Pulling the Thread

We Were Promised Jetpacks shift focus with Unravelling

click to enlarge We Were Promished Jetpacks
We Were Promished Jetpacks

Veteran bands with decade-long histories have typically experienced what Inspector Clouseau — and then R.E.M. — once colorfully described as “life’s rich pageant.”

The Scotsmen who have comprised We Were Promised Jetpacks since 2004 have certainly lived at both extremes on that shit-sandwich-to-champagne continuum, and yet their experiential breadth would hardly earn them classifications as “mature” or, worse yet, “old.” You can avoid either of those terms by starting a band in middle school and growing up together.

“We’ve had a certain lifestyle since [debut album] These Four Walls came out,” guitarist/vocalist Adam Thompson says from his Glasgow home. “You almost have to think about the implications of what that means once you’ve been doing it for a few years. The first few years were exciting and whirl by, and after that you think about what you want to get out of it and what you want to achieve. Our band’s always been lucky that we all want to do the same thing. We’ve stayed tight and we all know what we want to do.”

The band spent its first five years learning how to be a band and the next five applying that knowledge to its situation. The Jetpacks’ new album, Unravelling, is their third release since their 2009 debut and it represents both an extension of their anthemic Indie Rock approach and a departure from it.

Unravelling notches several firsts for the Jetpacks; primarily, it’s the band’s debut as a quintet, with the permanent installation of touring keyboardist/guitarist Stuart McGachan.

“We really started writing the album in January 2013, and that’s about when he joined,” Thompson says. “We’d finished one song long ago [“Peace Sign”] but the rest of them he was involved with from start to finish. He demoed with us and wrote with us and recorded with us. He brings a different voice because we’ve gotten pretty used to what each other is going to say (since) we’ve been together for almost 10 years. He’s a bit more melodic in his writing so that’s something we could use. And just having a different sound; we don’t have that elaborate a set-up, so it’s opened up another new avenue for us to try.”

While Four Walls was recorded in England and produced by committee, and second album In the Pit of the Stomach was tracked in Sigur Ros’ studio in Iceland, Unravelling stands as Jetpacks’ first recording done at home in Glasgow, which led to the group’s collaboration with renowned Scottish producer Paul Savage.

“When we went to Iceland, we did three weeks, 12-14 hours a day, and by the end of that, we got a bit crazy,” Thompson says. “We thought it would be nice to stay at home, record Monday through Friday and then have two days off. Once we had that, Paul was really the first name that came up. We’d recorded with him for a couple of days before doing our first album and we always remembered enjoying working with him. It was a no-brainer once we met up with him.”

Jetpacks (Thompson, McGachan, guitarist Michael Palmer, bassist Sean Smith and drummer Darren Lackie) spent the better part of a year on the road promoting 2011’s dark and intense Stomach, then spent an equal amount of time in preparation for Unravelling. Stomach seemed expressly designed for its thunderous live presentation, so the band deliberately took its foot off the gas for the new songs.

“After the first album, we wanted a second bunch of songs that were a little heavier to play and a little fuller and more head on,” Thompson says. “On reflection, listening back to it after awhile, we thought it was too heavy and too dense for the whole duration. We just wanted to mix it up a bit.”

Although Unravelling exhibits a greater dynamic range than We Were Promised Jetpacks has attempted previously, there is still an underlying power and heft to even the album’s quietest moments.

“It’s still got the same emotional pull as the last two albums, it’s just that the whole sound is a lot more varied,” Thompson notes. “It’s got a bit more groove or something and I think that’s what we were trying to achieve, but it’s still very much a We Were Promised Jetpacks album. If you don’t like the first two, you’re not going to like this one, but I do think it offers something different.”


WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS plays a free show Thursday at Bogart’s in Corryville. More info: bogarts.com.


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