When Palma Violets called it a day two years ago, they did it so quietly that no-one seemed quite sure if they had actually broken up. There was no statement, no big farewell celebration, just one last friends-only show at 180, their famed Lambeth base. If it weren’t for the emergence of new bands from their ashes, we’d probably still be questioning it now.
“It felt like a natural conclusion,” says Chilli Jesson, former Palmas bassist and, now, Crewel Intentions frontman. The band had begun to pull in different directions musically and, instead of battling to mould those new paths into something coherent, they separated.
In the two years since, Chilli has been keeping a low profile. He got a job in a pub where people would come in, recognise him, and ask him to “sign my name in their Guinness”. “It was tough but it was fucking funny at the same time,” he says now. “Everybody gets a job at some point. It was just quite strange for somebody who had been on this rollercoaster.”
Between pulling pints and giving out foamy autographs, however, Chilli was also hard at work on something else - building up an arsenal of songs with collaborator Marley Mackey, and finding gang mentality in a completely new band (completed by Telegram drummer Jordan Cook, Yak and Gallon Drunk’s Leo Kurunis, and keyboardist Rupert Greaves). “I’d written five songs in five years and lived off one,” he says, cackling, in reference to ‘Best of Friends’. “And then I suddenly have this whole flurry of music and I’ve got one non-judgemental person in a room, listening to what I have to say. It felt natural and exciting.”
“The whole notion of highs and lows has been a running theme in the two years I’ve been away.”
There’s a difference to his writing this time around - the lyrics, which form real narratives, are far more personal. “I opened up avenues and doors that I’ve never spoken about,” he explains. “There’s a lot to do with my father, who passed away when I was young.”
While doing so, he found a new songwriting partner in his sister, Georgie - a poet. “She’s dealt with a lot of the same emotions that I had, so it’s a very easy relationship to have. I’ve always wanted to do something together. She’s someone that comes in and says, ‘Fucking hell, that’s shit’, and she’s allowed to because she’s family. I don’t think anyone else can do that.”
That brings us to ‘Youth In Overload’ - Crewel Intentions’ debut track. Big, bright, and chiming, there are echoes of Nick Cave and even subtler hints of Pulp within the song’s swooping frame, while Chilli tackles the anxiety he felt when he found himself without a band, job, or money. “And when you’re laid in bed at night / And you’re paranoid and wired / And you got nothing left to hide,” he sings, voice growing in urgency. “The whole notion of highs and lows has been a running theme in the two years I’ve been away,” he says.
Youth is another recurring motif in Crewel Intentions’ first material. One track, which shares its name with the band’s, is a Western-inspired epic that opens like pistols drawn at dawn before venturing into something more tender and emotional. On it, Chilli declares himself both “young” and “a child”. “It’s a lot to do with my childhood, but also being 17 and being in a band and, now, being 24 years old. I feel like I’ve learned a lot but not much has changed. There’s definitely this diving into these huge emotions that I just discarded from a younger age and building them into songs.”
The music might be more serious these days but don’t think Chilli’s lost his playful streak. While discussing what came first, the band name or the song, he starts insisting he was unaware of “this cheesy ‘90s film” until someone mentioned it to him later. Suddenly, he changes tact. “You know how much I love 19th-century tapestry, which is what crewel is for,” he jokes. “I merged all my favourite things into one short sentence. If you know me then it’s easy to understand.” It would be convincing if he didn’t burst into a fit of laughter as soon as he finished speaking.
Similarly unserious for someone who’s toured the world, crashed into the charts, and made it out the other side of the music industry hype machine, Chilli is refreshingly unconcerned about goals and ambitions this time around. Instead, he’s just focused on getting his music out, and looking towards their biggest show so far and a tour supporting Johnny Marr. “It’s just a step at a time,” he says matter-of-factly. “It will go where it goes.”