Liverpool prepares to scoff another slice of Eel Pie islanders but with added stars and stripes
From whimsical progressive rock to shiny folk inclinations, MYSTERY JETS have done a lot of growing up since their charming debut Making Dens in 2006. Suffice to say it’s been an arduous and gradual process for the Eel Pie Island trailblazers who seem to have reaped the benefits from their star spangled road trip across the states, adopting an authentic American tinge for their fifth studio album Radlands. Conceived and recorded in Austin, Texas, Mystery Jets seem to have returned with their British kookiness intact, unscathed by the great American album dream that UK bands adhere to all too often. Having recently embarked on their Radlands UK album tour Joshua Nevett caught up with frontman Blaine Harrison before they drop anchor at the Kazimier on Wednesday 14th November.
Bido Lito!: Hi Blaine, how’s it going? I’m guessing the past year has been fairly frantic for yourself and Mystery Jets, with the release of your latest album, and an extensive globetrotting schedule of live shows during the summer, you’ve been all over the world, how would you reflect on your 2012 thus far?
Blaine Harrison: I feel really good about it, we’ve toured a good chunk of the world really, which is what we always look forward to, visiting the countries that we’ve never been to before. We’ve been to South America and all over Europe; it’s been brilliant you know it’s been a really busy year for us. We’ve just started our UK tour which is going to take us up to December, and then we’re heading back to Europe which leads us right through to London so it’s been a great year.
BL!: You’ve just recently embarked on your UK Radlands album tour, how does it feel it be playing shows back in the UK, re-establishing your new(ish) material with the old faithful?
BH: It’s good, we play our biggest shows in the UK so it always kicks off, which is brilliant. I think our fan base has always shifted with each record; we’ve had different crowds coming to shows with each record. With this record (Radlands) it feels like a more mature crowd. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I think that means that people aren’t just turning up because they’ve heard us on the radio, I think they’re turning up because the songs on the album got under their skin a bit. I think Radlands is very much that kind of record, I don’t think it’s as instantly catchy or accessible as a record. I think it’s an album that needs time to work its way into your consciousness. It’s kind of cool that we’re touring now at the end of year because it’s been out for eight or nine months, people have a familiarity with the songs now, it means that we can play most of the record which is brilliant.
BL!: How do UK audiences compare to those that you’ve experienced in the US and all over the world?
BH: What I like about the UK is that people respond in a very direct way, we don’t get a lot of beard strokers at our gigs. I was kind of worried that we would with Radlands, but people have been really going for it at the shows. It’s good because I’ve always felt that going out and seeing a band should be a celebration, I don’t go to gigs and stand in the corner, I go to gigs to go and get involved with the music, you can listen to a record at home if you want to do that. So I’m very pleased that people have been responding like that. When we go over the states, I still think people are making their minds up about us and they have been for the last seven or eight years. That’s fine you know, the worlds a big place and there’s plenty of other places to play isn’t there.
BL!: You’ve tended to adopt a recognisable template of airy, synth-pop and glossy heart swells for your previous records, what prompted you to undertake a steelier, country infused mantle for your latest record?
BH: We didn’t really have any preconceived ideas of what we wanted this album to sound like, but we did know that we wanted to record it in America. It wasn’t initially going to be recorded in Texas, we were torn between the east coast and the west coast, Louisiana and LA. So then we decided on Austin, which is kind of in the middle. I think in a very natural way the influence of country music just crept onto the record. We stared listening to a lot of American bands and artists; Neil Young, Tony Michel, Creedence there’s more swampy sounding 70s records. We didn’t say: ‘oh we’re not going to use synths on this album’ but we felt like we wanted the record to sound very honest and very dry. We didn’t want to explore the possibilities of technology and play in a fancy recording studio, I felt we’d done that on the last couple of records before. We just really wanted the songs to sound good in the room, so it literally just got the point where we could just switch on the mic and just put down takes live, which is how most of the record was done. It was a lot more organic, we did it all in our house, we set up a studio in our house in Austria and just recorded it through really nice old valve gear and quality mics and that’s what the album is to me. It’s not that we wanted to make a retro album necessarily nut we wanted to make something that just sounded like a band in a room.
BL!: What was the impetus behind your big American excursion across the pond and what do you think attracts other British bands to make the leap stateside?
BH: Making an American record is just something that most bands want to do. When you tour there you just get a feel for how huge the place is. Witnessing the vastness of somewhere like Texas is really inspiring, somehow it just affects your state of mind. We felt like we wanted our music to sound like the sights we saw around us. In Texas it’s basically just a desert and we just wanted to make a desert sounding record. We’d always just wanted to make a record in America and this was our chance.
BL!: What lured you to Austin, Texas to record your latest album, a place that’s been affectionately dubbed as ‘the live music capital of the world’?
BH: Austin obviously has SXSW, which is a big deal in the music industry world. We played there when we were starting out and it was just somewhere that really stuck to us. There’s something happening in Austin you know and it’s somewhere that’s very much having its time right now. People talk about San Fansisco in the 60s or New York in the 70s and I think Austin is also now at its creative peak. There’s such an amazing band scene there, you don’t feel like it’s somewhere full of has been, you feel like it’s somewhere alive with the sound of now and maybe the sound of the future too.
BL!: America citizens are notorious for their devout religious faith, dogmatic in preaching their beliefs; did religion have a conscious influence on you when writing your last album and has it altered your perception at all?
BH: We kind of became a little bit obsessed with it. None of us have religious background of going to church or anything like that but it was fascinating how religion was a part of life over there particularly in the Bible Belt. The church is still an institution and it still has huge power over people. I don’t ever feel like we ever wanted to necessarily write about religion from a critical perspective, we just wanted to observe it and somehow engage with what it is that all these people attending church seem to engage with. I think there’s something about it that’s quite twisted but also quite logical so we just wanted to try and bring that out in our songs. With songs like Sister Everett we wanted to deal with those issues. On the plane over the Texas we met a Mormon nun and she tried to basically convert and impose her religion onto William (Rees). She gave him a bible and tried to ram religion down his throat a little bit, then she gave us this business card which detailed her name, Sister Everett, so we all agreed, right, there’s definitely a song in that.
BL!: Whilst we’re on the topic of sociological issues in American, who were you rooting for in the recent presidential election, Obama or Romney?
BH: Obama, all the way. I think maybe he hasn’t had a chance to achieve what he set out to achieve, he deserves another term you know, to make everyone’s dreams come true.
BL!: During your last hiatus, there was uncertainty and unrest within the band which eventually lead to another change in personnel. How has the band adapted to this discontinuity with the induction of (new members) within the last year?
BH: It came as a shock when Kai wanted to leave but we all knew it was coming. He’s got family and he’s got married and I think he’s in a new chapter of his life. It was getting increasingly hard for him to be away from all that you know and on the road. It was difficult but we embraced it, we saw it as a challenge to create a new version of the band. It wasn’t in anyway an attempt to replace him, we just thought we need to go sideways and we did by adding two new people.
BL!: You performed at Liverpool Sound City earlier this year in May, how do you think you were received and what are your opinions on the festival and the city as a hub for music?
BH: I really like it, I really like Liverpool. In the years we’ve been touring I think Liverpool’s changed a huge amount. With the Biennial and stuff like that, it feels like a really cultured city now. When people talk about it from the Merseybeat days you realise it always was, but it needed to win its title back of being an important place for the arts and I think that’s happened. Sound City Festival was wicked, I liked the whole warehouse district and we’re playing the Kazimier in a few weeks so I’m really looking forward to it.
BL!: When can we expect new material from Mystery Jets and have you already got anything in the pipeline for the next year?
BH: We’ve had thoughts about a new record and yes, it will come out but to be honest it all depends on whether the world ends in 2012. So if we all end up in the afterlife then we might have to change our plans. We could write an apocalyptic dance record, that’s what could be next, you never know.