Chilli Jesson’s cheeky charm hasn’t left him. The chisel-cheeked, heartthrob bassist of the now defunct Palma Violets is all smiles, two years on from the dissolution of those short-lived, brightly-burning indie-rock upstarts. Tucking into a lunchtime pint and sucking back on a vape down by the riverside, it’s a world away from the sweat-soaked seshes of Palma gone by.
Today, we meet in Putney, a decidedly leafier area than the Dalston digs Chilli once called home. It’s a new setting that suits him well – distanced from the excess-driven bubble of East London, Chilli’s a noticeably more relaxed figure than his previous party-starter self. He’s even pals with the local policeman. We won’t question that one too much.
It’s a suitable home for Chilli’s new project, Crewel Intentions. A lavish, sprawling expression, the group is a clear cut away from the sarcastic, adolescent revolt of Palma Violets. Debut single ‘Youth In Overload’ (released last week) is a decidedly more mature affair, which aligns Jesson with the likes of Nick Cave and Richard Hawley.
Early shows around the capital have painted him as a slightly less considered figure, however, Chilli lurching into the crowd and bawling into the faces of the front rows, as mosh pits churn away in front of him. It’s a duality which suits him well, and frames Crewel intentions as something very exciting indeed. We decided to catch up with our old pal Chilli – in the smoking area of a nearby Wetherspoons, he tells us how ditching the sarcasm of Palma allowed him to open up like never before.
So, when did Crewel Intentions begin? Was it right after Palmas broke up?
Chilli Jesson: “Well, I had this… almost a premonition, that Palma Violets was going to end. So I knew that I needed to reinvent what I was doing, with a different outlook on everything. I suppose it was almost like there was this train coming, and I had no idea where it was taking me to, but I knew I needed to change – that was the main thing. When Palma Violets did eventually split, that’s when I started writing.”
You knew the Palma Violets split was coming for a while, then?
“I think so, yeah. But I didn’t know how scary it was going to be when eventually the inevitable happened. I was sort of left out alone. Everything that I knew crumbled around me. I was riddled with anxieties – the unknown is such a scary place. That was what I knew for five, six years of my life. It was a scary thing.”
You were all so young when Palma Violets exploded – those are the formative years of your life.
“Well, exactly. Starting that at 17, and then progressively… it was all that I knew. I was strung out, penniless, basically homeless at that point. I didn’t have anything, other than this arsenal of songs that came out. With this whole thing came this amazing sense of freedom. I’d been boxed in this world that I’d created, and now I finally found this freedom. It’s been a two-year period now, since that finished, and so much has happened. As difficult as a period of time [as it was], that feeling of freedom was really important. And then this whole stream of songs came – which was exciting! Writing songs – on a good day – can be almost like a medicine. But not a numbing feeling – this was a sense of freedom.”
When did you start thinking that these songs might be your next step?
“What it was doing, was it was helping me, so I knew I had to follow it. I didn’t know, entirely, what it was going to be. I got through that whole first few months of writing and just enjoying this new sense of freedom, and it being a help to me, and then once these songs were kind of formed, I took them to Marley, who I write with. He was really into it. A sound started to appear that I fell in love with, which threw me back to this Spaghetti Western melodrama, that I loved. I used to watch them with my father as a kid, and it was so ingrained in me that it just… fell out.”
That’s a totally different world to what you were occupying with Palma, too. Was it nice to explore this different side of yourself that you hadn’t had an outlet for in the past?
“Absolutely. I think, with Palma Violets… I was so young. I’d dealt with some big things early on in my life, so I suppose Palma Violets’ outlet was almost to shroud everything in irony. That was the charm of the band! I think we always made conscious decisions not to be too personal, and I think when you write with someone, it’s very difficult to be overtly personal, because you share the song. Now I’m in a position where it felt necessary to pull in my father’s death, which I never really dealt with… I never had the chance to channel that stuff, and it felt like now was the time.”
‘Youth In Overload’ aches with the tragedy of that formative experience. Chilli lost his father at just 14, he explains. “I’ve sort of always brushed it aside. I remember I went into school the next day, and basically just didn’t deal with it. I couldn’t, at that time.” Crewel Intentions is his way of challenging that stoic response. Musically grandiose, but lyrically to-the-point, ‘Youth In Overload’ finds Chilli addressing these moments, and calling out to his heavily burdened younger self – “you are young, kid / but you’re overload” – with a more considered, less sarcastic approach than his past songwriting. The sprawling atmospherics of the track also call upon those Spaghetti Westerns a young Chilli used to watch with his father, too – something he admits is “ingrained” in his psyche. “It’s only now that I look back in retrospect…” he trails off. “Writing this music, rather than avoiding it, I’m fuckin’ dealing with it,” he says. “It’s nice, y’know?”
You’ve been playing shows for the best part of year. Why are you only going properly public now?
“I came up with these songs and then found the band, and I really wanted to test run everything. I had so many songs that we’d just play in random places, all unannounced, sometimes under different names, and trial them out, really. And within that time, the band has just become a show of its own. For me, it’s the best band I know. I just didn’t want to make a big deal about it. I think as soon as you do, the clock’s against you.
And I suppose it would’ve been easy to go ‘I’m back! It’s me, Mr. Palma Violets!’ Was it nice to build everything from the bottom up again?
“I really wanted to build it again. I personally think these are the best years of being in a band – starting again. That feeling of having another chance at it. It’s moved on from what I used to be. It’s a big coming of age kinda thing.”
It’s a lot grander in scale.
“That’s that [Spaghetti Western soundtrack composer Ennio] Morricone sort of thing, where he and [Sergio] Leone were creating these Westerns on a shoestring budget. I don’t know if I can ever put my name in the same context as those two, but in a similar way, I was recording theses songs in a shoebox with one microphone, and trying to create this grand image that was in my head. I feel like I close pretty close… [laughs] but it wasn’t easy! I think your limitations can sometimes actually be a blessing. It really worked. I’m really proud of it.”
You’ve ended up wrapped up in this crop of South London guitar bands, too. How have you found that? It’s said that guitar music is having a ‘moment’ again.
“It’s funny – I heard that so many times five years ago! But I agree. Within this two-year period that I spent coming up with all this, I started going to see shows again, reading books again, I started doing stuff… again. I just fell in love with it all. Going to shows was great, and there was that whole thing going on with so many guitar bands – great bands! It was nice to see. I suppose, seeing that from a distance, I wanted to be a part of something again. But I don’t think we really fit into that world. No one really sits down with us, these kids. Do we smell?”
And I suppose now it’s all about locking things into place, where Crewel Intentions has been a bit… patchwork, to date?
“Yeah, but patchwork in a good way. It’s a nice quilt. The name – ‘Crewel’ is a 19th century type of tapestry. So, y’know… I like my patchwork.”
Crewel Intentions’ debut single ‘Youth In Overload’ is out now – they tour the UK with Johnny Marr next month, and headline London’s Electrowerkz on November 21.