Mister Smiths 22.4.04

Andrew Ferris, Jamie Burchell, Cahir O’Doherty and Craig McKean, take a bow. After four years of meditation and two years of writing, Derry heroes Jetplane Landing have returned to justifiable fanfare on the back of their fourth album ‘Don’t Try‘. While the album itself shines as a direct result of the consideration dexterously put into every chord, it is their live show which acts as the group’s jang to the jin of their documented work.

Their set is impossibly note perfect – as demonstrated tonight at the Lexington show ahead of which the following was recorded – with Ferris in particular embodying his vocal-booth alter ego effortlessly on stage. Tracks like ‘Calculate The Risk‘ or ‘I Opt Out‘, for example, are relentless for a vocalist; the lines weaving thick and fast and are yet delivered live with real aplomb. Cahir is also on raging form, returning from a moonlighting stint as Frank Turner‘s reinforcement across the summer festivals, he’s back to brass tacks tonight and how.

Yes, it was truly magnificent to have the band back in London after an academically-agreed time period of fucking ages. Here’s some sustenance, then, to fill my blanks;

The album’s called ‘Don’t Try’, which I believe was the ethos of the approach; don’t think about it too much… see what happens. Can you tell me more about how you found working in this way, what came out of it that perhaps you weren’t expecting, and whether it’s an approach you’d want to adopt in the future?

Jamie Burchell We’re all bombarded with the idea that if you keep at something, keep trying, that one day your efforts will produce results. There’s this inherent belief promoted where a tremendous work ethic can overcome any lack of natural talent. It can’t. If you’re a professional sports player it is a great idea to keep on trying. But for a musician, is it sound advice that trying will produce results? I’d say no. Mathematics, sports, business, yes! Medicine, yes! Science, yes! If you’re an airline pilot try like fuck to land that thing. But you can’t try to make a worthwhile record. It just happens to you through events and the sounds you’ve experienced.

‘Don’t Try’ was released six years after its predecessor – you said you wanted the album to be more considered and didn’t want to release any old rubbish for the sake of it, how far do you feel you went to achieving this? How hard was it to get things down whilst running Smalltown America in tandem?

Jamie Burchell We spent two years working plus four years meditating on what we might do when we worked together again – all this time is mixed up in one big mush really. But in the end the only thing people get to experience is the record, which is fine by us.

Andrew Ferris Running the label is never easy, it’s always difficult to get people to part with money for records. Being in Jetplane is much easier – Cahir, Jamie and I have telepathy for what each other will like; we know when we’ve got good tracks and the others will dig it. It’s a lovely place to be. The time flies when you’re working on a good project. I do regret that we haven’t released ten albums; but I always want more.

You were talking about how, when Jetplane began, the internet was largely in its infancy and wasn’t a particularly useful medium for promoting your music. How have you adapted now, and what changes, for better or for worse, have you noticed as a touring band?

Jamie Burchell The internet has leveled out the gap between major labels and indie ones – at least at our level it has. There’s still a gap but it’s easier to compete for people’s attention these days. When we used to tour all we had was word of mouth, which works, but with social media people can be mouthier on your behalf and their words spread faster. I booked our first tours by ringing up promoters and venues a million times, with a little notepad by the phone, so when I hear bands moaning about the internet I think about how slow it was to get things done previously. Yep, the internet has made all aspects of life, including being in a band, easier.

Cahir was saying you had a number of ‘starts’ – riffs and ideas that you’d be able to work from. Given how many there were (over 50 I think?), was it beneficial to be able to pick and choose the ‘best’, or did you find it difficult to be cut-throat in what you kept and what you left out.

Jamie Burchell It’s totally beneficial to have as much source material as possible. Making a record is all about editing, distilling, using your instincts to chuck out some ‘starts’ and keep others.

Andrew Ferris Starts are a good way to write as you can tell if something is going to work as soon as it has three/four parts in sequence. There’s no point finishing things in their entirety. Demoing music now is effortless – laptops and interfaces allow you to write everywhere, quickly and for free. When I started out, you had to use rehearsal room tapes, which were never a good indication of how something was going to sound like at low volumes!

Excuse my ignorance, but where was the album recorded? I think you did it yourselves, so what kind of freedom did this bring?

Jamie Burchell The album was recorded in STA Records home studio in Derry City. We had unlimited studio time and good gear. It was easy street. I, for one, had never felt so pampered in my recording history.

Andrew Ferris Building my own studio is something I’ve always wanted to do; we’ve coincidentally just moved into a massive new facility in my hometown in Derry – it’s something I’ve wanted most of my adult life, so making records will become faster, cheaper and more exciting than ever before. We also have a great engineer Chris who facilitates everything we like – Jesus Lizard bass sound – bang; that kind of facilitation is a luxury that we now have.

What is the story behind ‘Magnetic Sea’?

Jamie Burchell Magnetic Sea is Andrew’s lyric over Cahir’s riffs. I had very little to do with it. I worked mainly on the lyrics for the other tracks. But I’m totally proud of it. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to play on a track and get into it because you know the people who formed it, and how they cared about it. It makes your heart swell. It makes you feel lucky.

Andrew Ferris I felt that I needed to write a song about coming home to Ireland; it’s set in Donegal where I made home before coming back to my hometown in Derry. There are lots of references in the lyrics to places and people – anyone who likes our band could make a pilgrimage to all those places mentioned: Inistrahull, Five Finger Strand, Banbha’s Crown… it’s a trip you won’t regret. Ultimately the singer needs to return to the city for he has ‘enemies to face down’ – that for me is quite figurative and represents getting older, tougher, and becoming a father.

Can you tell me again about writing ‘My Radio Heart’, because it’s a massive track – I think you said it practically took as long to write as the length of the track itself, everything just came together?

Jamie Burchell The initial idea for these lyrics came whilst thinking about punching from station to station on the radio of an old car we called ‘The Sunny’. I was thinking about the pleasure of listening to the radio and switching the stations fast until you land, by chance, on one song which you enjoy – it’s one of the simplest highs you can have.

Andrew Ferris This came at the end of an evening session – I really like the track ‘Kreative Kontrol’ by Hot Snakes and I’m always trying to trick Cahir into writing it… he’s a really versatile guitarist (evidenced by the fact he plays acoustic guitar in Frank Turner’s band) but he can’t be tricked! The riff started happening, it had the requisite ‘bounce’ we like in our riffs and everything just slotted together. The ‘we all say’ bit is all Cahir again – he loves that type of thing – I let that one go past as it was too catchy. With our most celebrated songs ‘Brave Gravity’, ‘Calculate The Risk’ there is always a pop song screaming to be heard through this weird band – ‘My Radio Heart’ fits in with that set.

The interest in the album was phenomenal – I think the stream actually broke on the day you put it up… As people who both make and love music, what does this kind of reception mean to you?

Andrew Ferris It was successful from the moment we released it, our fans really embraced it and some new people have come along for the ride. We’re very lucky to be able to continue to do what we do and have our audience. We treat that very respectfully.

Jamie Burchell It was heart warming and it certainly beats the other kind of reaction.

How has the tour been for you personally? It was so good to have you back and the energy at the show was exactly what I remembered from those previous – is that hard to maintain?

Jamie Burchell The tour, on a personal level, was a wonderful experience. It was great to spend time with old friends, making new friends too – we were a great wee team out there: band and crew. In fact it was so perfect I’m torn between the idea that we should never play again or maybe go on the road for the rest of our lives.

Andrew Ferris I loved it, I missed my kids – but it was class to be able to sing our catalogue again – there are so many years of work that has gone into Jetplane and it’s amazing to be able to celebrate it when you play live.

Why do you feel fans have such a strong connection with your music? They’re a passionate bunch, and given the longevity of the band that’s an impressive feat.

Jamie Burchell I like to feel it’s because there is a clarity to what we are doing: we attempt to write meaningful songs; we attempt to play them well and with passion live.

Andrew Ferris Every band is serious about what they do, we are deadly serious!

What still drives you as a band and as musicians?

Andrew Ferris I’m constantly inspired to write and make new music because I think music is the connective tissue of our lives and lyrics are the stories we share with our friends, partners and our children. This is a serious business. From Miley to Steve Albini there is a huge attitudinal spectrum to what is important in the music business. But to me I labour under the hope that I will someday be involved in something as good as ‘Once In A Lifetime’.

Jamie Burchell For me, it’s not much and everything. I like making records and making them with people who are interesting.

What lessons have you learned over the last 14 years? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Andrew Ferris Keep the money straight.

Jamie Burchell I would have tried less.

Is it possibly to maintain a truly punk and independent mentality in the modern climate? I’ve always viewed Jetplane as an ‘established’ band, but there are times when it must be difficult to keep things going?

Andrew Ferris All the things we have built around us: the label, studio, distribution platform (independentmusic.com) and marketing allow us to make music and release it as often as we like. Self-sustainability is the cornerstone of punk rock. Ian Mackaye taught us this!

Jamie Burchell I’m not sure what real punk rock is anymore other than not giving a shit. And yes, it’s always hard to keep things going because when you’re skint who buys the guitar strings?

While we’re on the subject, can you just fill in some gaps for me about the ‘No Real Courage’ release; you set the price as a standard single, but there 23 tracks in all… is that something you’d still be able to do today?

Jamie Burchell My favourite story about this record was the way the NME reviewed it as an album, despite it being a single. I think we’d confused them. The release came from the idea that we would put out everything we had in our archives as a bit of value for people: live stuff, b-sides, demos, outtakes, bits and pieces, whatever we could lay our hands on. But the NME gave us a full album review and ended up calling it “pigswill” except for a few acoustic tracks. Which I guess, if you have no idea what it actually was (which was just a single with loads of other free stuff), then yeah, as an album it’s not really up to our other album’s standards. My answer to this question is as close as I will ever get to getting at them in the long grass.

Finally, where do you go from here?

Jamie Burchell I want us to make another album… maybe one more for the road? That would make a big five, like a fist

Andrew Ferris I think we have one more in us… after that – the gloves are off!

Smalltown America