Mystery Jets: Sons of Eel Pie Island

Critics have named them the “Most Underrated Band” of the year. Despite having always been in the sidelines, Mystery Jets refuses to let that become a damper on their performance as a band. With their new album Radlands out, they’re here to prove that sometimes, standing by the periphery and just watching, is a better vantage point than always being in the spotlight.

How has the journey been for you guys since the release of your first album back in 2006?
Henry It’s been a lot of things. It’s been kind of up and down and all over the place. 2006 was six years ago, and I think we’ve changed and grown in so many ways. That’s kind of a difficult question to answer. I mean I can talk to you about it for about five hours, but that would probably bore you. Make it a bit like a therapy session [laughs].

This new album is quite a big shift from Serotonin, your previous one. Was there like a desire to perhaps sort of break away from the sounds of the previous album with this new one?
H Yeah, completely. We sorta wanted to remove ourselves from England and start writing about things that are new to us. And going to Austin, Texas was all worth it. It was a very conscious breakaway from all the formulas we’ve been building up and learning how to write. It was a very conscious decision to cut away from all of that and start again.
Kapil We perhaps even tried to make it quite difficult for ourselves. We quite like doing that. When we went to Austin, we turned up with very little equipment and we had to find all the equipment out there. It was also the first time we didn’t have a producer, so we had to produce ourselves. And we didn’t really turn up with any songs either.
H It was a recipe for disaster [laughs]. We talked to a few people before doing it, and everyone we knew was telling us to don’t do it, that it was a really bad idea, but we did it. Eventually it worked itself out. Sometimes I think it’s important to sorta put yourself through that kinda test, you find that when you’re under that kinda pressure, it can make quite interesting results in terms of how it challenges your creativity. When we got out there, we kinda got to make it up as we went along. And we’ve never really done that before, so it was really exciting.

You guys formed when all of you were still in school, when you were trading cassette tapes. How different is it being a band back then as compared to now?
H We weren’t really a proper band back then, we were just kinda starting out, so I don’t really quite know how it compares, but I think back then there was a lot more money to be made from actual record sales, and being in a band was still very much a continuation of what being in a band was like in the ‘60s. It was still a big thing to be part of. Where as now, I think the whole industry and how it works has totally changed.
K I think the biggest difference is that when we started out, the Internet functioned in a really different way than it does now. It’s really a community where it is now. It was this kind of novelty, you know? It was for geeks. Computers were for, like, only the computer people. But now the Internet is for everybody. When we started out, every house would probably have only one PC somewhere in the corner, and it was sorta like this scary monster that you didn’t really know how to approach it.
H Occasionally you go on it and play Doom or something [laughs].

Would you prefer to go back to a time like that? Do you think music produced back then was sort of more authentic, so to speak? You know, without the help of autotune and all that sh!t.
H No, I think everything is authentic. It was put out by the tools of the time; people use the tools of the time. It’s also very easy to be nostalgic and say that things were better, but things are just different now.
K Yea, when you had to pay for CDs, that’s awful isn’t it? [laughs]

Coming back to your statement about the internet earlier, and the current reality of unrestricted file-sharing on the Internet, what are your thoughts on like, music being shared freely online? Is it a big damper on your earnings?
H It is, yea. We’re already poor [laughs]. But I think it’s great in the sense that people can access your music quickly, and share it quickly, which means that you can win a fanbase overnight. So it’s great in that respect. But the only problem with that is that because everybody is now accessed in that way, you’re actually back in the same situation where people don’t have the time to check out every band.
K It’s hard to get noticed.
H Yea, as compared to when you could go into a store and buy a CD. The whole monopoly of it, you know, of bigger bands having more money and a bigger campaign is very much in place. It’s just done through the Internet now, and there’s companies and sponsorship, and all sorts of stuff I don’t really quite know the details of that run the internet. So actually, the internet is very liberating. Most people on the internet are just fed stuff. You know, they go online and they’re told to look at this band, you know something pops up, maybe a new video, and they go “Oh, I quite like that!” and obviously they’re missing out on 50 other good bands that they could be seeing. It’s all advertising I guess.

So how is the band dealing with this? Does this mean that you guys have to do more gigs?
K Someone actually once said something, like 20 or 30 years ago, that people would tour after you make a record. You make a record, then you do a bit of touring to kinda promote it. Where as now it’s almost like you put out records so you can have a reason to tour. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true for us, because we love both as much as each other.
H Big names like The Killers and Kings of Leon, they tour quite a bit, in a way I think it’s because record sales don’t work anymore. They work quite hard to gauge how much impact you have on the public. I mean, you can go on YouTube to see how many views you have on your video, but really, you to go a gig and that’s the best test of if people like your record because you’ll want a lot of people there. If there’s no one there then your record isn’t good enough [laughs].

Could you tell us a little about your White Cross Revival parties? What inspired you to want to throw them?
H Yea, we did those the time of our first album, and they happened in a place called Eel Pie Island which is where the band kinda first got together. It was our headquarters. With the help of Henry, Blaine’s dad, we put together these parties, a whole series of parties that just grew and grew in size. They started off with just us and a few friends playing to each one night, to being about 700 people all crammed into this little sorta portable cabin space where you could easily fall into the river. We had about ten bands on one of the nights. One of the main reasons why we did those parties was because everytime we went to play a gig in London, like a pub or a kind of toilet venue, the experience of it was always really disappointing. A lot of our friends were either too young to get in or too poor, so they can’t afford the kind of 8 pound door fee. And then the promoters wouldn’t give you any money, they wouldn’t even give you 50 quid for the petrol. So the whole experience of playing in London was very disappointing. So we thought if we’ve got the space to do it ourselves, then we should. And then in doing that, we also kind of lit up a lot of other people who were also local to us.
K Who also all felt the same thing.
H Yea, we sorta set off the light, you know.
K I think it was important to us to explore the possibilities of making the actual experience of watching a concert more interesting, rather than being in a pub where it’s kinda all dark and smells like beer. Instead you’re taking people on this journey on Eel Pie Island. It’s a really fascinating place, its kinda like full of pirates and strange people who live on boats and dogs and that kinds stuff. You had to come through this very industrial boatyard, and it was a far more exciting way of bringing people into our world, instead of playing in pubs.

Could you tell us a little about your latest album Radlands? What’s it about?
H Well I think it’s an album that works on several different levels. And I think the main thing that holds it together is this narrative about a character called Emmerson Lonestar. I don’t know if you know but there’s this comic book that’s been written which is based on this album, where each song is like a different chapter and you have this person, Emmerson Lonestar. It reminisces about our American album, it’s us going over there and listening to American music and getting inspired by it and trying to do it in our own way, and put our own stamp on it.
K The name ‘Radlands’ was what we called our house in Texas, and it’s a combination of Badlands, which was kinda like a Bonnie & Clyde-esque story from the ‘70s, and also Radlands which is also the name of Keith Richard’s house in the ‘60s. Somehow in between those two worlds, there was an influence which felt like what the album was about, somewhere in between the Rolling Stones and Ed Simmons. ‘70s road movies you know? Somewhere in that realm is what we want to make the album about.
H And I think because we’ve been so used to making music that was quite elaborate, with a lot of textures, a lot of synthesisers, a lot of over dubs, going quite crazy in the studio, we wanted to do something that was more raw. Just a band in a room.