Public Access T.V. are one of the most polished and finessed bands on the scene at the moment. Their first record, Never Enough, garnered comparisons to The Strokes for its hook-heavy, jovial take on indie guitar music, but they’ve certainly got the depth and the tunes to not just be a hand me down Strokes rip-off. Filled with great indie-pop tunes, as well as a juvenile sense of fun and freedom, it was an exciting record that lovingly looked back to early 2000s American rock.
Their second record, Street Safari, out 23rd February, has seen them move in a different direction. Sounding more like Talking Heads, David Bowie and Television, it’s a funk-laden record with more than enough disco beats to soundtrack your Saturday night out. Brightonsfinest spoke to frontman John Eatherly about the new record, touring the UK and his vast array of influences – including the life-changing first listen to Television’s Marquee Moon and how he was influenced by Mick Jones’ Big Audio Dynamite without even listening to them!
You returned in November with ‘Metrotech’, a song which, to me, has glimpses of Bowie and Talking Heads, would you say that this is a new direction for you?
Yeah, I mean, for the band it’s probably a new direction. I think it’s not too far away from the shit that we listen to together as a band when we’re driving around. I think we just wanted to make something a little fun and groovy, but something that doesn’t have too many drastic changes to it.
Why did you decide to lead the album with ‘Metrotech’?
Well, we were recording the record when we put out ‘Metrotech’, the whole record wasn’t done yet. It was just one of those things where we were all jumping and dancing up and down the studio just excited and antsy to put something out. You know, because we were listening to all this new stuff just excited. ‘Metrotech’ was one of the things where we were most excited and were like, “Let’s just put it out, let’s just put it out now!”.
Did the label let you do that straight away? Was that fine?
Yeah, we didn’t have to call anyone to do that I don’t think.
So, you’re a New York band and, as such, people compare you to other New York bands. What’s that like? Is it something you embrace?
It gets old after a while. I mean, they don’t compare us to many New York bands, you know what I mean?
Yeah, but obviously with this record it’s getting a lot of Talking Heads and Television. I’ve heard a lot of Marquee Moon in particular.
Yeah those are classics, man. I mean I grew up on those records. When I first developed my own music taste – I wasn’t just borrowing my sister’s old CDs any more – those were like my first classic jams that I had. I’d used to buy a box of CDs in bulk on the internet and I wouldn’t know what they were. I was in a phase of ordering what I thought were punk CDs and Marquee Moon was one of them and I was like, “Oh, this doesn’t sound like what I thought it would”, you know? And then it seriously soundtracked my high-school, teenage life, like driving around and smoking. To me it’s funny because to me, that [Marquee Moon] was like my southern stoner record and of course, it’s not actually that. It is kind of a stoner record, I guess, because all of those dudes were obsessed with Jimi Hendrix, but it’s such a classic rock record, you know?
So I think it’s fair to say it’s a massive influence on you?
Yeah, but if you think about it, it’s funny because it’s just one album. I don’t know if that’s an influence as much, like in my blood.
On the other hand, it would be fair to say that you’ve had a lot of love in the UK as well. Would you describe it as a second home?
We certainly do, yeah. I love going there, man, Going there, playing shows… the audiences are just fucking great. You get a better energy, I think you guys appreciate rock’n’roll more. I don’t know what to say, it’s just always a good time. We have a lot of friends there. I just love going there.
You recorded Never Enough here as well, which you had a lot of success with. Was there any nerves going into Street Safari after that?
You know? Not really. The only pressure I put on is from myself. I only want to do better than the last thing I did. I don’t really care what anybody else has to say about it. It’s good if people like it, but I don’t really feel any outside pressure.
So we’re not far away from the release now. How are you feeling about it? Are you excited to get it out there?
Dude, I’m so antsy to get it out there. Time’s been going in slow motion until this tour starts. The record can’t come out soon enough. I wish it was coming out, like tomorrow, you know? Yeah I’m really, really, really excited. I just want to be out there and tour forever now, especially now we’ve got that second record, which we didn’t necessarily take that long with. We never actually stopped touring the first record, and now we have this record. So now I feel like there’s such a bulk of material that I feel like I can just go on a never ending tour!
So you said that the band’s listening habits in the van were very similar to ‘Metrotech’. Were the listening habits different for Street Safari than they were for Never Enough?
That’s hard to say. Yeah, I think so. I remember listening to a lot of The Only Ones. Before the first record we started listening to a lot of Pet Shop Boys, and Tears for Fears, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, but I’ve always consistently been listening to Bowie. It’s funny, I knew about Big Audio Dynamite, you know Mick Jones’ band after The Clash?
But I didn’t realise, I don’t know, it’s funny, they seem like they would’ve been the biggest [influence] on Street Safari. However, I wasn’t listening to them, I wasn’t very aware of them. I only knew that song ‘E=MC2’, but as far as a band in this realm of true guitar, bass and drums, taking The Clash’s sound and moving it into a poppier direction, with a drum machine and a little bit of keyboard, that’s exactly what Big Audio Dynamite did. Someone showed it to me after I’d completed the record, and I was like, “Oh shit” this is kind of a little bit like what I’ve just made. But yeah, we were just listening to a lot more dance, disco and 80s music I guess.
So obviously with every second album, you’ve got a lot less time to write it and record it than you did with your debut. Do you think that helped or hindered you?
I think it helped because I had so much time to write the first record that you don’t even know that you’re writing it, but you’re writing it because it’s your life. Some of the songs on the first record were a mix of, “Oh, I’ve written this one four years previously” and some of the last songs on the record I was writing two weeks before we were mixing it. It’s a really long gap of time. So a lot of it when you’re touring it starts to feel really old, so I was really antsy to start playing new material and I’d had some ideas for it already. I already had the full picture of what Street Safari should sound like and what it should be as a whole. So writing it and demo-ing it felt like drawing in the lines.
And you had Patrick Wimberly from Chairlift on production duties. What did he bring to the table?
He was just the best producer I’ve ever worked with in my life. He’s just a magic dude, he got exactly what I wanted just from listening to the demos.
Were they very similar to the demos?
Yeah, here and there. Some of them took little turns as far as the vibe and the feeling goes. He was really good at honing in on keeping the soul and not changing things just for the sake of changing things. I dunno man, most producers that I’ve tried working with seem like they just want to do the weird thing, or want to change the song, for the sake of it. It just felt like me and Patrick had the same goal, so it was really easy and really fun to make. It took maybe three weeks just going into the studio every day and we’d listen to the demo and we’d work it up from the beginning again. He just got it!
You spoke a lot around the first album about not wanting Public Access T.V. to implode because you didn’t have a back-up plan. Does it feel safer now? Or do you still have those insecurities?
I think I’ll always have those insecurities. I mean, I feel like I’m not as worried about imploding I guess. I think that we’re just brothers, we really are. I’ve known these dudes for so long, I’ve known Max since I was 12 years old – and here we are! I’m 27 and we’re still in this shit, we’re still doing it, so it’s crazy. We signed ourselves up to be in it for the long haul, but I’ve accepted that I’m in it for the long haul regardless of what happens so it’s just another step of the way.
On a purely sentimental note, I love ‘In the Mirror’. It’s a great tune, and it’s the first song I ever heard from you guys. Was there a reason it didn’t make the debut album?
I actually love that song. I was really happy when I first finished it and it’s just some bullshit thing, I don’t even know. I don’t think I have the rights to it.
It got wrapped up with Polydor when we left, which is why it’s only out on Spotify in the UK. Like you can’t even hear it in America. It’s just some label bullshit.
You’ve always been very vocal about the safety in rock’n’roll nowadays. What do you make of the scene at the moment? Is there anyone that’s catching your eye?
No, not really. I feel like it’s dumpster diving and looking for something you can ingest without throwing up. There’s a few things, but there’s nothing I’m raving about. I’m still just waiting around.
You’re off on a UK tour soon, culminating at Brighton’s Green Door Store. What’s the difference between touring the UK and touring the US?
Shorter drives, for sure [laughs], livelier audiences because it’s smaller you know? We’ll play a show in New York and it’ll maybe be more like playing a show in London, but then we’ll drive to the middle of Ohio and nobody’s coming to see us, nobody knows who we are. So over in the UK it’s a little bit more consistent, especially between the major cities. Going between Manchester, and Brighton, and Bristol, it’s much more consistent. It feels nice because when we’re driving to the next city, we know that it’s going to be a good night. It’s just a hundred times more fun when the audience is just right there with you.
So with two records now, is compiling your set lists getting harder?
Yeah [laughs], we’re actually running through that now. We’ve just had our last band practice before leaving for this tour, like two days ago, and we were like, “Oh shit, I don’t know how we’re going to do this”. I think the first few shows we’re gonna be playing it by ear, trying out a few variations, especially because the records not out yet people don’t know the songs but you still want to be playing a bulk of them.
What’s your relationship like with Brighton? I know you’ve done a couple of Great Escape Festivals and a support slot for Hinds here. How have you found the crowds towards you? And the city in general?
I love it, I think it’s probably my favourite because it’s beautiful and I just enjoy the few hours I have [before performing]. It’s one of my favourite cities to just hang around.