There seems to be a strangely nostalgic mood settling on some indie fans.
Perhaps it's the big events of the year - The Maccabees final stand, a new LCD Soundsystem album - but the pleasures of the past seem to glow a little more brightly in 2017.
Mystery Jets, then, have picked the perfect time for Jetrospective, a week-long live stand in London covering each of their studio albums.
So you've got the indie-prog of debut 'Making Dens', the glistening pop of 'Twenty One', and the sheer muscle of 'Serotonin'.
Add to that the latter gems 'Radlands' and 'Curve Of The Earth' and you've got something pretty special, underlining their status not only as Great Indie Survivors but also one of the country's more curious, challenging, and unique pop experiences.
Here, founding member William Rees looks back on each of those albums...
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Shortly after signing to 679 on a row boat that gently lapped Eel Pie Island, we begun the recording sessions for our debut album ‘Making Dens’. I remember that we’d recently moved out of our long suffering porta-cabin and been upgraded into a proper building that ran parallel to a boat yard on the island.
In this long, rectangular room we built a low level stage in one half of our live room, and then flanked this room with a small monitoring room and a room where all of our amp cases, guitar cases, old instruments and strange looking pieces of rusty junk could live. These strange scrappy metallic things were treasures to us, potential instruments that could very well make sounds not heard before, if only they could be whacked, tapped or mic’ed the right way.
One early spring or summer morning James Ford arrived at the footbridge over to Eel Pie, charged with the job of producing our debut. Stepping out of the Addison Lee wearing a sharp black blazer, a turtle neck and his hair in a jet black afro, I couldn’t help wondering if the latest Bond villain had gotten lost on his way to Shepperton studios.
James came armed with a Pro 1 bass synth and a rack of sound modules. Along with his gentle Staffordshire brogue he also bought an ability to turn all of our creative efforts into robust, working pieces that stood on their own two feet, bringing that much needed muscle to the sound.
It seemed to me when we worked with James that here was someone who had music running through their veins, it was as if there was nothing he couldn’t play, write, turn into something, he had it all.
I think one of my lasting memories was during a break from playing, we downed whatever progressive endeavour we were in the middle of and James beckoned me over to have a listen to some demos of a new band he might be working with. They were called Arctic Monkeys and the song was ‘A Certain Romance’.
It sounded completely new to my ears, something fresh and exciting and that I knew would mean the world to a whole generation that were just coming through. The line about "there's only music so that there's new ring tones..." amazed me.
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Over a teary-eyed supper of sushi and ramen in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, we decided that the band should continue playing live without Henry, Blaine’s dad. We were at the end of the touring cycle for ‘Making Dens’, we’d made it as far as the land of the rising sun and there in that poignant pause we took the future into our hands.
Back home it was as if we were making up for all the lost time studying Rick Wakeman’s cadence suggestions… we were going out out and most nights of the week. I spent many an evening at a club called Trash and all of my days in Kai’s (our former bassist) living room, soothing off the night before with puffs on his shisha pipe.
This period was characterised by our first formative steps into a hedonistic life style as well as a keen appreciation of club music and pop music, with this in mind it seemed only a matter of time before the Darth Vader of dance himself cast his shadow over our studio door.
We met Erol Alkan for an omelette and chips in Holloway and from his down to Earth enthusiasm to his impassioned suggestion that we focus purely on our songwriting chops, we concluded that this was definitely the man to produce our second effort.
‘Twenty One’ proved something of a change for us, we were suddenly fascinated by the pop music that would have dominated the radio waves when we were very very small children, 80’s pop music that is, and i remember the general consensus among us was one of outrage that such a flamboyant and exciting decade had been written off as OTT and almost buried.
In the same way that we had tried to resuscitate our beloved prog rock music on the album previous, now it seemed the challenge was to do it with the three minute wonders from the 1980’s. I bought a seven inch of Strawberry Switchblades’ 'Since Yesterday' and felt invincible.
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We were riding high after the release of 'Twenty One', 18 months of touring and an unforgettable slot on Glastonbury’s Park stage topped it all off. The sessions for 'Serotonin' had begun during an endless summer spent writing and demoing in a gypsy caravan in Cornwall. We’d decamped onto our long standing tour managers farm and spent several months in isolation, coming back to London every other weekend for parties and shows.
It was a great period spent down there, in the middle of the idyllic country side with barely any phone reception and I remember that we all had different duties on the farm. Blaine’s was to look after the sheep, mine was to collect the eggs from the hens, Kapil’s was tending the garden and I think Kai’s had something to do with manure.
It was the kind of setting where Fairport Convention would have made a record about the land and travelling maidens, but instead we were taking our new found love of the pop song and going backwards and forwards with it all at once, listening to Fleetwood Mac as well as newer groups like the Big Pink.
We covered a lot of ground out there, finishing songs like 'The Girl Is Gone', 'Too Late To Talk' and 'Lady Grey'. When we returned to London we got the chance to work with one of our favourite ever producers and in the plush surroundings of British Grove studios. To meet Chris Thomas was to meet a living legend. Having worked with Roxy Music, the Sex Pistols, Elton John and Pink Floyd, the feeling of awe among us at that first encounter was undeniable.
Chris in the studio was an incredibly hard worker and very much drove the record to completion. He would be very honest about our songs, sometimes saying things like “half of that is ELO’s ‘Sweet Talking’ Woman’ and the other half is Bowie’s ‘Sound And Vision’ nah you must be kidding me…” discarding the poor tune to the trash icon on our laptops… where it probably still remains to this day.
Chris was full of stories and half of the time was spent listening with dropped jaws as he talked about food fights in Elton’s castle or that time he was dating Nico…
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'Radlands' came to life in a country house on the outskirts of Austin Texas. I remember taking the flight over with Blaine and he played me the only song that he or any of us had for the sessions, it was an acoustic demo of the song that would become the album title and it still lacked a middle eight, talk about being unprepared.
It was also on this flight that we happened to be sat next to a lady who wore a name badge bearing the name Sister Everett. She introduced herself as a member of the Church Of Latter Day Saints and wouldn’t stop talking for the remainder of the nine hour journey. Later on she would make her way into a song.
Our time in Austin was characterised by band outings to the local Bikram Yoga studio and extended trips to Whole Foods (the first ever whole foods I gather) where the band card would foot the bill for all kinds of extravagant health giving foods.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, work on the music was slow although the results were interesting. Henry flew out half way through our time there and every evening would end with a BBQ on the back porch and epic rambling discussions about the lyrical themes of 'Radlands'.
What fascinated us about our time in the bible belt was the religions and the cults that had sprung up and still continued to do so. It seemed to us that anyone could suddenly start a church, gain some followers and lead the life of one touched by a higher message. In fact it all sounded quite suspicious to us, especially when it ended tragically in the way that the Jonestown cult had or the Heaven’s Gate cult had.
A lot of these themes found their way into our songs and the feeling that we were living on a kind of frontier were the law was still questionable and something like the doomed romance of Badlands’ Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen could still take place.
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'Curve Of The Earth'
We were very much out in the proverbial wilderness whilst making this album, unsigned, unpublished and with no bass player in the fold, its fair to say that 'Curve...' was born of adversity.
We had a direction that we were heading in, a Floyd shaped one with ambitions to match the concise and observational tones of ‘Dark Side...’ but we had not the means to get there.
One morning a few years back, minding my business down Dalston’s Shacklewell Lane I was suddenly accosted by a young scare crow haired lad who ushered me into the front room of an ex-shop. From within this shambling bedroom/studio/den and from behind clouds of weed smoke that curled off a well chewed and soggy spliff, the lad introduced himself as Jack Flanagan.
After brief exchanges about bands and who we knew in common he soon disappeared up the corridor whistling Harry Nilsson's ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ and I found myself spat back out on the lane, vicariously stoned.
Little did I know but Blaine had already begun his secret courtship of Jack, and had schemes to supplant him on bass duties within the band.
It was a key moment when Jack became a Jet, suddenly all these fragmentary Floydian waltzes that existed as little more than pipe dreams in Logic Pro 9 came to life, and the full-blooded enthusiasm of Flanagan was turning our dreams into reality. Suddenly the Jets had their Ronnie Wood, and to add to that the latent talents of Blaine’s brother in law, Matthew Twaites, on production duties.
We moved into a dis-used button factory in Stoke Newington, had many run-ins with Dino our estranged hoarding land-lord and slowly started recording what would become our fifth album 'Curve Of The Earth'.
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Catch Mystery Jets live at London's Garage venue next week:
Monday (September 25th) — 'Making Dens'
Tuesday (September 26th) — 'Twenty One'
Thursday (September 28th) — 'Serotonin'
Friday (September 29th) — 'Radlands'
Saturday (September 30th) — 'Curve Of The Earth'
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.