Quite simply the most important Northern Irish band of the past ten years, vanguards Jetplane Landing‘s influence can be seen within almost every band that take to a local stage. After years in the musical wilderness they made their triumphant return this summer with a stunning fourth LP ‘Don’t Try’. Jetplane were back with a bang. But before the roofs are blown off our fine establishments this weekend, Andrew Ferris and Cahir O’Doherty answers eight years worth of our burning questions.
► How did you find touring around the UK again?
Andrew Ferris (vocals/guitar): All the shows were great for different reasons. I suppose London was very special – always great to play a sold out show. We’re very grateful for anybody who buys a ticket to one of our shows, particularly in advance. The vibe of whole tour was special.
► With your new album you’ve gained a whole new set of particularly younger fans. How have you found having a wide range of people and ages come to your gigs?
Andrew: The thing that they all have in common might be the genre of music they’re into or perhaps the message behind Jetplane Landing, which is one of inclusiveness. People might be different ages but they all have commonality of purpose and that’s the passion to see a band which is really tense and giving it their all. To be honest there aren’t a lot of bands like us touring around the UK right now and people miss that. There is a particular energy we have which people buzz off. So if you’re 15 that connects just as much as if you’re 45.
► How has being in a band changed since the last time you toured?
► Was a forth record always on the cards? Was there perhaps a time when Jetplane Landing could have come to an end?
Cahir: There was never any doubt in my mind that we would do another record. It was just about finding the time when all of us could give 100% to it again. We all split off and did our own things. The time was right a couple of years back and it felt really natural. We were never going to accept anything less than our best effort.
Andrew: I think when we made the decision two and half years ago we did it because we all felt we’d be able to do it whole heartedly. Making an album requires a lot of dedication of your time and we didn’t want to start anything which we could finish. So it was more choosing the perfect time to start.
It was loads of fun and not too much stress. Beyond this, album four keys us up very well for album five, which is an exciting thing for us. There is always a track on our albums which sets us for the next one. I think with this record there are a few songs which excite us and make me think, “We could explore that particular direction more deeply on the next album.”.
► So this album has been two years in the making?
Cahir: Yeah, but not intensely for two years. I’ve been with Fighting With Wire and Frank Turner. Andrew’s been doing label stuff while Jamie Burchell (bass) has been in France! So we’ve all been apart but we’ve been able to meet up enough during that time to make it work. Andrew: I think a sum total of time over the two years, including writing and recording, we’ve spend around nine working weeks/fifty days pulling this album together. Then obviously outside of that you’ve got an infinite amount of e-mails including iterations and versions of songs.
❝ Fans say we’re a band who sends them to Google. I like that. ❞
► What track on the album did you first nail down?
Andrew: Probably our current single ‘My Radio Heart’. It was the most fully formed one. It came at the end of a really long writing session. It was around midnight and Cahir had just started playing something, I added some words and seven minutes later we pretty much had a song. In fact it was at that point when we finally felt we had an album, as we knew we had a killer track. You need those. You don’t really feel that you have an album until it’s got a front cover, a title, etc. But mainly you need four or five songs which you think kick ass.
► Were there many songs left on the cutting room floor?
Cahir: We had about twenty ideas for songs. I learnt from Fighting With Wire, we had eighty ideas for that previous album with a load of stuff being thrown away and that really annoyed me. So I thought this time I’d keep the volume down, keep it to twenty ideas, work on them and make them really good.
Andrew: I’ve found with Cahir that he often rejects things first hand. What I mean is, that most ideas wouldn’t progress until he’s satisfied, so most things get rejected instantly. That kind of quality control comes from being friends and having confidence in each other. There’s no democratic process within Jetplane Landing, we don’t put a song on the record just because one of us wrote it. It’s either shit or it’s not.
► With Smalltown America you’ve always been able to have total freedom over your music. How does the filtering process work within the group? Is there an outside influence who lends an ear?
Cahir: It’s probably Jamie to be honest. He lives remote to myself and Andrew, so he’s the judge most the time. When we send him stuff it’ll usually be a thumbs up, but sometimes he’ll tell us to rework something, make it better, or cut it completely. Similarly Andrew will chip in along with myself telling each other what needs done to fix songs
Andrew: It’s the last ten percent of a project which defines it from being ordinary and makes it out of the ordinary. I think we’re very good at digging in and making that ten percent count. We full intended there to be eleven songs on this album. All our previous records have had eleven tracks but we couldn’t find that eleventh for ‘Don’t Try’. So what we did instead was have some of our longest songs on this album like ‘Magnetic Sea’. We barely ever pushed past the four minute mark in a song, only once ever before on ‘Backlash Cop’.
Cahir: We’ve always pushed to write a song which could go on the radio but that’s a bad habit to get into. “Argh, this song needs to be three minutes!”, why? It doesn’t. As long as it sounds good to us let’s spread it out a bit. People are more used to listening to longer songs, while in ’99 that wasn’t the case.
► This is the first record since Andrew moved back to Northern Ireland. How much of an influence has the City of Derry had on this album?
Andrew: The whole album is about travel. Journeys taking you the strange places, physically and creatively. There’s lost of flights of fancy. A lot of songs on this record are imagined situations which never happened to us. In turn though you’ve got ‘Walls Of Derry’ and ‘Magnetic Sea’ on it. One is on Side A, one is on Side B. Both are very much about Ireland and Donegal. The pull of what home means. What family and death means, and how how unique our voice is in Derry. We’re all proud Derry-“wans”, even Jamie who is from Bognor Regis.
Cahir: I think the records we grew up listening to inspired that. A lot of bands we liked would talk about their hometown and the experiences they had. We never did that because we felt weird about talking about Derry. But when Andrew came to me with the idea of a song called ‘The Walls of Derry’, I was like “Yeah! Let’s talk about our home for a change as people will be interested in that.” That is something they want to hear. Our fans want to know about the walls, they’ll want to know about these places which influence us.
Andrew: Fans come up to us at every show and ask about the words in the our songs. They say we’re a band who sends them to Google. I like that.
► Tell us more about the references in ‘Don’t Try’. Starting with the ‘Beat Generation…Ha!’?
► How does the song ‘The Lightning Bird Blinded By The Moonfire’ channel your views on the music industry?
Andrew: Again, that song is an imagined situation about a publishing deal which never materialised for a band. It’s not about Jetplane or anything like that. When I was 18 I had a band which was signed to Geffen. Jamie and Cahir have both been in bands which had got signed. We’ve all identified with the fact of somebody else holding the purse-strings if you will. For me ‘Lightning Bird…’ is a poem about futility. If you are waiting for somebody to give you the authority to go ahead and go your own thing – of you’re waiting for somebody to give you permission to make your own music then you really shouldn’t be making music. Music should be effortless. It should be there to inform. If you are waiting for an A&R man or a radio station to give you validity then you’re in the wrong game.
► Who are the people on the front of the album?
Andrew: They are from a show in 1986, when I was around ten or eleven. It’s from a gig in the Union Hall in Derry. The show was band called Dick Tracey and The Green Disaster, who were a a Post-Punk band. The photo is taken by a local photographer called Jim Cunningham and he just archives every show that he goes to with thousands of photographs. Pre-internet of course. We scanned the negative after Jamie found the photo on Facebook. It just seemed to represent that instinctual, “Lets go out, and go nuts” attitude. In short, the answer to your question is that we don’t know who those people are! But we endeavour to find out. So if anybody does know who those people are could these please get in touch with us as there are people walking around all parts of the UK with their face on a T-shirt. We probably owe them a record to be honest.
► What are your thoughts on The Venue in Derry? Should it and could it stay?
Andrew: From my understanding it has to come down as it’s a temporary structure. So as it is, it can’t stay there forever…but they did say that about the Millennium Dome.
Cahir: I think it’s amazing that there is a venue like that in Derry and the acts are coming to the city. People of Derry are getting the chance to see things they might have never been able to see before. It’s about finding somebody who can bring in the acts on a consistent basis to keep a place afloat, because people of Derry are not used to going out and spending money – particularly on music. But things are changing
Andrew: The one thing about City of Culture is that it’s gotten people from the North-West used to the idea of buying tickets in advance. Even if it’s in a small way like selling Chic out in an hour, that sort of thing is very good as it increases the value of things which musicians do. It gets people used to the context of, “You need to buy this ticket in advance, as you could miss out!”. That can only be a good thing. Regarding The Venue itself, it’s fairly irrelevant wether it stays or goes. What will stay are the memories that people enjoyed themselves and the added value it gave to the city. I think Derry missed a trick a long, long time ago when they did not build a venue on the Strand Rd. where Sainsburys now is. It could have been the most gorgeous venue in Ireland. A lot of things will come from City of Culture, one of them being an increased respect and focus on professional musicians that they have an intrinsic value.
► As you previously lived in London and moved back to Derry, what is your view on the current trend of local acts moving to mainland UK. Is it essential for their career?
► What keeps Jetplane Landing striving forward?
Cahir: We want to be the first band to earn a six star review! haha.
For me personally I’d love more touring for the band and to start work on a fifth record, but in turn we don’t want to rush it. With Jetplane everything takes time as we want to do it right. Another tour after Christmas possibly. Another single, another video. Hopefully spreading the word of this record before we move onto the next project.
Andrew: We’ll still always write, release our own records, tour them then talk to people about it. I think we now want to harness the tools which weren’t available when we first started the band. Maybe visit some counties we haven’t visited too.
When we started Jetplane we had the feeling that we had five records in us and that hasn’t changed. We are determined to make that fifth record and make it the best it possibly can be. Getting 5/5 or 9/10 in reviews is wonderful as it gives people who already like the band a context for which to like it even more.
There are some songs out there which Cahir and I would regard as classics, flawless. Such as certain Talking Heads tracks, some Velvet Underground. Fungazi, Marginwalker. ‘Bleed American’ by Jimmy Eat World for example. For us the challenge is that one day we get lucky and hit on one of those, I don’t think we’ve done that yet and until we do, we’ll keep trying.