2005 was a great year for British music. We saw the emergence of the Arctic Monkeys, The Horrors, The Maccabees and who can forget the quirky and delightfully bright 5-piece with their upbeat singles The Boy Who Ran Away and You Can’t Fool Me Dennis? Mystery Jets set the indie world abuzz when they broke through the scene, and with their latest and fifth album, Radlands, you can bet that they will be staying put at prominence.
Just like any other successful band in the world, Mystery Jets have had their share of rise and fall throughout the 7 years. They’ve played to an audience of thousands in festivals like Reading and Leeds and RockNess and received many positive media attention but they’ve also lost a member of the group just recently; bassist Kai Fish left shortly before the release of Radlands.
Their five albums have proved that these boys can do diversity and are not just good in a particular niche. From a progressive first album to a pop-driven sophomore album, the boys seem to have outdone themselves again coming up with Radlands, which is said to be the band’s version of a “country album”. It’s a more mature record definitely, and the boys seemed determined to make it their best yet, moving across countries to Austin, Texas to get a little inspiration and a change in scenery.
We were treated to an interview with frontman Blaine Harrison and together we talked Radlands, having a dad onboard a band, timeless records, zoos and more.
Hey guys, great to have all of you in Singapore! How does it feel to be in 2012 (doing a gig here and having released 4 records)?
Blaine Harrison (BH): We are delighted to be visiting Singapore again on tour, our last show here rocked. We are playing in these places like Taipei and Hong Kong that i never thought our music could take us, its like being in a strange dream.
Share with us a little about the process and inspirations leading up to Radlands.
BH: We all needed fresh influences after Serotonin, perhaps partly because that record was so easy and fluid to make. We also probably secretly wanted to make things difficult again, because I felt we’ve always risen to challenges well. Ive listened to pretty much nothing but 70s americana for the past 18 months, so going out to make the record in the states felt instinctively right. We set up a studio in a big wooden house by the Colorado river in Austin TX and called it ‘Radlands’.
The band has said that Radlands is your own version of a country album. Say you recorded this album in England, would the fundamentals and the general outcome of the album still be the same as recording it in Texas? Did you already have a direction in mind?
BH: Im not sure we were all agreed on the direction the record needed to take before we went out to record it, but i think we were all agreed that we wanted to make something raw, loose and completely unlike our previous 2 albums. We also didnt put a precedent on the Lp revolving around singles. If there was to be pop songs on it, they would be the side plates, not the main meal. We wanted to make something very honest and perhaps a little bit close to the bone in places too.
It is probably too early to ask this, but would the band’s alter ego, Emerson Lonestar, continue his adventure on future records or is it just for Radlands? What made the band come up with the idea of an alter ego anyway?
BH: Radlands is very much the world in which Emmerson Lonestar is destined to live. We have written a 3 part graphic novel about him which was our way of bringing him and the music alive. Part one came out earlier this year, and the next two will be out this side of christmas. Its our first foray into the world of publishing too you see.
Mystery Jets have gone a long way since Making Dens. Did working with different producers for each album kind of leave a different impact on each album?
BH: Yeah definitely. Sometimes I kind of think it would have been interesting to stay with the one producer for our whole career, but thats just not the way things panned out, so you know, it was obviously fated to be this way. We have learned so much from these guys – James ford, Erol, Epworth, Chris Thomas etc that we really ought to be capable to produce the records ourselves, but its very strange what happens when you no longer have someone sitting on the other side of the plate of glass. I think if me or Will were to produce a Jets record again, we’d need to temporarily relinquish our playing responsabilities to make it work.
It’s very rare to see a parent and a child in the same band (even though I understand he doesn’t do tours anymore – pity!). It must be cool but has there been any situations where it got weird?
BH: The weird part was the press it got us in the early days, i mean i guess it was to be expected when you look back at it, but we genuinely didnt see what was at all strange about having this older, wizardey-looking guy playing guitar with us at the time. Unfortunately this image grew to be more famous than the songs, which pissed me off. I think it pissed Henry off too…
Which is your favourite Mystery Jets song and why?
BH: Im going to pick ‘the nothing’, from Radlands. I think it was quite a breakthough for me and Henry to be able to breach quite far out subject matter, lyrically, within the confines of a pop song. To me, it is a song about the hindu idea of samsara and reincarnation, which interests me hugely- but equally im sure the song will mean different things to anyone who listens to it. I also have such good memories of the week we recorded it. It was snowy december and we did it live, and i think the take we used was about the 10th take. Playing it over and over just put us all in this trance like state. And i am very happy with the way the vocal sounds too, i hadn’t sung in that way before. Dan Carey (Radlands producer) had a christmas party and he put it on real loud for all his guests, who were all drinking mdma punch, and the response was quite overwhelming. I think i was sick quite soon after.
If you could ask any band to support you now, which band would you pick?
BH: I love Peace, a young band from Birmingham who opened for us on our spring club tour here in the UK. We put them on before anyone really knew who they were and it was so inspiring to see a band who really live and breathe what they are about. Their singer Harry is almost like a young Brian Wilson, the way he obssesively demos all the parts himself and will probably go a little mental doing so one day, as a concequence. He’s quite a guy and i like the shit out of him.
Ian Curtis was only in his early 20s when he wrote his songs and up till today, the works of Joy Division are still widely listened to (amongst many other great bands). What do you think makes a great, timeless record?
BH: Its so hard to put your finger on. A lot of people would say a timeless record could have come out at anytime and still resonated with its; audience, but I mean a record like ‘Piper at the gates of dawn’ or ‘up the bracket’ or whatever, those records sound so specifically like the time they were released in, that you cant help but put them in a historical context. Thats not to say the spirit of those records wouldnt have an effect on generations to come, of course they will. I don’t know. I think timeless records often are common in allowing the listener to be a part of them, like there is a piece of the puzzle missing, and it needs you to slot in there in order to form a picture.
Blaine mentioned in an interview that he loved the Singapore Zoo! Would the band be making an appearance there this time?
BH: Yes! last time i just went with Henry, but this time I will be taking the whole entourage. I visit the zoo in each country we play in, and Singapore Night Safari is one of the finest the world has to offer! You can feel very far away from what you know, on these long tours which criss cross the world. I find spending time with the animals very grounding. Of course, i would like for them to not have to be kept behind fences, but the truth in this day and age is that the fences aren’t there to keep them in, but mainly to keep us out.
Image credits: AP