Mystery Jets bring the bigger picture of The Whole Earth to Southsea Fest

Mystery Jets. Picture by Tom Beard

Mystery Jets. Picture by Tom Beard

Tom Torley of Havant Symphony Orchestra

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Mystery Jets’ last visit to these parts was at 2015’s Victorious Festival, shortly before the release of the indie-rockers’ fifth album Curve of The Earth.

But now they’re back to headline Southsea Fest on Saturday, October 1 as that event returns after a year’s break, twice the size it was before.

With Mystery Jets topping the bill at the Pyramids, they’re also joined across the festival’s 20 stages by the likes of British Sea Power, The Pigeon Detectives, Lucy Rose, Eagulls and a whole plethora of up-and-coming national and local acts.

‘Victorious was great,’ recalls Jets’ frontman Blaine Harrison, ‘it was quite early on in the days of our campaign, we hadn’t even released the album at that point, it was very new to us and we were still trying to figure out how to play those songs live, but the audience were amazing.’

This show coincides with the release of a new EP, The Whole Earth, which features tracks recorded during the Curve sessions. But as Blaine explains, they’re not ‘leftovers.’

‘Just because something is left off, it doesn’t mean you didn’t love it as much as all your other musical children.

I genuinely believe that if you create something really great and pour all your heart into it there will be an audience for it

Blaine Harrison

‘What we sought to achieve with the EP was to shed more light, help form the fuller picture of where the album came from, which was very much inspired by a publication that came out in the late ’60s called the Whole Earth Catalogue. Steve Jobs described it as Google before Google – the analogue internet.

‘It was like a Yellow Pages of how to live an alternative life in the ’60s, how to find the tools for modern life around you, which sounds very hippy, which I suppose it is in many ways.

‘I’ve started collecting these books and they’re incredible time capsules – they capture the optimism of a certain time and a lot of that spoke to us. A lot of the imagery was from NASA space photography which very much influenced the artwork on the record.’

For this record the band took over an old button factory – which Blaine discovered close to his home – and turned it into their own studio.

‘We realised we’d always wanted to produce our own record, but we’d never had the adequate tools to do so – we’ve co-produced previous records, but never felt we had it in us to take the reins and dive in.’

Renting the factory provided the band with the impetus to finally take that leap.

‘You can’t rent a space and then bottle out halfway through,’ he laughs. ‘It’s a huge commitment.

‘It provided a wonderful environment for us, it meant we could lock ourselves away and disappear – and I think that’s quite hard to do without your own space. It’s very private and you can let the songs come to you.’
‘That’s perhaps why it took longer than previous records.’

It had been four years between Curve and the Americana-influenced Radlands. Had the band been worried that their fanbase would have drifted off in the interim?

‘Absolutely. The landscape is ever-changing. In some ways it’s a leveller because everyone’s trying to figure out how to do it.

‘Everyone’s in this boat of trying to contend with what the future is bringing.

‘What we realised is that you’ve got to just crack on and we stopped ourselves worrying whether there will be an audience for us when we come back.

‘I genuinely believe that if you create something really great and pour all your heart into it there will be an audience for it.’

Blaine also took a different approach to writing for this album – he shut himself in a beach hut for several months.

‘It sounds very Bon Iver, I know. It was quite pretty, it’s a cabin by the sea on the north coast of Kent. Listening back to the record, now, it does feel like these songs come from an incredibly private place – it is us at our most intimate, and that feeling of wanting to escape and be isolated somewhere.

‘It’s something that only came after our last album and perhaps it was a reaction to the way that was made, living in a big house together in Texas.

‘It was a much more communal atmosphere whereby everyone was a writer and shaping this thing together. When I came back to London it coincided with a feeling many people have in their late 20s, I’ve kind of done it all, I’ve lived in the city, and I’ve experienced everything the city’s got to offer, where do I go next?

‘I found this beach hut where I could find some kind of escape and solace. I wrote more for this album than any other, as did Will (Rees, guitarist). Between us we wrote about 60 songs.

‘It was that thing of needing to go away to get a perspective on things and it was really a reflection of that time of life I was in.

‘Where we go next could be the complete opposite, and be about being in the thick of it all and having it all around you.’

This year marks a decade since their debut album Making Dens came out, and on its release much was made about Blaine’s dad Henry being in the band. Although he no longer tours with them, Blaine says he’s still crucial to what they do.

‘He’s a sort of invisible member – he’s been perhaps the one true constant. He’s always there in every song, there’s always a Henry line.

‘For me and Will, because we’re the primary writers we can be singing from quite different hymn sheets, but he’s the conduit, he brings the glue, and it’s great having that backbone.

‘Talking about the way the music industry’s changing, he’s actually driving the band around at the moment so he’s a very important part of the band!’

When fellow indie stars Maccabees announced their split earlier this year at a time of apparent success – their last album Marks To Prove It was their first to top the charts – Blaine wrote an impassioned piece about it for the NME. It struck a nerve.

‘I can’t envisage a time where we’d pull the plug on it because it’s who I am and who we are, so when I see bands falling by the wayside, it is scary.

‘They were very close peers of ours and I remember starting out at the same time and with a similar kind of mission statement, we both listened to the same records and sorts of artists.

‘I think what both our bands shared was a gang mentality – it makes me think of bands like The Cribs, and it really is blood for a band like that. You can’t imagine ever not doing this, but at the same time the things (Maccabees frontman) Orlando talked about did resonate, even at the apex of success, having a number one record might not be enough to sustain a career.’

But Jets fans shouldn’t be worried. While they are very much focused on this album campaign, the next one is already in the back of their minds. And the button factory will remain their base where they can work away at their own pace.

‘It’s about enriching what you do and expanding, like I said about the studio, for us it’s not just a room to record in, it’s somewhere where we can enrich our involvement with other artists.

‘For us though it’s very much about seeing these songs through to the end, and until that’s done we can’t really think about where we’re going to go next. But I do really feel we’re on a roll after this one and it could be sooner than one thinks that the next record comes.’

n Southsea Fest takes place from midday until late on Saturday October, 1. A wristband giving access to all 20 venues costs £20, from Little Johnny Russells, Meat and Barrel and The Wedgewood Rooms or online at southseafest.com

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