Chris Martin and Marcus Mumford may be reference points, but Mystery Jets are producing their own anthemic sound, writes Ed Power
IN A world where Coldplay and Mumford and Sons are masters of all they survey, the ongoing obscurity of Mystery Jets is deeply mysterious. It would simplistic, but not entirely inaccurate, to describe the London five-piece as an uncanny splicing of Chris Martin and Marcus Mumford — cloud-scraping troubadours with hillbilly souls. But despite an impressive body of work and an agreeably anthemic sound they remain, commercially at least, on the lower rungs.
“As a fan of music myself, I’m aware that a lot of my favourite bands weren’t the Kings of Leon of their day,” shrugs frontman Blaine Harrison. “There’s that old story about the fact that the Velvet Underground’s first album only sold 200 copies but that everyone who bought one of those copies went on to to start a group themselves.
“Not that I’m suggesting everyone who buys a Mystery Jets record is going to start a band. I think Neil Young put it best: ‘The ditch is a far more interesting place than the road’.We’re not on the main street — we’re following our own rules.”
One of those rules is that the band can take as long as they like between albums, with fifth LP Curve Of The Earth arriving a full three years after predecessor Radlands. In this era of rapidly diminished attention spans, musicians are often terrified of being away too long for fear their audience will develop a new musical crush. A decade plus on the go, Mystery Jets have long since bid adieu to such insecurities.
“Going into it, we made an agreement that we wouldn’t deliver the album to our label until we absolutely knew it was the best one we had in us. I think you grow into the process of making LPs with time,” says Harrison. “We didn’t dwell on whether our fanbase is going to become distracted or that we might lose people through being away. You’ve got to focus on the songs — be 100% committed. Everything else is a distraction.”
One complicating factor was that Mystery Jets had decided to build their own studio in London. In addition to writing a collection of songs, they were thus required to serve as impromptu project managers and building site overseers. Moreover, when the studio was finally finished, the band found themselves sucked down a rabbit hole. They could spend all day tinkering with songs — and often they did.
“This record was about discovering the gang mentality. We were regrouping, reviving our us-against-the-world mentality. We wanted to maker raw, honest music — that went straight from the speaker in your bedroom to your head.”
That Mystery Jets are still going might be consider a small-scale miracle. Emerging in the post- Libertines dystopia of mid-2000s British rock, they were initially painted as a novelty act.
At that time, the band included both Blaine and father Henry (who still helps out in a touring capacity). There was also a great deal of focus on the fact that Harrison the younger has spina bifida — which sometimes necessitates him going on stage with crutches.
Yet they overcame the condescending tenor of the early media attention (and were soon to leave behind Pete Doherty-meets Chas’n’Dave flavour of early singles such as ‘You Can’t Fool Me Dennis’). A crucial forward step, feels the frontman, was spending a year in America recording Radlands and touring with Mumford and Sons.
“It was amazing,” says Harrison of the time with Mumford. “To see a band operate at that scale and make it feel as if you were watching them in your living room was educational in the extreme.
“That’s the great thing about live music: it can’t be bottled. It happens in the moment and if you do it right it stays with you for a long time.”
Curve of the Earth is out now. Mystery Jets play Whelan’s in Dublin on Feb 12
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