It’s been an interesting year for Mystery Jets. Having recording arguably their best album to date – a refined, subtle blues-rock effort entitled ‘Radlands’ – they then had to face up to an entirely new style of live performance, having lost iconic member Kai Fish to family commitments immediately after recording finished. Despite the problems though, ‘Radlands’ has been a revolution. Sat in front of a Peak District cave right before lending their backing to Jack Daniel’s unusual annual celebration gig, Mystery Jets’ Blaine Harrison is revelling in life’s changes.
Life post-Kai is an obvious starting point. Things clearly split on very admirable terms, and Blaine talks of his friend and bassist with an air of melancholy happiness. “Things without Kai are cool. It’s different; we’re a different band now. We’re playing a different way live, it’s very intricate musically. With Kai we used to jump around, and play fast, heavy and hard. We spent more time in the audience then we did on stage. Kai’s married now, he’s got a kid. I think when you have a family your priorities change. He didn’t want to spend months away from his family and not see his daughter grow up. Beyond that, Kai has always been a very independent person, he’s had all these projects and never really had time to see them through. Now he has time to do that. He’s in a really good place, and we’re in a good place.”
The album Kai helped to make – ‘Radlands’ – is something of a renaissance; an album that owes more to the subtle tones of early Beatles than the band’s indie-rock roots. The album could have been made in the home of today’s hosts: “We thought about recording in Nashville, actually, but everyone wanted a different place, and we ended up with Austin.” Blaine explains. The reason for Austin is the same as many of Mystery Jets previous recording locations: atmosphere. “We’ve always tried to put ourselves in an environment that would fit in with the sound of – and inspire – the record. We went out to Austin with very little material, and being there in the house together producing the record, the songs just came out of that. We recorded our first album on Eel Pie Island ourselves as well, and in both cases you can hear the place I think.”
A fictional character developed out of ‘Radlands’, and he also has a real sense of Texas to him. He came from just one song. “We had a song called Ballad of Emerson Lonestar. We figured that we wanted to bring him to life. So we wrote a story around him and put him across the record on different songs. He’s based on place, really.”
This might be a blues-inspired album, but it’s still inciting some wild gigs. “The audiences are still as wild as ever” [he’s not wrong – the evening’s show is total chaos]. “There are different sections of the crowd depending on what we write. Certainly when we wrote our record ‘21’ we got loads more babes. On the next record, ‘Serotonin’, they started bringing their boyfriends. This one’s gone more towards the boys, lots of goatees. There’s always an element that are along for the ride, and others who just hop on for a little while and then hop off again. Particularly when we tour in Asia or South America, it’s like being a new band. Recently Japanese fans in particular have got a bit crazier.”
The albums have been amazingly consistent in their success, despite all the stylistic changes. “Every album has charted between 30 and 40, but we don’t really watch the charts. I think if we were in the top 10 we’d probably watch it a bit more. British Radio bar a couple of stations is pretty terrible. We don’t really listen to a lot of radio, so were not really aware of who’s playlisted. It’s nice to get played somewhere though. We liked being on Inbetweeners and Eastenders. Apparently we were on 90210 the other day as well, which is weird. 6 Music is the most important radio station here, I think. John Kennedy on XFM should get way more credit. He’s the closest thing to John Peel we have. His late night shows are fantastic.”
Despite the consistent showing, new label Rough Trade – the huge independent that came on board with second to last album ‘Serotonin’ – have proven to be an extremely wise move, particularly in terms of the creative forces behind the band. “There’s a lot more freedom on the new label. Rough Trade sign bands that they think know what they’re doing. They believe in their bands, and that they have enough vision to carry the project through without constant rubbing their noses in it. What you don’t get on an indie label is limitless funds, so you don’t get those poster campaigns; it’s done on the love of the fans. They carry the campaign. Most of my friends earn more money than me. But they don’t necessarily like what they do.”
Things have changed substantially since the early days, when Blaine had an unusual touring set up – it must have been hard to lose yourself in true rock and roll style with you dad on drums. Now Henry Harrison sticks to song writing duties (“My dad hasn’t played live with us for five years, those scary years are behind us, but its great working together.”). Still, it’s never going to be too easy balancing a personal life with a touring rock schedule. “We don’t really find it hard to stay in a relationship when we’re touring. Maybe at the beginning of a relationship it can get tricky, but it can be nice having that space and then coming back and it being really intense. You also meet people on the road and then have to leave the next day. So it is hard. But it’s what we signed up for. They turn up at shows every now and then.” Blaine explains, before chuckling and adding “with a baby”.
We’re pretty sure there aren’t any real Mystery Jets babies on the horizon (Kai’s aside, of course), but things are very up in the air nonetheless. “It’s hard to look beyond the immediate future”, Blaine feels. “Even Radlands is a very different thing to 3 or 4 years ago. We treat each record as it comes. Things are just going to keep on changing.”