At Jack Daniels’ recent Mr Jack’s Birthday shows in Castleton I was given the opportunity to interview Will Rees, guitarist with The Mystery Jets. Their 2012 album Radlands is one of my favourite records of the year so far so it was great to get the chance to find out the story behind the album….
It turns out that Radlands is an accidental concept album that the band didn’t realise they had. We also get to read why Rod Stewart shouldn’t wear tight jeans…
Will Rees: We were interested in progressive rock and psychedelic stuff. On the first album Making Dens we were King Crimson aficionados, Pink Floyd, and Yes. I love that stuff – occasionally I hear it and it brings a tear to my eye – I grew up on that stuff.
ERTAS: Your second album was eighties tinged indie – with Two Doors Down – but the new album Radlands is another change – and has a more classic feel to it. What were you trying to do with this record that was different to what you did before?
Will: We made it in Texas. We were trying to cut out any excess synthesiser, any unnecessary colouration: we were trying to make something that was naked and bare and really just play to our strengths which was singing, guitar, drums. Not complicate it. And also we wanted to make an album outside of London because we felt we had reached the end of our creative tether with it. Time to move on.
ERTAS: Some of the songs really stand out for me. Greatest Hits is just a great song – a break up record – how did that come about?
Will: It’s an idea that came from watching the film High Fidelity – list making – referencing lots of records we grew up with.
ERTAS: Another song is Someone Purer – looking at how rock n roll can transcend or take you away somewhere…
Will: That’s it exactly!
ERTAS: Can you tell me about Take Me Where The Roses Grow?
Will: That was actually written a couple of years ago – before we went out to America to cut the record and was the precursor to everything. It’s the story based a bit on the film Badlands – it’s like a Bonnie and Clyde style story – a couple who are on the run and it’s just a simple duet – a love song. I was actually listening a lot to Chris Isaac – Wicked Game– that kind of thing.
ERTAS: And then we have Emerson Lonestar. What’s the story behind this character?
Will: Yes – it’s a kind of concept album – there’s a three part comic book about him – the first part is out already – Blaine’s idea – although the narrative and concept of the album was really an accident. We were in Texas and had done a load of recording and songwriting and we came back to England and had all this work but didn’t know how it was connected or how it pieced together. Our manager had been making different playlists and then at some point he put it in an order and realised you could join the dots – we didn’t set out to write about a character called Emerson Lonestar – he just arrived.
When we went to Texas, we didn’t really know what we were doing or what to expect and when we left we felt quite disheartened because we didn’t think we’d made our album – we didn’t think we had done it. And then we went back to London and no-one really spoke to each other for a couple of months. Then our manager called us and said “Do you realise there’s a concept album here?” and we said “No – what are you talking about?!” The character of Emerson Lonestar is the mouthpiece of the songs – no-one expected it, but it was cool.
ERTAS: Can I ask about your first record you bought?
Will: Blaine’s dad (Henry) did a birthday party for Blaine when we were four years old and we all had party bags. In the party bag everyone got a cassette of Bob Marley’s Legend – so that was probably my first cassette or record. The first record that I loved was Pink Floyd’s Piper at The Gates of Dawn.
ERTAS: How old were you then?
Will: About six or seven… I grew up with Blaine and his dad and he was always playing us his stuff.
ERTAS: What’s your most embarrassing record?
Will: I really like Queen – that’s not that embarrassing is it? ABC’s Lexicon of Love…
ERTAS: What’s the most disastrous gig that you have played?
Will: Some of those early gigs were terrible – when the first album came out. We did a tour with these guys called Exodus Collective who were this metal / funk band – the drummer had been in drum tech, the singer had massive dreadlocks and he used to go out into the crowd and verbally beat people up – it was just terrible. Their bass player was a real hype man – he came up to us after a gig and said “If you tour with us I can make you massive” so we did a tour with them in 2004 and they were all awful. The one redeeming thing that they did was that they brought a big lump of hash about the size of a block of soap and we spent all day in the back of the van not worrying about where we were and what we were doing…”
ERTAS: What was the worst job you ever had?
Will: I did some stuff for “At Your Service” – I had to dress up in a bow tie and serve drinks to posh people in art galleries for five quid an hour – I did that when I was seventeen, but I never really had a job…
ERTAS: What other artists and bands inspire you?
Will: I really like the Tame Impala record – Lonerism – it sounds wicked – I think he recorded it all himself or played it all himself and it sounds like an old stereo record with the drums in one ear and vocals in the other – like the early Beatles records.
ERTAS: A quick question about your gear and guitar set up?
Will: I tend to play one guitar at a time: on this album I played with a 1977 telecaster solid body with a humbucker that I got my hands on. That goes through a whole lot of pedals – a Boss phaser, a Memory Man delay, a Moog Taurus pedal, an Electro Harmonix Pog octave synthesiser, a bunch of overdrives and then into a Vox and a tremolo – so quite a few pedals – I have a wah wah too. I use them quite sparingly.
ERTAS: And finally who is the worst dressed rock star?
Will: Rod Stewart. He’s a really bad dresser. The problem with Rod Stewart was he was trying to wear Glam Rock effeminate clothes but he hasn’t really got the build for it. He’s too big and has too much muscle on his legs – he’s a football player – so it never really worked for him – it’s like when you see big guys wearing tight jeans – it looks ridiculous – you have to have the figure of someone who is anorexic…
ERTAS: No-one likes a fat rock star right?
Will: And if you’re going to be fat then wear a big overcoat – be the fat guy – play up to it…
Record #107: Mystery Jets – Someone Purer