Scotland Week: We Were Promised Jetpacks on Their Third Album, “Unravelling” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Scotland Week: We Were Promised Jetpacks on Their Third Album, “Unravelling”

The Calm Before the Storm

Sep 07, 2014 We Were Promised Jetpacks Bookmark and Share

We have a special theme on Under the Radar’s website this week which we’re simply calling Scotland Week. All throughout the week we will be posting interviews, reviews, lists, and blog posts relating to Scotland and in particular Scottish music. In this interview we talk to We Were Promised Jetpacks about their upcoming new album.

Michael Palmer is enjoying the time off. For good reason. In a month, We Were Promised Jetpacks, for which he plays guitar, will be on another relentless touring season in support of their forthcoming third LP, Unravelling. With two such cycles already under his belt, the band’s guitarist has learned to love a “normal life” while he can.

This time around, the schedule is likely to be much busier. Unravelling is a wingspread effort, an album that soars higher, sinks deeper, and bares its teeth a bit more than previous releases. They’ve added a member, taken their time, and come out the other side ready to break out like former label mates Frightened Rabbit have done in recent years. We Were Promised Jetpacks formed in 2003 and also features Adam John Thompson, Sean Charles Smith, Darren Kenneth Lackie, and Stuart Michael McGachan. Unravelling is due out on FatCat October 14.

Matt Conner (Under the Radar): You’re about to get very busy. How nice is it to have this sort of space before the cycle begins again?

Michael Palmer: It gets pretty frantic. This is the first time we’ve actually had time between albums. Between albums one and two, you have to do it all very quickly. For this one, we were consciously saying, ‘Nope. We’re taking as long as we can.’ They’d ask, ‘How long do you want to take?’ We said, ‘As long as we can. We’re not even going to tell you, because you’ll cut it short. We’ll just tell you when we’re done.’ [Laughs] It ended up being a year. But it’s about to get crazy again.

Was it just time to unwind or did that allow you to reevaluate some things as well?

Absolutely. It’s been great this time. It’s given us a chance to be excited about playing again, instead of just doing one thing after another after another. What you end up doing is counting the days until you go home, which is not what you want to do. So now that we’ve had time at home, we’re excited to go away again. That makes all the difference. Being able to be a normal person for a while is nice. You end up taking it for granted. It’s been nice, then, to realize what we’ve got.

How does that space affect the music?

I’m not sure really. We’d already decided to take a big break before this album. I’ll likely have to wait until the next one to see if the music actually changes. I mean I’m sure it did, but I’m still too in it.

I know you guys just added Stuart [McGachan] to the mix. That has to also change the dynamic and chemistry.

Before there were two things. First, we felt a bit still. We’d been playing pretty much the same show for 10 years. There are certain songs that didn’t work live. We were playing 13 songs or so and we only had 15 or 16 to choose from and only one or two are good to close a show. So we’re playing the same show for years. Then there’s also the side that came to writing. We knew we didn’t want to make the same album again, so we wanted to change that up. Adding Stuart seemed to solve both of those problems. It was a new voice in the room when we were writing. It was also a fresh approach to old songs. We got to add parts on the record that we couldn’t quite play. Those songs almost sound new again. So yeah, it mixed things up in those ways, both old and new for us.

The new album certainly feels in line with where you’ve been, but I’m glad you said that because it feels like you experimented with some new textures or directions. Did you go into the studio wanting to experiment with certain sounds or was it organic once you were there? It all sounds so interesting.

I’m so glad you used that word “interesting.” Usually it sounds like an insult. Like if you say, ‘Oh, they’re interesting.’ But that’s a word that we wanted. The first two albums were instinctual. This time around, we wanted interesting things to happen through the whole song. Now that there are five members, we all want to be doing interesting things at the same time. So that’s a key word for us.

These songs are the first we’ve ever done with multiple drafts. Normally we do a song and it wouldn’t quite work and so you give up and go on to another one. But this time, we’d say, ‘No, there’s something good here.’ So we’d change things and really work at what wasn’t working with the song so we could fix it, instead of just scrapping something that took us a week.

There’s a song called “I Keep It Composed” that went through so many different versions and tweaks. We’d swap the chords around, take out this bit and put this one in. We knew there was something great about it so we didn’t want it to go away. In that sense, it seems like it was deliberate, but at the same time, we never forced the direction. It just always seemed to happen, like just from a jam. But once it got to a certain point, we’d really focus in on it.

I think we all really enjoyed working like that. We were just a lot more considerate with what we were doing but still coming from a live, raw place.

I know you worked with Paul Savage [The Twilight Sad, Teenage Fanclub] on this. You said you changed processes. Was that his recommendation or was that what you wanted to do already?

No, we were doing that before. We were doing that in the early writing stage. We took probably about a year writing the album. We’d take Paul a version and he’d go, ‘Sure, but you could try this thing and this thing.’ Then we’d make a different version and meet with him. He was definitely important to the end of that process, but I think we started it on our own.

What song changes the most from inception to final product? Is it “I Keep It Composed”?

They all changed in so many different ways. That song that I mentioned earlier started as a jam, something we played for five minutes over and over. We whittled that down and added a section and then added another section out and swapped things around. Then we took out anything that was the point of the song in the first place. That one just kept getting shuffled around.

Whereas another song, “Night Terrors,” that song instrumentally is the same but at the last second, we added an entirely different vocal melody. Then there’s “Safety in Numbers” where we cut out a complete middle section in the studio after we recorded it. So there are all kinds of things like that where we’re constantly changing things around.

I know you guys have the release and tour dates that you’ve already posted. Any idea of what else is on the horizon?

Sort of. We’re still putting a few things together. We have plans to go back to the States at some point. We’d also like to start writing. I mean, we finished the album a long time ago, we finished recording in January. Then you have mixing and mastering. So we have a little bit of time to write to get the ball rolling on the next thing. But yeah, we’ll be touring for a long time.


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