A conversation with John Eatherly behind the creative process of their sophomore album, Street Safari.
Interview by Mica Kendall
Since their 2016 debut album, Never Enough, containing their hit track, “End of an Era,” the 4 man New York City band, Public Access TV, has fine tuned their retro-seque sound and brought a sense of sonical reemergence to the genre of rock and roll in their brand new sophmore album, Street Safari. On a cold and rainy evening before their 21-plus show at the Great Scott in Boston (thanks John for braving out the frigid Boston weather outside), I had the opportunity to talk to lead singer/guitarist, John Eatherly, about some of the musical influences and connotations that were lyrically integrated in their new album to the growth of PATV since Street Safari seen in their SXSW and music festival showcases over the years.
Mica Kendall: So your newest album, Street Safari, you began working on it in a shorter amount of time compared to your first album right after you finished touring with your first album, Never Enough.
John Eatherly: Yeah there wasn't much of a gap between like we didn't really finish the cycle I guess you'd say of the first record. It kind of just was seamless like I just went in I got back to New York, and I just immediately started writing because I was really antsy to be playing new songs and I was just having a lot of ideas I don't know it just made sense. I wanted to make another record quickly because I didn't want to wait too long to have it come out, but more importantly I just just had a idea of what I wanted to make and I just had a lot of ideas and needed to do it.
M: In addition to this album, you also worked with the producer, Patrick Wimberly. I know he's produced with MGMT and other notable artists. How was making the album with him, and how did the creative process differ from producing Street Safari compared to Never Enough?
J: Well, I went in more prepared, so I had demos of all the songs that I would make on my 8track. Then I’d play them for Patrick and he really just kind of understood what I was going for in the demos. He was great in the way that he really understood everything which isn't always the case. I genuinely felt like he just wanted to do it like he was a fan of it and that made me very comfortable to be loose and be creative and just try new ideas. It was a very creative environment to be working in, and the first record was a mess recording it in all these different places not really just with one producer or anything. This one was really kind of old fashioned.We went in with a producer for a month and just knocked it out and made the whole thing within a concise amount of time. It was great. He was the best person that I've ever made recordings with.
M: I read in your NME article that on this album it's not just based on your life experiences, but you also said it was based on your personal observations. Do you have any noteworthy stories or anything specific that comes to mind that spurred a certain song on the album or just the album in general?
J: It’s really a song to song basis, I think. I mean some of the songs are kind of reflecting on like when I moved to New York when I was younger. Some of the songs are about kind of like keeping your head held high making it through the obstacles of life in general, and then some of them are kind of like fantasy, post-apocalyptic world, love stories...
M: Which track is the post-apocalyptic love story?
J: “Wait It Out” and the song, “Quicksand,” is the last one on the record. That's kind of just about how poisonous it can be to not allow yourself to feel what you're really going through. Like if you're trying to like push feelings underneath, you might end up going on some path that you're not meant to, but it's more about really allowing yourself to kind of crumble in a good way. Basically just to allow yourself to have a good cry. It’s funny because it’s quite literal in the song, but it really is meant to be that literal also.
M: Over the years since Never Enough, you've done shows all over the world and festivals like Bonnaroo and The Meadows. Also a few weeks ago you were at SXSW, and I know you did SXSW in 2016 too, so this year how was your experience with SXSW compared to last time you went?
J: It was great I think it kind of felt more exciting. I don't know if it was because we were playing less shows. Sometimes you can go to SXSW and you're playing a show at like four in the daytime or even at noon in the morning, and it's kind of just like a weird vibe because it doesn't feel like you're meant to be playing shows at that hour. This time we played two shows, and they were both at like 11 o'clock at night. They were good slots, and I felt like a lot of people that liked us came out and they were singing the songs and stuff. Like fans not just weird SXSW businessy people or something, so it was fun for me because it just felt like 2 really fun shows that had actual fans. You know for me seeing people at the shows that are kind of connecting to the music on any way or they've learned the words or anything is just the coolest thing in the world. You know so seeing that was like a pleasant surprise. I don't know I don't expect SXSW to be necessarily feeling like because it can be so like corporate feeling and the two shows that we played didn't feel like that, so I was really happy.
The year before was probably more like spreading ourselves a little thinner and playing more shows just to play more shows and then it's hit or miss. I think one of them was really fun at this place called Cheer Up Charlies and everything else was just kind of like whatever. But this year was good really fun both shows.
M: So this question is more of your personal opinion. There's two sides to this coin: it's either people think rock and roll is changing or it’s dead. To me at least in both of your discographies, I feel like you guys really retain rock and roll elements in your music. But in your personal opinion, do you think modern day rock is changing and still has potential to evolve? Or do you think it can never be as iconic as the past with the eras of like David Bowie, the Clash, Talking Heads, etc?
J: I think it's just changing. I mean I definitely think it's harder to have that same kind of iconic figure now because people aren't nearly as mysterious as they use to be. I think if you were a fan of like David Bowie in the 70’s then you could have this fantasy idea of who you were a fan of. You know everybody is so exposed now and part of being in any entertainment industry now is like really just exposing yourself in every way that you possibly can, which I guess is like surely there's some good things about that, but also it ruins some mysterious, mythical thing that you can create just from a fan perspective. I don’t think its dead in any way. I do think it has changed and is changing, but I don’t think it’s a thing that’ll ever die. Rock music is so broad that there's a lot of cheesy stuff and there' a lot of mainstream rock that's more just super produced pop stuff with really loud guitars. That's not necessarily for people who are listening to David Bowie records in their bedroom.
M: It’s good you're optimistic about rock changing as a genre.
J: I’m really optimistic. I don’t think its dead in the water or anything like that. I think it's just a matter of cool people doing cool things. There's plenty of cool people doing cool things, and it's just a matter of them having more of a spotlight on them. I definitely would prefer this kind of realm today where you were able to have a little bit more mystique around your band and not post as much stuff on Instagram or Twitter and stuff like that because that's like a chore. I think it's cool to communicate with your fans, but I think it's also nice to be more selective. Like if I was a fan, I would feel like if there were some little special treat I was getting.If I was on a fan website and getting an unreleased demo or something, you have to do a little bit of going through an obstacle to get there. I think it's much more rewarding, but then again it's really cool to be able to just go online and see that I've played a show and then go to my messages and there's people saying things like: “that was a good show” or “woah cool thank you!” that's really cool too. So there's two sides to it, but I’m just old fashioned. I didn't have a Instagram before the band, and a certain amount of my friends did. I learned how to use Instagram because I had to have a Instagram for the band when we started, so it was a little bit weird for me. I prefer being a little bit off the grid, but I also really like interacting with people that go to the shows.
M:Going off of this question based on listening to Street Safari, some listeners feel like there's elements of Talking Heads, The Ramones, Television, or Tom Petty, on this album. Do you have any specific albums or influences that inspired you as an artist making music in general? Or anyone specifically that comes to mind when you were in the process of making Street Safari?
J:Television is a band that I listened to so much in high school, and I really really love and no matter how hard I try I probably be trying to play guitar like that. A lot of those like the Ramones, I think are a perfect perfect band, and they never did anything bad you know I just love them. But all that stuff feels so ingrained in me that when I was making Street Safari, I was kind of just consciously not listening to anything like that.
I was listening to Tom Petty though, but Tom Petty died when I was recording it. Then there's a song, “Meltdown”, that I sang the day after he died, and it was like an intense vibe in the room because it was really felt when he died. He was somebody that I completely idolized and really look up to and just him as a guy. I think he was really really cool, and so it was kind of nice singing that song like right after all that because that song was heavily influenced by Tom Petty. And then it was just like woah shocking and then it was time to sing that song so I was just like oh im just gonna go as full Petty as I can. It’s weird it was a heavy vibe. I love Tom Petty, but I was listening to weird stuff when I was making the record.
I never really listened to Nine Inch Nails before in my life and I didn't really know whether or not if I liked them. When I was making the record, I was listening to the first Nine Inch Nails record, which you know doesn't sound anything like Street Safari, but I was listening to that just to check it out and listen to new stuff that I hadn't really listened to before. I was listening to probably a lot more hip hop when I was making it. I think there's so much good hip hop that came out in the past year.
M: Any specific hip hop artists?
J: I was listening to the last Kendrick Lamar record, and I was listening to the last Travis Scott record. I was listening to a lot of ‘The Chronic’ because that HBO documentary that just came out, ‘The Defiant Ones,’ and I watched it and it completely blew my mind. I was just listening to those girls that Eazy-E produced they did that song, “Supersonic.” I was listening to that and then I wrote the first song on the album, “Safari,” in my head because I wanted to get that drum machine sound they had. I just made that drum beat and kind of like wrote my own song around it, but I wouldn't have probably had that song sound that way if it wasn't for watching that documentary. It’s funny to take something like that and just like naturally write whatever I would write over it because it's obviously not going to have rap over it at least not yet. Maybe save that for the next record, I'm just trying to expand my horizons. I like to listen to a lot of music that doesn't have any lyrics when I'm writing because it's just easier to feel zoned out and emotional without listening to what somebody’s saying.
Quick Round Questions
M: R&B or disco?
J: R&B well it's the blues. R&B is everything. I mean like R&B all the way.
M: If you had the chance, who would you collab with Nick Lowe or Tom Verlaine?
J: Nick Lowe for sure. I don't know Tom Verlaine just seems kind of like a toolbag these days. I’m not really down for any of those guys’ directions after Television other than, Billy Ficca, the drummer I think that he's cool. He played in that band, the Waitresses, or he's in the video at least. They do that song, “I Know What Boys Like.” He’s playing drums in that video, which is a cool video and so he's probably kept it real, but like I don’t think Tom Verlaine. Tom Verlaine I saw him backstage at his show one time. He had this big scarf wrapped around him like a fedora on, and he was just kind of walking seeming like he owned the place and I was just like “this dudes a cheeseball.”
M: Did you get to talk to him?
J: No, but I wouldn’t have known what to say like “aw i'm a really big fan” and he would have been like “twah.” I don't know I didn't like his aura.
M: David Bowie or The Beatles?
J: Wow. Well I grew up listening to The Beatles in the car as a kid like my whole entire childhood was like all that my dad listened to was The Beatles. They didn't really listen to David Bowie, but David Bowie I’d probably choose because David Bowie I found and David Bowie spoke to me without my parents grinding it into me. David Bowie had such a perfect and amazingly rich career of so many cool records and different directions that I just think how could you do it any more flawlessly and he did it you know.
M:*this was supposed to be on camera question* Do you think you have any celebrity doppelgangers by any chance?
J: Well I can’t remember what that bar is called over here. It's not a very cool bar; it's very frat dude-esque. But I remember last time we played here before I've been told a lot that I look like Jesse Eisenberg before and that's not particularly a flattering thing to hear, but whatever I'll take it. He carries himself in a very I feel like he's got bad posture you know I don't know spiritually, and I think that like he looks like a curmudgeon.
M: This is who we think you look like its a compliment *paper with Bob Dylan*
J: Oh woah do you think I really look like him? I mean that's amazing. I would hope that I look like him. I cut my hair too short the other day. I was getting a good Dylan hair going on and then I cut it myself and I cut it too short, so I just had to cut the rest too short too. But I'll settle. This is great, thank you.
I get some pretty weird ones I'm trying to remember who that actor is in Star Trek I feel really bad that I can't remember his name it's like German I think it's Anton (Anton Yelchin). Anyways I’ve been told I look like him. I’ve been told I look like Bob Dylan. I’ve been told I look like Jesse Eisenberg. The grass is always greener on the other side. I use to want straight hair when I was younger but you kind of just have to accept what you have. I'll take anything as long as there's still hair on my head. I don't care what shape or color it is.
M: Lastly, you picked Planned Parenthood as your charity of choice. What does Planned Parenthood mean to you, and what awareness do you think should be brought to it?
J: I think that everything that Planned Parenthood has ever done is great, and I think everybody that isn't down to support Planned Parenthood is just an idiot. I think you know there's so many people that could continue to use the help of Planned Parenthood and that have received the help. I would only hope that it just becomes easier and easier not the other way so I think the more that anybody can do to to make that accessible and just free you know I think that it's so important because it's pretty heavy stuff you're dealing with. I have a lot of friends that Planned Parenthood has really helped out, and I just hope in 5 years from now its a thriving organization that's easier than it ever has been before.