Photography: Jonah Freud
Public Access T.V. might just be the saviors of Downtown cool, and they haven’t even released an album. Part new wave, part post-punk with a hefty dose of gritty rock ‘n roll, the band has drawn comparisons to The Strokes’ Is This It. But that’s too easy. With guitarist Xan Aird’s infectious guitars and lead singer John Eatherly’s wailing vocals, heightened by drummer, Pete Sustarsic, and bassist, Max Peebles, Public Access T.V. isn’t at all a Strokes rip-off—and they’re definitely much more than a fleeting buzz band.
After two painstaking years, and losing their apartment in the 2015 East Village fire, the boys are finally gearing up to release their debut album, Never Enough, tomorrow. The songs evoke an effortless New York attitude, channeling all the greats from Richard Hell to Iggy Pop. But there’s also an undeniable freshness that separates Public Access T.V. from the droves of other local bands.
“In Love And Alone,” is classic Top of the Pops, while “Careful,” the ballad, shows Eatherly crooning à la David Bowie. Catchy “I Dont Wanna Live In California” is a disco-infused love song for New York, and “Evil Disco” is one of the best, and most authentic songs we’ve heard in years. Lou Reed, The Cars, The Clash—Never Enough is both referential and completely new. If New York has gotten boring, Public Access T.V. is surely a reason not to move to L.A.
BULLETT talked to John and Xan about the album and their decision to not become a boy band.
Tell me about Never Enough.
John Eatherly: Our new album was recorded in a number of studios—I think 4 or 5. We wrote probably 40 songs, and just narrowed it down to 12. We had a lot of trial and error, recording at different places and not liking it. We were on a label we didn’t really like in England that was pushing us to go in a direction we didn’t want to go in—they wanted us to be kind of cheesy, and fortunately, we’re on a different label now that doesn’t push us in any musical direction.
Xan Aird: They just want us to smoke a lot of weed.
J: Ultimately, we got to make the record that we wanted to, which seemed, at times, like that was going to be hard to do.
Why did you wait so long to put out your first record?
X: Because we weren’t a band.
J: Yeah, we had to become a band.
X: We were a creation, like the Backstreet Boys. Seriously. We were scouted on the streets of New York—like street casted to be in a rock and roll band and funded by Universal Records. We met [drummer] Pete at an Urban Outfitters casting.
J: It’s not that far off, actually.
I heard you got signed after your first show and the label wanted you to be some fancy pop band.
J: We fooled a label into giving us a bunch of money.
X: A lot of money. A shit load of money.
J: We hadn’t had band practice yet.
X: It was a full swindle.
It does feel like you’ve been a “band” longer than you’ve actually been making music.
J: We’ve been a real band for two years.
X: We needed to have that two years of gestation.
J: So now we’re finally at the point where we are putting out the first record.
X: And it took us a minute to get it right.
J: Yeah, and it took us a minute to become a real band. It took two years to kind of figure it out and get to where we wanted to get to, get through all the shit we had to get through.
X: We’re finally happy with the songs, but we tried everything. We tried recording live, we tried doing it all on ProTools, we tried using drum machines.
J: Yeah, and we never went into the studio for a few weeks and were like, ‘Okay we’re going to make a record,’ and had a version of it. It was always like, ‘There’s a couple new songs and we can get in there for two days,’ squeezing in time whenever we could. A lot of it was in England, some in New Jersey. One song was in Nashville. New York. But it was all mixed in the same place.
What ended up working?
X: A little bit of everything.
You guys got a lot of attention when you first started. How did you make sure you were more than a buzz band?
J: I think we would’ve been just a buzz band if we had rushed out a record right when that buzz was happening. Like, if we had taken that money and went straight into the studio and made some record, we would’ve been just that.
X: And all the haters would’ve been circling.
J: A buzz band doesn’t last, and it doesn’t sound good. So it was just important to us to take the time to make it right—and it took until now.
Lyrically, where do you find inspiration?
J: Relationships, friends, living your life, feeling like shit, not feeling like shit. But I think we’re going to try to go in the direction of trying to write more positive lyrics—it’s not a really positive record. It’s kind of from the perspective of a broken man.
Right, your apartment burned down.
X: We made it over two crazy years. The apartment was just the tip of the iceberg.
What’s it like going from being a drummer in a band to being the frontman?
J: That was transitional. It took me a minute to get used to it. I was real nervous about having to talk between songs—it didn’t come totally naturally. So it took time of playing shows and getting comfortable. And singing is just a different game—it’s a little harder.
You’ve both been in a number of other bands. What have you been able to do with this band that you couldn’t do before?
X: We learned all the lessons.
J: We learned everything you could do wrong, basically. It’s hard to keep four people happy together. It’s like all of us having three other girlfriends.
X: I hear about bands squabbling about royalties and publishing, and it’s like, I’m really lucky that I’m in a band where I never ever worry I’m going to get fucked by John or anyone. It’s fair, it’s equal, we’re all in it together. A band is never a democracy, but we have a pretty good dynamic.
J: I feel like we’ve all been through that already, with those worries and things. So with this band, it’s easy.
X: And we just want to work. We just want to make our songs. It’s not about going and getting fucked up in hotel rooms and living the lifestyle. I don’t want to fuck around at practice and throw back six tall boys and get nothing accomplished. I spent years doing that. It’s the best job in the world, but I really just want to work.
You guys get compared to The Strokes a lot. Why do you think that is?
J: I just think there’s nothing cool happening—I mean, we’re pretty fucking far out there from any other bands and scenes. The one thing that was super important to us when we started this was to not be clumped in with anything and to be in our own little world. We all listened to The Strokes and loved those records when they came out, but it’s been a really fucking long time to still be saying that.
X: That’s the thing—we made a record and it comes from listening to that music and we’re really proud of it. But we’re also aware that we’re four white dudes in skinny jeans in the East Village playing guitars. We’re already starting to write the second record and we’re looking way forward. I think that’s why there’s no cool bands—because they’re still under the shadow of The Strokes and we’re just trying to crawl out.
What do you think would have to happen for the New York scene to be cool again?
X: Really, there’s nothing we can do about that. We can make our shit and try to make it good, but it’s about things bigger than us—like economics and what the rent is.
J: All we can try to do is like what we make.
X: And make something new and interesting, which is why I’m already talking about the second record. All we’ve been listening to is hip-hop. We’re not trying to bring that time, that New York back at all, and anyone who thinks that is mistaken.
How would you describe your sound?
J: What we try to do is make sure that any song we’re working on—regardless of aesthetically what it sounds like, whether it sounds Strokes-y or shoegaze-y or whatever the fuck—we focus on substance way over style, and I feel like most other bands think the other way around.
What were you trying to achieve with the album?
J: I want people to see that we really worked hard on it. It’s not a half-assed record, at all. I think there’s a lot of heart in the record.
X: Songs, baby.
J: It’s all about songs. That’s really just our MO. We just want to write quality songs, and focus on writing quality songs and forget about all the other bull shit.
What can everyone expect from the album?
X: Joy. Satisfaction. Arousal? But we like the songs, we hope people like them too. It’s really that simple—as long as we like them, we’re fine.
J: We’re really happy with it, and we put a lot of work into it—that’s why I’m not so worried. If I was real on the fence about it and weird, I’d be way more concerned with what people thought about it. But because I like it, I don’t really give a shit.
‘Never Enough’ Photo & Artwork: Wiissa