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Mystery Jets interview

In the town where I was born

Henry: The band started off with Blaine. I always played keyboard and guitar since I was a kid and I wanted to get Blaine into music. But he wouldn’t do the guitar and he wouldn’t do the keyboard so he gravitated towards drums and percussion. Will who is Blaine’s best friend from childhood joined. He’d never picked up a guitar before, but he felt that was the right instrument for him. So the three of us just built it up.

William: The core has been there since nursery school, but the current line-up is about two and half years. People have come and gone. We had a posh drummer from our school who couldn’t play a 6/8, so we gave him the boot, but he had a good heart.

Blaine: Why, I got a bad heart?

Blaine&William (in unison) : but he can’t play a 6/8!!

Kapil: I joined two years ago, I replied to an ad on the Internet.

B: We put ads everywhere, finding a drummer in London is the hardest thing

K: Is it?

B: it was like “have you heard of these bands?” and we mentioned loads of obscure prog rock bands and asked “have you heard of this drummer Bill Bruford or Michael Giles?” and no-one has so no-one replied, but this kid…

H: …he hadn’t heard of them either!!

B: Yeah but it didn’t matter!

K: I got fired out of a lot of bands for being too…argumental. So these are the only guys that took me on.

Lived a man who sailed to sea

And we lived beneath the waves

B: Mystery Jets is a band from Eel Pie Island

H: Eel Pie Island happened when Blaine was thirteen. I loved the idea of a being a step back from the mainland.

B: It is on the Thames, it used to be quite famous in the Sixties because a lot of bands started there, the Who, The Stones, the Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton…

W: And there was a hotel where squatters lived and where they made this manifesto called the ”Eel Pie Dharma”. But then the hotel burnt down and there’s been no-one there since and there’s no music.

B: Music comes really easily there. There’s a real sense of freedom.

And our friends are all on board

Many more of them live next door

W: A real factor for Mystery Jets is how we come from different backgrounds. Every single one of us has had such a different upbringing. I come from a boarding school background, and I didn’t see my parents a lot and that has had a big effect on me. Kapil comes from a different world…

K: …I live in Wembley, it is totally different; I come from an urban, hip-hop and R&B background..

B: And Kai listens to very romantic pop!

And he told us of his life

H: From the onset I decided we wouldn’t do cover, like Beatles songs…

B: …To this day it remains true…

H: …We’re not very good at covers

W: When we were learning it did help us. We did covers of “Wild Thing”, and various songs by the Doors. And “Money” by Pink Floyd, I actually sang that and it was one of my proudest moments at our first gig.

H: Blaine at our first public gig tried to sing “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd and he couldn’t pitch it right so he burst into tears in front of the audience. That was the last time we did a cover song!

B: It was our first ever gig. In a bar. In France. I was living there between 1993 and 1996, Henry and William lived in England. What was happening in English music, Indie, Britpop whatever, didn’t have any importance on me whatsoever. I came back here on holiday and someone played me “Don’t look Back in Anger” and I thought “yeah” but that’s not what we’re about. At that age, you are impressionable, and my dad used to send me by mail albums by bands like King Crimson, Elvis Costello. For a nine year-old it is quite weird stuff to listen to and certainly my friends didn’t understand. Half the time on the stereo it was King Crimson and half the time was my sister’s Dance Machine or you had to hear Skatman and all that rubbish. It didn’t rub on the band but it is part of our musical heritage

W: Pink Floyd we kind of lived our lives by for about five years, it was our soundtrack. We got all these old Mojo magazines and we were finding who they were and what they were about.

B: When Syd Barrett sings a song he sees through the eyes of a young man but expresses it with the simplicity of someone really young. I suppose this is where the influence of storytelling in our music comes from.

W: What you listen to as a child is really important, it becomes like one of your limbs. It dictates the way you create things and the way you see the world. I am thankful of what I listened to when I was younger because it is so valuable. Everything I listen to now is really interesting and very fascinating but it’s not my soul.

In the land of submarines

B: I used to live in France for three years, from eight until eleven. I still go there every summer. We are like a bilingual band because Kai went to French school.

H: We spent six days at Xmas in a farmhouse working on our new material. We enjoy working there

B: France is quite important influence on the band. Going out to France we’ve recorded some songs that are like milestones for the band and there’s a certain energy I think anyone gets from going abroad or from escaping routine. We can go there and not speak any English for a month, and totally immerge ourselves in music. In one room you’ve got one song, in another room you’ve got another song and you wander between the two and it is like something really unique.

So we sailed up to the sun

Till we found the sea of green

B: It all started when Kele from Bloc Party came to see us. We were already big fans of his band. He came to see us in June 2004 and he liked what we did and he offered us a couple of slots on their October tour which at the time didn’t seem like it was going to be so high profile. By the time it came round we were given half the tour, eleven dates. New Rhodes also played on the night. The tour has won us a lot of friends, including our hardcore fan base, which we call the “Brummie crew”.

Then off the back of the Bloc Party tour we went on tour with British Sea Power. Personally it was a great honour because I’d been a fan of them for so long. You’re standing in the crowd singing along to songs that mean something in your life and you’re supporting it, it was a very proud moment.

Then off the back of that we played some slots in December with the Secret Machines and also with David Kitt.

But the most high profile gig we did was when we played the Transgressive Records party at the Buffalo Bar. Transgressive had released Bloc Party’s first 7-inch. Toby from Rockfeedback who’s got his own club night with Gordon Raphael, nodded at us. For me it was a sign.

After that, Steve Lamacq was the first person to give Mystery Jets any airplay. A chap from the NME went in with one of our demos and Steve Lamacq played it on the off-chance, but he fostered some interest, including in the States. We are so grateful! John Kennedy on XFM is also playing us a lot.

And the band begins to play

W: A performance has to be engaging on a lot of different levels. What people see and hear has to trigger their imagination.

B: Are you familiar with a band called The Mars Volta? They are a very good example of a band who treat recording process and playing live as two very separate entities. Live you can see, hear, touch them, you can feel their sweat, they really embrace that, their shows are almost like drug trips. You watch them and it changes before your eyes. Records do it but in a very different way. That is something we can really aspire to, having something, which live takes it to another level

W: The energy of the gig is second to none. It isn’t just a band and an audience, it’s people together. It’s like a weird form of communication, it’s kind of telepathic. And the good gigs are where you are sharing this thing. You feel special, but everyone feels special.

B: In the past there’s been a dissatisfaction with our recorded music.

W: Bloc Party’s producer Paul Epworth has a record label called 679 which was interested in signing us so he put together a three-day session.

B: The session included “Agnes”, “On my Feet” and “Zootime”, it was one of the first recording we’ve made where people recognised that we could still prove ourselves

W: they are the most accurate representation of what we are like live

And the band begins to play (2)

B: We have a song that is called “Rastamadeus”, which documents the first meeting in heaven between Mozart and Bob Marley. We used to play it as a kind of reggae song. It is the first song we ever wrote and we still play it at encores. We play slightly tongue in cheek, but nevertheless there are still elements of our roots which still exist. We had a song called “Moonlight Satellite” which up to a year ago still opened every set we had. It was a twelve-minute prog extravaganza.

H: It was too derivative. It was an early song that was written with the knowledge of Pink Floyd, it had too many things borrowed. I think it was Sam [manager] who said “I want that out of the set, JUST TAKE IT O-U-T!!” I believe our new music is not distinctively borrowed from anywhere, it is it’s own animal.

And the band begins to play (3)

H: We all work on our little own project. We might have a different starting point. Someone like Kapil might start with a rhythm, and I might start with lyrics or a chord sequence and Will might have this really elaborate piece of guitar. Very rarely does one person take the song all the way through. Even if you’ve got a song that you can demo, by the time the band gets hold of it, they tear it to shreds and rebuild it as something considerably different.

W: Some songs are like some kind of theme, which somebody comes up with. From there we pass it around. “Zootime” for example was a massive theme and everyone added bits to it, Blaine added a verse and Henry coined the name

B: It is like kicking a ball around. Not so much structures have been born from jamming but there are parts of songs we never thought we’d used which just appeared, elements of “Annos Italy”, “On my Feet” and “Zootime”.

H: “You can’t fool me Dennis” was written as a poem to a great friend of mine that died. It was written as though it was spoken to him and Will had written this amazing piece of music…

W:…on which we had been jamming for a long time…

B: …we never jammed Dennis!

W: We jammed it, we have!

B: But it was never Dennis!

W: Always it was always Dennis! I remember doing the first demo of it and I called it Dennis. Then Henry wrote the lyrics. It was like a plot, a conspiracy. But at the same time he extracted this quite whimsical and English sounding poem. It just clicked.

As we live a life of ease

W: Some of our tours were nightmares. We did a tour with this new metal band and they brought these road managers with them and one of them was an apocalyptic character out of Madmax.

B: There were just too many drugs and too few people at the gigs. But it was one of those tours you had to do in the process of an unsigned band.

Something now that has been going on in my head is transcending this aesthetic we’ve got of having an old man in the band and using pot and pan percussion. Because for the people who know us well, not just as scenesters but actually know our songs, there’s a layer there that they’ve sunk their fingers into. And a lot of people don’t see past the fact that we look like prog weirdos and it is going to be a great challenge to show that we are so much more, we aspire to be so much more than just this band that looks weird and play this unfashionable music

Sky of blue and sea of green

H: You can’t manufacture success. A song like “Alas Agnes” gets played on the radio you don’t know whether people are going to like it, but they can become obsessed by it and you’ve got to respond to what happens after that. In a way it is terrifying

B: You have to deal with the consequences of writing a good song.

H: We need to find a label to work with that lets us work at our own pace so that we can develop our music in the way we want to and not be forced into making the label successful

W: Personally I am really scared of it. If it takes more time and you’re made to work a lot harder for it, your core as a band gets a lot stronger. I don’t want us to be all about one song. I want us to be about everything we do, the artwork we do on the album and everything in a collective sense

One more time (the remix)

B: We’ve got two days and two nights to remix the B-side of the Futureheads’ “Hounds of Love”. It is a tremendous privilege. We are all fans of the original the Kate Bush song, and also the Futureheads have done a really interesting version. For us it is an opportunity to see where we can take someone’s song. Their a cappella is very important in that recording and restructuring and arranging it will be a real challenge. Hopefully we will make it to the final cut.

W: Remixing is about revealing something about the song that no one has heard before. We are going to try and bring out these bits people missed. That is I suppose the beauty of remixing.