Bill Cummings 28/10/2008
The Mystery Jets: Keeping up with the Jones's
'We thought when we were going in the studio that we were going to make a dance record but it didn't turn out that way,' reveals the self styled 'indie Hindu' and Mystery Jets drummer, Kapil.
Its symptomatic of how the Mystery Jets work, recently they've been lazily pigeonholed alongside the latest wave of more commercial indie pop acts. But the band's history, and musical ambition marks them out as an infinitely more idiosyncratic outfit than many of their contemporaries. Emerging blinking into the light amidst the post-Libertines haze of quintessentially English acts, (that also spawned the likes of Larrikin Love, The Holloways, and Patrick Wolf) they stood out. Hailing from eel pie island in 2006, with limitless amount of musical buddies in tow, they proceeded to capture hearts on the road, with skewed prog-pop songs that took their cues from Pink Floyd, The Kinks, early Blur and King Crimson; songs that spoke of escape that existed as much to get your limbs moving and crowds marching around concert halls screaming the sci-fi prog of live favourite ZOO TIME!! ZOO TIME!! ZOO TIME!!
Their talented lead singer Blaine suffers from Spina Bifida, a disabling spinal defect that often causes problems with one's movement (a fact the band barely mention) but this hasn't stopped him from fronting one of the most interesting of the new wave of indie punk/pop bands bobbing into the charts of late. Even Blaine's dad, Henry, a man in his fifties, was also in the live band in those early days. (He's since been retired from the live shows but still plays a part in Jets' recordings).
I caught up with Kapil whilst he was trying to put together his drum kit with newly acquired bits in the aftermath of a messy Carling weekender. For the Jets Reading and Leeds were good, although at Leeds we got thrown off stage as we were a little bit late getting on. We kind of messed the stage up as well, throwing everything. We were trashing anything! Keith from the Scientists came on before Diamonds in the Dark at Reading, he was quite surprised when it kicked off he was like: "what's going on!!"He took time out from a hectic schedule to sample some of what the other stages had to offer. 'Watching Santogold was good. Seasick Steve and Foals were amazing, they're my favourite live band at the moment. Every single festival we've done this year the Foals have been there, they always play the same day. Even at Reading and Leeds we could have played different days but we didn't. We can't get away from each other.'
According to the Mystery Jets (famously unreliable) Wikipedia page, Kapil joined the band via an Internet forum, after they'd been through a series of less than reliable drummers. But is this really the truth? 'They sent out two emails one to a drum teacher and one to another one, and one of them was my teacher. I was taking lessons, and they wrote on a napkin they sent me this mixtape with all the drummers they like Bill Griffin, Marca Childs, and all these amazing drummers and King Crimson and all these different bands. They'd put a lot of effort into it, so I called 'em up and auditioned and then joined.'
Back on Eel pie island, the band started recording their debut album'Making Dens' a work strewn with proggy punk tunes, amongst the gems in the rough('You Can't Fool me Dennis' and 'Alas Agnes') that showed off their sense of creativity and need for escape. There were less focussed moments that showed that the Jets, were still learning their trade and finding their sound. Learning how to document their songs in the studio. 'We were a lot younger when we did the first album' admits Kapil, 'those songs were built up over time, we'd accumulated a lot of songs, and we'd recorded them on the island, it felt like a sketchbook and we kind of built it up and that ('Making Dens') was the end of the sketchbook. The second album, we started from scratch.'
With a shifting music industry bands are trying to be more in tune with their fans. The Mystery Jets have always had a special relationship with their listeners; I remember members of the band talking to their audience after gigs on their first few tours, and they were one of the first wave of acts to offer their fans free tracks and exclusive handmade records and Myspace downloads. 'We really like to make an effort with the artwork', Kapil tells me 'you have to be more creative about the way you put things out there. The whole industry has been turned on its head and people have to use their imagination. Ben Esser sold t-shirts, and when you bought the t-shirt you had to get the code and if you go on the Internet you had the single.'
The first shot from the new Mystery Jets album '21' came in the Spring of this year with the collaboration between the Jets and Mercury nominee Laura Marling. A wistful, hypnotic, loved up tune augmented by Marling's wonderful interjection in the last verse .It showcased a new side of the Jets. Recent single 'Half in Love with Elizabeth' may sound like a collision between the stomping new wave rhythms of Dexys Midnight Runners and the plaintive bleeps of The Human League but it's actually an old live favourite, 'Half in Love with Elizabeth was going to be on the first album, but we thought, you know, what the first album has done let's move onto the second. It was recorded with Stephen Street and the first album was with Jennifer Wood so that song was like the bridge between the first album and the second album...
'Ultra trendy Producer of choice Erol Alkan (Klaxons, The Long Blondes) was swiftly brought on board for '21' signalling a poppier, more modern edge to their sound, incorporating synthesizers and a radio friendly sheen that their first record didn't possess. A streamline record, it dispenses with much of the progressive sojourns that characterised their debut. More focussed? Whether this makes it a less interesting record, is open to debate. It may have left some older fans disappointed. But it's certainly more immediate, with an attempt to capture more of the melody, rhythm and fun that characterises a Mystery Jets live show. Kapil reckons Alkan brought a lot to the process. 'It was good because I don't think he's ever been in the studio with a proper band before, and it was good because he has a massive amount of energy and excitement, and it was good because it rubbed off on us. He's kind of like a jukebox - he knows every single song, ever. He knows how to steer you in the right direction. At the beginning we were like: "Its going to be written, recorded and mixed in four weeks".'
Some producers like to act as a facilitator, stepping back and allowing the band freedom and simply filtering their sound, but Alkan likes to become totally immersed in his projects, knee deep in the creative process. Kapil tells me how he takes his work home with him, quite literally: 'Yeah he is quite hands on, we were round his house a lot, we recorded some of the vocal parts live in the bedrooms. When we recorded 'Two doors', he came back with three different mixes for it, and he invited us round his house so that we could listen to three mixes of the record, in the end we went with his....He's the kind of guy that only sleeps for like two hours a day.'
The video for their recent Top Twenty chart-bothering single 'Two Doors Down' is drenched in multicoloured 80s pastiche, shades of A-Ha's 'Take on me' and ABC's The Look of Love.' Which all perfectly suits its summery retro vibe, its shimmering lovelorn melodies name-checking Television's 'Marque Moon', it's even sprinkled with a healthy dose of saxaphone solos. I wondered what Kapils favourite 80s videos are? 'Hall and Oats'It turns out. MJ are fans of the Real MJ too! 'And Michael Jackson, I really like 'Can you feel it', it's amazing. (I explain that, Can you feel it was actually a latter Jackson 5ive video!) . It was done by a massive Sci Fi director I forget who right now. Yeah, I just like the way the music is going on, and the video has its own sound effects like throwing glitter or punching. It's like "boshhhh, swishhh". It reminds me of a Klaxons video!'
Having worked with Alkan, Laura Marling, Jeremy Warmsley, Kate Nash and others, I wondered who was left on the Jets list of dream collaborators? He gleefully offers up a potential new producer by the name of 'Quincy Jones! We could record Thriller again! Oh and Grace Jones. Quincy Jones and Grace Jones together!' Mystery Jets -keeping up with the Jones's?