Public Access TV are due onstage in six hours’ time, and they appear to have misplaced their frontman. His phone is dead and his manager, having struck out with the local hospitals and police stations, is starting to worry. John Eatherly was last seen necking late-night wines after a heavy night drinking in Glasgow with me and his bassist Max Peebles, and while Peebles has found his way back to the band’s hotel, Eatherly, who somehow got separated from him after crashing out at my flat, has not. We begin to wonder if we shouldn’t put out an APB on a baby-faced American in a black leather jacket who answers to the name of Juan.
‘Juan’ is Eatherly’s drunken alter-ego, and by this point, I know him pretty well. I first met Public Access TV a couple of months earlier, at a dive bar of Eatherly’s choosing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The place is slightly out of temporal whack: from the decor to the beer prices to the denim-jacketed barfly holding court about the genius of The Kinks, it’s as though every year since 1976 was nothing more than a rumour.
Once Eatherly arrives, I’m struck not only by his youthfulness, but his savviness: at the tender age of 24, he’s practically a rock’n’roll veteran, having joined Nashville garage-rockers Be Your Own Pet on drums when he was just 16.
“That was a fun week,” he remembers. “I knew I wasn’t coming back to school, so I was throwing my homework in the trash. The teacher asked what the hell I was doing and I was like, ‘Peace, I’m fucking outta here!”
When BYOP imploded, the 18-year-old Eatherly moved to New York with Peebles, his best friend since childhood, and carved out a niche as a hired gun, playing with pretty much anybody in the five boroughs who needed someone to bring some spark to their songs.
“I’d been using [session work] as a crutch,” he says, reeling off a varied list of acts he backed, including Smith Westerns, The Virgins and The Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger. Still fast friends now, Friedberger is steadfast in her support of Eatherly, saying in no uncertain terms that he possesses “the best stage presence of anyone I’ve ever played with”.
It wasn’t until summer 2013, however, that Eatherly finally decided to start a band of his own. “It was hard to get out of that stuff, because it was my only way of being able to eat for a while. But I’d been writing songs since I was 12, and I just got sick of doing everybody else’s shit. I just started feeling like, ‘Fuck everything else, I’ve gotta do my own thing.’”
Eatherly’s ‘thing’ has never quite fitted in with anybody else’s, and he’s fine with that. When he moved to New York, Brooklyn’s musical primacy over Manhattan was already well-established, but for Eatherly, who talks about the Big Apple’s most populous borough as though it were a hated rival school, “I moved from Tennessee because I wanted to live in Woody Allen town. I wanted to be in [legendary punk book] Please Kill Me. My dream wasn’t to live in fucking Brooklyn.”
Even in Manhattan, however, PATV’s exuberant, exquisitely crafted rock’n’roll is something of an oddity, a throwback to the city’s most celebrated sons, daughters and scenes: from Blondie, Lou Reed and The Mudd Club right up to The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the new wave of nostalgia they ushered in when they arrived on the scene at the turn of the century. He says comparisons to the latter are “unavoidable” on account of them being the last “big deal” bands to break from the East Village, but he’s at pains to set PATV apart from the current indie scene there. “There’s too much camaraderie in New York,” he explains. “Everybody uses each other. Everybody tweets at each other. It’s almost a social climbing thing, to get where you wanna be. In Manhattan, there’s a lot of bands who have a built-in crowd, because they’re friends with other bands, so all their friends will turn up. But I don’t wanna play to other bands’ friends’ band members, I wanna play to strangers!”
Later, over a six-pack on the roof of the apartment he shares with Peebles and guitarist Xan Aird, Eatherly further fleshes out his manifesto: songs over aesthetics, nurturing the last kernel of mystery that social media has destroyed and catchy choruses that “you can stand behind”. PATV have a surfeit of the latter. Both the Costello-snarled ‘Monaco’ and recent single ‘In The Mirror’ would have been at perfectly home on Stiff Records in 1977, and Eatherly says he’s writing more all the time: there are currently over 35 songs in contention for the band’s debut album.
“Rock’n’roll’s been around since the 1950s,” he says, “and some of those motherfuckers are still alive – 60 years isn’t that long, man! You can’t say to yourself, ‘Oh, all the great songs have already been written.’”
Fast-forward a few months, and Eatherly finally turns up on time for the opening show of the band’s tour in Glasgow that night. In true Juan Eatherly fashion, he’d spent several hours meandering in what he thought was the right direction, but which was, of course, completely the wrong one. Eventually he found his way. There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere. Or at least another kick-ass chorus.
Public Access TV are one of NME’s artists to watch in 2015. Read this week’s magazine and check back on NME.com throughout the week for more interviews with the most exciting new acts this year.
Listen to a playlist featuring our top 50 new bands set to dominate 2015 here.