The Beaconsfield is an interesting pub. Situated straight opposite a multiplex that combines everything you need to live in a modern, changing London (if, by everything you mean a Homebase, TK Maxx, a McDonald’s, Poundland and some sweet beds from Dreams), it’s a place that has tried reinventing before - but maintains a certain aura. Odd bottles, regulars sitting at the bar and an endless supply of lemonade, it’s easy to make yourself comfortable here from the world outside its walls.
Peeking into its small outside patio, it’s where you can find a certain figure who knows a thing or two about shaking things up and going again. Someone whose absence, and in turn his band’s absence, left many wondering a simple question. What on earth happened and what now? It’s what Sam Fryer is here to talk all about.
“I think the reason why people didn't know about the Palmas was because we’re so lazy,” he laughs, “especially when it comes to social media. We just thought, ‘Ahh they’ll find out what’s happened when we put out music with our new band’.”
Gently Tender may seem like a fresh new band pulled together from time distancing themselves from the shadow of their former band, but in reality, it’s the sort of evolution they’d been teasing as those latter Palmas years wound out. After five years of a full-on ride to here, there and well - everywhere, it’s a time that an older Sam can sit and look back on with incredible fondness and perspective.
Gently Tender would simply never have come into existence without it, both literally and musically. Front pages spearheaded by the faces of Sam and co-frontman Chilli and sweaty rooms swarmed them, the hype train pushed them into new found territories and for a moment - they were undoubtedly the biggest new band in the country.
“I think there was a hysteria around Palma Violets,” reflects Sam, taking a sip from his pint underneath a beard that can sometimes make him unrecognisable from the stubble-laden years of before. “It was a mad five years of our lives, even though it felt like one, and everything went so quickly that you couldn’t even breathe. It was so much fun."
The end of Palma Violets felt less like a big bang of the adrenaline that fizzed them to that point, but a gentle comedown of everything they achieved and the discovery of where they all as musicians wanted to go next.
“We were actually writing a lot when the split happened, and writing consistently, but the thing was that me and Chilli just weren’t writing together as it came to the end. We became two different people, as you do when you grow up from the ages of 18 to 24 - and we were writing better songs, both of us, when we weren’t in the same studio.
"We were really happy for each other, but we realised that it was time to call it a day. To move on and have an end to that journey, nothing tragic or dark about it at all.”
On the day they got kicked out of that infamous 180 studio they called home in Lambeth, Palma Violets ended.
What they’d started to write though, became the seeds of something else. Sam, along with ex-Palmas Pete Mayhew and Wiliam Doyle had the exciting new direction they were starting to emerge into, now they needed the time to explore it. There wasn’t that gap that you’d associate with being away for nearly three years, the work and wheels were in motion.
“Where we left off with Palmas, we never stopped. We just carried on,” explains Sam. “We had these songs that we had been working on already when we were still a band there, and we just continued on that path. We really enjoyed it, writing as many songs as possible and having that freedom.
"We had no tour or interviews to do, we could just carry on and discover ourselves through the music, and that’s what we’ve been doing for two years - discovering what we can achieve and what we can do."
The first taste of what they’ve been working on ‘2 Chords Good’ is a noticeable shift into new realms. Fuller, richer and laced with lush psychedelic bite, it’s a weaving and warm introduction that’s begging to be bellowed out in mass union. A mesmerising nod to epic folk tales and collective gang singing of the 70s in full stride, but beaming with wide-eyed harmonies and sun-kissed hooks - it’s the sound of a bustling pub on a hot summer day, packed with personalities and an inviting core.
“I think with ‘2 Chords Good’ it’s a good balance between the old band and the new band, if I’m going to be honest it’s the most Palma Violets song we have,” notes Sam. "All the rest of them is exploring new territories, kinda pushing the boundaries of being more of a soul band."
That fuller sound is something Sam points to the new additions that came into play as they continued to grow as being a key part in helping them evolve - making them a shining new proposition above and beyond this idea of Palmas Part 2. If you want to have a new band in 2018 that can cause a bit of a stir, having Celia from The Big Moon involved definitely helps.
After a long history between the Palmas and The Big Moon, it felt like an easy and natural coming together (“we’ve been on many tours with The Big Moon and they’re very close to us. I see them all the time,” notes Sam). Along with fellow new addition Adam Brown - it feels like a force that simply can’t be stopped.
“We know what it takes, but there’s also the fact that we’re very excited for where we can take it - we’re still a bit apprehensive about what it’s exactly going to be like in the end” contemplates Sam, taking another swig of his pint as he ponders the ways in which they’ve grown even in the past few months.
“We don’t even know that, but what we can say now - what we’ve done as a band together - we’re well on the way to who we really want to be."
Their first shows certainly suggest it. From an intimate, last-minute show at The Finsbury down the road (“we’re definitely a North London band now, our studio is just around the corner from here”), to a scorching hot set at The Old Blue Last after an England world cup game (“it was like Magaluf with everyone in the road”), and a packed out headline set at The Lock Tavern - being back on stage is something they’ve been aching to do.
“We’ve worked hard over the past two years,” continues Sam, “and on stage, I felt that release come through. It felt very primal. As soon as I started singing again, I felt like I was doing what I want to be doing again."
Where Palmas took them to a certain height, Gently Tender are wanting more. There’s a hunger and searing ambition in the way Sam talks about the band, a confidence and eagerness to get out into the world after spending the time honing and building their defining statements to the world. Now it’s out there; there’s no slowing them - it’s fair to wonder where he wants them to be after the spiralled speed of what he’s already done.
“We’re extremely ambitious, we’re not here to fuck around,” he states, with a twinkle in his eye. “When I write a song I’ll think about us playing it live, before I do the recording and I see ourselves on big stages at festivals and things like that. I’m not going to hide that ambition. We’re going to release more and more songs this summer and people will realise that we’re serious and want to be playing those big shows and festivals."
A new beginning, born out of the lessons and experiences of the past - Gently Tender are a band ready to take that next step, a combination and team of musicians all wrapped in the sounds they’re creating and the freedom to do whatever the fuck they want to do. New terrains and new sounds that can transport anyone to different eras and different times - what they do next is beautifully unpredictable.
What is clear, is that they’re primed to be the next favourite band of a whole load of people - a new take on something that throws any preconceptions you may have out the window. Much like The Beaconsfield he finds himself in, reinvention brings itself whole new comforts of home and the freedom to do it in the first place. As he strolls through, ambition is prime on his mind - an unfinished business that Gently Tender are determined to seize with the music coming next.
“Rock music and guitar music is definitely not dead, I just question its ambition,” he lays out. “I think other genres have been far more ambitious in the past few years, and I think guitar music and bands need to start owning it more. Not being content playing the 100 Club, but wanting to play bigger."
The name is Gently Tender, and the future is the only thing they’re set on now. Rightfully so, because it’s guaranteed to be theirs.
Taken from the September issue of Dork.
Featuring Spring King, Idles, Slaves, Friendly Fires, Our Girl and more.