Music Interviews

Mystery Jets: “It feels like picking up where we left off” – Interview



Mystery Jets

Mystery Jets

With the time being the wrong side of 11am, it’s a bit early for an interview. Yet Mystery Jets front man Blaine Harrison is doing a good job at sounding remarkably compos mentis, which is just as well – as his task for the next 20 minutes is to spout forth on the album many regard as the band’s best, Serotonin.

It has been described in some reviews as the band’s ‘coming of age album’, but surely that was the previous one, given its title of Twenty One? “Yeah, I think I’d probably agree,” he murmurs. “I think maybe Twenty One is more of a coming of age album, and this is the album after that, whatever that step is – I guess you’re ‘of age’, then. Twenty One was definitely a turning point for us, and this album couldn’t have been made without it musically or grammatically, if you know what I mean. To me they’re related, they feel like sister records.”

The lead single from Serotonin, Dreaming Of Another World, has been craftily laying itself over many of the UK’s radio stations during the summer, being what is commonly known as a ‘grower’. Harrison smiles. “That’s good, we like ‘earworms’!”. A clear instance of its popularity was shown in the band’s joyous Friday night set at this year’s Lovebox festival. “I really enjoyed Lovebox a lot,” he says warmly, “and it reminded me of a show we had at Glastonbury a few years ago. It felt like a real celebration, although some of the guys in the band felt quite strongly that we needed to play the new record more. Since then we’ve been working on a set that we’ll take on tour at the end of the year, which is a lot more ‘new song heavy’.”

He explains the slight discrepancy. “We didn’t think we’d be doing all that much of the new stuff this summer, because the record had just come out and it takes people a while to get to know it, and to form a bond with it, but it was weird how at recent gigs the new songs were going down better than the old ones. It happened when we were on tour with the Arctic Monkeys last year in Europe, and that was quite surprising because it was a new crowd for us. To hear the new songs going down better on face value has made us re-evaluate our songs. It’s what our fans want, and what we want as well.”

“If you have set out to write pop music and it doesn’t stick in people’s heads, then you’ve failed”  – Mystery Jets’ singer Blaine Harrison sets out his straightforward blueprint for pop music

Is that a reflection of the new material’s immediacy, showing they write songs that people take to very quickly? “Yeah, I guess so,” he agrees, adding, “I guess that’s what pop music’s meant to do, isn’t it, it’s meant to stick in your head straight away, and if you have set out to write pop music and it doesn’t stick in people’s heads then you’ve failed. That’s not to say the whole album is a pop album, as it encompasses everything we’re about. Those slow burners on there, like Lorna Doone, they show the complete opposite end of the spectrum to songs like Dreaming and Two Doors Down.”

“With the songs it’s quite hard for me to say because I feel almost too close to the record, but the songs that were intended to feel immediate seem to feel like that as far as I can judge.” Such as Flash A Hungry Smile? “That song was built around a sample from an Electric Light Orchestra song, and they were a band we got unhealthily into when we were writing the record. There were a couple of songs that came out from kind of sampling other people, and that was a root for Flash,” he says, giving the song its pet name, “with that really big drum sound. That was something we wanted to have on this record. Our producer Chris Thomas is someone who over the years has worked with big sounding bands, so he was definitely the man to do it.”

One thing setting his band a slight distance apart from the pack is the range of lyrical inspiration he seems to have at his disposal – telling relatively unconventional stories or using different catchphrases. “I like to let lyrics speak for themselves,” he says. “In terms of what stories they tell different people will interpret them in different ways, but in terms of how they are written I think some are written with things that have happened. Writing lyrics is a bit like writing scripts for films, elements of them come from your own experience, or elements come from things you have compounded from other people, and they’re experiences. They all mesh together and create characters and new worlds. I find it’s a mixture of the imaginary and things that have actually happened to us.”

Prior to recording Serotonin, the Jets moved from 679 to Rough Trade, a transfer borne more out of necessity than an executive decision. Nonetheless, Harrison feels it has benefitted their music. “It definitely has. Our last label disintegrated before our eyes, and it was a bit of sad story really, but we worked with some great people there and we’ve got the same here. As long as it’s an environment that encourages you to do what you want to do you’re fine. When you’re working with a major there is more of a machine behind you, but that’s not always a good thing. As a band we’ve always had our ideas about what we want to do, what we want to look like and what we want to sound like, and I think on an independent label you’ve got a lot more freedom to realise those things, a lot more control over your world I guess. It’s been an incredibly positive thing for us.”

The transfer was relatively painless, it seems. “We’re lucky Rough Trade were waiting for us, lucky not to be left in the cold. We were unsigned for all of three weeks, so it wasn’t the disaster it could have been. It’s a great thing to have happened to us, it brought us closer, and on this album we have made the most concise Mystery Jets album, without a doubt, and I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been to what we want. It’s worked in a very positive way for everybody.”

“I don’t know what it is, but we just really believe in this record, and it feels very honest to where we’re at in our lives” – Blaine Harrison reveals the extent of his pride in the Mystery Jets’ third album Serotonin

The conviction seems to have transferred to the music. “I don’t know what it is, but we just really believe in this record, and it feels very honest to where we’re at in our lives, and what we’ve always wanted to do and sound like. It’s taken us three albums to get here, and we’ve been in the band since we were kids. It’s like something that’s organically grown over the years, and has now reached the point where we all feel like we’re believing.”

Enough to have put Eel Pie Island, their home area, back on the map? “I guess so, yeah. In the ’60s Brit invasion heyday it was a real launch pad for the ’60s R&B bands, but maybe we’ve returned it to its rightful place on the rock ‘n’ roll map.”

Recently Harrison has found the down side of being in a prominent band, with an NME article in July opening the lid on several of the bands’ sexual relationships. He seems to have got over that side of celebrity culture with impressive speed. “I think it’s one of those things. If people want a scoop they’ll find a scoop on you, and you’ve just got to laugh about it I guess. I don’t want our fans to think that we’re sex pests, because we’re not, but it’s one of those things, you read into it what you will. I think if we could have avoided having our love lives spread across the newspapers I probably would have avoided that, but whatever, I think it’s kind of funny.”

For the Mystery Jets, the rest of 2010 will mostly be made up of touring. “We’re off to America where the tour starts,” confirms Blaine, “which is really exciting, that’s somewhere where we want to spend a lot more time and it’s going to be great. Then we’re back to Europe to do a proper blanket tour which will be amazing, because it’s something we’ve not really done that much over the years. Then we’re back to the UK in October for our biggest tour so far. It feels like we’re picking up where we left off!”

Does he think, then, that the band is providing a good soundtrack for positivity in the face of the country’s problems? “I think so. If you can’t afford to go on holiday go and see some gigs, you’ll have twice as much fun, and you might even get sunburnt!”

Mystery Jets’ third album Serotonin is out now through Rough Trade, featuring the recent single Dreaming Of Another World. Their UK tour begins in Manchester on 22nd October. Full dates at mysteryjets.com.


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