I love Jetplane Landing, let’s make no bones about it. From the moment I saw them supporting Seafood at Camden's Electric Ballroom back in May 2002, they blew me away with their intensity, energy and passion. Almost two years to the day later I stood amazed at the Bar Academy in Islington, with the music scene still buzzing from the recent DIY uprising which saw bands like Distophia, Kill Kenada and Jarcrew make tiny dents on daytime music television, and that night Jetplane won my heart forever through their incendiary approach to live music.
Oh, an introduction for the uninitiated: Jetplane Landing are one of the best-prepared DIY bands you’ll ever find. They have their own label, Smalltown America, dedicated to helping unsigned talent through their soon to be retired series of compilations, Public Service Broadcast, and it’s not like they haven’t been the other half of a band/label partnership – they formed from the ashes of Cuckoo after their split in 1999, and were signed to music giants Geffen.
Jetplane earned themselves a decent following and the support of various DJs through their riot-inciting live shows, and at one point their fanbase packed such a punch that they broke the Xfm switchboard, but more on that later. After releasing a couple of records (Zero For Conduct, 2001, and Once Like A Spark, 2003) and touring near-constantly for years, Jetplane Landing vanished.
If you’d have told me upon leaving London that night three years ago that this band would practically disappear from the radar for a couple of years, I’d have laughed - this band were unstoppable. Somehow though, it still happened, and to make matters worse an apparently teary-eyed countdown at the end of their Truck 2006 set led some to believe that Jetplane’s days were numbered.
They were wrong, but this is not the same rock band that left us. The third record Backlash Cop is a considerable departure from their previous sounds; it’s more funk-rock than punk-rock, and it’s going to split the fanbase down the middle. Determined to find out where this band have been and where they go from here, I bothered the only two men who could answer these questions – or the only two men who did answer these questions, anyway: frontman Andrew Ferris and bassist Jamie Burchell.
It's been over three years since Once Like A Spark. Why did the writing/recording process for Backlash Cop take so long?
Jamie: I don’t think it did. We toured Once Like A Spark like bastards for well over a year. Then we took some time off, which seemed like the right thing to do. That time off tuned into another year, we were working on songs on our own and then we came back together before Truck Festival in July 2006. We had about four songs finished then and played three of them at Truck. We recorded the record in December 2006, so it only took about six months to write and record the record… I don’t even know if my dates are right. I am not too sure. I am probably lying. Those three years went so fast.
I guess it seemed a much bigger gap because there weren’t any JPL live shows to distract me.
Andrew: It was nice to go away and reconsider what being in JPL meant - the longer you're about touring as we did, the less opportunity you have to surprise people.
Album #2, Once Like A Spark, was quite different to debut Zero For Conduct, and there’s another obvious progression between OLAS and the new album. Was this a conscious thing? Did you go out to make something completely different right from the start or was it a natural progression from your previous sound?
Jamie: I am not sure Once Like A Spark was how we sounded, or that we sounded like Once Like A Spark when we toured that record. We sounded like Zero For Conduct when we toured that record, just nobody was there to see it.
Andrew: We’ve made a record miles away from what we've done before. The fact that it's me singing/rapping/talking pulls you back into older Jetplane stuff - possibly. I think Raife’s (drum) and Cahir's (guitar) parts on BC have pushed us into brand new territory. It's really exciting for me to sing over that.
Insert stereotypical musical influences question here. What were they? Musical or otherwise?
Jamie: For me, musical: Mike Watt. Otherwise: David Purley.
Andrew: Diana Ross, Q-Tip, Joni Mitchell, J5... Some of the fun of this album will be discovering all the musical references littered through it. I don't want to spoil the journey for people. Check out the song titles, lyrics and album artwork as starting points and you'll enjoy the ride. Most of the songs are about fighters, underdogs and unsung heroes. ZFC is about love, OLAS is about death and BC is about life and how people choose to live it.
Once Like A Spark was outspoken, and happened during a time when world events were very tense and there was substantial political outrage, some of which was reflected in the record. Backlash Cop is lyrically a step away from all that, it's much more focused on history than current events, from influential black musicians to Les Savy Fav. They all sound like subjects you’re very passionate about, but why the shift? Was it again just a case of doing things differently?
Jamie: I think Backlash Cop is about us. The words might mention these people but the songs are not about them.
Andrew: Lyrically, we've always trying to find different ways of expressing our ideas. Some of the characters we chose as backlash cops demonstrated characteristics that we admire: Copernicus, Sonia Sanchez, Tim Harrington. Others had interesting stories to tell, like Dizzy's presidential campaign of 1964.
The different approach even extends to the way the album is constructed: Backlash Cop noticeably flows from one track to another, with some tracks leading into each other without a break – it sounds like a complete body of work. Has this always been the plan? Help me out, I'm trying to avoid calling it a ‘concept album’ here..
Andrew: The last seven tracks on the album on side two are a complete suite - they were designed to link up. We carried that through on side one when we got into the studio and adjusted tempos so that tracks could run together.
Jamie: Yes. Backlash Cop is that oddest of 1970s odd things: a concept album. I admit it - go on, laugh at us. Ha ha. We may never be invited to play another skate festival again! The whole track listing was decided before we even went into the studio.
Moving away from the album, I'd like to talk about the general JPL attitude. You played just one warm-up show for Truck Festival last year in Devizes, out in the Wiltshire sticks for a group called Sheer, who despite being raised in a place overshadowed by the Bath and Bristol scene still manage to attract quite well-known acts, from Fickle Public to Frank Turner, to a town with a population of about ten. What made you choose them in particular, and not do any others?
Andrew: Kieran and his team at Sheer are the real deal - we totally believe in what they are trying to do and it was great to play a show for them. It's an inspiration to me that people in small towns are taking on big projects and winning. We've always been drawn to that maverick spirit of independence.
Jetplane Landing have always been pretty good at raising hell, especially with the younger crowds that promoters like Sheer attract, but how exactly did you stir up enough trouble to break Xfm?
Andrew: Our whole campaign on OLAS was built around single three, 'Brave Gravity', andwe felt it was the strongest shot we had at radio. We toured the album eight times in total and the Brave Gravity tour was about 30 dates long with a single release at the end of the tour. The (not earth-shattering) idea was to incite the crowd at every show to go out and buy the single on week one to see if we could chart and fuck a few people off.
A few dates into the tour the single went out to radio and the response was slow, so through our message board and mailing list we got people to bombard producers with requests. All good fun - Zane was into it, 6Music played it more - but once it got put on the XFM request show it all got a bit out of hand.
Basically, Camfield didn't like the fact that people were breaking his switchboard every night. So many people made text requests that the server kept falling over. Most of the telephone calls to the show were people from the previous night's gig asking to hear 'Brave Gravity'. Fundamentally, he didn't like the song and didn't understand why people were bothering about us. The fact that the show was meant to play the 'top ten most requested tracks' and we never charted once struck us as a little odd - so we turned up the heat.
Camfield got really narked one night with a guy that phoned in: "Why don't you guys just pack it in and stop emailing us?". It was brilliant to hear this complete stranger say, "Listen mate, we'll pack it in when you playlist them". Click.... Buzz. I went fucking ballistic; more rants from stage, hundreds more people texting - eventual disappearance of JPL in totality from the show.
Jamie: I think my Dad sent an email under a fake name calling Ian Camfield a "self-important prick". He shouldn’t have done it but he just lost his temper. I don’t think it helped in calming the waters very much. I apologise on his behalf.
Andrew: Guerrilla marketing will get you played pretty much anywhere, but you're only going to stay there for a short time if you don't have money to sustain it. We've always had zero money, so all we can really do is fuck with systems that ignore us. It passes the time when I'm at work.
Were you approached by any of the bigger labels at all after that incident? They always seem to be hanging around looking for bands with a sturdy fanbase. Or did your experiences with Geffen - they airbrushed out the bump in Andrew's nose in all the press photos - put you off? Have you ever been tempted?
Andrew: Jetplane has never been offered a major label deal, you have to fish for those - after ZFC came out we almost signed to Southern, but we decided to go it alone with our own label and distribution. I've since had extensive plastic surgery on my nose with all the royalties from the Fickle Public records.
Going it alone must be tough work sometimes though, were you never tempted to just call it a day and walk away? There were a lot of rumours around post-Truck.
Jamie: I never thought we should split up, and if we had who would have noticed? Okay, let’s say we did split up for a week in April 2006 and this is just a reformation for cash, just like The Police.
Andrew: Stopping has never been discussed, that's not how this story will end. Touring is an inevitability, but we don't know what form that will take yet. At the moment all my spare time is taken up with getting the album produced, manufactured and into shops.
And after that’s done, what next? What are your aims for Backlash Cop? Obviously breaking even would be handy, but do you have a specific goal to be aiming for when all is said and done – not necessarily in terms of sales, maybe in terms of how it’s received generally?
Jamie: Anybody who likes only emo, or only Fugazi, or only hardcore, or only Biffy Clyro, or only underground bands… they are going to hate this record. We have been liked for a few years now. Being liked is nice, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful for all of the brilliant, loving, support people have given us, but being liked can also become boring. Love or hate it, here it is.
Andrew: If this shakes people's opinion of what Jetplane are then that's a good thing. The fact that the album is coming out is all the success we want - we've never been ambitious in terms of sales. We just want people to enjoy listening and we're thankful to everyone that helps us by plugging us online, talking about us to their friends and buying our records. We write the songs but you own the band.
Finally, and I guess this is the most important question, after all this time, why are Jetplane Landing still relevant? Sell yourselves, as well as anything else that's important.
Jamie: Sell ourselves! That’s one thing that Jetplane Landing are really bad at. In fact, I can’t do it. Don’t buy our record unless you want to. You can hear bits of it online. If you like what you hear or just feel intrigued by it, help out some old men - a large cut of your money goes straight back to the band when you buy our records. We have to pay for all the recording ourselves. If you like the new tracks get us back in the black.
Andrew: Smalltown America is in full steam at the moment. We have new albums coming out this summer by The Young Playthings, Fighting With Wire and Clone Quartet as well as Public Service Broadcast 9. If you haven't bought them already, check out the beautiful records on STA by Fickle Public and Oppenheimer. The fourth annual STA Charity All-Dayer will be held again this year on September 15th at London’s 93 Feet East.
Backlash Cop is released on June 18th on Smalltown America. Distributed by Cargo Records.
Pictures by Graham Smith