This month we talk with John Eatherly of Public Access T.V. After departing from a major label deal in 2016, P.A.T.V. released their brilliant sophomore record, Street Safari, through Cinematic Records in February 2018. It was recorded and produced by Patrick Wimberly (Chairlift) in Wemberly's studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. They are, perhaps, one of the most underrated rock bands around at the moment.
John cut his teeth on the music scene in Brooklyn at a very young age. He toured as Eleanor Friedberger's guitarist and was a member of the band The Virgins. Read up on his philosophies on recording and gear, where he believes it is more about the song and songwriter than fancy gear—an inspirational view to those who are aspiring musicians on a budget.
If you missed their latest tour in March/April 2018, you can catch Public Access T.V. at the tail end of June, plus a July 1st show in Nashville, TN at 3rd & Lindsley. Fingers crossed for more tour dates coming up later this summer and fall.
All photos by Jonah Freud.
By Stephanie Nicole Smith
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a very small city called Pegram in Tennessee. My mom and dad moved there from Texas in the 80s so my dad could be closer to the whole songwriting-thing in Nashville. He didn't have any success, but because of him I was around people playing music as long as I can remember. I got super into playing the drums as a teenager. It was a great way to take out my aggression when I came home from school.
You moved to New York when you were very young, what was that like?
I moved to New York when I was 18, but I had already been in bands touring since I was 16. The more I visited New York on tour, the more I wanted to move there. When I turned 20, I moved to the East Village from Greenpoint, so that’s really where I spent my early 20s. At that time I was playing drums and recording with this band called The Virgins, fronted by my good friend Donald Cumming, and also kept pretty busy as a touring guitar player for Eleanor Friedberger. They both had a very big influence on me in their own unique ways. I was always the youngest, also. I still am.
Other than playing and writing music, my only concern was going out every single night. I don’t remember a lot of my early 20s at all. I had decided I wasn't going to remember my early 20s as a teenager. I was also very hard-headed about not working a day job. I survived off of $100 a week for the most part for like four years. I was influenced by this struggle in which I partly created for myself and also the people I became close with inspired me more than anything. I was just a sponge soaking up as much as I possibly could in a new environment. I still feel like a sponge—but I don't consume poison anymore. I learned my lesson with that.
Wow! You were so young when you started touring. Do you have any tour highlights from your past? Any memorable ones—for better or worse?
The first tour I ever went on—I was 16 and went on tour for a month with the Black Lips opening for Be Your Own Pet. I remember being so shy and freaked out. I was super innocent. It was a mix of everything, but everyone was super sweet, and rad, and nobody pissed on me, haha! That might have been my main concern. Every tour has its own magic. When your out with a band you like for a long time and get close, it's amazing.
What instrument did you pick up first?
I first picked up the guitar, followed by drums. I was pretty equally obsessed with both, but usually played drums in bands. I tried lessons as a kid but quit. I hated it because it felt like school and the drum teacher would mix in academic curriculum, which made it feel like I was taking a test. I freeze on any test. I was self-taught and was just around it. I remember sitting on the kit and jamming with 50 year-olds when I was little. "If you can’t hum something then you shouldn't play it," that idea was pretty drilled into me as a kid. So, that kinda taught me to play anything I sat down with. I don’t like the idea of learning someone else's method in fear that it could stunt or ruin your natural flow.
I still have the same Strat my dad left my sister in his will. It’s red and made in America. Most of the time I play a Squier Strat made in Japan from the 80s. They are super cheap and very solid. I don’t need much or care very much about gear in general.
Despite not wanting to learn anyone else's method—are there any artists that you would say influence your unique sound?
My most favorite band as a teenager was Television. That definitely influenced the way I play guitar. It's not that I even strive for that sound—it's just ingrained in me. I had many, many phases of obsession similar to that—John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joey Ramone, Otis Redding, Al Green, Sam Cooke, David Bowie, The Pretenders, Tom Petty, Patti Smith, Joan Jett, all of the girl group Phil Spector stuff (The Shirelles, The Chantels, etc.)—there is so much that I love that feels part of me, that is just a short list of favorite voices. I try and just be as sincere, and as honest, as I can be with my writing and inevitably everything I love just seeps out. I pretty much exclusively listened to Dr. Dre and Pet Shop Boys while recording our last record. I don't even know what to listen to most of the time. I don't know where I'm at with that now. I don't own any records at all.
On the topic of recording, do you have a favorite set up in the studio?
I like using a sm57 vocal mic on the whole album and not some big fancy mic. I wanted to use this little amp with built-in effect called "the shredder" for all the solos on our new record, but everybody seemed to wanna create "the shredder" tone with real pedals and cooler amps. I'm really about moving fast and using whatever I had in the room when I made a demo. I think a true gear head type would probably hate me! But, I know what I like. I play a vox ac15 because it’s light and can break up nice. I am probably more concerned with what color a pedal is than what it actually sounds like.
Does it matter if it's put down digitally or analog?
I like tape to digital. I think when those worlds collide is when you can truly get the most. It’s more a matter of taste with who's behind the board. I can make a brand new digital Tascam 8 track sound just as warm and vibey as any tape machine. It’s the people, not the gear.
Despite being low-maintenance with your gear, is there a particular studio that you like recording in?
I don't think I've ever recorded in the same studio twice. I just like to sing in the room that has speakers and not with headphones in a booth. I like it comfortable and not that feeling where it's too nice and you feel like you can’t touch anything. Our new record was recorded in a room the size of a classroom with no walls, or divides, or anything—that was Patrick Wemberly's studio. He produced Street Safari. His place is perfect and truly all you need. If I was gonna waste money on a fancier studio, I'd be more concerned with the location and if they have a swimming pool or not.
Haha. Well, swimming pools at studios may be hard to come by these days. Speaking of amazing places and things, what inspires you to write music? Do you have a specific process when you're writing?
Usually, I hear a melody first. Then, I try and decipher where that came from and why to write lyrics, and decide how closely I want the lyrics to reflect that place the idea came from. I have to be alone and lock myself away to really reflect, to write lyrics. The music is in sync with my mood and comes out at different times. It comes in phases. But, I also work well under pressure. I try to not overthink things. Writing on piano is great because I don't know what chords I'm playing, just its sound. I don't wanna know. I like when each instrument can come from that magic place where i'ts natural and musical but not too thought about, or overly complicated. Then lyrics are just therapeutic. I learn about how I'm feeling as I write them. Sometimes, I triple track vocal takes of gibberish to see what syncs up.
Wow, very cool approach. Seems like it's more about a feel and a little less planned. Despite leaning away from formalities with learning and playing music, do you think there are any artists that aspiring musicians should study and learn from?
There is a Michael Jackson demo of “Beat It” where he is showing you how to sing—the chorus gives me chills. The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Lennon/Plastic Ono Band for its simplicity. I'm not much of a players player nerd. I don't like traditional methods. I've always been someone who has to learn things "differently."
Of course! Sounds that way. It's a refreshing take on an otherwise traditional music path. So, what's next? Are you already writing your next album?
I'm just starting to think about record number three. I'm always moving and writing. I'm going to decide what it should sound like overall and then go from there.
I know you said you don't own any records, but what are you listening to today?
This interview is brought to you by Original Fuzz Magazine. Find more articles from this month's issue, here.