William Rees: ‘Mystery Jets is a band but it’s also a brotherhood’
11:06 22 September 2016
William Rees talks to Zoe Paskett about Mystery Jets’ album, gaining perspective on the world and losing a band mate, ahead of headlining Hackney Wonderland festival
It’s been a decade since Mystery Jets released their first record and a lot has changed.
Debut album Making Dens conjures up images of childhood friends jamming out in the basement, but Curve of the Earth is something a whole lot bigger.
“I think as you get older you start to see the world a little more for what it is: struggle, poverty and the complexity of relationships and situations,” says William Rees, guitarist and vocalist.
“It becomes apparent that nothing is black and white and nothing’s simple and that can be the perfect fuel for a song.”
Rees has been playing with Mystery Jets since the band was a three piece with Blaine Harrison as lead vocalist and his dad Henry on bass.
Rees and Harrison met as little boys at The Busy Bee nursery in Hammersmith where they both grew up.
“Apparently I was quite the tearaway. We struck up a fast friendship after I was sent home for the day for throwing a chair at a teacher.”
Many years have passed since their early days practicing in Henry Harrison’s boat house on Eel Pie Island, working now in their own disused button factory-cum-studio in Stoke Newington.
“We needed an HQ and somewhere we could throw ourselves into the work without any time constrictions. We’d often work and write all through the night, turning nine-to-fives into five-to-nines. Where else can you do that but in your own gaff?”
Curve of the Earth, released in January, is a far cry from their previous work – there’s none of Twenty One’s yacht rock or Radland’s Americana here – due somewhat to the three year gap between this and their last record.
“All of our albums have been quite varied when put next to each other,” says Rees. “That’s certainly something we’ve strived for, to never repeat ourselves from one song to another.
“With Curve of the Earth it became apparent that we were writing a very autobiographical album, songs that really came from the experiences of the band members, looking at and laying to rest many of the significant events and ghosts from the last 10 years.”
He refers in part to the departure of Kai Fish, the bassist who had been with the band since the start but left in 2012, prompting heart wrenching song Taken by the Tide, the lyrics of which are heavy with emotion:
“Brother, I thought that you would be there till the end. ‘You are my watchman,’ I said, ‘You are my best friend’. ‘It’s time for me to go,’ so softly you replied. Brother, I reached out but you were taken by the tide.”
Rees, Harrison and drummer Kapil Trivedi felt the loss of their bassist keenly.
“Mystery Jets is a band but it’s also a brotherhood. When Kai left there was a huge void in the group that we felt needed to be filled, but with whom and how we didn’t know.”
Enter Jack Flanagan, who they plucked from “Dalston’s fervent underbelly” in 2014 when they started working on Curve.
“It took about half an hour of all being in a room together, not even playing, to confirm that here was not just our new bass player but the missing piece of the Mystery Jets puzzle.”
Now with a full line up, they could go about pursuing further success with their fifth studio album. But fans will be fans, especially if they’ve been with you since the start, and years down the line will still request the likes of Young Love and Two Doors Down from back in the day.
Rees says he enjoys playing the early stuff, but the trick, especially at festivals, is striking a balance and updating the older material with newer styles.
“We thrive off new ideas and writing and looking back on old material can be quite unhealthy for the band.”
Curve of the Earth has taken Mystery Jets forward into a more sombre era of writing, and with this it gave the opportunity for taking advantage of the poignant lyrics in their music videos.
Bombay Blue, which talks about the reluctance to offer help to other human beings, took the group to Jodhpur to film.
“It turned out to be the most incredible trip. Jodhpur is the great blue city of Rajasthan and Kapil is from the nearby state of Gujarat. We put the two things together and captured him inquisitively exploring his roots over four days in the blistering heat.”
Rees gushes about the filming experiences they’ve been able to enjoy.
Bubblegum was filmed on the Maunsell Sea Forts in the Thames Estuary, which were erected during the Blitz to defend London from German aircraft. After they were abandoned, they became the premises for pirate radio broadcasters, with Screaming Lord Sutch as pioneer.
“We arrived their by tug boat. Scrambling up the rusty ladder with guitars and amp boxes on our backs. The first thing that struck me was the smell of rotting fish.
“It was an amazing way to spend a day.”
Mystery Jets will be headlining Hackney Wonderland Festival at Oval Space on October 15. Tickets: hackneywonderland.com