Mystery Jets Talk Lockdown, Troubling Times & 'A Billion Heartbeats'
Having first cemented themselves as darlings of the late 2000s indie scene with classics Two Doors Down and Young Love, Mystery Jets have continued to challenge and subvert our expectations. Widening their sonic palettes with more left field choices and focusing their songwriting on more topical and personal matters, the band has continued to grow and evolve with each release, proving themselves to be masters of their craft.
Now, with their latest album A Billion Heartbeats providing a timely reflection on our troubling times, singer & songwriter Blaine Harrison talks us through the album’s social & political nature, how the band are coping with lockdown, and reflects on the band’s past and ongoing evolution.
How are you guys staying busy during lockdown (i.e. working on new material, plans for livestreams, new box sets/artists you’re getting into)?
Well our new album 'A Billion Heartbeats' came out last week so right now I'm pretty busy with promo duties. Some artists find this bit to be a drag but I've been having fun as it's been a little different this time around due to CV: Podcast recordings, Live streams, online listening parties, Zoom chats, lots of facetime action etc. But in the evenings I've been making my way through a cook book I was gifted for xmas, and that's been a nice way of turning off. I've been practicing yoga and taking really long walks in the evenings, exploring new corners of central London where I live.
How are you all staying in touch and continuing to work under the current situation we’re all in?
We're on so many WhatsApp groups I have to switch my phone off sometimes! But getting on video chat is always fun, we're doing a pub quiz tonight which will be fun. Obviously, we would much rather be in our rehearsal room, but it's still good to see each other's faces, it helps keeps the spirits up.
Your new album A Billion Heartbeats released on its original date of 03/04/20, albeit on digital and streaming platforms only for now. Was it important for you to stick to this date amidst artists delaying their releases?
Yes, we felt like now would be the perfect time for this record to make its way out into the world and into people's homes. Everyone is feeling a little starved of human contact right now, and we felt our album could perhaps serve as a comfort to those who might need it, a friend during this weird time. The songs very much cover the events of the past two or three years so I think we felt leaving it until after Quarantine might negate the relevance of the songs to people's experiences. Time moves so fast now.
Much of the album was inspired by recent protests and political movements, such as the ‘Our NHS’ march and the Black Lives Matter movement. Do you feel that music and artists still have a duty to comment and make statements on what’s happening in the world today? Was there any protest songs in particular that influenced your writing for this album?
I don't think enough artists stand up and engage with what's going on in society or in the geopolitics of our time. I get it- writing music is a medicine for a lot of artists, and usually the most pressing thing you're trying to fix is what's going on in yourself. But the state of the world has been pretty fucked for the past four or five years and music can be a pretty powerful tool to help the wold heal itself. Music can't necessarily change the world, but it can be the soundtrack to huge societal change, and act like a mirror. There have been times in history when guitar music has been that - West coast folk during the Nixon-era, Punk and post-punk and Two Tone during the Thatcher years, even Britpop to a point. But guitar music has become so polite today, with the exception of a special few. That's why Grime is the Punk of now. It's telling the story of the streets and of social change. There's a time to look at yourself and there's a time to stand up and fight for what you believe in. Guitar music is too busy staring into its navel in its bedroom.
A Billion Heartbeats political nature is a contrast to your previous album, The Curve of the Earth, which was more personal and inward-looking. Was this a conscious decision or something that came together in the writing process?
On 'Curve of the Earth' the songs were written from the perspective of looking down at earth from a high vantage point, but on ABH we wanted to turn the lens the other way. The world outside my window was very quickly becoming one I didn't recognise, and I felt a strong need to address that via my songwriting. Songwriting to me is about storytelling, and sometimes the stories that need to be told are other people's stories. it was spending my time on marches like 'Black Lives Matter', 'Refugees Welcome Here', the 70th anniversary of the NHS and International Women’s day that I heard those stories. They touched me and found their way into our songs.
Like Curve of the Earth, you co-produced this album with Matthew Thwaites. Do you feel freer during the writing and recording process now you have more involvement in the producing and the finished product?
It took us closer to 12 years to find the confidence to self-produce our own music. We attempted to on Radlands but we weren't ready. When we started working on 'Curve' with Matt we knew we had met our match. he became a sixth member of the band. Producing Curve was quite full-on as it was all five of us at the controls of the mixing desk, but with Curve we refined the process, with Matt and I handling production duties. It was an incredible amount of hard work, as your hand is inevitably involved in every part of the process- but it has really enabled us to communicate the sound in our heads, and we couldn't have done it without Matt.
Your sound has gradually evolved over the years from your early indie-pop days to a grander, more cinematic quality, with more different instrumental choices like orchestral backings. Do you feel that this evolution is due to your growth as a band and musicians, or more due to your continued growth as producers?
I think it's a bit of both. Ultimately we're music lovers just like everyone else, so where we find inspiration is always changing. When we're in the studio we're constantly playing each other new music, and it all shapes the direction the sound takes. it might be Jack playing us obscure Elliot Smith tracks or some druggy country music, Matt blasting out the 1975, Kaps bringing in his favourite Afrobeat or RnB records or me forcing everyone to listen to some cheese-tastic 80s proggy yacht rock. it all goes into the mix.
2020 marks your third decade as a band. Do you still get as excited about the band life (writing and recording, performing live) as you did at the beginning, or has it all become part of normal life for you?
Oh my god it sounds terrifying when you put it like that. To be fair, William and I started the band when we were 8 year old so that's quite an important detail. But the answer is yes, absolutely. I still get as excited about a new song as the day I did when I wrote my first song (little Bag of Hair on Making Dens). That first time you make a voice note or demo of a new song is the most pure and impassioned it will ever sound, which is why we always refer back to those early recordings in the studio. Bits of them often make their way into the final cut too. A lot of what you can hear on 'Screwdriver' for example - the intro is from my original laptop demo.
If you could give any advice to your younger self when you were starting out, what would it be? Don't water yourself down. Sing in your own voice, because everyone else is taken. Have patience and believe in yourself, the world will come to you when it's ready.