We Were Promised Jetpacks Interview

We Were Promised Jetpacks are a belts and braces Edinburgh four piece whose new album In The Pit Of The Stomach bears witness to the guys having picked up a whole new musical wardrobe. Guitarist Michael Palmer shot the breeze with Soundbite Culture before the indie band’s packed out London show at XOYO.

Soundbite Culture: Hi there Michael, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. The first thing I was interested in learning about was your band name, We Were Promised Jetpacks – where did that came from?

Michael Palmer: It’s not very interesting I’m afraid.

SC: It sounds kind of interesting, it’s an interesting name for a band.

MP: It’s just something we thought of once, but I have no idea. It doesn’t mean anything. Actually, it was a Ricky Gervais joke where he said something about hovercrafts, and I was like “ah, that’s interesting”. Then we just added the jetpacks part. But we don’t care, we don’t give a shit about jetpacks or anything.

SC: Fair enough, I’ll do away with the “if you had a jetpack for a day, what would you do?” question then.

MP: Oh, yeah. I don’t care [laughs].

SC: I’ve been listening to your new album, In The Pit Of The Stomach, and it sounds as though it’s played straight from the band’s heart.

MP: Yeah, that’s right. You can always sense when people’s hearts aren’t in it. Immediately.

SC: Does the album title mean anything?

MP: It was just a line from the one of the songs. Adam Thompson [Lead Singer] writes all our lyrics and he sings it in Picture Of Health, but really, really deep. He almost hums it. We weren’t like “We’ll hide the album title in there really subtle like”, it just kind of happened that way. But then we were like, “Wow, that’s quite cool”.

SC: It’s quite an apt description of your music too, which feels like it comes from the gut.

MP: Yeah, and it’s really odd kind of phrase. Quite harsh sounding words, In The Pit Of The Stomach. Aye, it’s good.

SC: So where did the inspiration for your new album come from?

MP: Well, Adam will show up and be like “I’ve got an idea”, and he’ll have a guitar part too. Then we’ll all play around with it in a room together and see what comes out. We never really plan anything, we don’t really go “Let’s write a quiet song”. Whatever we come up with just sort of happens.

SC: Which explains We Were Promised Jetpacks organic sound. In terms of lyrics, are the themes personal to Adam or do the rest of the band have any input?

MP: We have no input other than to tell him when something sounds silly, which never really happens. Sometimes he’ll be like “Is that rhyme alright?” and we’ll be like “Yeah, whatever”.

SC: The rest of the band’s role is to act as a sounding board?

MP: Yeah, Adam writes words to fit in with the melody in his head. So it just kind of spills out.

SC: So the music comes first, and the lyrics afterwards?

MP: Almost always. I don’t listen to Talking Heads loads, but there’s a great clip of an early demo for one of their songs and David Byrne’s not got his lyrics yet. So he’s just making sounds up and the lyrics would kind of come out of this. That’s sort of what Adam does, it’s just a bunch of stuff from his head. He writes lyrics melodically, it’s never like “This happened to me – we have to write a song about it”.

SC: So it’s the sounds of the words fitting in with the other parts of the song, almost like an instrument?

MP: Yeah, absolutely.

SC: How do you feel In The Pit Of The Stomach compares to your debut album, These Four Walls?

MP: I think it’s fifty times better. We made too many mistakes with the first one, people we’re like “Oh, you’re a decent enough live band. Just go in [to the studio] and do it live”. And we did and it wasn’t very good. This new album’s kind of what it sounds like in our heads; it’s that loud when we write it down and it’s supposed to kind of knock you back a little bit. That didn’t really happen on the first album because of our own mistakes.

SC: I imagine that’s quite natural for a first album though, where it’s very much a learning process?

MP: Oh yeah, absolutely. We did some demos at Chem 19 with Paul Savage, which is a great household name studio in Scotland and Paul’s kind of a hero at the studio. So we went in, did it live and got the stuff back. And it didn’t sound very good. So we’re like “That’s weird. We’re in this amazing place with this amazing guy and it doesn’t sound that good. How odd?”. Instead of thinking, “Maybe we’re doing it wrong”. So we learnt from that and this time made a proper album. Also I think the songs on our first album are a little bit too, kind of, needy.

SC: Too needy?

MP: A little bit, yeah, because we wrote them so that more than just our friends would come and see us. That was the point, we just wanted people to come and see us.

SC: Of course, you’re a band just starting out and you want it to become a reality?

MP: And now we’re like “People are coming to see us, so let’s make the album we want!”

SC: You can make songs other than for your friend’s?

MP: Yeah exactly, we can make an actual record instead of a bunch of songs.

SC: With that validation through your success, you guys must have been a lot more confident going into the studio to record In The Pit Of The Stomach?

MP: Yeah. We did a more laid back EP about two years ago now with our live sound engineer, Andrew Bush, and this time we just took him with us [into the studio] and were really confident we’d get what we needed from him. Having someone you can just wholly trust really helped. When Andrew says “Maybe you should try this out?” it’s because that sounds better.

SC: He knows your sound?

MP: He knows us. It was great; the smartest decision we made when recording.

SC: So Andrew wasn’t involved in the first album?

MP: No, we didn’t know him then. It was mixed by Peter Katis though, who was the guy we had to phone to save our first album when it didn’t sound like we wanted it to. Adam had to phone his friend Peter from america and was like “Right, we’ve got a problem here”. And Katis would work on mixing These Four Walls in his evenings, weekends and time off. Just to help us out. Apparently, he phoned a friend of ours and was like “I don’t know what to do with this”. So Andy, who we know, and Peter, who we don’t really but love, they’re kind of our dream team on the new album.

SC: How are the fans reacting to the new songs on your current UK tour?

MP: Pretty good. I always like this bit better, because we get to see the two reactions [of the audience]. Obviously, there’s more than two reactions, but there’s the two good reactions; “Yes, I know this one!” and then there’s the “Wow, what the fuck is this?”. And I love the second one, I love the people going “Whoa”, because that’s what we were used to when people didn’t know who we were when they came to see us. Of course, there’s also “This is a bit shit”, but those are the two good reactions and I much prefer the second, which is just the way I am.

SC: The second one sounds like a bigger rush.

MP: Yeah, just to see people a bit shocked.

SC: I haven’t actually listened to the first album… oh, don’t listen to the first album?

MP: Don’t bother.

SC: But I’m getting the impression there’s a big musical leap between the two, and that’s almost what you enjoy seeing in the way people react?

MP: Yeah, that’s what we enjoy seeing when we’re on stage. There’s a difference between writing songs when you’re 20 and writing them when you’re 23. Your early twenties are when you change your music, and we were writing albums between these times and not really knowing what we wanted to be or even what we liked.

SC: Your influences are different now as you listen to different bands.

MP: Uh-huh, exactly.

SC: Live shows or recording in a studio, which do you prefer?

MP: See, you’re lucky you got me for this interview because the other three [Adam, Sean Smith and Darren Lackie] much prefer the live shows. But I’d choose the studio. Their perfectly reasonable answer is there’s no pressure, you just show up and play your songs and people cheer or they don’t. No big deal. Whereas I really like the tricks you can do in the studio, I’m interested in the whole idea of mixing because I don’t understand it and that really interests me. You can make the guitar in the verse slightly different to the guitar in the chorus and really shape the song properly and I really, really enjoy that. Whereas the others don’t seem quite as involved. I mean, I could be wrong; we all love both environments. But I prefer the studio. Well, I did this time; not on the first recording though.

SC: So you were more involved in the studio for your new album?

MP: Yeah, ‘cause this time we knew we were gonna record it properly. So when we were writing we’d be like “Right, when we do this part it’ll sound like this in the studio”. Before, we’d have an idea like this and we couldn’t do it. This time around, we were like “Ok, so we’ll loop that bit on this part of the song” and that’s the kind of thing that excites me.

Jonathan Campbell

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November 2011
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