMarco, Grimes, Sean Nicholas Savage, among many others). True, Brooklyn's myriad of start-up venues have helped give birth to the likes of Diiv and Spires, and both St Vincent and Parquet Courts are technically NY-based (though you'd never really know it), but in the Lower East Side - the spiritual home of everything that's iconic about New York music - things have seemed crushingly static of late.
With that in mind, and hot on the heels of Public Access TV's first ever gig last week (to a room packed full of industry, apparently) I chatted to frontman John Eatherly about his plans for the band, and what it is exactly that's so wrong with the Big Apple.
Photo credit (above): Matt Salacuse
NME: The only quotes online from Public Access TV have you taking aim at the scene in New York City. The "us and them" quote in particular is full of attitude. Do you mean it?
John Eatherly: Yes. Because there's nothing exciting going on here musically - Manhattan may as well be dead for guitar bands right now. I guess even the idea of us being the latest 'in' band from here scares me because I know what happens to those bands who get called that - they end up playing here every week to the same crowd of people and they die because of it. I don't want that at all for Public Access TV.
NME: Is that hipster scene part and parcel of being a New York band though?
JE: It doesn't have to be. I love it here, obviously I do because it's been my home for years, but I've seen those bands and they're dead in the water! And the reason for that is because they're so tied to the idea of just existing in this tiny place and being big in Manhattan or whatever. It's bullshit!
NME: The notion of a musician having attitude - either in person or on record - has also been sorely missed of late. What kind of bands inspire you?
JE: The ones who have the whole picture, so it's not just the music that matters, it's the overall attitude and energy, the whole aesthetic. I've loved all that stuff since I became hip to it when I was about 12. Have you heard 'Jesus Of Cool' by Nick Lowe? It's just such a cool sounding record. And The Stranglers too, and 'Combat Rock', the poppier side of The Clash. That stuff really appeals to me.
NME: What's the grand plan for Public Access TV?
JE: We've got about 30 songs I'm happy with now, in various states of completion. They're all written but about half of them need to be recorded still.
NME: Nobody really knows who you guys are yet but you've got every record label in the land trying to sign you. Are you worried about the hype?
JE: I don't really think about that stuff.
NME: PATV seemed to come out of nowhere with 'Monaco'. Why the secrecy?
JE: We're not really that secretive, I guess it's because we're still right at the start and nobody knows us yet. We've got one song online, we've played one gig, and as a band we haven't done anything outside of our own heads yet.
NME: What's the band's background?
JE: We come from all over but I guess we're all bound to New York intrinsically. I think we've all played in bands over the years, and I've been doing this since I was about 16, and I'm 23 now. I dropped out of high school about eight years ago to tour with Be Your Own Pet, and since then I've lived in NYC for six years and been a hired gun for tons of people - Smith Westerns, Eleanor Friedberger, Deluxin', Rot, The Virgins and others. This is the first time I've ever fronted my own band.
NME: What was your favourite of all those?
JE: I really enjoyed playing with Eleanor [below, complete with a youthful Eatherly making a cameo appearance]. It was great playing guitar instead of drums for once, and she's very talented. We still keep in touch - I see her every now and then.
NME: What made you decide to quit all that?
JE: Late last summer I remember being in New York and realising I'd got like 20 of my own songs that I loved. I'd always written my own stuff but never played it to anybody. Like, ever! I don't know why, I just never did that. And anyway, I just got this feeling that it's my time to do this. So I quit everything and set about putting my own band together, with me actually fronting it.
NME: Are you worried about having a stigma attached to your past?
JE: Nah. look at the The Cars, The Clash... even Zeppelin and Beatles. All those guys came from playing in tons of other bands for years. All that other stuff is your right of passage, I think.
NME: Why has NYC been so dire in the last few years?
JE: You tell me. No inspiration? No songs? Too many people faking it and just wanting to be cool and in a band I guess. It's the same as anywhere.
NME: It goes in circles - sometimes it's great here in London and then you have periods where there's nothing exciting and you get those people who seem to be in it for the wrong reasons.
JE: Exactly - that's New York for the past few years.
NME: You had your first show the other night. I got told it was 50 percent industry and 50 percent hipsters, which sounds like a nightmare...
JE: It was cool! It was free and we never really announced it but the room was still busy which was good. We've been rehearsing staring at a blank wall for months now, so I couldn't have given a fuck who we were playing to, to be honest. As long as there was someone there. But the scene stuff goes back to what I was saying before, about New York being so small. All those people turning up to your show is unavoidable here - you can't do anything about it. If you get written about online and play your first show you're gonna get whoever turning up. Whatever, I know it's all bullshit.
NME: The guitars on 'Monaco' are really treble-heavy, which makes me think of 'Pink Flag'-era Wire. Are PATV post-punk devotees?
JE: I don't know about devotees but I definitely like it, and I like it harsh-sounding too. I like working quick. 'Monaco' was written in a day and recorded in a day. If I could have I'd have put it out in a day too. Like, 'Instant Karma' came out about 72 hours after it was written!
NME: Back in the days when you could get away with doing that.
JE: I like the idea of springing stuff on people though. I recorded and produced a bunch of stuff over the summer with this guy Jeremy Ferguson who engineers and co-produces at his studio Battle Tapes in Nashville, Tennessee. We were toying with the idea of just putting it all out there and seeing what happened. We did a bunch more over New Years, and I wanna go back there again next month. I've built up this backlog of songs, that's the thing, and I want things to be exciting for us.
NME: That's an enviable position to be in - I know bands who spend months trying to write their tenth song so they can finish the album. And that's without the luxury of having any spares for B-sides.
JE: I hate that! It's a lost art, the B-side. I wanna bring it back!
NME: What's next for PATV?
JE: We're still rehearsing every day because I want us to get really tight before we really go out there. I don't know if we'll do any more shows for a while, but maybe. I wanna find a space in New York which isn't where everybody else plays, carve something fresh out of nothing. Or maybe we'll come over to England if we get the chance. It's all good though. The other guys in the band are my best friends, and all we care about at the moment is playing and writing together. We're doing that literally every minute we can.
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