The London trio have been filling venues and drawing crowds with their disco-punk gigs – we meet them as they finally release their debut single ‘Divine Intervention’
PVA are somewhat of an anomaly for 2019. For the longest time, the band (comprised of musicians Josh Baxter, Ella Harris, and Louis Satchell) only had half a song online, instead winning over fans on the excitement around their live shows alone. Their genre-blending sets, fusing elements of techno, post-punk, and disco, have seen them headline venues like Brixton Windmill and The Social, tour around the UK, and take their first forays into Europe, playing Sonic City festival in Belgium as part of a lineup curated by fellow Londoners Shame. Along they way, they’ve supported artists like Goat Girl, Sorry, and Black Midi – the latter of which made the ‘gig first, release later’ model such an exciting proposition.
PVA take cues from 808s and Heartbreak-era Kanye, Kraftwerk, and New York’s ‘No Wave’ scene of the late 1970s. The result is a live show that is unique, energetic, utterly captivating – and continually developing. The culmination of these shows is is PVA’s debut single, “Divine Intervention”. Recorded and released by South London’s Speedy Wunderground, the label that helped shine a light on the scene surrounding bands like Warmduscher, Black Midi, and Black Country, New Road, “Divine Intervention” is a chthonic disco tune, based around chugging synths, anxiety-inducing guitar riffs, and deadpan vocals. Speedy Wunderground’s Pierre Hall describes it as sounding like “Patti Smith fronting Factory Floor”.
Following the release of “Divine Intervention”, we caught up with PVA multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Ella Harris to discuss the new single, the importance of their musical community, and what the future holds for the band.
How did you find recording with Speedy Wunderground?
Ella Harris: Dan (Carey) really puts any anxiety you have prior to entering the studio to ease when you arrive, his faith and reassurance in the music you are making means you can really focus on bringing energy and personality to the track from live takes. He embraces mistakes, as he sees them as what makes tracks feel raw and visceral. This, combined with the strobes and lasers when playing, really mean you put all your energy into your takes, albeit being slightly terrified at the same time. You can hear that in the recordings he captures.
Was it difficult capturing the energy of your shows in a studio recording?
Ella Harris: Previously we’ve struggled with capturing energy onto tracks. It’s why it took us a while to release any music. But, as I mentioned, live takes of the song enabled us to create the sound we wanted on the track. Looking forward, we want to experiment and explore ways in which we can create a live feel on recordings.
“Divine Intervention” was one of the first songs that you and Josh wrote together. How did the song change and evolve over time?
Ella Harris: We wrote “Divine Intervention” in the summer of 2017 in Josh’s old bedroom, with me trying to dictate this dream I had had for a song and Josh frantically trying to capture that onto a demo. We played it for a little while as a two-piece, but put it aside as we grew quite sick of it very quickly. When we started playing with Louis in the winter of that same year, he gave it a new lease on life with the addition of live drums, and I guess ever since we’ve been adding bits here, taking bits away there, and seeing how it feels when we play it live. It’s probably very telling of our process that I wrote the second verse on the bus on my way to the recording session with Dan.
Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?
Ella Harris: It’s always changing. The songs we’re writing seem to keep morphing and evolving when we get together and play. Inspiration for lyrics comes unexpectedly from unlikely sources, and in terms of the instrumental side of things, we like taking elements from genres and seeing how they fit together. Louis pulls inspiration for his drumming from around the world. You can definitely hear some acid house in some of the tracks, techno in the others. It’s hard to pinpoint moments of inspiration, but when we see others playing live, at festivals, or gigs, I always find that’s afterwards is when we write the songs we are proudest of. It really drives us to create the best possible live show we can.
Judging from the shows you’ve played – for Slow Dance, and with the likes of Goat Girl, Sorry, and Black Midi – it’s apparent you belong to a particular community of London musicians. Given the current state of the music industry, with venues coming under threat and artists struggling to earn a living, how important do you think a sense of community is?
Ella Harris: Community is very important, working around and with so many musicians and creatives is a joy. We’ve been very fortunate to meet not only good friends through playing in London, but also in Bristol and Manchester, to name a few, and to see that sense of community and support echoed all over the country is very warming. It’s the support when you’re starting out from others that’s remembered throughout your time playing. You can also see this community when a venue comes under threat of closing down. We saw it with The Social earlier on in 2019 being saved through fundraising, and I hope the same can be done for DIY Space in south London. These grassroot spaces are where musicians begin to refine their music, promoters put on their first shows, and music fans meet like-minded friends, so to have them shutting down is not only affecting how people engage with live music but it’s stopping these connections from being made. Which is very sad.
You recently played Sonic City festival in Belgium, on a line-up that Shame curated. How was that experience?
Ella Harris: It was ‘erg leuk’. We were billed on a lineup with some really great musicians which we have been fortunate enough to play with this past year: Tony Njoku, Jerkcurb, Black Country, New Road, Scalping, Squid, and Shame all were fantastic. We had such an attentive and responsive audience, which was unexpected for our first show outside of the UK. We couldn’t thank those who put us on enough!
Are you focusing on live shows at the moment, or is there another single, an EP, or even an album on the horizon?
Ella Harris: A bit of both. We loved the process of recording the single, so it definitely won’t be another two years until we release some music. We’ve been writing some new songs and reworking some old ones. But as always, the live show is very important so we’ve spent a lot of time this month hidden away rehearsing for 2020.
What else can we expect from PVA in 2020?
Ella Harris: 2019 was full of ‘firsts’ for us – first festival, first show outside of UK, first single – so let's hope some more of that in 2020. We have some very exciting travel plans lined up. Other than that, who knows? Maybe we’ll start wearing matching outfits.