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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