We Were Promised Jetpacks on The More I Sleep the Less I Dream
We speak to We Were Promised Jetpacks frontman Adam Thompson about their most ambitious record yet, The More I Sleep the Less I Dream
"We were at a crossroads, to be honest."
We Were Promised Jetpacks have spent the past decade cementing their position as one of Scotland’s premier indie rock bands, with their soaring, panoramic approach to the guitar winning them an ever-burgeoning cult fanbase, at home and abroad. On top of that, their critical notices have been consistently glowing. All of that aside though, by the time they wrapped up touring for Unravelling, their blistering third LP from 2014, they had some decisions to make.
They responded initially by avoiding them. Their contract with FatCat, the Brighton label that nurtured them, was up, but they decided to take a beat before rushing into any new deal. They needed to start thinking about when they were going to begin writing again but felt it best to wait until the inspiration found them. The circumstances of their personal lives only heightened the sense of flux; all four members of the Edinburgh outfit were about to turn 30 and accordingly were increasingly examining precisely what it was they wanted from life. It might not necessarily have included the continuation of We Were Promised Jetpacks.
After much reflection, it turned out that it did. Not only did the hunger to write new songs resurface, but it was soon followed by the kind of creative breakthrough they’d been craving. “We didn’t want to set ourselves any kind of deadline,” says frontman Adam Thompson, calling during a break in rehearsals. “It was a case of waiting until the songs were good enough so that we could carry some genuine confidence into the recording sessions. I think, for the first time, we were thinking about making music that was going to see us turn a corner creatively, whatever way that came.”
The turning point arrived with the song that would go on to be the album’s title track, after a slew of early demos that were never looking likely to cut the mustard. The More I Sleep the Less I Dream is the most ambitious Jetpacks record to date, and so much of its compositional daring is rooted in that track, which closes the record in dramatic fashion.
“I came up with the guitar riff and then we slowly started to piece things together around it,” Thompson explains. “We got the groove together, and then the drum beat, and in its own quiet way, it was beginning to sound massive. It was turning into this five-and-a-half, six-minute song that was kind of epic and that made everything else we’d written for the album up to that point sound weak by way of comparison. It was in this drop C tuning, unusual for us, and it just very much sounded like the sort of song that wouldn’t have been written for radio. That was the point at which we felt as if we’d broken through the wall.”
The band had struck new creative gold, and the rest of the album began to fall into place from there – the melodic boisterousness of Hanging In, the noisy urgency of In Light, the crackle and fizz of Repeating Patterns. It didn’t matter what shape or form the excitement came in, according to Thompson, just that it did at all; with everybody chipping in their own ideas in the rehearsal room, WWPJ were once again having the kind of fun, and working in the same way, that they did as teenagers when they founded the group in high school.
The result was that, for the first time ever, they had an album’s worth of songs fleshed out and ready to record before they even set foot in the studio. Thompson uncharacteristically had even finished up all of the lyrics. The irony was that they didn’t have a label to release though. Ultimately, they chose not to go back to FatCat, and instead inked a deal with Big Scary Monsters, the Oxford imprint that also hosts the likes of Modern Baseball and DZ Deathrays.
“A lot of the circumstances around the band had changed anyway, so it seemed like the right time to start a new chapter,” Thompson recalls. “We’d already changed management to some new people in Seattle, and they were getting things done for us.” WWPJ have had nothing but positive experiences on the other side of the pond, so it made sense for them to start talking to US producers over Skype. One man who made a particular impression was Jonathan Low.
“The signs with Jonathan were good straight away. He was this younger guy who was really easy to get along with, and he had all the credentials, too. He’s been working out of Long Pond, which is Aaron Dessner’s new studio up in Hudson, New York. He’s the main engineer there, so he’s already worked with the likes of The National, Sharon Van Etten and The War on Drugs.”
Low’s CV helped put the band’s minds at rest. “Often, you’re kind of gambling on a producer, because you talk to them for maybe half an hour or an hour over the internet, and the next thing you’re committing to them and spending more money on them than you would anything else. Knowing what Jonathan can do gave us a lot of confidence.”
Low devised a smart plan. First, they’d head to Miner Street in Philadelphia; he was fond of the drum sound there, and in order to capture the most vibrant live takes possible, the band had originally wanted to record with no click tracks; they eventually went back on that when they realised Low was well capable of bringing out energetic percussion with or without them. With the bass and drums finished in Pennsylvania, the group played a bunch of shows to get a handle on the guitars and vocals before decamping to Long Pond to lay them down. The blend of environments was key, with the hustle and bustle of Philly offsetting Long Pond’s isolation, and fending off cabin fever in the process.
With that in place, and the songs ready to go, everything else ran smoothly. “I’m not a big studio person,” Thompson admits. “I like to get in, bash out the guitar parts and that’s that. This time, that worked fine, because the songs were complete and we had Jon (Low) to guide us. We’d played those detailed demos to people and we got a lot of good feedback. We found the sound we were looking for really quickly. It was just such an enjoyable experience, which isn’t how it’s been in the past. I’m usually really stressed.”
A major contributor to Thompson’s fraught prior experiences in the studio was the fact that he had seldom finished penning the lyrics going in. Now, his prodigious writing form for The More I Sleep the Less I Dream is indicative of the band’s new confidence overall, as well as their acceptance of the challenges that lie ahead of them in their 30s.
“It was so nice to not have to keep scuttling off to another room in the studio to try to fart out some more words!” he laughs. “Everything seemed to flow more easily this time though. I think when you’re past 30, you have to reflect and re-evaluate whether you want to or not. In the build-up to this record, there were breakups, marriages, houses bought, kids born, job changes. We were thinking about why we wanted to do this in the first place, and in doing so we figured out exactly why we intend to carry on.”
The More I Sleep The Less I Dream is released on 14 Sep via Big Scary Monsters
We Were Promised Jetpacks play The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 14 Nov; Saint Luke's, Glasgow, 15 Nov; The Old Dr Bell's Baths, Edinburgh, 17 Nov