Youth in Overload: A conversation with Crewel Intentions

  Photos by Nathan McLaren-Stewart

Photos by Nathan McLaren-Stewart

It’s cold as myself and Chilli Jesson, the ecstatic front-man of Crewel Intentions, walk through Bath. The rest of Crewel Intentions, rocking a 70’s suits and boots, are following us drawing double-takes from the afternoon shoppers as we head to a local pub. Chilli and I are talking about fresh starts, something he’s familiar with since putting his bass down in the now defunct indie heart-throbs Palma Violets. The more eagle-eyed of Palma Violets fans will have noticed Chilli fronting the stage a few times in London under various guises, but now Crewel Intentions are opening for  the legendary Johnny Marr on their first UK tour. 

Despite only being twenty-four years old, Chilli’s experience with Palma Violets has taught him a lot about creating music. “You write a record and you’re always thinking about what everyone thinks, even just down at your local pub,” Chilli tells me. “But now I know, it’s not really about those people.” Palma Violets came to a natural end, the course had run for the youngsters and something new was emerging. “I had a premonition before the end of Palma Violets. We could all see the end, we wanted to go and do separate things,” Chilli admits. 

This was the beginning of Crewel Intentions, a new seed for Chilli that would grow naturally. “I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I didn’t know that it’d be a band, but I had an enormous sense of freedom starting fresh.”

As we speak, Crewel Intentions have just shared the first fruit with the world. Youth In Overload is a raw and honest look at Chilli’s younger self, and as well as it being the first sound heard from the new project it is also the first glimpse of the new outfit with an exceptional video directed by Jak Payne. It’s stylish, it’s mature and it’s promising. “During this two-year period there’s been loads of highs and loads of lows. There’s been terrible anxieties and a feeling of frailty. I was kind of left alone, which was really my own fault.” There’s trouble in Chilli’s voice as he tells me this. “It was what I wanted,” he admits, “but I didn’t realise the extent of how difficult it would be.” For him Youth In Overload mirrors those feelings, the anxiety that came with adjusting to the change he was going though was released through the debut single. Chilli describes the song as a “personal encounter”, a somewhat confrontation with his younger self. It’s a different attempt at songwriting when compared to Palma Violet’s abrasive and adolescent-themed songs, which Chilli describes as being “doused in a lot of irony.” Chilli continues, “It was an escapism back then, it wasn’t meant to be truthful or too thought into.’’

Chilli acquiesced to help in shooting the video, laughingly describing himself as looking “absolutely deranged” in his aborted video attempt and promised to one day share it with me. The result is a polished film for Youth In Overload  which draws on film noir, with elements of Tarantino and some Thriller-esque dance routines thrown in for good measure. When Chilli met the director, Jak, he knew that it was the right decision to let him run with his visions. The visuals are key to Chilli. “It’s next-to-none in importance for me. You don’t get a second chance at a first impression. I take that notion with me every step. I suppose it’s just the climate we are in now. Even though everything is so fast changing, I still believe that that initial punch has to be there.” Chilli laughs and leans back in his chair, “you know me,” he says. “I’ve always thought style and music goes hand in hand!”

Friends have told me that Youth in Overload was not what they were expecting from the former Palma Violets member. For me, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Having seen the band live once or twice earlier in the year I knew I was excited. They looked great, they sounded great, and the high kicks on stage were the perfect match for Chilli’s eccentric personality. The most notable thing about Youth in Overload is the new mature sound. Chilli has experimented with new ideas and sounds for Crewel Intention’s debut records, such as drum machines. “I didn’t have a band when I started working on material so I was using drum machines, which you’ll hear floating about the record. But I’ve done it in such a way that it’s all off grid. I needed to progress, and that was the way I wanted to go.” A big influence for Chilli when writing was classic songwriting. He notes the importance of songwriting, the difficulty of writing a chorus that people can hold on to, especially when you’re touring with Johnny Marr who’s bound to play a couple of class numbers by The Smiths. “It’s easy to have style and put on a great live show,” Chilli says. “But when you’re playing to crowds in Birmingham and Bath they’re not going to give a fuck about what a trendy crowd in London thinks of you. They want to hear a song, something to get their teeth into.” Thinking of the positive response that Crewel Intentions have been getting on this tour makes Chilli laughs, “I can never compete with There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, but I can get damn close!”

  Photo by Jim Tobias

Photo by Jim Tobias

After Chilli’s comment about trendy London crowds I want to delve deeper into his thoughts on the city. “What’s going on there is really important, I think it’s the best city in the world,” Chilli states. “There are some great bands coming out.” When Chilli was starting there was no South London scene, everyone was out on their own. He remembers the likes of NME Magazine being desperate for some sort of scene, but at the time guitar music was in a state of coming from anywhere in the country, London, Birmingham or Manchester, for example. “Now there’s a fluster of bands in London who I can hear have a good song in them, but because there’s this clique scene telling people what to do it’s difficult,” Chilli says. “It’s not as pure as it used to be, everything seems to be the same, a communist-beat sorta thing, and I am kind of bored of it. But perhaps Palma Violets created a foundation for that and we are part of the ones to blame.” With his extensive experience of touring Chilli has seen the roots of most city, and he notes Bristol as being a city that’s so open and diverse and producing beautiful music. “Music for me is meant to be accessible,” Chilli states. “To me, London seems to be going the opposite way.”

The future is unclear for Crewel Intentions and it seems as though it will stay that way. The lack of pressure on Chilli seems to be doing good for him. He’s smiling and his morale is high. With the difficult two years behind him it appears as though Chilli is coming out the other side with the infectious personality that I’ve always known him to have. “I don’t plan that far forward,” he admits. “I think it can be really dangerous to do so.” Chilli is in the mindset of focusing on one thing at a time, his ambitions are big but he keeps them close. “I could be thinking about getting the next single out, or I could be thinking about how I’m going to get fifty pounds to get back out on the road again.” The struggle for him from being in the position of starting at the bottom again is not easy, but he’s clearly got the driven attitude needed to make it work for. “I’ve been so fortunate, I lived the dream with Palma Violets, but I was talking to Johnny Marr and realised that the bands, touring in cars with all our gear for not much money, are the maddest group of musicians. We are in this fictitious idea that we just want to play.” Chilli’s words are wise, and as we go and sit back down with the rest of the band he reminds himself and me, “the most exciting part about being in a band is the beginning.”