[Exclusive] We Were Promised Jetpacks frontman Adam Thompson details new album 'The More I Sleep The Less I Dream'
The Scottish indie rockers' frontman discusses how the band scrapped an entire album, working with producer Jonathan Low, losing label-mate Sott Hutchison and more.
This Friday, Scottish indie-rockers We Were Promised Jetpacks make their comeback with the new album, 'The More I Sleep, The Less I Dream.' The band's fourth full-length studio effort comes a full four years after their psychedelic-tinged 2014 album 'Unravelling.'
A lot has transpired since then and now, as We Were Promised Jetpack's frontman Adam Thompson told me over a Skype call, while he took what he thought would be a quiet walk through the streets of New York City. The band is heading over to the United States for a set of tour dates later in September, and Adam decided to come over to NYC and camp there early.
After 'Unravelling,' three of the four original band members got married, Adam told me: that's guitarist Michael Palmer, bassist Sean Smith, and drummer Darren Lackie. That leaves Adam as the only eligible bachelor in the group now. The rest of the band was off holidaying too.
"Two of them are in Tenerife, this island off the South coast of Spain," Adam told me with a thickish Scottish accent that is much less pronounced when he contributes his husky, droney vocals to the band. "So there were three great weddings, and it was really nice because everyone got to take off some time to just enjoy that process and experience with their partners. It was nice to be at home for an extended period of time."
"We've never really decided not to tour before. As soon as something comes up, we'll just go! It's always been pretty flexible, and with the other work that we've done, we always put the band first, so it was just nice to gather our thoughts, take some time off and come back with some music we like. If we're not going to be playing stuff that we really love, then do we really want to do this? So we took some time to have a go at that, and I'm glad we did' cause we took the right amount of time for it, and the album really took off, and we're just really looking forward to touring with it. It's been a really nice break."
Indeed, WWP Jetpacks retreated to Scotland after their last album's tour and took a breather to reconsider things. They reverted back to their original four-member line-up. Multi-instrumentalist Stuart McGachan, who joined the band for 'Unravelling' is not on board this time around, and the band took a self-imposed break from touring till they found the right sound for the new album.
It wasn’t until early 2018 that they finally felt they had a collection of songs they were proud of. But only after taking a few wrong turns along the way. The band scrapped almost an entire album during the process, apparently because there was just "something off about them." The songs they came up with felt forced and unnatural. The band regrouped and started from scratch all over again, this time focused on their natural sound, trying to just write songs that would make them happy.
I asked Adam about this interesting process and just as he was about to address it, I heard a police siren in the background, which was soon followed by another one. "Looks like there's no such thing as a quiet walk through New York," I quipped, as Adam and I shared a laugh and waited for the sirens to disappear into the distance.
"None of us were particularly proud of what we had created," Adam admitted to me, talking about the first scrapped set of songs that were recorded for 'The More I Sleep...'
"We demoed everything quite extensively with the time off that we had. But just none of the songs were any good. We weren't playing it to friends or anything. It just wasn't any good! So we toyed with the idea of preserving some of a couple of songs with strong parts in them that just needed to be reworked, but it just got to the point where we were like 'let's just scrap them.' It's not any fun turning a song that we did a bad version of to a good version. That kind of actually happened with a couple of songs but most of them we just decided to scrap and start from scratch."
The title track, 'The More I Sleep, The Less I Dream,' marked a turning point in the recording process and the band just instinctively knew which way they'd have to go from there. "With 'More I Sleep,' we felt like yeah this is what we should be playing. It was just getting the atmosphere and the heart back in the music. I think we'd become a little... I don't know... disillusioned with the music. It was nice to play with just instinct, all four of us really just really into the whole thing. So once we had that song done, we realized that's the direction we need to go and thought, 'great! let's get to work.'"
The result is an album that immediately stands out from the rest of WWP Jetpacks' body of work for its dark themes, both sonically and lyrically, underlined by moody shifts in melodies and sudden, grandiose riffs. The album was produced by Jonathan Low, who has worked with some of the finest artists in the modern indie rock landscape, like The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile and The National. Low's production although sparse, is easily recognizable in that hazy, echo-filled sound that is so distinctive of his work. The album was recorded over the course of five weeks at Minor Street in Philadelphia and Long Pond in New York’s Hudson Valley in early 2018.
"I think he brought a really unbelievable understanding of noise... and what sounds work together," Adam said talking about what Low brought into the mix as producer. "We were changing snares, and cymbals, and guitars, and amps on every track... on most of the parts."
"We wanted the album to sound like we do live... that was the other part of it," he continued. "Instead of just playing it live, I think the minimal production sounds great. It was more about finding the right sounds for the right parts, and it just sounds like the four of us playing together. I think the album sounds like we do in our heads, and it's not often that you get that on an album really."
"He (Jonathan) was really good at seeing the final picture," Adam continued, after finally finding a relatively quiet spot on his route. "He would make suggestions for everyone's parts. We'd tweak it slightly until everything fit there. A lot of the structures of the songs stayed the same as when we wrote them because we had done so many drafts of each song, but he did a great job of balancing all the instruments really well and made it sound like just the four of us playing live... which is what we really wanted. So it was great!"
The new album is previewed by two tracks -- the hypnotic, melancholic single 'Hanging In' and the edgier, groove-heavy 'Repeating Patterns,' which is accompanied by a hilarious horror/comedy themed music video featuring sock puppets and snide references to Georges Méliès 'A Trip To The Moon.' The visual aesthetic immediately reminded me of The Voidz's music video for 'Pyramid of Bones' (with sock puppets, of course) and when I asked Adam if he'd seen Julian Casablancas' latest experimental visual offering, Adam said he hadn't yet but was now curious. "Cheaper version," he quipped, in reference to the sock puppets!
Before I forgot, I had to address the band's curious name. "What's the story there?", I asked Adam. "Where are these jetpacks? Have you found them yet?" I asked.
"No, mate! We never got the jetpacks," Adam jokes. "It was a name that we chose in high school and then in university...It's been a long time since then. I think Mike actually suggested it, but we've been waiting for the jetpacks, and I don't know anymore," he says with a laugh.
The new album is also the band's first that's not being released via Fat Cat records. 'The More I Sleep, The Less I Dream' will arrive via UK based independent record label Big Scary Monsters. This is interesting because WWP Jetpacks are former label-mates with fellow Scottish indie-rockers Frightened Rabbit and The Twilights Sad, both of whom the band has stated as influences.
In fact, Jetpacks supported Frightened Rabbit during their tour for The Midnight Organ Fight in 2008, and it was after their label-mates recommendation that they signed a three-record deal with Fat Cat records.
As Meaww reported earlier, Frightened Rabbit's frontman Scott Hutchison was reported missing by Scottish police and the members of Frightened Rabbit earlier this May. A day after the police search started, it was confirmed that his body was found in the Port Edgar region near South Queensferry. No immediate cause of death was disclosed. I asked Adam how Scott's passing affected the band.
"It was really, really sad," Adam revealed. "We know so many people who know him. The whole of Scotland was really hurt. He was a lovely guy, and he was just great at being the frontman in the band and really connected with the crowd. He is sorely missed and will continue to be missed by all of us," he said.
We Were Promised Jetpacks have a string of upcoming tour dates in support of the new album that kicks off on 19 September at Portland City Music Hall, Portland, ME and stretches all the way into the end of October, with the North American leg of the tour wrapping up at Brooklyn Steel in NYC on 29 October. Soon after, they head back to Scotland in November, continuing their European leg of the tour through the UK, Denmark, and Austria before finally wrapping things up in Amsterdam on December 1.
When I asked Adam if he's looking forward to any particular gig, he said that he was looking forward to them all, but especially New York because Brooklyn Steel will be one of the largest venues they've played. I asked if that's the reason he came to New York early, to which he jokingly replied, "Yeah, just camping out here. Handing out fliers!"
We Were Promised Jetpacks' latest album 'The More I Sleep, the Less I Dream' drops Friday, September 14. You can pre-order it here. For tickets and more information about the band's tour dates, visit their official website.