When it comes to the hazards of indie-rock fame, Palma Violets singer Chilli Jesson doesn’t mince words. “You know those second albums with sausage-munching producers who pick indie bands signed to fucking major labels and charge them 200 grand?” he asks Rolling Stone, chuckling a bit at his own gale-force scorn. “Then they just turn out a lot of shit?”
It’s a rhetorical question, but one that’s clearly tormented the young British band – a group that would have plenty to lose if their next album imploded under such conditions. After meeting at the Reading Festival in 2011, the garrulous London quartet shot to fame with their first single, “Best of Friends” – an ecstatic, ramshackle garage-punk anthem with a hearty, howl-along chorus, one so ubiquitous on British radio that it was voted NME‘s best track of 2012. The ensuing debut album, 180, also earned plenty of accolades, including a nod in Rolling Stone‘s list of the best debuts of 2013.
“It happened so fast,” says Jesson, 21, calling in from northern England. “I mean, ‘Best of Friends’ was the first song I ever wrote. I’d actually just woken up with a girl that I met at Reading!”
After touring for two years straight off 180, the band found themselves drained, their previously strong bonds fraught. “We lost the love for each other; we hadn’t been able to write together at all,” admits Jesson, who also plays bass. “We had to rebuild relationships.” The band (which also includes singer-guitarist Sam Fryer, keyboardist Peter Mayhew and drummer Will Doyle) decamped on something of a self-imposed exile at an isolated farm in Wales. There, in between strolling their rustic surroundings, blasting the pub rock of Nick Lowe and the Rumour and having laddish drinking sessions in a drafty barn, they began writing again.
The result is their second record, Danger in the Club, which maintains the earnest rockers’ boisterous guitars and frayed shouts but also twines in eerie post-punk keys, poppish call-and-response interplay and even downcast balladry. Produced by the venerable John Leckie (Radiohead, the Stone Roses), it’s a slyly intricate effort with a fresh sheen of sophistication.
“John hadn’t done a rock record in eight years, and he was great – he drew songs out of us I’d never dreamed of writing. In one song, I’m playing fucking acoustic guitar!” exclaims Jesson, sounding markedly more enthusiastic after his earlier production diatribe. “I’m so proud of it. It shows the two sides to Palma Violets – there’s the punkier side and there’s the dark, Cave-ier whirling keyboards, low-voice side. There are some sad moments on this, and that’s alright.”
A glum energy does flare up in Danger in the Club, and a pervasive sarcasm, too. “Matador,” a post-punk screed seemingly straight from the lips of Ian Curtis, mourns the pains of fleeting love over a brooding, viscous bassline and arrhythmic guitar knells. Where “English Tongue” will surely inspire barroom sing-alongs on both sides of the Atlantic (watch the new music video above), “Hollywood (I Got It)” is one of two arched appraisals of American culture that finds the Englishmen probing at the gilded façade. “People come back with no money and their dreams crushed,” says Jesson of the Los Angeles film hub. “That interests us, the seedy underbelly, as opposed to the glitz and glam that we grew up seeing on TV and movies.”
Palma Violets will have plenty of time to examine U.S. culture further during their first extensive American tour, which starts in early May. A surely nostalgic set at the Reading Festival – “a spiritual place for us,” cracks Jesson – follows in August. They’ll also court chaos by opening a phone line in which English fans can suggest locations for secret shows, some of which will be staged. “You never know, it could really work,” says Jesson brightly. Then that familiar edge of misgiving creeps back in. “Or it could backfire completely. Either way!”