Photo by Jorge Baucells
A year on from their most recent effort, “The More I Sleep the Less I Dream”, We Were Promised Jetpacks are nearing the end of the tunnel on their current tour. But it’s not their acclaimed new material they’re playing, it’s their 2009 debut album that brought them immediate success.
I sat down with singer and guitarist Adam Thompson in his home town of Edinburgh as they started the final leg of the “These Four Walls” ten year anniversary tour to discuss the state of the band, past and present and future.
Is it good to be back playing gigs in Scotland?
It is, I’ve been really looking forward to this tour, it’s been booked for ages and it’s the most excited I’ve been for a UK tour in a long time.
Other than the obvious ten year landmark, why have you decided to tour your first album? A lot of other bands might not be so keen on doing something like that.
Yeah we had a lot of to-ing and fro-ing as whether to do it or not. A lot of the time you spend in a band it’s always thinking about the next thing, it’s never enjoying anything. Nothing is ever good enough. No show is ever good enough, no song is ever good enough so you’re always trying to do the next thing and you don’t really stop and enjoy anything. So I’m really glad we did it, we said how about we just relax and enjoy the shows and it’s been amazing. I feel a lot more relaxed before gigs because we’ve done these songs hundreds of times and everyone knows what’s gonna happen, playing the album start to finish. Everyone that’s here is here to see us because we mean something to them and I can totally see that when we’re playing and it’s really nice to see.
For you guys it seems almost a privilege to do it all again.
Yeah, and as a band we totally recognise it. I don’t know if we’ll ever do anything again that connects with people as well as that did, and instead of being pissed off about it, it’s actually great – someone likes something that we’ve done and it’s not a reason to shy away or anything, I’m just happy someone likes it. I mean we were 18 or 19 when we were writing those songs and recorded it when we were 20 and we really weren’t even that good at our instruments. It’s a weird balance of whenever we write now we’re all pushing ourselves individually to do something more complex so it’s totally been really nice to reconnect with that album and remember that being in a band doesn’t have to be an absolute stress.
Have you changed anything about the album at all or are you treating it like a time capsule?
We’re trying to stay as close to the album as possible, just do it start to finish. Though we never really play with a glockenspiel now but we’ve brought that back because thats what we were up to at the time so it’s kind of like, “lets do that again”.
Are you playing anywhere on this tour that you played first time around?
Oh I dunno, we must be? We did a three week tour of England really early on and played so many little towns. I’m sure we played Manchester a bunch and Leeds quite a lot, we’ve always enjoyed going down to Leeds. We’ve also been to Dublin before but not on that first tour.
How was the reception on the first two legs of the tour?
It was great. The US was the last tour we did with Mike who played in the band for 15 years so it was quite strange just having that. But since then we’ve had Andy (Frightened Rabbit) and our other pal Ross (Fiskur) fill in so it’s been a bit different but still each part of the tour has been enjoyable. I’m happy that this is the last part of the tour because we need to go back to work and write some more stuff but it’s been totally worthwhile for us and personally more than anything.
You guys seem to do really well in the USA.
The thing I like most about it is that we can play in lots of places in the US and it’s worth our while because it’s fucking massive. So we’re doing a tour in February of 30 shows in places that we never went to on the last couple of tours. We’re doing places like Ohio, Baltimore and all the way down to Florida. It’s just a huge place and we’re lucky that they’re not massive shows but people drive for crazy distances over there and they’re always so excited about it.
Your most recent album was produced by Jonathan Low (The National, The War on Drugs, Sufjan Stevens, Mumford and Sons). How did that come about?
We didn’t want to do it in Scotland, we wanted to go away and really immerse ourselves in it. We recorded our first record in Iceland, our second in England and the third in Scotland so Jess our manager set up a Skype call with him and we chatted to him for half an hour and it was really easy. We went to The National’s studio in upstate New York in the grounds of one of the brothers’ land and we absolutely loved it. There was a big grand piano in the studio and we could just play music whenever we wanted. I was getting up really early and absolutely Elton John-ing it every morning.
It seemed almost like a residential thing where because you were so cut off from society, you were either working on the album or really chilling out.
Yeah there was a little lake with a boat and we went out most days at 3 o’clock and it was lovely. It was cold but it was a really nice time of year. Though I lost rock paper scissors so for the whole two and half weeks we were there I had to sleep on the sofa bed in the living room. The other boys had their own bedrooms and there weren’t even any curtains in the living room. I’d wake up in the living room every morning at like 6 o’clock like “man it’s already bright” haha.
Before you put that album out you kind of took stock as a band didn’t you?
Yeah definitely a crossroads for us because quite a lot of stuff changed. We split with the same management we’d had for a long time and another member of the band left and we found that we weren’t really enjoying it that much and didn’t really know why. The third album we tried to broaden it and be a studio band and take more consideration of sound and other bits and bobs but it was quite a laborious task putting that all together and not one that I particularly enjoyed. So we were a little bit lost as to what we were meant to sound like and totally lost our mojo, just writing stuff and thinking “this is bad”. Then we started trying to write more structured songs and it just felt weird for us and we weren’t good at it at all. We were desperate to record an album but it just wasn’t happening and at some point we said lets just wait until we have all the songs and make sure it’s good – and I really, really like it. To me each song has its own personality. Sometimes when you’re writing 10-11 songs at one time it’s hard to differentiate but with that one I can remember how each one came about, the ideas of it and I’m really happy with it.
How do you guys usually go about writing songs?
Back in the day I’d say I probably brought in a lot more finished tunes or close to, but nowadays it’s a lot less like that. It’s more little ideas that come from us just fannying about and playing and going “oh what’s that?” so I’m really enjoying that and writing again. It’s different with the three of us now but there’s a bit more space for everyone. It’s slightly different getting used to it again. We always want to change what we’re doing slightly and keep moving, so not having one fourth of the band that’s been consistent for 15 years is gonna change the dynamic and sound a little bit but you’ve just got to go with it.
On instagram you recently shared a story about an incident with Bon Jovi’s catering crew and a photo of you guys as a very young band with John Krasinski.
Yeah that was a Frightened Rabbit and Twilight Sad show in L.A. and he was there to see them, he didn’t have a clue who we were, so we did well haha. He was scooping up all the Frightened Rabbit and Twilight Sad merch and we were just trying to give him our stuff too. Him and Rainn Wilson had just come to the gig from the Golden Globes or something so they were both in tuxedos. It was a very L.A. experience. Though the Bon Jovi one is funny too because it was backstage at Hampden. We didn’t actually meet Bon Jovi but we were walking along to catering thinking “look at the size of this operation” and there was this fridge with loads of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and stuff like that. Sean, our bass player was already down the hall with a couple of sandwiches then some wee woman just comes running out like “THOSE ARE BON JOVI’S TRAVELLING SANDWICHES!” so he had to come back and stick these sandwiches back in the fridge haha.
Are those the most ludicrous celebrity run-ins you’ve had?
The Coachella thing we did in 2012, that was fun. There was a lot of folk kicking about backstage and that was the year they did the whole Dre, Snoop and hologram Tupac thing. That festival is amazing because it all just happens again a week later too and everyone there is good looking and well put together and when you compare it to T in The Park everything is just an absolute mess haha.
What are you up to next? Is there a new album in the works?
Yeah there is, it’s happening. Stuff is coming together, we’re gonna do demos and get working on it. We basically just want to do music more. The last few years have been a bit stop start and we kind of got used to that a little bit like – “I’m home quite a lot” which is quite nice. But now we want to have it where if we’re not on tour then we’re writing music, it’s got to be one or the other. So that’s the aim for next year – do more music, write more music and hopefully get an album out the following year.
We Were Promised Jetpacks