A Chat With Mystery Jets

It’s been three years since Mystery Jets released Radlands, but Eel Pie Island’s favourite sons are finally back with their fifth album Curve of the Earth. Lead singer Blaine Harrison discusses the themes and process of recording the new album in great depth with long time fan Holly Pereira.

‘Telomere’ is inspired by the Patti Smith quote The victories and the plights of your ancestors live through you in your blood.” Could you tell us a little bit more about how the song came out of this idea?

I came across the line in her book Just Kids. It talks of the victories, failings and romances of our ancestors living on through us. That quote really touched me and it triggered an idea for a song. In particular I started thinking about a great ancestor of mine who I kind of have a really vague impression of – he was a soldier, a great great great ancestor of mine. I’ve been doing research into the idea, trying to find out who this guy was, things that are passed down from generation to generation. Trying to define how much is from your own experiences and how much is predestined in your DNA. It was that idea that I wanted to explore with ‘Telomere’.

It sounds like those ideas have informed the writing of the album. What are some of the other lyrical themes that are present on the new album?

I think a really important word when thinking about the new record in terms of lyrical themes is the word ‘scale’. What I mean by that is that I feel like Curve of the Earth, if I was to look at the whole thing as a big picture, a lot of the songs deal with our personal experience and looking at impressions of life from different perspectives.

On opening track ‘Telomere’ it’s looking at chromosomes, our DNA, and who we really are on a microscopic level. Later on in the record on ‘Saturinge’ it pans out and it’s almost seeing life from the perspective of another planet looking down on earth. Then we end up zoomed right back down, looking back at eye level and looking at the people around us, our friends, the people we grew up with starting to have kids and starting to have real adult responsibilities and making big choices.

How does the title Curve of the Earth fit in with this idea?

I think somehow Curve of the Earth is about creating a thread between those different vantage points and asking the question, are there perhaps qualities we all share as human beings? I think you’re not really able to see that until you look at life from a higher vantage point. I guess that’s what Curve of the Earth is really about, it’s about seeing life from outside the human body, but you never really see the whole picture, you only really see ‘the curve of the earth’. 

The video for ‘Telomere’ is really stunning to watch. What was the concept behind the video?

We felt very conscious of needing to approach the song in quite an abstract way. I think the lyrical themes of the record are quite dense. With ‘Telomere’ we wanted to make something aesthetically quite beautiful. I think we really wanted to create an exploration of the human form and the idea of life shaping you as you go through it is represented by the clay.

The idea that we’re molded by the people around us, molded by the experiences we have, and yet when you get to the end there is something you can never take away from someone. That’s really the human essence, it’s who you are, it’s in your blood. In the video when I start to furiously start to pull the clay away from my skin, I guess that’s me clawing away at the layers life has built up on me and trying to remember who I was in the first place. It’s about rediscovering your innocence.

What are some of the main musical influences on Curve of the Earth?

I guess we were listening to all different types of things really. I find inspiration from all different weird and wonderful places. Making a record in our own studio, one of the things that kept it exciting and fresh is that everyday one of us would come in and say “Have you heard this, it just came on the radio”. We’d keep an eye out on what was being released and re-released.

A lot of the time one of us would come in really enthusiastically in the morning, bouncing in saying “You’ve got to listen to this”. Sometimes it would be old prog rock records and sometimes it’d be something like One Direction. Not saying that’s an influence, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can find inspiration from anywhere. I wouldn’t want to be too specific about any particular records. Certain sounds were inspired by certain records but I think overall there’s too many to mention really.

You mentioned that this album was recorded in your own studio. How does this compare to recording in other studios?

It was slightly more claustrophobic, it’s quite a small space. There wasn’t really anywhere to run. I think when you build your own studio, any band who’s done home recordings knows that the line between work and home becomes blurred. You sort of fall very deeply into the mad world of making a record. I think there’s a beautiful thing about that. In our case I feel like I’ve only just come out of it now two years down the line and it’s a bit like “Woah, where have I just been?”.

We’ve really been living in this world together and the studio is an extension of my house. I come out of my front door and it’s in a factory building opposite my house. That distinction between going home and being able to leave your project outside the door becomes very hard when you do live and breathe in a recording space. It’s a wonderful thing, something we’ve tried to do in the past but it’s never felt more real than this record. Mainly because we haven’t had a producer, we produced the record  ourselves and with our engineer Matt Twaites. I think I’m still kind of inside it, it’s very hard to see it with perspective but it’s been a lot of fun.

I read an interview where you said it felt as though you were writing a completely different album at one point, with songs that haven’t been included on Curve of the Earth – can we expect to hear those songs on a future release?

I hope so! Actually two of the songs are coming out on the Japanese edition of the record. They will see the light of day. It’s not necessarily that they weren’t up to scratch, it’s more that we didn’t want to say the same thing twice at any point on the record. Every song on there told a different part of the story, although they’re not necessarily chapters of a book, there isn’t like a linear thread to the record. It darts between different places a lot. I think we felt like each of those songs, if they were little worlds, we wouldn’t want to explore the same world twice. It was very important it took you to different places.

Can we expect Mystery Jets on Australian shores anytime soon?

I’m hoping timing wise that we’re in Australia for festivals. We’re talking to someone about dates and maybe April? I cannot wait to come out there, I love touring Australia.

Well you do have a song called Alice Springs!

That song was inspired by ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’! I’m actually half Australian but I’d never been to Australia other than in my mum’s tummy. I guess that song was about wanting to visit this weird and wonderful place on the other side of the world. I was expecting it to be full of drag queens, although I did meet a couple.

Curve of the Earth is out via Caroline Australia on January 15.

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