Mystery Jets turn luminescent

Jon Bauckham gets an exclusive glimpse at the freshly recorded Mystery Jets LP, courtesy of lead singer Blaine Harrison.

Mystery Jets have been keeping rather quiet lately. Only having recently emerged from the studio after nine months of recording their third long player, the band have spent time road testing new material in Berlin, playing impromptu gigs in bedrooms and art spaces under various guises, turning up at whatever venue available. Lead singer, Blaine Harrison, recalls these unusual shows with fondness. “It was quite simple really. We just wanted to play the songs before recording them to get an idea of their character and where they would stand amongst the others. Playing with a different stupid made-up band name each night took the away the pressure really. In many ways, it was very liberating.”

With the working title Luminescence, the new album is set to mark new musical territory for the band. “When I think of the word, it has these otherworldly connotations, and I think this applies to some of the new songs,” explains Harrison. “It sums up the sound and those feelings the sounds give you. It’s uplifting and it suits what we’ve made.” A band not afraid to wear their influences on their respective sleeves, he explains his current fascination with ‘70s bands, citing the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Supertramp, musing over an era that saw significant technical advances in studio recording. “They were probably seen as really commercial back then, but listening now, there’s a lot going on in there. It’s all very ahead of its time.” Perhaps rather coyly, he also declares the band’s current penchant for ELO. “If you can just look past the poppy falsetto vocals, there’s a lot to be taken from them. Time for example… it’s a concept album about time travel, which is not actually as pompous as it sounds. It’s incredibly subtle in a lot of ways, but also really beautiful”.

Formed whilst still at school, Blaine and his father Henry, a former architect, began writing songs together along with guitarist William Rees. After a few shifts in the line-up and instrumental duties, Kai Fish joined on bass and Kapil Trivedi was recruited as a drummer. It was in 2005, after gaining notoriety for hosting a series of illegal gigs and parties on Eel Pie Island, a small chunk of land in the middle of the River Thames at Twickenham, that they were signed to 679 Recordings and unleashed their debut, Making Dens the following year. A wildly eccentric, prog-infused record that quite clearly demonstrated their love for Syd Barrett, Making Dens featured perplexing tales of imaginary characters caught up in the complications of childhood, loneliness, unrequited love, and even unrequited love for transvestites.

The release of Twenty One in 2008, notable for its unashamedly ‘80s direction, exhibited in the highly successful single ‘Two Doors Down’, saw the band’s live presence reduced to four members, with Henry Harrison stepping into a ‘back room’ role, limiting himself to the studio. Blaine is adamant that things haven’t changed. “We still write lyrics together and the collaboration is still as strong as ever.” Yet, the inclusion of Henry as a full-time member in the band when they first arrived on the scene often overshadowed their music when featured in the press, a journalistic attribute which Blaine hopes has been shaken off. “It was definitely a weight on our shoulders at the end of touring the first album and we really didn’t want the music to be overwhelmed by it, even though it’s because of him the band came about in the first place. But I think people do now listen to the records because they know it’s Mystery Jets, not because they’ve read some funny article in The Times about a dad who plays music with his son.”

This sense of freedom has also been influenced by their recent move to legendary label, Rough Trade, “a tremendous privilege to be part of that legacy” explains Blaine. Yet, something that has always remained endearing about Mystery Jets is the heartfelt lyrical content and clear attachment to their work, most songs dealing with personal experience (“It’s the only way I know how to write really” explains Blaine). Whilst tracks such as ‘Little Bag of Hair’ on Making Dens dealt with Harrison’s own experiences of a hospital childhood, having been born with spina bifida, Twenty One was a “coming-of-age album, about growing up, making relationships and having your heart broken for the first time”. However, Blaine insists the new record is a more mature effort. “Sonically, it’s a step-up” he explains. A step-up then, may have been the outcome of working with veteran producer Chris Thomas, famous for his work with The Beatles and Pink Floyd, even producing The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. With both Making Dens and Twenty One produced by young upstarts, Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford and Erol Alkan respectively, working with a producer from a different generation has been a humbling experience. “You don’t take it lightly. There’s definitely a lot of respect involved.”

With Luminescence (if that is its final title) due in spring, Mystery Jets are set for a busy year. Soon to be touring Europe with Arctic Monkeys, they are as keen as ever to do the usual round of summer festivals. “The record was originally going to come out in January but we felt that was too soon. This way, it’s out just in time for the festivals.” When asked how he feels home crowds will react to the new material, Harrison returns to the opening topic of conversation, expressing a desire to recreate the experience of last year’s Berlin shows. “Well actually, we were thinking of doing that again, it was so much fun!” he laughs.  Now ready to come out of hibernation, it seems that Mystery Jets are more than ready for radiance… whether it’s in the guise you expect to see them or not.

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