You could be forgiven for feeling slightly sorry for the Saturday night headliner at 2000trees. The whole festival felt somewhat dominated by Frank Turner, whose Friday night headline slot was supplemented with multiple ‘secret’ acoustic sets and cameo appearances throughout the weekend. Even on the official festival T-shirts Frank’s name appeared top and centre, and was afforded far more space than any other band. This would’ve been fine, but since Frank headed up the Friday night lineup (presumably because of his T-In the Park commitments), this meant that on Saturday, Mystery Jets were left with the difficult task of re-hyping what was to some extent a de-hyped crowd. In all honesty, however, you couldn’t have picked a much better band for the job; not only have they got enough recognisable hits to keep a casual listener happy, but they’ve also got a sizeable back catalogue of quality music and a dedicated fan base. With this in mind, when I met up with Blaine Harrison and Will Reese from the band about an hour before they went on stage, and before our interview was interrupted by the tea orders (they wanted ginger and lemon with a dash of honey in case you’re wondering/you’re a mental stalker/you ever plan on seducing one of them), the first thing I wanted to know was how they go about constructing a set list for a gig like this:
BH: We always change our set list around. We often write it fairly late on, I mean we haven’t even written tonight’s yet. Normally when we play festivals, we try and play tracks from all of our different records, whereas at our own shows more often than not we’ll centre it around our most recent record. For something like this, I mean we never play anything off our first album, but all the others are fair game. At festivals we do like a greatest hits set.
WR: But it’s still very much centred on where we are at the moment. 50-60% of it will be from Radlands.
But Radlands was last year now, so will we hear any new tracks tonight?
WR: Probably not, we’ve tried to avoid that since YouTube became so popular.
BH: That’s the problem; stuff just gets bootlegged so quickly. What we’ll probably do is disappear for a while and write the record, which we’ve started doing, and then we’ll probably come out and play some low-key shows to road test it. But at that stage, if the songs get bootlegged and start getting circulated then it’s ok, because the song’s ready to go. But at the moment they’re still babies.
WR: We love the idea of playing new songs live because really that’s how you learn it and make it better, but I think it would be very unattractive to hear a song that was badly recorded, and possibly even badly played by us on YouTube.
Do you still get a kick out playing the songs you’ve played a thousand times before?
BH: Yeah! I think in a way, you’re always most excited about the thing that’s freshest. But we’re always surprised when we pull out the old tracks how much people still love them. It encourages us to play them, because if it was up to us we’d just play new songs.
WR: But the old songs change and develop as we change and develop. They end up being quite different to how they initially came about.
BH: It’s funny which songs get the biggest reaction now. ‘Flakes’ kind of started off as a nice song that, on the album, provided a moment, but over time it’s almost become our biggest song. That’s strange, because it wasn’t a single, yet now it’s a song that we rarely don’t play. I’ve often wondered how that happened, there are songs that are almost left off albums or are thrown on at the last minute and they end up being songs that people are remembered for. I think the crowd has a big part to play in that, because they are celebrating something and it gives the song a life that you can’t give it as a performer.
Do you still feel the same emotions you engaged with when you wrote a track, even playing it these years later?
BH: I try to. When you play a song live, if you can access that headspace that you were in when you wrote it and it meant the most to you, then I think the most amazing things can happen. But sometimes, I think you start to see songs from a different perspective. A song like ‘Two Doors Down’, for example, I don’t feel like I would write that song now, I’m in a different place as a writer, but when I get in that song it’s like putting on an outfit, and when you put on the outfit you become that character. That’s what playing live is like, you step into these different outfits with the different songs that you play and you have to live that song. And if you don’t do that, you won’t have a very good gig. You’ll walk off and you won’t have felt anything, you’ll have been on autopilot, and that’s not when magic happens. People can see it, and people can see it when the band members are looking at each other, and if the band look like they’re having fun then people will get involved with the show.
There’s a really nice party atmosphere at this festival, but obviously you guys have done this all before countless times, are you still planning to be going strong at 4am?
BH: Ideally we’ll helicopter in, play, and then helicopter out. That’s the ideal gig for us. We don’t like mingling with people. No silent disco and no secret acoustic sets… [Laughs] No! I’m joking! We love festivals; Mystery Jets have always been a festival band, ever since we started.
WR: It’s kind of because we used to put on our own festivals on Eel Pie Island. We’d get ten bands that were all friends of ours and cram them into a little rehearsal space. We’re kind of cut from that crop, the chaos of that situation, ten bunches of musicians synchronising at the right time is a total fucking nightmare. That gives you a certain ability to embrace chaos.
Do you miss that?
BH: We still do it! I mean, this festival I’m down for the whole weekend and I think where possible we like to stick around. We’ve got favourite festivals that we like going to, and…
WR: You’ll usually just see Blaine at 6am, gurning.
BH: [Laughs] If there’s a stone circle, then you’ll find me there. If I can’t find a stone circle, I’ll make my own stone circle. I’ll set up a bonfire and dance in the flames.