DiS meets We Were Promised Jetpacks
If 2009 was something of an auspicious year for We Were Promised Jetpacks, the next twelve months should firmly establish them as a genuinely prolific force to be reckoned with. Oops, did we just use the word "prolific"? Sorry guys, we know it's a pet hate of yours...
Having formed in Edinburgh nearly seven years ago, the quartet of Adam Thompson (vocals/guitar/songwriter in chief), Mike Palmer (guitar), Sean Smith (bass) and Darren Blackie (drums) have spent the ensuing years honing their sound. The frightening thing is that for a group whose collective members are still in their early twenties, the best is almost certainly still to come.
Their debut long player These Four Walls was released on Fat Cat Records in June to general positivity such as this, while at present the band are currently amidst their busiest headline tour of the UK to date. DiS caught up with them on a bitterly cold Monday night in Nottingham...
DiS: You've been together as a band since early 2003. How would you say your sound has developed over time since then?
Adam Thompson: We've become more mature...whatever that means!
DiS: What sort of bands inspired you to form We Were Promised Jetpacks in the first place?
Mike Palmer: Bloc Party and The Futureheads. We were listening to a lot of that kinda stuff when we started. It's really weird when we listen back to that now as some of it maybe hasn't dated so well, but that's what we were into at that time I guess...
AT: It's not like we're saying they're shit or anything, but I think we've grown up since then, become more dynamic if you know what I mean.
DiS: Six years is a long time for most bands to stay together. Have there ever been times when you've thought about packing it in and getting a real job or whatever?
AT: No way! This is one of the reasons why we don't get real jobs!
MP: It's like when we were leaving school and you'd have careers advisers talking to you about what you're gonna do, and we never really thought about much beyond going to University and continuing the band.
DiS: Are there any songs that have survived from your earliest days?
AT: 'Quiet Little Voices' dates back to about 2004.
MP: That's by far the oldest song in the set that we still play.
AT: I think if we didn't like it so much we'd have chucked that one by now as well.
Sean Smith: We were having a conversation the other day about getting rid of it and then it suddenly dawned on us that it's the only song people actually like so we can't chuck it!
AT: We do get tired and bored of playing it but then whenever you meet someone new and they're really enthusiastic about it we tend to buzz off that.
Video:We Were Promised Jetpacks 'Quiet Little Voices'
DiS: Does it worry you that 'Quiet Little Voices' may end up being something of an albatross around the band's neck in that it's the one song people always associate with you?
AT: It doesn't worry me at all. We have enough confidence in ourselves to be able to deal with that.
MP: I don't think we're ever going to write a song like 'Quiet Little Voices' again. Not because we don't want to, but because we're past that whole period of writing similar material now.
AT: I don't honestly think it gets a bigger or better response than any of the other songs in the set. 'Ships With Holes Will Sink' seems to get the best response whenever we play live.
DiS: Which song would you say you're most proud of? MP: That one, 'Ships With Holes Will Sink' definitely. It's one of the oldest songs we play yet I never get tired of it.
DiS: The past eighteen months have seen the band reach new audiences and new levels of adulation. Did you expect things to turn out the way they have?
AT: We kind of hoped they would. We always thought we were good enough to have some people like us.
MP: When we were writing songs we never planned them for making an album. It was more about a group of friends just having fun.
AT: But then when the bigger picture stuff happened it all kinda made sense.
SS: And now we're ready to conquer the world!
DiS: How did you first become involved with Fat Cat Records?
AT: We played some shows with Frightened Rabbit in 2008 and Alex (Knight) from Fat Cat sent us an email asking if we'd start a dialogue and none of us knew what he meant, and our manager went to meet him in London and it came about they were interested in putting a record out.
MP: At the time we thought it would just be a track on a compilation or maybe a seven-inch single if we were lucky but it turned out they wanted to do a couple of EPs and an album.
AT: I guess it helped that we'd built a relationship over time with the label as they'd seen us play several times beforehand. I think in our heart of hearts they were the label we'd set our sights on signing to. They're a like a family in the way they work and some of our friends are on the label so it kind of made sense.
DiS: You also made quite an impact at this year's South By Southwest festival in Texas.
AT: Some guy from London said we were the 9th most blogged about band in the world at this year's festival!
MP: That's one to tell your grandma and granddad!
AT: I think that was the point where we realised things were moving pretty fast. It almost felt like a wake-up call, a reality check even that this was actually happening to us.
DiS: You've already mentioned Frightened Rabbit, but obviously with the likes of yourselves, The Twilight Sad, Errors, Copy Haho and countless others it seems like there's a never ending stream of good music emerging from north of the border at present. Why would you say that is?
AT: Simply because bands are listening to each other.
SS: I think the scene in Scotland is quite supportive as well. You don't tend to realise until you're at another gig just how many of these bands are all friends.
AT: I'm not saying that we all steal things from each other but there are certainly elements of all the bands you've mentioned that we've taken and used to create what we do.
DiS: I'd go along with that as none of those bands sound the same. AT: It's hard to explain why we're all close but you're right in what you say, as no We Were Promised Jetpacks song could be confused with a Twilight Sad record and vice versa.
DiS: On your MySpace, one of your top friends on there are Manchester three-piece The Longcut. Have you played with them or are you just fans?
MP: I absolutely adore The Longcut. We've never played with them actually and they don't know us.
AT: We're just fans. I'd say they were a huge influence on that sound change we talked about earlier.
MP: I think hearing them made me realise just how badly I wanted to play guitar.
DiS: You've probably been asked this many times but where did the band's name come from and who's idea was it?
MP: I guess it was my idea. I thought it sounded good at the time and I like the way the words go together in type. One thing I really hate is when people write Jetpacks as two separate words, because it ruins it and looks really stupid.
AT: I remember once someone asked us if we'd actually got jetpacks, and you know what, I had to tell him that I really couldn't care less about jetpacks!
MP: People have suggested that we must be really into technology or something...
AT: Yeah, he reminded me of someone talking on You Tube or something about maybe getting it on with a jetpack or something...you know, You. Must. Like. This.
DiS: Do you ever find people have misconceptions of what the band sound like because of the name?
SS: There was one site on the internet where some guy seemingly took offence to our name and started posting comments along the lines of "Who do these wee dicks think they are?!?"
AT: I think it's quite sad if someone came to the conclusion that they won't listen to the album because of our name.
MP: Or read the review that gave us 8/10 or whatever but refuse to listen to us because it's a shit name...
DiS: You mention reviews, most of which have been quite positive for These Four Walls. How would you feel if the music press turned against you in the future?
AT: I think we're pretty level-headed when it comes to the music press. I mean, I think we're a good band, I can imagine we'd be fun to watch live, but I don't think we're amazing either, so I can understand why nobody else would think that, if it makes sense?
MP: If someone makes a good point in a review along the lines of "We enjoyed it but found some of the songs samey" then maybe I could agree with them to an extent. If the criticism is constructive then we take it on board...
AT: It's when they get things wrong such as comparisons to other bands.
DiS: What's been the worst comparison you've had?
AT: It's when you get two paragraphs that mention Fat Cat, Frightened Rabbit and Twilight Sad then a closing sentence that just says its an OK mix of those bands. Its like, "Come on!". I mean, how lazy is that?
MP: Its true though. We've had reviews where they've listed pretty much every Scottish band I can think of. Belle And Sebastian, Arab Strap, Snow Patrol...
DiS: Going back to your own songs, some of the lyrics seem quite dark and intense. Are they influenced by people around you and events that have happened?
AT: In some cases they are. I mean, I never sit down and write lyrics first. We tend to write the music first and then the words are added over a long period of time. I tend to construct phrases around a melody to start off with then build on it afterwards. Some of the songs are are about things that have happened to me over long periods of time, others involve different scenarios in my head of impossible outcomes or things that could happen. I think that's why sometimes the words come across as being quite vague.
DiS: Have you started writing any songs for the follow-up to These Four Walls?
AT: We've got one and a half new ones ready!
SS: I would say two...or perhaps even three different songs. Maybe one finished and two that are half complete.
AT: We decided after the first album was finished that we would just put ideas together while we were touring These Four Walls without actually finishing the songs, as it would give us space to add any other bits later on.
SS: We're looking at the idea of creating skeletons of the songs that will make the second album and then completing them when we have time to really concentrate on writing. At the moment we're busy touring, so its not that much of a priority at the moment.
AT: I guess two, maybe three songs in twelve months suggests that we're not really that prolific, which is true actually as I find that word overbearing.
DiS: Have Fat Cat set any kind of deadline as to when they'd like the second album to be ready?
SS: No not yet. When they do we'll start adding those bits we were talking about!
DiS: Finally, as we're approaching the festive season, what are your plans for Christmas and New Year?
AT: We're playing the Waverley Stage at the Edinburgh street party on New Year's Eve with Supergrass.
MP: Before that we're off to California for five days on the 19th December. We get to play at this festival and go skiing as well.
AT: They're paying us loads and I'm really excited about it. It will be something like twenty times more than we've ever been paid before, which means I'll finally be able to buy my mum a Christmas present out of my own money!
We Were Promised Jetpacks are currently on tour and play the following shows:-
16 Guildford Boiler Room
17 London Borderline (w/Dupec!)
18 Cheltenham Frog & Fiddle
21 Bristol Cooler
23 Swansea Sin City
24 Hatfield University Of Hertfordshire
25 Manchester Roadhouse
26 Liverpool Korova
27 Sheffield Leadmill
29 Glasgow King Tuts
5 Edinburgh The Bowery (Adam solo set w/Sebastian Dangerfield)
31 Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party (Waverley Stage)
For more information on We Were Promised Jetpacks visit their MySpace.