Mystery Jets: A Palatinate Exclusive
The Mystery Jets talk to Dan Bloom and Ben Halfpenny about their new material, American indie and g-strings.
Did you intentionally change the focus of the lyrics on the new album?
Blaine Harrison (lead vocals): On the first record a lot of the lyrics were written by Henry, my dad, and I think after the first record we started writing a lot more ourselves. Me and Henry still write a lot of the lyrics together but it’s coming a lot more from us. In that sense I think the songs sound younger which is weird ‘cos you’d think the second album wouldn’t be like that, but we’ve taken the reins a bit more. The way we used to make music we were obsessed with things like layering. The first album was meant to be a sound collage, a scrapbook of lots of different things, all happening at any one time. With ‘Twenty One’ we’ve set out to make it sound a lot simpler, but also a lot clearer and a lot more focused.
Is ‘Umbrellahead’ a contrast to this?
Blaine: That was put on at a very late date… it was recorded a while before the start of the record but lyrically it definitely relates to everything else on there – although sonically it’s very different.
William Rees (guitar): Sonically it’s definitely the most psychedelic, folky thing on there.
Do you still use dustbin lids as percussion?
Blaine: When we started off we wanted to make the live shows really exciting, something different to the record, but write-ups and reviews seemed so concerned with the appearance of the band – “Oh, they use dustbin lids, and they’ve got an old guy in the band…” – we felt that kind of overshadowed the music. I think in a sense we wanted to give people less gimmicks to write about and say “look, we don’t think about that kind of stuff, we just write songs and think about exciting ways to perform them.” We never wanted to be a quirky band. With this album we wanted it to be an instant record, a pop record. And the next album probably won’t be a pop record. We just wanted to make a really poppy album.
Don’t you ever worry that taking the gimmicks away will mean fewer people listening to the music?
Blaine: Obviously we want fans – but people who like us ‘cos we look a bit different aren’t necessarily going to be people who stick with you. The people we want to be buying our records are people who will accept everything we do…. So I don’t really care, if people are missing the dustbin lids…
Will: Then they’re listening for the wrong reasons.
Kai Fish (bass): That’s never been the point.
Will: Yeah they can fuck themselves. They can go to a garage and…
Kai: And find their own dustbin lids. Have fun with that! Jesus…
Do you think British music is getting stale?
Blaine: For the next record there’s been talk of us moving to America…
Will: Yeah America is a lot more exciting…It’s where the best bands are, like Gang Gang Dance and Dirty Projectors…They’re all from like Brooklyn or NY and they’re making really interesting music. English guitar music is basically leather jackets and bowl cuts – it’s just really fucking boring. Good stuff in England for me is dance music basically, different crossovers between dance genres and urban. I don’t know a lot about it but it’s a lot more interesting than people wanting to be just like the Libertines. There’s loads of girls doing the pop thing and getting loads of number one records and I find that incredibly dull as well.
Will your third album be a dance record then?
Blaine: We’ve got no idea! At the end of the day there are five people in the band who are all going to be putting in their penny’s worth.
It’s nearly exam season in Durham – what advice would you give to all the students?
Blaine: I have some: I had a urine infection during my GCSEs and really bad stomach pains and half way through I just kind of half-fainted and slid off my chair. I got taken to the medical room and got to sit the rest of the exam in a room on my own with a teacher who basically told me the answers. He was really cool. So pass out in the middle of an exam, retake it…!
Will: My advice is to not listen to his advice.
How do you start writing the songs?
Will: They all come from different places and all take different journeys.
Blaine: For ‘First to Know’, Kapil [Trivedi, drums] put in a beat that he’s had for ages and it’s like (he beatboxes) and the song came along and it just fitted.
Will: Sometimes we just really like a band and try and rip them off …
Blaine: That actually happens a lot!
Will: …and usually it just turns into something totally different.
Do you get an excited feeling when you first write a song you know will be good that’s exploded from nowhere?
Will: The first time we played ‘Hand Me Down’ we just played it again and again and again in rehearsal, like twenty times a day.
Kai: With this album a lot of the songs were written on a laptop – made before we played it, whereas the songs on the first album were written playing together and that’s part of the reason why these songs are a lot tighter. Working in that way you have a lot more control over the arrangement – you know what’s going on. Writing a song and churning stuff out can often miss a lot of the detail; in an ideal world you would only want to write songs like that but in reality it’s really tough doing it that way and it requires such discipline.
Why was the album art just you all in a swimming pool?
Blaine: We wanted to put ourselves in an environment which we’d never been in before…
Will: Obviously we have all been in swimming pools!
Blaine: Kapil had never been in a pool before: he had to have arm bands on!
I thought they were just for style?!
Kai: It’s the look of the summer.
Will: We wanted something pretty fresh and we’re fairly revealed… I mean Kai is wearing a g-string.
Kai (in defence) – I mean like they’re Kapil’s little eighties swim shorts!
Will: the reason why Blaine is in the water is that he is actually wearing a thong… It was a very sexual shoot
Kai: It was ten degrees when we did that shoot, and we had one towel…
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
Blaine: ‘Hand Me Down’ is definitely one we enjoy playing.
Will: I don’t really have any favourites – I love when you forget it’s you playing a song and you can be objective. You forget about the fact that you were part of its creative process and you hear it and think, this is great!
Kai: It’s almost impossible to be objective ‘cos you always have weird thoughts that no one else is going to have.
How come Laura Marling sang on ‘Young Love’? A friend?
Blaine: Yeah, she is a good friend of ours. We had to pay her record label loads of money basically (laughs). We’re all fans of her stuff.
Kai: And she’s really hot. Really hot.
Blaine: We will be at a lot of festivals together so I’m sure she’ll get up on stage with us…
Will you be at Glastonbury like her this year?
Blaine: Yeah, we will be playing the Park Stage. It’s outdoors and we love playing outside.
We both first saw you on an NME Awards tour in 2006, when you played with Arctic Monkeys. What was that like?
Will: I remember running down the street with Alex [Turner] in Belfast and we had to leg it ‘cos there was this hoard of fans! Just seeing that kind of success in front of your eyes…
So when are you going to have girls running after you down the street then?
Kai: With Will around? Keep mothers and daughters locked up in their houses tonight!
Will: Mothers and daughters?! More like mothers and grandmothers…