Interview With CHILLI JESSON

Published on 22 February 2023 at 09:20

By Jozef Kostecki


In 2011 Palma Violets would first take to the stage as a band. By 2013 they had released their debut album, and saw off competition from Alt-J, HAIM, Alabama Shakes, Django Django and Peace to be named NME’s ‘Best New Band.’ 2015 saw the release of their second album, and ultimately the early months of 2016 saw the end of the band. It was a fast rise, and an equally fast end for one of British indie rock’s youngest bands at the time. 


Make two great albums, play over 300 shows, see the world and quietly bring things to an end. It was an exit that very much embodied an, ‘Always leave them wanting more’ attitude whether it was intentional or not. The band split, with all bar Chilli Jesson forming Gently Tender (currently signed to So Young Records). 


So what became of Chilli? There was a Chilli Jesson before Palma Violets, and now having released music under his own name again for the last 15 months, there can be no denying that there’s a Chilli Jesson after Palmas as well. 


“I learned that in bands, like in work, like in everything there’s a hierarchy but this is kinda dissolved in a band and all the lines are sort of blurred,” Chilli told us when quizzed on what he learned in the years post Palma Violets. “You’ll see it in films and stuff where the guitar player wants the solo really loud, and nobody is focusing on the song, just the ego. So after that band broke up, I was left with no ego, so losing the ego made everything clear, and everybody who is involved in the project, serves the song. 


“That’s what I’ve learned, it’s what happened to me post Palma Violets, which in retrospect I’ve now learned. You serve the song, and ultimately all your egoless wishes will be granted.”


Photo credited to @charliecpryor


Serving the song, it’s a message a few have echoed. Freddie Cowan of the Vaccines said the same to us last year, emphasising the importance of putting the music first. Under his own name now Chilli clearly wants to do the same, but does he feel more pressure to deliver when it’s his name alone in the headlights?


“I think there’s always that element,” Chilli replied. “But I think I feel the most relaxed that I have ever been. That COVID period was extremely lush for me in creating and making music. I needed the world to stop, and it was a terrible, terrible time but looking back in retrospect now, I just needed that moment. 


“So I actually feel more comfortable, and weirdly this is under my own name but it’s by far the most collaborative project that I’ve ever done, and that’s the kind of irony in it. I do actually kind of wish it wasn’t in my own name, Rudy, Rupert [Greaves], everyone puts in so much work, and I can feel a little awkward that it’s my name, but at the time it felt like the right thing to do. I had a little history in my previous band, so we came to a decision that we should exploit it. Rather than someone seeing X, Y or Z on a poster maybe you might get somebody coming down who goes, ‘Woah I remember him from that band, let’s go check it out.’”


To his credit, Chilli’s made all the effort to live up to any expectations that could have been placed on him to re-deliver something akin or beyond what Palma Violets delivered. With one EP out [St.Vitamin released in April 2022], and seven songs total released Chilli is taking his time, ensuring everything is moving at the right pace, and places a lot of the thanks on the label he’s with for allowing him such freedom:


“It’s a start, and Fiction Records who we’re with have been absolutely fantastic. We wanted there to be a growth, otherwise I would have started with Carolina Reaper, or there’s loads of other songs in the batches that you’d have been like, ‘Well why don’t you f*king kick off the campaign with that?’ But I want longevity, and we could see where we could progress with where we wanna get to with the music, so everything has been really carefully planned. 


“But I’m telling you, so many other labels just wouldn’t let us do that and Fiction has been really amazing with allowing us to breathe, and release it in this way.”


“The idea of an album now is not where I’m at at the moment. I’m really enjoying the process of releasing music every 8 weeks, a song or two every 8 weeks is what I’m hoping to do. It’s all gearing up toward the Carolina Reaper EP, which will be out at some point.”


One of those songs every 8 weeks is set to be Chilli’s new single ‘Guicci Want The Suit Back’ which was released late last week. But how would Chilli describe the song in under 100 words?


“It’s a true narrative, it’s quite tongue and cheek, and quite anti-big fashion houses. It’s been so fun to play live, I just love that track.


“Lyrically I’m really happy with it. To tell a story like that in only a couple of verses is really difficult to do. I’m excited for people to listen to it, and I hope they have a smirk on their face as they do.”


Photo credited to @elliotselwood


From the start of his post Palma Violets career, first with the short-lived Crewel Intentions, and now under his own name Chilli has had bandmate Rupert Greaves by his side, a friendship he credits for getting him this far:


“I wouldn’t be doing it [without him] is the bottom line.” Chilli remarked. “That’s as frank as it gets. We are joined at the hip basically, I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument. This is definitely the longest period of time that I’ve spent with a band member, without having a guitar thrown at me or something, so I think we’re doing something right. We’re both each others right-hand people.”


Perhaps it was the importance of this relationship with Rupert for Chilli that allowed him to seek help from others to get the most out of his music. One name who has been a frequent collaborator for Chilli has been The Vaccines’ Justin Hayward-Young. 


“I mean he [Justin] has been incredible,” Said Chilli. “I was really kind of down and out, and with any kind of creative thing once you lose that confidence, it’s really hard to claw back. 


“He’s an exceptional songwriter, and it was kind of a last-ditch thing. I’d never really written with other people, I had with Sam from Palma Violets on occasion but we would mainly write separately, and I carried that on, it was usually very separate, and I would just hit a wall. 


“I knew I wanted these songs to come through in the world that they’re in right now, but I just did not have the resources. So I called Justin, and I sent him a bunch of demos, and he was like, ‘These are f*cking great’ and he basically brought me around. We had the best time, it was just so much fun, just bouncing off each other, coming up with chords. 


“His right-hand guy is a guy called Will [Bloomfield] who produces all our stuff, and he gets all your ideas down on the computer, and it’s this amazing modern way of working that I had never done. I’m old-school, I was still doing reel-to-reel tapes, as I had seen it in a Clash documentary. I was obsessed with all of that, ‘It’s not a real record unless it’s straight onto vinyl,’ just ridiculous, expensive and stupid. So with Will, I left Justin’s place with a full song, and I’d be like, ‘Oh my God this is fantastic.’


“So we just kept meeting up, having some beers, doing a bit of writing, Will doing the producing, and it just led to this great songwriting partnership… Justin, I owe a lot to him. He’s a good man.”


It’s not just about releasing his own music now, Chilli is determined to offer support to other indie artists in the same way Justin Hayward-Young, and Will Bloomfield have helped him. A cycle of helping those in the same circles as yourself that Chilli believes wasn’t an option a decade ago: 


“I’ve been helping people with their songwriting. I think there’s this really interesting thing, where working with other songwriters in Palma Violets was the thing you were absolutely not allowed to do. It was seen as sacrilege. And now, indie music is at the bottom of the pile, I feel like everybody is coming together and going ‘we need to help each other out’. 


“So I’ve been working with a few brilliant artists as well, and suddenly there’s this camaraderie. In the hip-hop world, in the grime world, they’re name-checking all their mates, all their friends, during Palmas it was just everybody putting all their mates down. It’s just not what we need to do right now, our music isn’t necessarily as popular as it used to be so we need to make it the best it can be.  



“I’m a performer, if you asked me [for] my occupation that’s what it is,” Chilli told us. ”It’s what I love to do. That’s why I spend my life writing the songs with an audience in mind. The crowds are moving now and they’re a bit more used to the songs. I couldn’t be happier to be honest. 


“It just needed a bit of time for the music to be out there, it takes a while to start things up, and for people to trust you again, that’s what I felt my priority had to be. I started a project prior to this, and it just fell apart…”


The project Chilli is referring to was the aforementioned Crewel Intentions. Having released two tracks, they toured with Johnny Marr with the former The Smiths member calling them, “The best new band [he had heard] in ages,” before much like the end of Palma Violets they quietly disappeared. 


“It was never intended to last long,” Chilli continued. “But what I did in that process was quite destructive I think. I lost a lot of trust from people, that’s how I feel. And, I just need to say, ‘Look I’m f*cking here forever now.’ This isn’t just the audience, it’s been some radio DJs and stuff like that, who really helped me out, and I really felt like I let them down. So, it’s been good to say, ‘Look this is me now, forever.’” 



Despite all Chilli has achieved over the last year and a bit, it’s worth remembering the highs Palma Violets hit. The band’s debut album ‘180’ named after the iconic studio they recorded it in is 10 years old this month. After all this time, Chilli seems to finally be at peace with the influence that the record has had on indie bands today: 


“It’s quite incredible, because I just didn’t know how important it was for so many bands,” Chilli remarked. “From Fontaines [D.C], Shame, Inhaler was another one recently, they’ve all name-dropped the album. I just can’t believe how it feels important beyond our realm. It was important for me, but it had an effect on other people, and I just really didn’t realise that, so kind of coming out now it’s just really nice to hear.”


“We just wanted to take our mates out to the pub and have a good time, and for everybody to enjoy themselves. That was what it was all about, it was about playing live and our mates coming down, and just them reaping our rewards.”


It’s nice to look back on the past, but as we said in April of last year, Chilli Jesson’s present and future is where all our eyes and ears should be. With that in mind, and with Chilli himself saying that he’s, “f*cking here forever now,” what is it ultimately that Chilli want to achieve under his own name?


“The goal at the moment is just to carry on as it is, to just give people amazing music. I’m so proud of this, this is everything that I’d want to see in an artist or a band. I want to keep producing at the level I am now. Musically, lyrically, I’m obsessed, it’s all direct. I don’t care for fame, or any of this stuff, I just want to produce this high level of stuff consistently, which I would hope is most musicians' goal.”


For those looking to keep up to date with Chilli, you can find him at ChilliJesson on Instagram


You can also keep up with his latest releases on all major streaming sites, with his new single ‘Gucci Want The Suit Back’ now out.