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From the Fire and Flames, Public Access T.V. Emerge Renewed from the Rubble

This March the band's NYC apartment burned to the ground. With their debut LP out early next year and almost a decade in the biz, singer John Eatherly is growing up and taking control.
October 12, 2015, 12:50pm

Public Access TV: L-R Max Peebles (bass), Pete Star (drums), John Eatherly (vocals/guitar), Xan Aird (guitar).

On the morning of March 27, 2015, Public Access T.V. were sleeping off the night before at a friend’s house in LA where they were wrapping a short tour opening for post-punk originators Gang of Four. Singer John Eatherly was woken by his manager (and then roommate) Ben Goldstein; the screen on their phones cluttered by multiple missed calls and texts. The messages from their friends back home in New York City were all variations of the same frantic enquiry: “Where are you? Are you guys OK? Turn on the news.”

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Of course no one turns on the news these days, so the band huddled round a laptop and discovered that the building next to their East Village apartment block on 7th Street and 2nd Avenue was a tower of flames, smoke unfurling in glowering billows that could be seen from the other side of the river in Brooklyn. “It really didn’t seem like it was happening, it didn’t seem real at all,” recalls Eatherly. “We were doubting that our building was gonna be fucked, until we saw it crumble down. It was totally insane.”

Three apartment buildings collapsed that day thanks to an explosion caused by the illegal siphoning of gas in a restaurant on the ground floor. Two people lost their lives and hundreds were displaced, including Eatherly and Goldstein, who were living together in one apartment alongside fellow PATV members Max Peebles and Xan Aird. Recording equipment, demos, records, instruments, clothes, a poster of Richard Gere with his shirt unbuttoned—all of it, torched. Eatherly shrugs off the destruction of these material things because, of course, the loss of life throws everything into perspective. “I lost all my shit, but other people lost more than I did,” he says. “There was families that had lived there for many, many years and two people died. Losing your belongings doesn’t compare to anything like that.” He sighs heavily.

Eatherly, Goldstein, Peebles, and Aird have now all been rehoused a few blocks from their old spot, which also served as a party crash pad for a certain circle of artists and their attendant friends; the place to go for that ill-advised nightcap after last orders. Donald Cummings, formerly the frontman The Virgins, snagged the spot back in the 2000s (a lease he still held at the time of the fire), and Eatherly moved in pre-PATV in 2010 when he was The Virgins' drummer. “The lady who owned the building did the lease and it was written by hand, I don’t know if she even knew how to use a computer,” says John. “It was a very old-school situation—if the heating didn’t work or something she would bring pizzas over and say, ‘I’m sorry about the heating, here’s some pizzas!’” Such was the relaxed, open door policy that for a spell someone even turned one of the closets into a makeshift bedroom. “It was our total clubhouse, we all lived there, it was just a disaster; it was crazy.”

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At one point there were five people guys living there, but there definitely weren’t five bedrooms. How did anyone get laid with any privacy? “It’s funny that you ask,” smiles Eatherly. “This kind of sounds really gross to say, but at one point there was this one bedroom—I don’t know technically whose room it was—it was always kind of alternating if somebody moved out, it was the isolated room, it was like, ‘Dibs on the sex room’-style. You know? I never had sex in the sex room.” He adds: “I was all about escaping that world.”

Public Access T.V. will mark the two-year anniversary of their first live show this January. They made their debut at stalwart East Village dive Niagara and really only came together and rehearsed two weeks before they hit the venue’s non-existent stage. Like so many band origin stories these days, the internet played a crucial role in the indie rock quartet’s genesis and subsequent buzz. Eatherly wrote a bunch of tunes by himself and Goldstein—who also managed The Virgins at the time—came to him one day and said, as the singer tells it: “Yo I took the demos you made and put them on the internet, is that OK? I already did it.” The positive response was the galvanizing force for Eatherly getting his shit together and roping in Peebles on bass (they went to high school together and previously played in the band Turbo Fruits), and Pete Star on drums, completed by Aird on guitar. (Aird and Eatherly already had an established groove having spent the past few years playing in The Virgins, who dissolved around the time PATV began to take shape. Donald now releases music under his own name).

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Sonically PATV are hardly reinventing the wheel—and honestly it’s arguable whether taut rock 'n’ roll songs need much innovation—but what they lack in this respect, they make up for in verve, volume, and pop hum-ability. Much like The Strokes, who they opened for at their massive Hyde Park show in London last June, PATV write songs that girls in leather jackets topped off with come-to-bed-with-me-I’m-heading-straight-back-there-anyway-hair will swing their hips to. The boys, meanwhile, will side-eye the band suspiciously, but eventually they’ll succumb to their charm too, because hey—a hook is a hook is a hook. You can’t deny the plucky bass grooves and Lower East Side Springsteen-meets-Hall and Oates appeal of “All We Want,” or the T. Rex meets new wave strut of “In the Mirror.” It sounds fresh without sounding necessarily new; it’s fun. So far they’ve released six tracks, including the latest, “Patti Peru,” (above) which dropped the other week. Fans have been restless for a full length from the get-go—such is the accelerated instant-grat cycle—but it took a minute for the quartet to lock in. Their forthcoming debut album, due early next year via Polydor, was recorded in London over the summer and the vibe is very live, click track be damned. That kind of musical intuitiveness takes time.

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It’s a sticky Thursday evening in September when John Eatherly and I meet for a couple bottles of cider and a few smokes outside his unlikely new local—a rowdy sports bar where the drinks are dirt cheap (five bucks for a margarita all day, every day). Soft-spoken with an easy smile and a crop of wavy brown hair, Eatherly cuts a slight figure, his skin a shade of pale not too many tones removed from his white t-shirt. He’s 25 but could pass for younger, nevertheless he’s already totted up nearly a decade’s worth of experience in the music biz. His parents hail from Texas, but moved to Nashville in the 70s so his dad could pursue the country songwriter dream and although those aspirations didn’t quite pan out, Eatherly was raised in a house where musicians would float through to record demos with his dad in their basement. By 12 he had his first set of drums and later, as a teen, Eatherly would invite his friends over to an annex of the house where his grandma used to live. There they could make music and rehearse till 4 AM without anyone telling them to keep it down.

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By the mid-2000s Eatherly was playing bass in a band with his buddies, when his school friends formed Be Your Own Pet, a lip-curled, pop-pumped take on garage rock lead by the energetic Jemima Pearl. They made waves and quickly, signing to XL Recordings in the UK (Adele, The xx) and Thurston Moore’s Label Ecstatic Peace in the US. “I was jealous, like, ‘What the fuck!? These are my friends and they get to go to England and play!?’” her remembers. “When they were on the cover of what would be the Village Voice of Nashville—the Nashville Scene—I was blown away. I just thought it was really cool and really exciting.”

When their original drummer dropped out, and Eatherly was asked to step in, he didn’t have to think twice. School held no interest—“I paid my sister to do my home-schooling tests for me my freshman year, my mom was fine with it and when I dropped out in my junior year she was really supportive”—but his dad was more skeptical. “I think he was thinking, ‘Be careful what you’re signing up for, kid.’ But I did it anyway.”

It may have been an exciting ride, but it didn’t last long: in 2008 the band split midway through a UK tour. “I don’t want to say it was a disaster, but when you have kids that age and they’re touring, you don’t necessarily know how to get along with people for long amounts of time, or how to compromise with your friend and bite your tongue,” he explains. ”When you’re that young and so unhappy with something that you’re doing, you don’t really feel like there’s a reason to keep doing it, whereas when you’re older there’s a lot of reasons in life where you feel like you should keep on doing something anyway.” Among other things, the experience taught him that if you’re pissed with your band mate, thrashing it out is ultimately the best course of action.

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With BYOP over, Eatherly was back in Pegram, TN, where he was raised: population 2146, number of grocery stores, zero. Nashville, where he went to school and where many of his friends subsequently decamped, held little allure, and the glitter, grit, and pace of New York was calling. Given Aird and his shared love of Lou Reed and Dylan, where else would they have ended up? “Now I’m here and I hate it,” he laughs. He’s kidding. Kinda.

A few years back when a friend of mine was persuading me to leave London for New York, he did so by joking, “It’ll be great! You’ll move to here, become an alcoholic, and then become a yoga vegan freak and have to move to LA.” I tell Eatherly this and wonder where he is in this NYC story cycle now that he’s seven years deep. Is LA, where they call walking, “hiking,” on the horizon?

“Oh no I couldn’t live in LA,” he laughs. “LA is weird—everyone is brainwashed kinda vibe. Either that or you’re just in it and stoned all day, living the California dream.” I don’t know why I even asked: In “Metropolis” he sings, “I don’t wanna live in California / I’ll take New York any day.” But Eatherly pauses, and then says with a cheeky half-smile, “I’m heading towards that vegan sobriety. Sometimes it’s definitely hard to be a moderate in New York, because it’s hard to give yourself a break and have self-discipline. I’m pretty bad at it, but I think maybe I’ll have a little bit more discipline now I don’t have roommates—but that seems cheap to say. That’s like saying I’ll have better self-discipline if I live in the desert!”

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Continued below. Public Access T.V. photographed in the East Village.

Eatherly’s in a funny spot. He’s only 25, but he doesn’t behave like a forever-online millennial, calling himself “not much of a computer guy” who mostly hops on to check his email. He finds the deluge of new music overwhelming; he’s a student of records that’ve been out for decades and it’s an education that vibrates through PATV’s melodies. He’s only 25, but he’s been knocking around these parts forever. Regarding the city’s incestuous music scene and the deja vu nightlife, he remarks, like a sage 40-something: “It really is the same shit all the time, the same people and the same shit.” He’s only 25, but he’s seen city area change radically even in the past seven years. He’s not miles away in years from the boozed up NYU students who stumble the streets of his neighborhood, but he has nothing in common with them, save perhaps the pop culture reference points that tether together anyone of a certain age. He says he feels no sense of unity with other bands in NYC and Brooklyn, but when you see him out he’s often with a gang, and for once he’s the leader of that particular pack.

“Camaraderie is cool, but I think it’s entertaining to have your own world and not let others in it, but maybe that’s an immature way to be,” he says. After years of being a hired gun Eatherly is helming his own ship, not just in terms of the band, but for the first time in his life he’s living alone—even if he doesn’t have any plates, let alone a couch. No wonder he’s so often at this shitty sports bar, eating cheap wings with his manager. If the fire scorched a line in the earth, then the release of PATV’s debut album will mark another new chapter, and like so many artists who make music in a city that can kick your ass as much as it inspires, New York is the recurring character that’s inserted itself into the quartet's art. Unsurprisingly his songs are peppered with girls with “that morning after glow,” and ruminations on feeling lonely even when you’re in love—the bleakest kind of alone. Emotions are high on the agenda, but these songs are hardly heavy.

“It’s pretty much like any story that’s happened to me or my personal feelings of my experience of moving to New York and the relationships that I’ve had,” he explains of the album’s evident themes. At this point Goldstein, that oft-mentioned manager who is, by the way, near enough the same age as Eatherly, texts. They have plans to catch a movie, they’ll probably have a drink afterwards. Perhaps tomorrow Eatherly will buy some plates for his new pad. It depends on how the night pans out, so maybe those plates will have to wait.

Public Access T.V. Tour Dates (supporting Hinds)
October 14 - San Francisco, CA Slim's
October 16 - Los Angeles, CA Echoplex
October 17 - San Diego, CA Soda Bar
October 19 - Salt Lake City, UT Kilby Court
October 20 - Denver, CO Larimer Lounge
October 22 - Chicago, IL Lincoln Hall + Schubas
October 23 - Cleveland, OH The Beachland Ballroom and Tavern
October 24 - Toronto, CAN Lee's Palace
October 26 - Montreal, CAN Bar Le Ritz PDB
October 27 - New York, NY Music Hall of Williamsburg
October 28 - Boston, MA Great Scott

"Patti Peru" / "In Love And Alone" is out this fall via Terrible Records.

Kim Taylor Bennett is still very far from becoming a yoga-vegan-freak. Burgers are just too good. She's on Twitter.