Interview with guitarist Michael Palmer | By Renaldo Matadeen
We Were Promised Jetpacks are a Scottish quartet who have been flying the indie-rock banner high in their native land, working their way across Europe and eventually to America. Formed in 2003, they’re best known for albums such as 2009’s These Four Walls and 2011’s In the Pit of the Stomach. However, 2014’s Unravelling proved to be aptly titled, with the band deviating toward a more tempered, melodic, and atmospheric sound, losing the feisty nature of old.
This shift comes full-circle on We Were Promised Jetpacks’ fourth full-length, The More I Sleep The Less I Dream—currently out on Big Scary Monsters Recording Company—highlighting the band’s fearless attitude when it comes to the winds of musical change.
Regarding this evolution, guitarist Michael Palmer admits, “[We’ve] not so much grown out of it, but that was the sound of 20-year-olds. We’re 30-year-olds now, and 30-year-olds trying to be 20-year-olds never works, does it? But it’s the same as it’s always been in that we’re just trying to make music that we like. Our tastes have changed a little, and so, the music we make has too—but not too drastically.”
Palmer is right. Sure, The More I Sleep The Less I Dream is catchy and highly-accessible, a moody record filled with European synth beats and elements of shoegaze and pop, but still, one can sense footprints of the band’s previous output. “Repeating Patterns,” for example, is similar to the band’s big hit “Quiet Little Voices” from These Four Walls, which made it into the Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis movie “Hall Pass” in 2011.
When asked about the frenetic, buzzy guitars on “Repeating Patterns,” Palmer says any nostalgia created was “not done consciously.” He adds, “When we were writing this album, nothing we ‘tried’ to do ever worked. All the songs we ended up using were ones that we just let happen. Apparently, we’ve still got fast rocks songs in us. Who knew?!”
However, he reveals that the new musical styles We Were Promised Jetpacks have adopted mesh together to create a “dreamy” theme, something ethereal for listeners to immerse themselves in. This ties directly into the record’s title, which Palmer elaborates on. “It’s a phrase that fits the theme, I think,” he states. “Like, before you’ve finished reading what it says, you kind of give up and let the words wash over you without worrying about it too much, which plays into the themes we spoke about.”
When asked about his favorite tracks, Palmer continues, “Honestly, we’re super proud of this record. That’s a weird feeling. On every other album, there’s always something you feel like you would change if you could: either the mix or a part, or maybe leave a song off and put another on. There’s always something. But not this time, which is tough getting used to! Because of that, our favorite tracks on the album change all the time. I guess that’s probably a common answer, but I—and we—are just really happy with the way the album balances out. It feels like an album and not a collection of songs, and that’s cool.”
Palmer does mention the dance-pop elements as exploratory points he enjoyed weaving into the record in-studio. A few tracks even sound like new-era Mogwai, the band’s countrymen whose new direction is similar to We Were Promised Jetpacks’ new essence. In terms of direct influences, however, it’s tough for him to pin down. When asked to single out a few, Palmer replies, “It’s hard to say. When writing, we’d start with a loose idea and jam until something came out of it. It’s always how we’ve worked, but it makes it hard to say what’s influenced the songs. But I’m pleased you’ve namechecked Mogwai—that makes me happy!”
Ultimately, Palmer is delighted about how comfortable the band are in their new skin, ready to trudge new paths with fans both old and new. His parting message for the folks they hope will pick up the album? “You don’t have to if you don’t want to! But it’s hard to find good new music, isn’t it?” he concludes. “If you’ve liked anything we’ve done in the past, then I think you’ll like this. It’s our best record.”
“But if you don’t like it, that’s fine. Liking music is hard!” Palmer laughs.
Photo by Eleanor Petry