- Sun, 2008-03-09 11:50
One of the less orthodox bands spawned by the post-Libertines London music scene, the Mystery Jets started at the end of the last century when Blaine Harrison and his dad, Henry, formed a band together. Soon joined by Blaine’s schoolfriends Kai and Will, the band recruited drummer Kapil and started staging gigs in a crumbling hotel ballroom on Eel Pie Island. A new scene rapidly grew up around the Eel Pie shows, giving artists like Jamie T an opportunity to play their first gigs.
After two years on a world tour and another year in the studio, their new album, Twenty One is out March 24th and sees the Mystery Jets spread their wings in style.
I Like Music caught up with Kai from the Mystery Jets to talk about the new album and single, working with Erol Alkan and meeting Flea at Fuji Rock.
''I Like Music because… music makes me smile.” Kai, Mystery Jets
ILM: Young Love is out on 10th March. . Please describe the track and its whole vibe?
Kai: It’s a track that I wrote with Will. We wrote it at the beginning of last year. It had been a couple of other songs and then it became a new version on it. I don’t think we had any particular thought before starting to write it. It was just coming up with this slightly Motown loopy bass line and it just went from there. We wrote it an afternoon, we sat down and by the evening it was done: all the vocal parts and the lyrics. It was one of those really fortunate songs.
Some songs can come together like that in a few hours and some songs can take months and months. It was so final that when we went to re-record it we used all the backing vocals that we’d done in my bedroom as the actual backing vocals on the track, because we wouldn’t have done it better in the studio. So it was really fortunate.
ILM: It’s kind of a very Spring time track I think and it features Laura Marling, how did that collaboration come about?
Kai: The idea of getting a girl singing on it came from the lyrics we’d written. We wanted to write something really fresh and not think about it too much. We just sat down and came up with some ideas and some lines and then after we’d written that first verse and the chorus and it was in writing the second verse we thought it’d be great to have the other side of things. We had the boys’ perspective, wouldn’t it be great to have the boys’ perspective, just to shake it up and also it’s something we’d never done, to get someone to guest on a track and to have a girls’ voice.
We didn’t know who to ask to sing it. As we were writing it we thought it’d be great to have a girls voice and then during the recording process, we thought lets try Laura out. We played a gig with her at a little gig down Elephant and Castle and she was really cool and she had a really lovely voice and quite a unique voice; you couldn’t pin it to a London scene or whatever. There’s something quite folky in one sense but she carries a lot of weight when she sings. So we tried it out and it fit really well and everyone was really happy with it.
ILM: You write harmony driven, edgy indie pop. Please describe the Mystery Jets music making process. Lyrics first or melody or random?
Kai: Most of the time there’s some kind of music there which is generally written on the guitar, so one of us will have some chords or an idea with a melody on top of it and it’ll work from there. Some tracks like Hideaway, it’s the first track on the album and people have picked up on it live, and it’s the only electro sounding thing on the album. That was written from a bassline and the drum beat and then everything else got written afterwards.
If it’s more Blaine’s song he’ll often have the lyrics the melody and the guitar line and then bring it to the band and we’ll chop up the structure and give it a different vibe in places. Will and I wrote a lot together on our second album, so we’d do a lot more with the music and arrangement and some melodies and then Blaine might come after and put down some lyrics. So it’s quite open but it’s definitely found its feet a lot more in terms of the songwriting process compared to the first album, which was a bit shambolic.
ILM: Twenty One is out on March 24h.Which track did you enjoy laying down the most and why?
Kai: That’s a good question. A track which was great to record is Flakes. Its just live, what you hear is just what we played, it wasn’t tracked or anything. We were just together in a room with the lights down really low and it was midnight Erol probably lit some incense or something and we played it a few times and picked the best take out. To record a song in that way, live and you’re all vibing off each other, it’s great. It’s asking a lot more of you because everyone has to get it right all together. Other songs are built up more. We recorded every song in a slightly different way depending on what the song needed.
ILM: Twenty One sees Erol Alkan in the production seat - his first complete album. What did you learn from the almighty Erol?
Kai: He’s the biggest music lover I’ve ever met. He’s a DJ but he’s so much more. Some DJs just do the dance stuff and aren’t into bands, whereas he’s like the other way round. He grew up with that Britpop period and he adores music, all sorts of it. He’s got a room in his house that’s just records filling a whole room, every wall of it. It’s amazing, like a history of music. We’ll be working on a track and he’ll say this really reminds me of this band and he’ll talk about them, so there was a real education.
As a band we really like to know about music and Uncover new things and older stuff as well. But compared to him, we’re a good few years behind. In the studio, he’s a lot different to your standard producer, because he’s not had much experience of being in the production seat and that’s given him a real freshness to it. He felt like one of the band, it felt just like another musician there rather than a producer, which made it sometimes really hard and, other times, really incredible. He’s now a great friend of ours as well as someone who’s done an amazing job with production and I’ve certainly learned a lot from him.
ILM: Erol ‘Music Library’ Alkan we shall now refer to him as.
Kai: Yeah, definitely.
ILM: You recently played London Astoria with CSS, and London Electrowerkz plus an iTunes Festival one. How was the Astoria gig?
Kai: It was great. We were really excited before it. Walking out on London Astoria stage is always good. We played there a while ago with The Futureheads. It’s such a great venue, it’s the perfect size, there are enough people to feel like a big event but also with 2000 people it’s got an intimacy there. I really like that size venue. When you move to places like Brixton it’s vast.
When you’re playing a support gig you never know how many of your fans will be in the audience until you step out on stage, but it was great. There were hardcore pockets of Mystery Jets fans scattered around the audience and, even people who weren’t our fans, I think they really enjoyed it. And just to be out gigging again after recording all of last year and learning how to play all these new songs as a four piece. We’ve got a different stage set up so the whole thing is quite different, and that’s something we felt was important to move it on for the second album, so we’re just learning how to do that.
ILM: How come Henry is no longer in the line-up?
Kai: It happened quite naturally in the period between the first and second album. In one sense we wanted to go and do something the four of us. And for Blaine, the album is all about 21, that age between youth and adulthood and those discoveries you make and finding your own feet. It would be strange if that was what the album was about and yet he’s still playing in a band with his dad.
But he’s still very much there writing and still part of the band as much as he’s ever been. But also with the live thing… he’s a busy architect as well. He has got a lot of young energy, but with this second album, it just seemed the right way to go. I don’t think he wanted another few years of gigging and touring.
ILM: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on tour so far in your career?
Kai: Fuji Rock, which we played in 2006 (and we’re going back this year); that was incredible. I remember standing on the stage watching Yeah Yeah Yeahs, standing next to Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I was really drunk and I was like, ‘Flea…. How you doin’? Alright man?’ And he was there with the bass round his neck, warming up with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, so that was surreal seeing this living legend. The whole of Fuji Rock was a bit like that.
ILM: You’ve followed your dreams. What advice would you give to young people on following their dreams to get the career they want for themselves?
Kai: The problem is a lot of people haven’t yet found what they want to do. I think once you have an idea what you’re passionate about and what you’re naturally good at. Everyone has something they can naturally do; everyone has something that they’re naturally inclined towards, whether it’s helping people or listening to people or instruments or languages or whatever… once you’ve got a good sense about what you’re passionate about you’ve got to do it. A lot of people haven’t found that yet. Maybe that’s because they haven’t tried enough things.
If you go away and travel for six months and fall in love with something… that’s a good idea. If you don’t know what you want to do traveling can be great. If you do know what you want to do, you’ve got to start doing it. If it’s a creative job it might work differently to something you need to go and get a degree in, but finding like minded people and working with others, because I don’t think you can’t do anything on your own in this world. So finding others who share that passion and doing it with people who are on the same wavelength and then it’s going to develop and grow.
ILM: If you weren’t a musician, what would your second career choice have been/what would you be doing if you weren’t a musician?
Kai: I had this kind of sixth sense from a young age of about 10 years old or so that I’d be doing something involving music or film. That was just how it was going to happen. So if I wasn’t making music, I’d probably be making films. I still try and do as much film stuff as I can in the little bits of spare time that we have, and I’ll never stop doing that.
I had quite a lot of involvement in our music videos at the beginning, but it’s not the same as making films, it’s not as satisfying. And also it’s good to keep things apart so the band thing is the band thing and the film thing is something else. But I made our very first music video which was pretty crazy.
Mystery Jets are: Blaine Harrison (lead vocals, keyboards, percussion, effects) William Rees (vocals, lead guitar, percussion) Kapil Trivedi (drums) Kai Fish (vocals, bass, guitar)