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Archive for September 2008

The Academy Is…

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This article appears on Subba Cultcha.

The Academy Is are living in fast times. Returning with album number 3 in 3 and a half years, the high school inspired ‘Fast Times At Barrington High’, the Chicago boys followed recording in the the city that never sleeps with a summer on the breakneck, alt, summer juggernaut  The Warped Tour before bringing their summer hair to good old Blighty. Catching up the day after their uproarious Islington Academy show the band cut a frenetic bunch, wired with the departure hall clarity of the constant traveller and an engaging eagerness usually reserved for bands on their debut turn of the promotional roller coaster. With ‘Fast Times…‘ only days old in UK stores there’s a genuine hunger to discuss what exactly the academy is right now and where they are headed in the future.

“It was a great show, we had a lot of fun,” exclaims front man William Beckett looking back to the previous nights exertions, “We’re playing a steady mix of songs of all the records, and it’s fun to play the new songs. Some of the new songs  the energy was actually higher than of some of the older songs, which was very exciting for us.”  ‘Fast Times…’ is very much a coming of age record for The Academy Is, they’ve steadily built on the pop punk foundations of  debut ‘Almost Here’ and follow up ‘Santi’ to flesh out their sound. The songs are up another level, Beckett and co choosing to deal with their own personal coming of age to soundtrack the bands, taking themselves back to the cusp of the real world and those heady last days of school with songs such as ‘Summer Hair=Young Forever’ and ’After The Last Midtown Show’ perfectly sound tracking the fall of youth and that last summer of true freedom. The energy levels are ferocious and ’Fast Times…’ packs a punch like a Chuck Palahniuk script, that in no small part pays tribute to the surroundings in which it was created. “For ‘Almost Here’ we recorded in St Cloud Florida, which is where all the old folks go to retire,” recalls Beckett eliciting a discussion about Cocoon and Cocoon 2 that somehow triggers the age old Gofather vs. Godfather 2 debate, “then for ‘Santi’ we were in LA, but for the whole vibe of ‘Fast Times…’ we wanted to be somewhere more high energy and New York is definitely like that, especially as we were right in the hub of all the movement.” “New York is a very cool experience, it’s a lot like London where you can walk down the street and  hear all these different languages being spoken, much different from Los Angeles,” adds bassist Adam T Siska, “I mean I like Los Angeles as a place to hang out but New York proved to be a more exciting place to get creative and make a record.” It’s certainly a decision that has paid off and the energy that bubbles on New Yorks streets has seeped onto tape and helped fulfil Becketts statement that the most important thing for this record going into the studio was “to create an energetic, dynamic, fun record.” For a band who count 2 countries and four US cities as their hometowns this nomadic existence seems to fit perfectly and the band have no plan of deviating from this notion that they will travel wherever they need to go to capture each record as they hear it inside. “It was perfect making this record in New York, but for another album it could be perfect to record in Chicago, or even here in London I mean that’s been spoken about too.  It all depends on the type of record we’re setting out to make. These days you can pretty much make a record anywhere but we were lucky that we found this great place that had a drum room that we really liked and also another that had some guitar rooms that really captured what we were looking for, but it was a great thing that we got to make a record in a studio like that as day by day these studios are disappearing and folding, so we made an album in some great studios that may not exist next year,” laments Beckett.

It’s never really been in doubt that one of the key differences between UK and US bands is the sheer audacity of the work ethic that US bands have impressed into them from inception. Whilst many UK bands know that if you conquer London you conquer the country US bands are faced with the sheer scale of their own country from the off. The Academy Is are no exception and they have set a blistering album, tour tour album tour album tour tour tour schedule for themselves that they have thrived under, yet for all this they still seem to be able to write progressively developing albums. “Well we had some ideas kicking around after (‘Santi’)…and Michael had a bunch of music floating around, were any of those musical demos from before, before?” Enquires beckett swivelling round to guitarist Michael Guy Chislett. “No, I don’t think so, ‘Automatic Eyes’ we’d had around for a while,” notes the affable Aussie guitarist. “It’s crazy to think back that far, like some of the early demos Michael would send me a music file,” enthuses Beckett before cracking a wry smile, “not like a manila envelope!” “The thing about ‘Fast Times…’ is that whether a song was a result of a musical idea that Michael had or Butcher (Drummer) had or I came up with on my own, regardless we stripped it down to acoustic for the song writing for melodic purposes. I wanted to make sure each song could stand on it’s two legs, alone as acoustic tracks. Which is pretty similar to how ‘Almost Here’ was written where as ‘Santi’ was a more jammy album,” continues Beckett, “this ones more focused, not to say anything bad about ‘Santi’, just this in it’s nature is a more focused album, and the songs from every guitar note to every drum beat, it’s all very much intentional and we spent a lot of time having those conversations and perfecting our own parts separately. There was a lot of trust on this album as far as how much we trusted each other as musicians.” Asked if they feel that ‘Fast Times…’ is a step closer to a perfect album in The Academy Is collective head and Beckett quickly responds, “absolutely, yea,” before Chislett explains how the band are already well into the process of creating ‘Fast Times…’ successor. “We handed this in like 4 months ago now and so we’ve already been  talking about it (Where to head next) and there’s already a whole bunch of stuff I’d take to another level if I had the chance. It’s funny because we started the initial ideas of  or at least conceiving the ideas of this album maybe 2 or 3 months after ‘Santi’ came out There are so many good bands releasing albums once a year now that it’s very important for us to keep in that creative mindset. But, yeah, I definitely think that we are getting closer and closer to what we’re trying to ultimately achieve musically.”

The band have spent 3 moths on the Warped Tour carousing across the States for a relentless schedule of shows, but this year like 2004 before it is election year and whilst not overtly a political band The Academy Is, like every US band currently touring are almost obliged to confirm their opinions in regard to the upcoming election. In 2004 there was a massive groundswell of musicians trying to energise the young vote against the Bush regime spearheaded by Warped Tour associates such as Green Day and Blink 182 and whilst they did encourage more young people to the ballot the ultimate result is recorded in the history books. On the cusp of one of the most divisive and important elections in history The Academy Is got to observe the mood across America. “Well there wasn’t much support for the Republican candidate,” says Beckett, “I mean you pretty much only say people openly supporting Barrack Obama. I think most young people are rallying behind Obama.” “I think just creative people as well,” notes Chislett. “As a musician I was reading the article about whats on their iPods, and Barrack Obama talks about how much he loves that song ‘Maggies Farm’ by Bob Dylan, and you know I’d much rather vote for guy who’s the Bob Dylan fan and a fan of Rock and Roll,” adds Siska before Beckett sums up why the mood of hope is back, “it was difficult in 04 because there wasn’t really a candidate. I mean John Kerry, are you really going to get behind John Kerry? The thing about Barrack Obama is that he’s such a symbol for youth and for change, I think it’s very important that people are hopeful  about the future and it’s very hard to be hopeful about the future when you have the potential to have what would be the oldest President in History coupled with the most conservative people period in Sarah Palin, and there’s such  contrasting opinions on so many issues it will be interesting to see what happens, and we can only do as much as we can to influence that. But overall with our album and everything we didn’t want to talk about politics because it’s such a fleeting thing. All we can do is stay as well informed as we can, it’s so far beyond our control that all we can really do is try and stay focused on the things in our own lives that we can control and we can deal with and that’s what the album is really about.”

As far as those things go for The Academy Is they include such activities as filming videos at the same High School as movie namesake ‘Fast Times at Ridgemount High’ and maintaining the vital and intimate relationship with their fans through their websites brilliant vidcast TAITV. With their most accomplished album to date in the bags and the seeds of the next record already in play there’s no danger of the times slowing down for The Academy Is.

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Rolo Tomassi

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Article for Subba Cultcha.

They say that waiting is the hardest part, and anyone who has witnessed the kinetic speedball explosion that James Spence helps to create on stage, as part of UK underground pioneers: Rolo Tomassi, will have no problem imagining how hard it must have been for the young dynamo to spend the summer cooped up at home waiting for the fervour that the September release of their debut album ’Hysterics’ would elicit.
“Oh absolutely, it’s been tough. I can’t want to get back on the road.”  James states when quizzed as to whether this summer has been a  little cabin feverish. If a week is a long time in politics, then the gap between Rolo Tomassi’s last original release and ‘Hysterics’ is a virtual lifetime. Barring the repressing last year it’s been over 18months since  the release of the Rolo Tomassi 12” EP.

So why the wait and has it been worth it? Bands can be funny beasts, to the listening masses  there are only the end results, the live shows and the releases, it is often hard to remember the investment bands put into an album, how long they have lived with the songs. There has been  a spate of great young British bands recently who have disbanded shortly after their debut albums, a pertinent example being the demise of schizophrenic Guilford rockers Meet Me In St Louis who’s debut was so long in the making that by the time it came out the band had moved so far on and were so over the album that they couldn’t keep it together. It’s with this in mind that the gap between the Ep and ‘Hysterics’ makes me a little nervous as to the  well being of the Rolo Tomassi camp. “Well we were still at school and we wanted to do this album properly so we basically took a year off” confirms James as to the delay in releasing ‘Hysterics’. They have not been idle though. ‘Hysterics’ is a huge leap forward musically and also sees the band departing Holy Roar Records and joining hot little indie label Hassle  and so now count amongst their label mates Alexisonfire and Anti-Flag. They have also been crafting their most accomplished work to date. It’s a blunt force trauma of a record that hits you from every angle possible, it is also a more complete sound. Despite this new depth, though, it manages to avoid moments that might bring with it the tag ‘maturity’. This might usually be seen as a negative but for Rolo Tomassi it is quite the opposite.  There is no denying that they are a young band, any more than they are a band with a female vocalist, to gloss over these seems more contrite to highlight it.  They are primarily a live band, indeed that is the way they write, no Billy Corgan style 100 track guitar overdubs here, and the  energy and anger of youth that the band  produce live is translated wholesale onto tape without compromise.  Songs like ‘Scabs’ and ’Abraxas’ pulsate and explode in the headphones like the band do on stage.  “Absolutely everything we do is written for live. If we can’t reproduce it live we change it.” States James.

Rolo Tomassi trade on opposites, quiet and loud, menacing and seductive, light speed key loops versus half time drum slams and that old confrontation of male versus female. It seems contrite to highlight but the juxtaposition between  the Spence siblings, James and little sister Eva informs the heart of the band more than the protagonists maybe wish it did. It seems impossible to read a Rolo Tomassi feature without the presence of  hell raising screamer Eva being raised and paraded like the one stop badge  to define the band.  “I’ve never thought about it like that, or with it put like that but I guess it has helped yes,” says James when asked if in some way it has helped to have a female co-writer to balance out the perspectives.  Although many of the songs on ‘Hysterics’ are written from an ambiguous sexual identity about subjects that come from universally accessible source, it is noticeable that the protagonists seem to be more rounded and aware than some all male bands manage.  They manage to avoid tackling every subject in the well worn grooves of simply boy meets girl, boy dates girl, boy loses girl and writes angry song.

Talking with James you realise that more than anything else the band are simply a collective of hardcore music fans and record collectors that are giving back into the very thing that they have loved for years. “It’s all there is,” notes James about record collecting, “I’m totally obsessive, I have to have everything that a band I like has released. I’m constantly trading play lists with friends. Music is all there is.” It’s something that’s highlighted by the bands MySpace site where their releases are meticulously catagorised, from their early demo tapes through to ‘Hysterics’.  To coincide with the release of ‘Hysterics’ the band will hit the road for a gruelling 6 week tour that takes in the length and breadth of the country. They will finish the tour playing with Blood Red Shoes but the first half sees them taking Mirror!Mirror! and Throats on the road. It’s one of the perks of taking another step up the ladder. “We always look at who’s playing when we’re considering shows and that’s very important to us but this is the first time we’ve really got a say in who goes out on tour with us. They are both amazing bands.”

As you read this ‘Hysterics’ will be being loaded onto and swiped off shelves up and down the country. It’s a record that you need to own this year, it’s the fulfilment of a 2 year old promise made on the Rolo Tomassi EP and it does not disappoint. There will be endless reams of hyperbole spilled about Rolo Tomassi this year but the best advice anyone looking to witness a band playing genuinely adventurous music with a passion they didn’t download in a ’startaband’ kit from NME.com can take is to catch Rolo Tomassi live, now. You might not understand it in the moment, but in time you will rave about the fact you were there.

Written by Jonathan

September 23, 2008 at 10:33 pm

The Virgins – Dublin Castle

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This could be any city in the world, shoe horned into the dark, skin creepingly tight confines of a bare wall venue, dripping with the stench of sweat, a thousand spilt Red Stripe cans and endless spent bass lines, a group of shaggy haired Americans pumping out a taught set of stripped rock with roll included. There are tell tale signs though, the Club Fandango logo stage right, Steve Lemacq shuffling through to the bar and the pages of London Lite strewn on the bathroom floor, all revealing we are deep within the bowels of Camden, in the basement of the infamous Dublin Castle, a venue that manages to seem smoke ridden months after the ban. The Americans in question are Atlantic records play list bothering The Virgins, surely the most dishonest moniker in rock history.

The Virgins ply that New York City staple of dirty bass led blues rock that has reverberated around the hallowed walls of CBGBs a thousand times. It takes elements of The Stones, The Stooges and  The Boss and fires it out with a gossamer coat hewn from the sinews of youthful exuberance. Tonight is no different. They easily fill the stage space available, their line up expanded to five, creating a persona bigger than the sum of it’s parts. They begin slowly, a series of false starts and rambling jam like noodles perforate the air before things really kick off, but when they finally get around to launching into the rolling ‘She’s Expensive’ it’s almost a stealth attack dropping you into the middle of the song before you really realise what’s going on. For a band that was brought together by a Ryan McGinley photo shoot and has thus far only a handful of singles and a debut album to it’s name, coupled with a wave of hyperbole built around songs being featured on hit new US TV sensation Gossip Girl, it’s a blessed relief to feel the meat on the bones of songs like ‘One Week Of Danger’ and ‘Teen Lovers‘. There’s a good deal of substance here behind the style, which is a good thing as it would be easy to dismiss the rib exposing muscular rock as a Strokes/Razorlight lite concoction.  Formed in 2005 there is a long, long lineage to the music that The Virgins make, but that should not be an excuse to dismiss it out of hand. Though singer Donald spouts the same self assured lyrics that make you want to wreak furious vengence on Johnny Borrels vac formed visage he manages to do so with an innocent aloofness that directly channels ‘Aftermath’ era Jagger and manages to even sound genuinely evocative when slowed down for a solo slow song.

There is an abundance of well heeled young ladies in the audience tonight, no doubt drawn out by the Gossip Girl associations and the highly suggestive video to album fulcrum ’Rich Girls’, it’s ironic then that tonight their set is actually cut short and they do not get to air their biggest song to date. No matter though by the end of their  set they have won over the assembled throng and have the crowd baying for more. There are moments tonight when  the set dips a little, despite their debut album dropping The Virgins remain a few songs short of a killer set, there are still a few rambling edges, and whilst that haphazard appearance currently remains cute whilst they face shoe box venues and where the crowd can hear every off mic word, The Virgins are clearly aiming for greater heights, they will need a few more songs to make the leap, but for now they have the feet of north London and Steve Lemacq tapping.

Written by Jonathan

September 20, 2008 at 11:45 am

A trip to the arctic to find some virgins.

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Another day on the cobbles of that London town and some interesting discoveries. The first being that if you sleep beyond 9am you will almost certainly have emails informing you of the fact. Several phone calls this morning involed with organising the bands planning to storm 333 as part of the impending Who’s Jack? extravaganza: the Shoreditch Shuffle.  Never work with children or animals, so goes the saying goes, but where was the mention of not trying to organise bands whos gear is locked inside a studio as part of an ongoing recording bill dispute? Never a dull etc etc. You can read about just how incredible the Shuffle is going to be…here! This coming weekend 13/14th September it’s just what you need to chase away those deathofsummer blues.

Matt Helders...enjoying his Late Night Tales mix...possibly

Matt Helders...enjoying his Late Night Tales mix...possibly

First excitement of the day involved high tailing it down into London Tubey warren and zipping up to Angel in order to find the Old Queens Head pub on the Essex Road where that Arcitc Monkeys rhythm machine Matt Helders was waiting to wax lyrical about his new contribution to the Late Night Tales compilation series. Rekindling his teenage love of the wheels of steel it’s an eclectic party mix that takes in Italian horror movie moments, Modeselektor and disco drum heaven courtosy of those cow-bell kings, The Rapture. The fruits of this interview will be appearing in the pages of Who’s Jack and then latterly here.

Arriving just in time to witness a representative of a certain music weekly being reprimanded for deciding that instead of asking anything about the relevant mix album it would be more fun to adopt the baseball bat to the head school of journalism and repeatedly demand release dates for the 3rd album from ‘the day job’. Now from a pure cold hearted journalism point of view you can understand how that’s of interest…but this isn’t Hard Talk, the object is not to crack the subject and make him confess the unmentionable…especialy when they are there for entirely other purposes….still.

Looking after Matt were the very cool Ben from Outpost Media (who couldn’t be more helpful if he offered to come round to your front door and piggy back you to the interview Badly Drawn Boy stylee) and Sarah from Matts management company Wildlife Entertainment. Some interesting chat including very enthused noises about new prospects Detroit Social Club who you may or may not have already heard but peddle a gloriously swaggering blues soaked cacophony. They are currently playing the length and breadth of blighty so catch them whilst you can still taste the sweat in the air.

One interview down it was off to the Dublin Castle to hunt down some Virgins and get my foot trodden on by Steve Lemacq as he skulked around to Narration…. but a full review of the night will be posted in a mmoment!

The Aliens

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This article originally appeared on Subba Cultcha.

“When was it decided that listening to music had to be easy?” John Maclean talks about The Aliens difficult second album.

The Aliens new album ‘Luna’ is a difficult beast. The follow up to their 2007 debut, ‘Astronomy for Dogs’, ‘Luna’ is a sprawling behemoth of a record, it’s songs span out in front of you creating rolling, expansive sonic panoramas. A third of the records tracks flow out well past the 6 minute mark, two making double figures, it is safe to say that this is not a primped and preened MTV pop record, where running over the radio sanctioned 3 minute timeline is tantamount to creative blasphemy. It is coincidentally, and possibly for exactly that reason, a mesmeric, psych tinged, honeycomb folk-pop masterpiece. It’s the album that The Aliens should have been able to make first time around but were perhaps not allowed to, where ‘Astronomy for Dogs’ felt muted, like a curtailed version of what could have been, ‘Luna’ runs free. Recorded in the remote Scottish home studio of chief Alien, Beta Band co-founder and Lone Pigeon man Gordon Anderson, the relaxed recording schedule the band adopted allowed them to explore each track with the focus and willful experimentation upon which they thrive.

“It (Luna) was actually a lot easier to make than ‘Astronomy…’ because with ‘Astronomy…’ we decided to do it in a largish studio in london so the pressure was on and we actually only had a week or two to actually record. So we didn’t get that much time to experiment and do what we usually do with tracks,” recalls John looking back to the first time The Aliens committed their singular space folk vision to tape. “ Whereas with ‘Luna’ we recorded it in Gordons cottage up in Scotland and spent 6 months on it. So much more time to experiment with tracks and scrap tracks and add things to tracks, and I suppose as well because Gordon’s slightly fragile at times so when it comes to big cities like London I think he found it really difficult getting to the studio and using the tube. Just moving through all the people and the hassle of a hot summer in london. Whereas with ‘Luna’ he was comfortable in his own fishing village and in his own cottage.” The fragility that John is alluding to reflects the well documented history of mental illness attached to Anderson, who spent the best part of 10 years institutionalised. It is something that has been with him since the Beta Band and inevitably informs both the process and the music of The Aliens, evoking further comparisons with other musical explorers who have flirted with the darker sides of the human psyche such as Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett, who both ploughed into similar psychedelic layered pop.  ‘Luna’ is an incredibly expansive record of glorious 60s tinged folk, songs like ‘Billy Jack’ and ‘Bobby’s Song’ stretching out forever creating giant sonic wormholes that suck the listener deep inside, yet it hangs around a uniquely intimate core, heard, as one might imagine, almost by accident, like a garden hopping youth pressing their ear to a window of Brian Wilson’s studio during the creation of ‘Smile’. It feels like you’re a voyeur to a moment of aural conception, the tinkerings of flawed genius.

The spectre of ill health raised itself again throughout the recording process and again after the album had been finished causing the band to cancel a string of scheduled summer dates. “We haven’t really got our teeth into playing a lot of the new stuff live yet because Gordon got a bit unwell again after the album was finished.” Notes John, “If we had serious funds to make a proper live show then we were talking about actually playing the album as it appears on the record because we think it might suit that…starting at the beginning and going straight through, and getting everyone involved who appeared on the record…but that’s just not possible so we’ve got to scale a lot of it back, I mean there’s so much going on on some of the record that we’ve really got to look at how to produce that live.” It would take a small army to reproduce the album note for note live as the list of vintage instruments and antique drum machines goes on and on, the bands love of excessive experimental sonics highlighted in the song title ‘Theramin’. “We’re all fans of rare instruments. I’m especially a fan of vintage electronic equipment. We use a lot of vintage drum machines and stuff, there’s one called a sonivox which was a really early vocoder used on the radio in the 1940s, but it’s getting harder and harder to afford them. With Ebay everyones a bit more savvy about what they have now. We’re fans of like the old BBC sound workshops where they make crazy psychedelic sounds out of computers they built themselves like. It’s an exciting area of sound.” Though, given the nature of the band and the uncertainties surrounding Anderson every time he steps onto a stage can lead to an audience not knowing what to expect from  The Aliens live the band do have plans to keep the shows as high energy as possible. “ I think there’s a lot more upbeat songs on this record which will translate well live, on the first record there were some songs we didn’t play live because we felt they were too downbeat. We always want the live experience to be a bit more like a club…we want people to move and dance and not just stare at us as we self indulgently moan,” says John. “I think for this tour it will end up being a mix of ‘Luna’ and ‘Astronomy’, The great thing about getting gordon onstage is that you never know what to expect, we never really have a set list so whatever he’s in the mood to play we’ll play.”

There seems scant danger of any self indulgent moaning taking over the sheer triumphant splendor of the songs from ‘Luna’. They pitch and glide, washing various hues over you, this is the sound of joy projected through a prism of stereotyped Scottish dour, songs like ‘Blue Mantle’ and ‘Boats’ find you just wanting to wallow in their sonics as they fall over you like giant aural snowdrifts. So what has been inspiring these mini-opera’s? A lot of salmon and cinema it would seem. Certainly tales of the various recording sessions that stretch back to 2007 have the band debating the finer points of salmon preparation with at least equal veracity to the benefits of diving chord changes. “After you’ve spent all day playing music and sitting in front of pro tools you really don’t want to listen to other peoples music, so we’re always watching films and there’s a lot of ‘Luna’ that’s more influenced by films than music or anything like that. The last film I saw at the cinema was Hell Boy 2 so we love the art house films and the mainstream movies as well.” The Aliens are definitely art house but with ‘Luna’ they may well have the sleeper hit of the year.

The Streets – Mike Skinner interview

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This article originally appeared on Gigwise.

“Finishing this album was the highlight of my life”, so says an enthused Mike Skinner reflecting on his summer of activity before the release of The Streets fourth album ‘Everything Is Borrowed’ later this month. It has been a strange ride for Mr Skinner since his previous album ‘The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living’, an album he describes as his bravest to date, even before the latest installment has hit the shelves he has previously revealed to the press that he is working on his fifth album which will fulfill his record deal and allow him to make the wild career hop into movies, a natural progression from his Beat Stevie mini movies, which he has been touting around the press of late. There’s also the small business of that video for ‘The Escapist’ where he appeared to walk the length of France, “the way I experience music mostly these days is on YouTube, so the video you see on YouTube is real events, it’s much better than some corporate video… I just want to do genuine things and thats what The Escapist video was.” Before all that there comes the business of ‘Everything is Borrowed’.

“The intention (of ‘Everything is Borrowed’) was to make something that was undeniably positive”, says Mike from his home, which contrary to the belief of worried fans who misread his blog post about the recent video for ‘Everything Is Borrowed’ has not been repossessed! The album in general seems to be one of personal reflection, a stock take and a musing on the wider implications of the way in which our individual lives fit into the surrounding society as a whole, the impact the individual has and the hole that they create and leave when they depart. Initial singles ‘The Escapist’ and ‘Everything is Borrowed’ imparticular set out the stall about the transient nature of possession and belongings, singing “I’ll not feel no fear, Cos’ I‘m not really here, I’m nowhere near here” on the former. It is the soundtrack to a million credit crunched hearts. It is also a down tempo sound, low key positivity, with an almost zen quality that rolls with a clam determination, like the cheer that greats the sunrise after a long hard night on a Glastonbury hill. “I had to throw a lot of songs away as I got a bit too clever,” says Mike before continuing, “society has to be very reductive now as we don’t have very much time. I’ve got my whole life being me and you’ve just got a few minutes of your day so you have to reduce me down. That’s reflected in the album.”

Taking this album to the road Mike has been concocting some extras for the fans to ensure that the next Streets tour offers something a little special. The most outlandish being that fans should bring items for Mike and the gang to ‘borrow’, those fans that have the coolest ofr most unique items will get to travel with the band to the next date on the tour. “With The Streets there’s not that many of us and everything we do is really genuine, so I’m thinking it could be something really low key for the fans, and obviously it will be really good for filming as well. I haven’t really thought about it yet (what he’s hoping he can borrow) maybe a spare pair of pants, always gets a bit short for that on tour!” He jokes. “They’re all very back to basics The Streets shows, but they are getting really good, and what I get he audience to do, no ones doing what I’m doing in terms of crowd tricks and stuff.” Those looking to attend the upcoming tour will be heartened to hear that Mike has been honing these skills across the summer with appearances at events like Ibiza Rocks, “it was just an amazing, amazing show. The whole crowd was … I do these go lows, which has been copied largely, but of which I was the inventor! Lets not forget that! So doing that and getting everyone in the pool it was just a really really cool show. People always have a really good time at a Streets gig.”

Speaking with Mike Skinner and looking through the videos and lyrics to ‘Everything Is Borrowed’ it’s brought back home what an ordinary guy he is. It’s easy to forget the fresh bedroom sound of ‘Original Pirate Material’ and think of the headlines and celeb baiting moments that accompanied his two follow ups. “I think there was a lot of misunderstanding, down to me really, but I never had a celebrity lifestyle, I think I was struggling with my own self image, I think thats what that (‘Hardest way to make an easy living’) was about,” Mike muses. “People can’t fill in the gaps as they have no idea what my life was like at that time and had a lot of preconceptions as to what they thought my life was like. I think you add all those things together and it sounds like I’m complaining, but I was just a young guy thrust into an odd…they weren’t these situations of celebrity that I was in. I was just someone who had really changed in the estimation of people but my lifestyle hadn’t really changed.” Nowhere is the perception of the music geek next door better illustrated than when Mike gets onto the subject of his obsession with rare drum machines like his recently acquired Roland TR-909 and the potential chances for re-skinning it. “There’s an amazing guy down in Devon, he’s just done the Kaiser Chiefs, I can’t stand the Kaiser Chiefs, but he’s just down all of their gear in white and it looks amazing. I haven’t got too colour schemey on this tour but I love what he’s doing and I’ve actually just got a 1973 Fender bass which he’s turning pink for me, that’s my theme so it will all be luminous pink and yellow and green, but like army camouflage!” When he chats drum machines there’s a quiver in his voice and no doubt a tear in his eye.

As for the future past the release of ‘Everything Is Borrowed’ and the subsequent tour? Well there’s the aforementioned fifth album that is well underway, “I am writing constantly,” says Mike enthusiastically, before revealing the long hard road ahead for the escapist himself, “I’m hoping to be on the Big Day Out in February though I’m still not on their line up. Then obviously we’re going to do America as well next year.” So even if the future holds Mike Skinner the actor in its sights we can rest assured that there’s a few years left on The Streets yet.

The Mystery Jets – Interview with Blaine

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This article originally appeared on Subba Cultcha.

“We all got pretty pissed off…members off the band started to trash the stage…everyone started throwing bottles at the road crew and the organisers, so it kind of turned into a bit of a mini riot.” Blaine Harrison Queen laden videos and how to deal with having your festival set cut short.

It’s not always easy being in the Mystery Jets. The band have recently returned to the live arena following an enforced absence brought about by Blaine’s illness. Returning with sets at Reading and Leeds would have been a celebratory affair you might think, but the course of live music never runs smooth. Things started well enough with their Reading set, “ Yeah we had a good weekend. Reading, Reading was really fun, good turn out and it was the first gig we’d actually done in a long time, so it was nice to be out playing to so many people again.” However, when Leeds rolled around things were not quite as simple, “Um Leeds was not so good, we had basically our set cut short by four songs by the organisers due to, God, I think it was due to stage times overlapping. I think there was a 15 minute change over before or set which was just not long enough really, and yeah, our set just got cut in half and we all got pretty pissed off. I wasn’t really involved in this but other members off the band started to trash the stage and everyone started throwing bottles at the road crew and the organisers so it kind of turned into a bit of a mini riot. I mean I suppose it was quite a dramatic ending but I would rather have had a full set, so that was a bit frustrating really.”

2008 has been a rollercoaster year for the Mystery jets, the release their defining album ’21’ in march saw the band take giant steps forward stylistically, fulfilling much of the promise they had signposted on ‘Making Dens’ and ‘Zootime’. They moved into the summer with a series of triumphant shows, including a turn at Scotlands Rockness festival.  Yet just in the middle of a string of UK and European festival dates that would have seen the band performing to the largest audiences of their career Blaine was taken ill and everything was put on hold. Forging on from their return at Reading and Leeds the band have just released chart bothering single ‘Half In Love With Elizabeth’, which contains the only video in recent memory where the Queen plays basketball continuing an increasing line of experimental and satiric videos, “well in the past we’d write a bunch of screenplays and send them out to a bunch of different directors and whoever came back with the best storyboard we’d go with them but we felt for the second album we wanted more of a consistency between the videos and more of a defined style. So we came across this guy James Copeman, and the first we saw of him was the Noah and The Whale video ‘5 Years Time’, and we said look we want to get this guy. So we’ve stuck with him for the whole record, and ‘…Elizabeth’ is quite a step on for him because it’s like a mini movie. so I think it was a really good thing for him to do and I think he did it really well, so I’m really pleased with it. The song itself was always meant to be like a stand alone between albums. We were actually playing it a long time before anyone had heard it recorded, like 2 summers ago we had an early version of it. We actually went in to record it with Stephen Street who’s such a good producer and it was amazing to work with him but we really went in before we had any idea what sound we wanted for the new record. That’s a sound we achieved eventually which is quite a stripped back sound whereas with ‘…Elizabeth’ there’s quite a lot going on, which is Stephens style, so I think it stands apart from a lot of the rest of the record sonically an stuff, which is cool because it bridges the gap from the old sound to the new sound.”

The events of Reading and Leeds along with preparations for the October tour have Blaine musing about the nuances of performing to partisan and loyal crowds. “I have to say I prefer our own gigs (to festivals) as perhaps the people there are people who don’t need to be convinced, they’ve already bought your album and are ready to have a good night and know we’ll make sure they have a good night and they’ll make sure we have a good night. So it’s usually, if you’re doing your own tour, a guaranteed good night, whereas at festivals there is this sense that you do have to win people over. They might have read some hype or heard a couple of reviews and want to see if you and your songs match up to what they’ve heard about you, so there’s that challenge, ” offers Blaine. “I mean sometimes that challenge…you do get off on it and you play for your dinner really, you have to work harder to win people over, so that’s exciting too.”

Hitting the road again in October the band will put a summers worth of experimentation into practice as they hope to deliver the most rounded Mystery Jets sets to date. “When you start touring a record there’s always songs which are more difficult to play, and songs that come to you very quickly. Like the singles which are better known and the crowd pleasers, they always go down well whereas the quieter songs are maybe more difficult, but over the summer we’ve done a lot of work. Right at the beginning of the summer we did a tour with The Zutons, which was really good training for the summer and I think there’s a real art to how to read crowds because we haven’t really played festivals since two years ago. So I think that building a set is something that comes with time and our set in October will be a much more refined version of what we did at the start of the year. There may not be new songs post the album but there are old songs which we’ve revisited and chopped about a bit and brought them up to date. I think it’s always exciting to look at old things and give them a lick of paint. Plus, they’ll definitely be a few surprises we haven’t thought of yet.”

So it’s heady times for the gentlemen from Eel Pie Island. Certainly following on from the October tour Blaine is keen to get to work on the follow up to ’21’. “I’d like to get on with it quite quickly, because often there’s a lag between coming off a record and waiting for everything to happen, for a new campaign for mixing etc, so I’d like to get on it as soon as possible. So even though we’ve got dates up until December we’re starting to write as of now. You hear about some bands waiting 2 or 3 years to bring out an album but thats just not us, I don’t think we have a specific sound thats going to be tied to now, I think we always try to make everything sound as different as possible to what we’ve done before, and we’re very influenced by new music around us so it’s important for us to keep up and to be constantly putting stuff out.” A testimony that will ensure that whilst they may only be half in love with Elizabeth their fans hold total devotion for the Mystery Jets for a long time to come.

Written by Jonathan

September 7, 2008 at 11:22 pm