English indie rock band Mystery Jets are back in Singapore on the back of their latest album Radlands, to give us a taste of their new Americana-themed album and of course, perform their classic sing-along tracks like ‘Hideaway’ and ‘Young Love’. We had a chat to guitarist William Rees about their escape to Austin and their fond recollections of their last trip to Singapore in 2009, when they played at our very own Zouk.
Recalling his experience in Singapore, Rees tells us he misses the weather – “a lot actually, I love it” – the lush buffet spreads and the local food. And alluding again to their time here, he tells us about lead singer Blaine Harrison’s fascination, no—“obsession” with zoos; undoubtedly his main attraction during their stay and another stop to add to their itinerary. “The animals we have back in England are so boring, whereas in Singapore you’ve got snakes and tigers.”
The same could be said about their reasons for leaving England to write and record Radlands in Austin, Texas. They felt as if they’d reached the end of a chapter of being an English band with pop hits and they needed to find new things to write about. “We wanted to break away, nothing there was really inspiring us anymore,” Rees says. The move to the US felt like a natural progression for the band, so they set up a home studio about half an hour out of Austin and stayed put for two months, writing and recording material for Radlands. “America has always been calling us. We’d always felt that one day we’d make an album there and the time just felt right to do that.”
The vastness and openness, the “real feeling of liberation” that they found in Austin, was refreshing. “There’s a lot of idealism in America, it’s a place where people aren’t afraid to set up their own cults or religions and they really experiment with their lives. Their attitudes are very candid, and you meet a lot of people a lot older who are still behaving like they’re twenty. That was really inspiring to be around.”
“America has always been calling us. We’d always felt that one day we’d make an album there and the time just felt right to do that.”
The band hadn’t spent much time in the US before this, the longest stint being a tour with The Klaxons at the end of 2007, but all of their preconceptions came founded when they arrived. “Everything we imagined it would be was true and you almost feel like you’re in a cartoon sometimes. It’s kind of unreal. You feel like you know it, but you’ve never experienced it.” The disconnect but simultaneous immersion into this foreign culture and lifestyle is exactly what they were looking for in the move. Rees says, “Everything about the US is true: the way people talk, the things they laugh at and the things that upset them. You do feel at times like you’re in a caricature.”
Rees tells us that the two months were spent very isolated, sometimes going out to bars and meeting people on weekends, and then really seriously working on Radlands material during the week – “it was just the four of us and it was a very concentrated amount of time.” When not writing or recording, the band spent time at a river that ran along their house and at “target practice with some guns we managed to get a hold of.”
Much like their move to Austin, their return home after the intensity of two months in isolation was a natural progression. Having spent two months in Austin, writing and recording the album, the southern influence on Radlands is evident. When asked about discovering new musicians and bands while in the ‘music capital of the world’, Rees names garage rock band, White Denim, who he describes as “incredible”. However, a ten-member band’s name eludes him – “they’re a sort of psychedelic Captain Beefheart-style band and they all wear white suits.” [Editor’s note: Any of our readers know who he’s referring to?]
“Everything we imagined it would be was true and you almost feel like you’re in a cartoon sometimes. It’s kind of unreal. You feel like you know it, but you’ve never experienced it.”
In terms of their live show, Rees tells us his favorite Mystery Jets song to play live is the 6-minute track ‘Lost in Austin’, off the latest album. It is indeed an epic track and we can only imagine it live. When comparing the band’s live performance with their studio recordings, Rees believes that the dynamic of their music becomes critical. “I think we come into our own as a live band. It’s on stage that our songs sound as they really should sound.” Playing live gives them opportunities to improvise and develop the music to give the audience a real experience. He explains, “In the live process, things change a lot and certain sections get extended and certain structures might change.” He points out that there’s always an element of risk when they perform live, depending on how they’re all feeling. “It’s very exciting to be a part of.”
Rees was less certain about the band’s future direction. “You never really know how a record will turn out until it’s been mixed and mastered. You go there and you have to make it happen. You have to put everything into it, let it form its own identity and, in the process, evolve.” And so the band didn’t have any expectations for Radlands. “It should all just unravel like a ball of string, all of it.” And it’s certainly exciting listening to the album; the clear shift in direction from excitable pop hits to a more introverted, reflective tone.
Mystery Jets plays Hard Rock Café on Friday, 14 September at 10:30pm. And just a heads up, Rees is anticipating some lychee martinis while he’s here. You guys know what to do…