We Were Promised Jetpacks have had a hell of a year since leaving university. They released their debut album, These Four Walls, in June, and received unexpected praise from all quarters. The pummelling drums and ferocious guitars coupled with some introspective, and melancholic, lyrics made for one of the best UK debuts this year. And with Quiet Little Voices the band stumbled across an accidental anthem.
The Glasgow-based Jetpacks formed when Adam Thompson (vocals, guitar), Michael Palmer (guitar), Sean Smith (bass) and Darren Lackie (drums) were at school in Edinburgh in 2003. For a band of such tender years (they're all 22) they've achieved a fair amount this year, culminating with a huge US tour over the summer with label mates Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit.
Q spoke to the lads, as they neared the end of their current (and biggest to date) UK headline tour, about their album, hip hop, New Year's resolutions and that band name.
How long have you been together and where did you all
Adam Thompson: We played a show at our school and in the morning of that gig we asked Michael to be in the band. And that was in March 2003.
You must get asked this all the time but where did the name come from?
AT: We had diarrhoea together and shat it out [all laughing].
Michael Palmer: Can we say we don't give a shit about it, and move on?
Sean Smith: It's not a statement or anything.
AT: Sometimes it's good because it gets people to notice our name. But other times I think being in a band isn't about the name; it's about the music.
How's the tour going? It's your biggest headline tour of the UK so far isn't it?
AT: It's okay, yeah. We toured Europe and the US before and it's quite strange because they're such nice places to visit. When we pull up and we're playing at the Botanique in Brussels it's quite a contrast to Sunderland on a Saturday night. It's difficult to adjust because we play smaller venues here. But it's been nice to play lots of places.
How's it compare to the big US tour you went on in
support of your label mates Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit? Is it difficult
to get motivated?
AT: It sounds shit to say but sometimes it is. You just have to adjust. Sometimes the best nights are the little venues.
Darren Lackie: And some of the best nights here have been when it's been really quiet and some of the worse nights have been when it's been sold out.
AT: If we knew exactly what the formula was for a great night we would be doing it all the time. But it's great as a UK band to be touring the UK.
Has it been surprising how successful this year has been for you?
AT: We always knew our band wasn't going to be Arctic Monkeys style, but I think we're doing pretty well for where we are. We're getting to tour lots of places.
DL: And we don't have to get a normal job.
AT: That's what our goals were so it's quite pleasing to have achieved it straight from university. When you talk to your aunties and uncles they think it's not that great because you're not on Top Of The Pops, or whatever, but it's just the way it is for so many bands.
Every review you read about We Were Promised Jetpacks seems to mention every Scottish band that ever formed. Why is that do you think?
AT: It's stupid because you could do that kind of thing with every single band ever, and it's just strange because we come from Scotland. I don't understand it nor do we particularly care anymore; what does it matter?
DL: You just get used to people comparing you to bands, that I don't think we sound anything like, just because they're Scottish.
AT: Wow, we've got guitars and a slightly Scottish accent. We must sound like The Proclaimers then.
Do any of you have completely different musical tastes to the rest of the band?
DL: Not really. Mike likes a lot more electronic music than the rest of us, but I think that's as crazy as it gets. We like a bit of rap; it's mostly rubbish but there are a few good albums.
SS: Dr. Dre 2001 is one of our favourite albums.
AT: It's quite odd when people see us all rapping it together. It's just a good, fun album.
DL: It's amazing when it comes on because these two [Adam and Sean] know every word.
What are your favourite albums from this year?
MP: Animal Collective; by about a thousand miles.
AT: I really liked Humbug. I've always admired Arctic Monkeys but I've never been that in to them. I didn't own any of their records but I got the new one and it's really, really good. I think they've done brilliantly.
MP: The Longcut album was another good one.
AT: Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle is put together beautifully. [Starts singing with a Bill Callahan baritone] 'How much of a tree bends in the wind.' I don't know what he looks like, or who he plays with live, I just really like that album.
When you recorded These Four Walls [the band's debut album released in June] did you have a statement of intent or were the songs just thrown together?
AT: We were talking about this the other night. Our next album feels like it's going to be our first album. These Four Walls feels like it was just songs we'd always been playing up until that point. The next one feels like we're going to make it an album, and it's going to sound exactly how we want. Whereas the first one, because we'd had the songs for so long, we couldn't really change it.
DL: All the songs were made to be played live and then our label, Fat Cat, said they wanted us to do an album so the nine or ten songs we had ended up on it. We've been playing a lot of them for more than a year so it's hard to add things to them in the studio.
AT: It's part planning and part luck.
How important is it to have a supportive label as a young band?
MP: We don't really know anything different.
AT: We never really talked about labels that much, but we did say that Fat Cat was the kind of company we wanted to work with.
SS: And at the time we didn't really know any other small labels either.
Quiet Little Voices has become your big song. It was a Q Track of the Day and is always the song that is mentioned in the press. How tempting is it to escape that tag and release something completely different, like heavy metal?
SS: That song is the oldest song we've got and we're getting further and further away from that as we naturally progress.
MP: It's not conscious, at all, but I think we are definitely slowly moving away from that song.
AT: It's just a fun, little, catchy pop song. It's funny that people still like it when we play it live because it's quite old for us. It's not like one of your mates saying to you, 'I quite like that Voices song by the way'. It's a good feeling.
DL: I remember at one point we were thinking about dropping it because it was our least favourite.
AT: It is quite fun to play, though, because it's really upbeat and people sing along.
MP: It was great when we played the Bowery Ballroom in New York and the audience was singing it back at us.
What inspires the lyrics of your songs, they're quite melancholic with the pleas to 'keep warm' and 'stay young'?
DL: Adam sits in his room with his curtains shut [laughs].
AT: I like lyrics like that. I've never really sat there with pen and paper and thought, 'this is my message'. We usually write the music and then I'll write the lyrics on my own at my house, and I'll think of a phrase, or something. I remember with Ships With Holes Will Sink we played the music and then for some reason that phrase came into my head, and I based the song around that. If I sang stuff about my actual life the song would be, got up, ate breakfast, sat about for ages, tried to find something to do, maybe went to the cinema...
MP: Tried to write a song today.
DL: Walked to my house at 11 at night.
AT: And played Tigers Woods on the computer with your Mum.
Do you feel any pressure with the next album?
SS: I'm sure there will be but we've not thought about it.
AT: We've gradually just been excited but the thoughts of, 'wow, what if nobody likes it' haven't started yet. It's more, 'shit, I would hate it if we had to stop doing this'. It would be terrible if we couldn't do this anymore.
What are your thoughts on the side of the music industry who haven't really got any patience with bands? If the second album doesn't do as well a lot of bands get dropped.
MP: We've not had any of that. We've not really been told by the label, 'you've got to sell this many copies or else'. I'm sure they would like us to come up with new material all the time but they're really supportive.
SS: I think our first album sold slightly better than we expected, and they expected as well.
DL: It's not like it's even sold an amazing amount, it's just more than a thousand [all laughing].
SS: More than just our families buying copies, anyway.
Finally, have you got any New Year resolutions yet?
AT: This one's got a big resolution [points to Sean].
SS: I want to have my overdraft paid off by next November.
MP: That's his dream.
DL: That's the dreams of modern rock stars these days.
SS: We're all going to go round to mine and play Monopoly, and get drunk. It's going to be amazing. I'll lose; but I don't care [Laughter breaks out]. And also we want to record a really good album that we really like.
DL: Record an album that we're happy to sit and listen to.
We Were Promised Jetpacks' myspace.
Debut album These Four Walls is out now on Fat Cat.
Interview - Eddie Devlin
12:48 PM | 18/12/2009
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