The first time we saw Mystery Jets in concert they were wearing matching sequined blazers. This time ’round they’re decked out in cowboy boots and performing in front of a subverted American flag (lovingly crafted by lead singer Blaine Harrison’s mum). Thankfully, these well-dressed ragamuffins have just as much substance as sartorial flair. We had a chat to Harrison about the making of their fourth studio album Radlands and tearing up the desert with a carload of babes.
So why the Terrence Malick reference in the title?
Well Radlands is actually made from two different things – the Terrence Malick film like you said – but also Redlands, which is the name of Keith Richards’s house from the late ’60s that he was busted in for doing drugs. Exile on Main Street was a big influence on the record. We wanted it to be our Exile, and in a way it was. Not that we were all being chased by the tax man but we wanted to get out in the country and we wanted to live abroad and set up house in [Austin] Texas. So we called the house Radlands and we made a sign for it and had the lonestar on the gate, so it was almost like a fictional world that we wanted to create.
The house itself was actually down by the Colorado River, which is this great big throbbing river that moves really quickly and is full of snakes. It’s this really barren setting. We occasionally had animals knocking on the windows. We had a flock of deer that would come into the garden in the evening, really weirdly at the same time every evening. They’d come up and peer through the windows. I think it was something about the frequency of the pedal steel that they liked.
Austin’s slogan is ‘Keep Austin weird’. Did it live up to its reputation?
Yeah, definitely, it’s not really like any other American town I’ve been to. Have you seen Dazed and Confused? Obviously that was the ’70s, but it’s still kind of like that. It has everything that you’d want a town to have – the college campus, where we kind of went to a few obligatory sorority parties, and red cup parties, so there’s all the uni kids who hang out on 6th Street – but there’s also the whole kind of subculture of people putting on amazing house parties and bands. There are some really great bands coming out of Austin – Strange Boys, White Denim. Then there’s also this amazing sense of the past and the musical heritage of the place, these country bands who still play the bars seven nights a week, they just play for beers. It’s almost still like a cowboy town underneath all that.
What was your most stereotypical college experience?
Everyone drives out there, so we’d go out drinking and we’d meet people and we’d all just all bundle in the back of their car. A lot of kids out there have these old cars, I guess their mum’s old cars, and they just bundle all their mates in there and drive after drinking. I have no idea how they get away with it but they drink and then go hurtling down the freeway with someone, like smoking a bong out the window. It’s really stereotypical type stuff from the movies, which was fun for us because it kind of worked on an almost cartoon level. It didn’t feel like reality. It was just like, ‘Shit, two weeks ago we were back in London sitting in our flats and here we are, riding down the freeway with a load of babes getting stoned’.
Did you meet any Texan ‘characters’?
When we did go into town we’d meet people and if it seemed kind of cool we’d take them back to the house and play them the record. That happened a few times but one guy called Fred, who played the slide guitar on ‘Luminescence’, we’d actually met once before at a festival in England. He wears this great big Stetson cowboy hat, and boots that clink when he walks around. He’s brilliant, he’s very much the person who we based the character of Jefferson Lonestar on – this fictional protagonist that appears throughout the record.
Did he know he was your muse?
No, I don’t think he did! He’s really interested in healing, almost like a tribal warrior. He lives in a gold Mercedes. He just drives around places and turns up and gets his guitar out. He actually ran away to Austin from Ireland when he was a teenager – we met him playing at the Reading Leeds festival, like six or seven years ago, and we hadn’t seen him since. He literally just popped up in and it was like ‘Whoa, dude, where have you been?’ He’s married a Texan girl, we ran into her at a barbeque place.
After this record your bassist Kai left. Did you know he was planning to go while you were making it?
Not really, there was a sense that something had changed. Kai made a solo record. Whilst we were touring [previous album] Serotonin he toured it himself during the gaps when we weren’t recording. I think it opened a door for him. It allowed him to be a songwriter. In the Mystery Jets there are four songwriters, including Henry [Blaine's dad]. There was at times I guess a sense of too many cooks in the kitchen. You know, he’s writing his own songs, he’s singing his own songs. I think he’s really happy. It’s a newfound liberation for him in a way I think.
Radlands is out now.