Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mystery Jets Live in NYC: Reflections and an Interview

September 24, 2007

I’m in the lobby of Joe’s Pub, a trendy hideout in the St. Mark’s area of the East Village. And I truly do mean hideout, as its facade is little more than a narrow staircase set between two 20 foot tall privacy fences.

Damn that William Rees! They can’t find me on the guest list and I have to pay for my own ticket. I’d sent an email to the band and received an email back from one "William" who said that sure they could do an interview after the show. That was three weeks ago.

Alas, I had sort of expected this. I’m not exactly the New York Times, or even, god forbid, NME. And, technically, William hadn’t said anything about the guest list. Ah, well. I should have sent a confirmation email a few days before the show as a reminder. With a private laugh at myself, I fork over my credit card.

Truth is, this is my first band interview ever – my first concert since moving to NYC a month ago, in fact. So, figuring I’d screw up in one way or another at some point, I’d decided ahead of time to just go with the flow and not worry. It helps that for the last year Mystery Jets have been spinning in heavy rotation on my computer and iPod, quickly becoming a personal favorite.

The floor manager returns from backstage and assures me the band will still do the interview. With that thought tucked comfortably inside me, I slip into the dark of the concert room.

It takes awhile for my eyes to adjust. The ceiling is massively high and ornate in its tiering and designs. Dark red and black walls add to the opulence, but the intimate size of the room (any place in the room gets a view of the stage no more than about thirty feet away) combined with cushy couches and soft spot lighting make the room perfectly cozy.

At last, the crew is finished with sound checks and the lights dim even further. Kai emerges from the curtained door behind stage, followed by William, Kapil and Blaine. I wait . . . where’s Henry? . . . I wait a bit more . . .

Indeed, where is Henry? He doesn’t show up for the show at all, and the band makes no mention of his absence. Hmm. Well, I have my first question, at least.

Despite being somewhat perplexingly billed as an “acoustic show,” the set is not exclusively acoustic. But Joe’s Pub is a mellow kind of gin joint, and the Jets have toned down their set to fit the atmosphere. It’s an interesting set, a rare chance to hear live some of the slower songs from Making Dens and Zootime.

The band also plays two new songs, “First to Know,” and “Flakes” from the sophomore album they’ll be recording in the near future. “First to Know” sets a kooky organ and rather ominous bass to dancey percussion. “Flakes,” meanwhile, sounds like nouveau 60s doo wop. If these two songs are any indication, the future is a thrilling time for Mystery Jets and their fans.

Highlights of the evening and obvious crowd favorites are the energetic “Diamonds in the Dark,” and “Boy Who Ran Away.” Still, as the last notes of the show die and the band says their farewells, I’m crushed at the exclusion of “Zootime” and “Alas, Agnes.” I berate myself for not also attending the non-acoustic Brooklyn show two days earlier. Next time, I promise myself, for the new album tour . . .

Back in the alley behind Joe’s Pub, Blaine and William have managed to politely tear themselves from fans clamoring for autographs, photos or just conversation. The night air is thick with humidity and the quiet is a welcome change, the dulcet sounds of the building now but muted vibrations. Blaine sets down his crutches and rests on the ground smoking a “fag” he bummed from William. Alone with the two, a situation so unexpected yet strangely comfortable, it’s with near regret that I subdue the fan in me and start the interview:

LA: [To Blaine] So, where’s your father?

BH: He hasn’t been touring with us lately.

LA: Oh, I didn’t know that.

BH: Yeah. We’ve always toured as a five-piece, but it got to the point where we wanted to streamline things to a four-piece. We haven’t really explained it well to people . . . [Looks at William]. We might as well do that now. What you have to understand about Mystery Jets is that the band started with my dad when Will and I were eight. We’ve never really rebelled – most teenagers use music to rebel, and since my dad was always right there . . . This is our chance to do something alone. And he’s fine with it, he understands.

WR: Basically, in order to remain happy, we needed to go it alone, learn from our own experiences and mistakes.

LA: So will he still be recording the new album with you?

WR: Yeah, he’s still part of the band. This is just for tours.

LA: I read somewhere that he’s the primary lyricist. Is that true?

BH: It was for our first album. On the upcoming album everything is more collaborative.

LA: Okay. So, it’s your first U.S. tour, has anything stood out in particular about the U.S.? Anything unexpected or strange?

WR: England and the U.S. are fairly similar, but the attitude here seems different. People seem happier here, like they derive more joy from life maybe. Aside from that, the size of things, everything is bigger from portions of food to buildings . . . it’s like a magnified version of England.

LA: You’ve played how many shows on this tour so far? Four?

WR: This is the fifth.

LA: Have you had a favorite?

WR: Probably Toronto, Toronto was really good.

BH: Also Chicago.

LA: What about them stood out?

WR: In Toronto, the culture. People compare it to Europe, and apparently Montreal is supposed to be similar. But yeah, the people were very cool and into it, seemed to get a lot of the subtleties in our show.

BH: In Chicago, our friend Jamie T. was playing there too. He’s from Twickenham too. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Twickenham area, but we know him from way back.

LA: Is he one of the musicians who’d played with you at the big Eel Pie Island shows?

BH: Yeah.

LA: Ah okay, interesting. I can’t remember reading about this anywhere, but where did the name “Mystery Jets” come from?

WR: About fifteen years ago, on a bright summer day, Henry was sitting in his bedroom when a plastic toy airplane flew in the window. It was one of those World War II Comet models. And it was a remote controlled one, so he picked it up and went to the window to give it back to whoever was flying it, but no one was around. A mystery jet . . .

BH: In the tiny cockpit area, there was a message rolled up inside. He’s never shown the message to us or anyone else.

LA: So you don’t know what the message says?

BH: No. A mystery message in a mystery jet.

LA: Very cool story. Do you have a process you follow for writing songs?

BH: We have many different ones, actually.

WR: Sometimes it’ll come from one person’s brainstorming, and other times from jamming together. That’s why they’re enjoyable, I think. If only one person was writing it could get boring.

LA: Do you have a name for the new album yet?

BH: We don’t have a name yet. We’re hoping to release it early next year.

WR: And then the U.S. release will be a month or so later. Unlike our first album, which came out in England almost a year before the American one. We want to have a world-wide definitive release this time.

LA: Do you have a favorite song from Making Dens?

BH: We all have our personal favorites.

WR: I guess mine is “Zootime,” which was actually the first song we collaborated on. It’s so unlike our other stuff, like an alien piece of music come down to earth.

LA: Interesting that it was the first collaboration, yet it’s so different from your other stuff.

WR: [Musing] That is interesting, isn’t it . . .


Sample MP3s:
Diamonds in the Dark

Mystery Jets Myspace

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