- by Tom Dumarey
Following up on 2014's 'Unravelling', Scotland's We Were Promised Jetpacks are back with a new album, their first for Big Scary Monsters. 'The More I Sleep The Less I Dream' comes ten songs in which they once again combine emotion, beauty and strength in a way that is completely their own. Produced by Jonathan Low (Frightened Rabbit, The National, Restorations, Modern Baseball), the band somehow sounds bigger than ever. We caught up with guitarist Michael Palmer to talk about 'The More I Sleep The Less I Dream,' which will be out September 14. (photo credit: Eleanor Petry)
PRT: Four years in between releases is a long time in this digital age we live in where every need has to be catered to immediately. Did that ever worry you?
Michael: Not really. I mean four years between albums isn't super unheard-of I don't think. Plus, we toured for a bit after the last one came out and it's not like we vanished. I'm not sure if that's changed much in the last few years. At least I hope not!
PRT: It’s quite a different pace compared to how you started out, releasing three albums in just five years. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently when given the chance?
Michael: That doesn't really count the writing of the first album. But yeah, we never really took a break between records before and this time we were able to. I mean looking back, we would maybe write all the good songs right away instead of writing bad ones and scrapping them? But we needed to write the bad ones in order to get to the good ones. Life, eh? In terms of changing "our career" there's a bunch I'd do differently but you're not allowed to go back and change things, otherwise you'd just spend your whole life doing that.
PRT: Since the last album came out, you have a new management behind you, found a new home over at Big Scary Monsters and went back to the original four-piece line up. Should we look at the past four years like that part in Rocky where he’s getting in shape for the big fight? And do you feel ready for the title fight now?
Michael: Doesn't Rocky lose? But then he does realise something important at the end, right? Probably. I've actually never seen Rocky before. I know that's crazy but it's my life. But yeah, all of those things needed to happen to get to the album we have now. And we're really proud of the album we have now. So absolutely. Although in your metaphor I'm not entirely sure what the title fight represents. We're ready for it though. Gloves on. Btw wouldn't watching a band try and play a show in boxing gloves be hilarious?
PRT: I love how the new songs somehow sound grander this time around, yet they were recorded with less people. Is that thanks to a difference in how you arrange your songs or is that the influence of Jonathan Low?
Michael: Yeah, that's all in the writing I think. Fewer people means more space, so the individual parts have that much more weight. When writing this album we really wanted to focus on all of the instrumentation, making sure all of our parts really got our personality across. Making sure every instrument was doing all it could do.
PRT: When you started writing new songs, you took a stab at writing songs that might be played on the radio. But when it didn’t feel right, you threw them away. Once you took the decision to scratch those songs, did that feel like a weight being lifted off your shoulders?
Michael: No it felt like we'd wasted a bunch of time! We were sad for a while. Then we wrote The More I Sleep The Less I Dream (the song version) and that cheered us up again. Made us realise that we should just do what we like. Then we got a bit of momentum and it all started to click.
PRT: What is it that made you want to try and write for the radio in the first place?
Michael: We wanted to do something different. Our songs have always been right on the line between indie-pop stuff and post-rock stuff. And we thought it might be interesting to try and push ourselves one of those ways. So we tried focusing on the more poppy side of that. And tones down instrumentation and simplified everything, but it was not good. And not in a lame "moral" way. It was just not good. We're not good at that. Maybe we used to be and we're just too old now, or maybe we never could. But we can't now. So in the end we just ended up going on instinct. If we instinctively felt the song should change half-way through and never go back to the chorus again, then fine.
PRT: The funny thing is that I feel like at least a handful of songs on the album might be played on the radio. How important is it for a band like We Were Promised Jetpacks to get airplay?
Michael: Yeah that's the thing, it's not like we turned into something super weird. I'm not saying the album is weird-sounding. It's just that it sounds like who we are, right now. Not us trying to be something else. And important is a strange word in this context. It's important that we get people who have never heard us before to hear us. So it's not that radio is crucially important, but radio helps us achieve something that is.
PRT: ‘The More I Sleep The Less I Dream’ will be released by Big Scary Monsters in the UK and EU, but you are self-releasing the album in the US. What made you want to go that way? And how do you see that play out?
Michael: Big Scary Monsters are great. We've only just started working with them but we're off to a great start. Weirdly for a group of four Scottish idiots, North America is our biggest market. Sorry for using the word market right there. It's one of those words that just coming and there's nothing you can do about it. So self-releasing in North America makes a lot of sense for us.
PRT: I imagine there won’t be a lot of sleeping involved on your upcoming US dates. That’s quite the tour you have in Sep/Oct… how do you prepare for a month and a half on the road in the US where you cover pretty much the entire periphery of the country?
Michael: Weirdly the distance isn't really the thing. It's the monotony and the length of time away from home that gets tough. And there's not much you can do to prepare. But once the tour starts you find a little routine, and play well. It always goes a lot quicker if the shows are good.
PRT: Other than jetpacks, do you have anything on your rider that no one has ever gotten you?
Michael: Ouch. By the way, do people know that the bands pay for their own rider? Is that a thing that people realize? I kind of feel like people don't know that. You see criticism online like "omg can you believe they ask for this specific thing" but the band themselves are paying for it. So sometimes we get nothing at all on our rider and take the catering budget in cash. That way we can afford to stop at the gas stations with Panera bread attached. We've got this shit WORKED OUT.