Like every great New York City band, Public Access TV not only know how to wear leather a jacket, but how to sing about it. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of their Manhattan apartment after an explosion a few years ago, the band carried on the only way they knew how. As John Eatherly (lead vocals, guitar) explains below, “I don’t have any other things I’ve ever done. I dropped out of high school to go on tour with my first band and I just kind of signed up.”
The result? A refined sophomore record – Street Safari – that, while its lyrical narratives stretches back to the band’s 2016 debut – sounds very now. “Funky” and “pop” are the words Eatherly throws around when describing the record – and it’s true. Reclaiming the groove for a new generation, both the ambiguity and blind faith that fuels life as a 20-something carries their cheeky, upbeat and candid tracks that feel as comfortable in a moshpit as they do on the dancefloor.
Clementine Zawadzki: How does it feel to have a new album out in the world?
John Eatherly: I think the wait felt longer with the first record. This one felt how I would like it to feel. I’m just happy to be able to put out another record, and for me, the nicest thing is everything is new to me. All of the songs on this record were written in the past year, so it’s not like the first record where you’re picking through all these ideas that have accumulated over years and years and mashing things together. I was very antsy and kind of exploding with ideas to do it, and it happened quickly. I think it’s important to not lose momentum as a band and stay as busy as we can.
CZ: Do you always need to have something on the go?
JE: It’s hard to answer that because I don’t know how well I actually do that [laughs]. On tour, the idle time on your hands is almost more comfortable, because at the end of the day you’re ‘in transit’ driving somewhere to play a show. When I’m in New York I like downtime, but I go through waves and I kind of lose my mind a little bit. I’ll feel really good about everything one day and then three days later I’m like, “What’s happening? Everything is ruined. Everything is fucked!” and the next day I’m like, “We’re doing great, everybody!” I think I’m a little bit manic. I do tend to walk around a lot and I go running on the treadmill everyday. I’m just trying to figure out how to be a normal, happy, living person here and that’s quite a struggle sometimes, but I think it is for everybody.
CZ: Does living in New York put any pressure on you?
JE: It’s weird because there isn’t always pressure for me to figure out my daily anything. It’s a giant crazy city, but it’s what you make it. I stick pretty close to a small group of friends and I just have my little life. My favourite thing to do is just to roam around aimlessly. I’ve lived here 10 years now and still everyday I’ll go on like a three-hour walk without necessarily having a destination.
CZ: And you say you haven’t lost your mind yet…
JE: It’s those things that are keeping me sane [laughs].
CZ: What sparked this retrospective writing spell you had for Street Safari?
JE: The first two songs that came out were Metrotech and Lost in the Game, and lyrically they’re the most similar to each other. They’re just kind of about when me and Max first moved to New York in 2008, through to starting the band, and just being young and crazy living this life where we came here willing to live under any conditions, like in some crazy loft apartment with a bunch of people with crazy parties all the time and create nonsense. It’s not the kind of thing I’d write about the time because I was living it. I was really looking back on the past two years, because two years ago I stopped drinking and it gave me a whole new outlook on my life leading up to now, so it was easier to look at the past when I felt like I had one foot out of it.
CZ: Does the music come before working through these sorts of experiences and feelings or is it the other way around?
JE: Yeah, fully! I definitely figure out how I feel about things from writing. It’s kind of like I have to be in a mood of some sort to have a musical idea or melody, and then I sit down and do this thing where I mumble the lyrics on a demo. It’s easier for me to say it because I feel there’s not a spotlight if I’m writing like that, so it’s therapeutic. It’s like I’m shy to myself in a way, not knowing exactly what I’m making to start with.
CZ: Speaking of things you’ve had to work through, your apartment burned down a few years ago…
JE: We were in California at the end of a tour when that happened, and we were staying at our friend’s house and getting all these texts, and we watched it all go down on the news streaming it on a laptop. The whole thing was really weird. I didn’t care about any of the possessions I had, it just didn’t seem important at all compared to other things. I didn’t really know how I felt about it until months later. It affects you in so many ways you don’t even realise. I moved into a new apartment that I’m still in now and it’s bare and not very furnished. I don’t collect things the way I used to, like I had a lot of records and now I don’t really care about having them. I don’t even feel bummed about it.
CZ: You’ve overcome these challenges though…
JE: I think that’s one of things we’ve been really good at and that I can pride myself on a little bit. It’s just sticking to what I’m doing with all these obstacles in the way. We’re a rock n roll band, four dudes in 2018 playing songwriter-rock or whatever, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t necessarily the most interesting thing, but it’s what I write and it’s what I’ve always liked since I got turned on to music, so aside from that and these things that have happened to us, I think I’m good at sticking to what I want to do regardless of anything else. I think that’s why I’m crazy. Because it is crazy. It’s a crazy thing to even be doing. I don’t do anything else, it’s just this thing that I believe in and really like and it’s the thing that I do. I don’t have any other things I’ve ever done. Before this I was playing in bands and I dropped out of high school to go on tour with my first band and I just kind of signed up and at some point it hit me years after like, “This is what it is. I’ve sold my soul.”
CZ: This album is a progression, but it’s still very fun…
JE: It’s funky. It’s about as funky as Queen gets on Another One Bites the Dust. I think we’ve been throwing around the word disco, but I don’t think it’s disco at all. It’s pop.
CZ: Why do people always see pop as a dirty word?
JE: Yeah, like what does pop even mean exactly? I don’t know, but I know I like it.
CZ: You sound like you’ve really come into your own on this record too…
JE: I feel like it’s very true to myself. I think in some ways it’s more simplistic than the first record. I think it’s lyrically more honest of who I am now. Some of it is on the first record, but most of it is just stuff I thought was cool. It’s almost like dumbed down, but in a good way. I was more ADD and younger and crazy on the first one, trying to cram in as much as possible into one song. I was more relaxed about this album. I saw the whole direction of how I wanted it to be before I wrote it. The only struggle was not hanging out with so-and-so and locking myself in a basement to make the demo.
CZ: What was it like having Patrick Wimberly [Beyoncé, Chairlift, MGMT, Blood Orange] produce the album?
JE: I texted him to see if he’d be down to record Shell No. 2, and he was really down. We stayed in contact over the years because I actually played the drums for Chairlift a couple of times. I knew he produced all the Chairlift stuff and he was really talented. We were just making it as impactful as we could. My experience with every recording dude who I’ve gone to work with – whether it was someone or something I was maybe trying out – I’ve never had a great experience because I feel like these big producer dudes just have this ego thing where they’re trying to change it to have their stamp on it. Patrick was just the best, he just got it. I got to feel comfortable and be myself and jump around and sing crazy vocals and double everything in falsetto.
CZ: Are you already looking ahead to the next album cycle?
JE: With this one I sat down and was like, “Right, I’m writing this record now.” If you make a habit of writing all the time, you’re collecting ideas and getting better at your craft, but I kind of like being not so good at it. I like writing things on the piano because I don’t know how to play the piano too well, but I think I might write a better song because I won’t be trying to put too many chords in it. I like just letting things build up in my head instead of just trying to be a musician dude all the time.
Public Access TV ‘Street Safari’ is out now.