Interview: Mystery Jets

The Mic catches up with bassist Jack Flanagan to discuss the influences on new record A Billion Heartbeats, the current national climate and life as a father.

Ever since their formation in 2003 on Eel Pie Island in London, Mystery Jets have been one of the country’s most treasured indie bands. Consisting of Blaine Harrison (vocals, guitar, keys), William Rees (guitar), Henry Harrison (guitar), Jack Flanagan (bass) and Kapli Trivedi (drums), the band’s steady stream of album releases towards the latter stages of the 2000’s brought critical success to a group heavily influenced by 80s melodies. Their bond to Transgressive Records saw them strike up close relationships with singer-songwriters Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn and Marika Hackman and whilst personnel changes (Jack Harrison officially joined the band in January 2014) and cultural shifts led to sonic developments within the group, their fanbase in Britain remains as loyal as it was ten years ago. Returning soon with their seventh studio record, The Mic caught up with bassist Jack Flanagan to discuss the band’s incarnation, returning to the live setup and post-Brexit Britain.

Image courtesy of Jenn Five.

Speaking about their seventh record A Billion Heartbeats, Flanagan says: ‘We’re all a bit older now and I’ve been in the band for about six years… it’s very much about ending the first third of your life, going into your thirties, seeing the world in a different way and people growing up and having children’. In between 2016’s Curve Of The Earth and the present day, the bassist has had a child and states that the band have been working harder than ever. ‘We’re constantly in the studio with each other and with other people as well. We have our own studio in central London and we’re constantly trying to push our skills as producers, musicians and songwriters. I think we’re hitting our stride as a gang of people again and working within that to just stay out there, stay touring, stay playing to people, speaking truths I guess’.

The driving force behind A Billion Heartbeats was Mystery Jets’ frontman Blaine Harrison, confirms Flanagan. ‘The conceptualizing of the album was really heavy and was done by Blaine and Henry, who’s Blaine’s dad. We responded to that by writing something that was musically heavy, to fit the dark heavy tones of the lyrics. We wanted this album to be a mirror and not us preaching anything to anyone… just saying what we see and reflecting back the moods of the general public. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few messages there that are fighting for something in this album, but we very much tried to do it as a journalistic response to something’.

'Watching London's streets bustling with energy and passion for change put an imprint on the band'.

As an album, the idea for the new record was sparked when the band’s frontman moved into a guardian property on the Strand during a time of extensive marches and protests throughout the capital. ‘The inspiration for the whole album was all of these different marches, the people and the city responding to different things… the political climate and everything’, the bassist confirms. ‘Blaine living there on the Stand, where he could see all of these people talking and protesting about something they were passionate about – that kind of made us want to start writing songs which were a reportage of these events that have been going on in London over the past couple of years’.

Watching London’s streets bustling with energy and passion for change put an imprint on the band, leading to them viewing the events as part of a greater, linked global system. ‘Every human from birth to death has around a billion heartbeats, that’s a fact. That translated really… when you look at a protest from above, it’s like seeing all these ants… just millions and billions of people around the world uniting for something that they believe in or don’t believe in. For all the songs that were kind of a documentation of something, A Billion Heartbeats just felt like the right title for the record’.

Recording for A Billion Heartbeats took place over the better part of two years in the band’s central studio in London. 'We did have a studio at Stoke Newington which we moved out of and then we moved into one in central London’, Flanagan explains, in between pauses to check on his daughter. ‘We self-produce so it always takes a lot longer than when you do it with someone else. It’s been such a learning curve because to make something happen, if you’re playing on it you have to edit it, you have to engineer it yourself and it’s super fun but it doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else. It was a really time consuming thing to do. Blaine was working up until Christmas Eve on it, it was a long process’.

'Right now, I don't think we could really play or sing about anything apart from what's going on at the moment, because stuff is changing'.

Alongside the changes that were sweeping the country, the more intimate and personal developments in the band members’ lives helped bring a newfound appreciation for certain things. ‘Having a kid just rose-tints everything, you feel such extreme love and it’s really made me appreciate music; it’s another person to be making and playing music for’, Flanagan says warmly. ‘My daughter was born in 2018 and we were so happy for her to have been an NHS baby, really seeing how the people helped us. The track Hospital Radio is about our love for the NHS, and obviously Blaine has spent so much time there in his life because he’s lived with Spina Bifida and then having my baby to be born in the NHS – we’re eternally grateful for it and we’re now living in a time where bits of it are being sold off’.

‘When my daughter has a child, it might not be the same story and I guess there’s a time for making records about escapist themes and pop music’, he continues. ‘Right now, I don’t think we could really play or sing about anything apart from what’s going on at the moment, because stuff is changing, global warming is more and more of a thing, Trump is a thing, Boris is a thing. I’m not going to say if that’s a good or a bad thing but I think it’s time to start having conversations and I guess in our music we’re not trying to fight a battle or put a point across, we’re just trying to get conversations started about this stuff’.

Over the summer, the five-piece enjoyed a roll of festival shows and comeback gigs, which was an experience Flanagan relished. ‘They’ve been amazing really, it’s just so nice to see people out there enjoying the music. Old faces and new faces; it’s so cool. You forget when you’re in the studio for so long that there are people out there listening to your music and it’s a really rewarding feeling, I enjoy it a lot and we’re back on the road towards the end of the year’.

Speaking positively towards the future, the bassist adds, ‘There’s hopefully going to be a quick follow-up. We just want to stay out on the road, we’re already writing more material so we’re going to be back. There’s more, so hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot more of us’.

Despite fans being eager to hear the new record on September 27th and a potential follow-up in 2020, Mystery Jets announced on September 17th that the record and subsequent tour were being pushed back to the new year due to Blaine needing to undergo emergency surgery. Whilst the news is a shock to fans and the music community, there is a revitalised spirt within the band for what is to come. Here at The Mic we send our best wishes to Blaine and the band, and look forward to seeing a quick and healthy recovery.