Analogue Music | We Were Promised Jetpacks

We Were Promised Jetpacks

By Matt Conner

Adam Thompson had to find a new way forward.

As the front man for We Were Promised Jetpacks, Thompson has cultivated an impressive indie rock catalog since their FatCat debut, These Four Walls (2009), along with his bandmates Sean Smith and Darren Lackie. Until the last couple years, it was a list that also included Michael Palmer. That change was the reason for the creative changes for the band.

Going from a quartet to a trio was the sort of shake-up that Thompson says he didn't know he needed, one that has forced We Were Promised Jetpacks to reinvent their sound a bit. There's more space these days, as illustrated by the captivating tracks on the band's new album, Enjoy The View, and Thompson says the creative approach has shifted dramatically as well.

Thompson recently sat down with us to discuss life as a three-piece after so many years together and what he's learned about the creative process as the band went to record again.

Analogue: I know that Michael Palmer left the band which means you’re recording as a trio now? How was that shift after all these years?

Adam Thompson: It pretty much happens every time we do an album that we go through, ‘Is it good? Is it the best thing?’ But it’s definitely weird doing an album as a three-piece. I always thought the strength of our band was that we played so well live together and really thrived off of each other. That was the way we approached writing songs and doing albums. It always seemed like the live show was the focus and we just recorded those songs.

With Mike leaving the band, it completely changed the dynamic because we tried writing songs like we used to, in a practice room, but it was weird. It felt like we were missing this whole part of what our band usually is.

So it definitely took a bit of getting used to, but we didn’t dwell on it too long. We knew it was the situation, that it was just the three of us, so we just said, ‘Let’s see what we can do.’ It ended up being fun to approach it differently, and then obviously the pandemic hit and we couldn’t even be in the same room. We sent each other projects and demos back and forth. Some days, someone would have a breakthrough and suggest something really good and it would change the song. It was really fun to work at music like that.

"With Mike leaving the band, it completely changed the dynamic because we tried writing songs like we used to, in a practice room, but it was weird. It felt like we were missing this whole part of what our band usually is."

So it all feels new and a bit strange because it’s so different than usual. I’m not really judging it like the usual standards or things that we’ve done previously. It’s all a bit unknown, but it was definitely a fun thing to do even in the pandemic.

Analogue: Were you taken back by what you were able to do, then?

Adam: Yeah, it definitely gave us confidence that we could make music together still and just write stuff that we like and really enjoy the process and be excited by it. There was definitely some hesitancy.

As well, none of us in the band are sound engineers or studio engineers. We’ve never done it that way. We’ve just played our instruments together and we go record places so we’re starting a bit on that, too. We bought some gear and did a bit of recording ourselves, mixed some tracks and things like that.

So it is kind of exciting to think there’s this whole other world of possibilities we can do now. We always liked to keep it fairly straightforward with two guitars, bass, and drums and be real old-school with no backing tracks. We tried to keep the show as simple as possible with no frills.

Having written songs by sending each other projects and demos, it’s made me think there’s lots of room for us to do different things now. When you send off one album to get mastered, you always think of what you’re going to do next.

Analogue: The loss of Michael means you’re now the only guitarist, right?

Adam: Yeah, totally.

Enjoy the View
Enjoy the View

Analogue: Do you feel the weight of that?

Adam: A little bit. There’s so much space. For me, if I was writing songs, I’d write the chords, the lyrics, and the melody and then come into the practice room and know that Sean and Dan and me would work really hard as the rhythm section to get all that Locke din. Then I knew that Mike was gong to add a bunch of layers and flair. Those were our jobs for 15 years so I never had to think about it.

So it was definitely a bit daunting to have loads of space, but once we talked about it, we learned it was quite fun for me and Sean to do some extra things we don’t normally get to do. So it was fun to try a bunch of different things.

There were also times we thought we should leave songs with room to breathe. We didn’t want to try to copy Mike’s style of guitar playing. He’s so good at it, so we decided not to try to emulate what he did. We just went with what felt good in the moment. Overall, we have a record that’s less dense, less heavy, perhaps less songs with repetitive sections that build up in intensity. We love doing that, but it felt forced. So we wanted to change the palette on this one and make it a little bit lighter overall.

Analogue: Was there a first song that emerged that represented where you wanted to go?

Adam: We’d done eight songs sending projects back and forth in Garage Band but we’d never played them live together, so it was extremely weird because that’s never happened for us. A song doesn’t really exist until we’re all playing it together, so it was definitely strange. During that time I was like, ‘Fuck I hope this translates to us sounding good.’ It definitely got there.

After four months of writing remotely, we were able to finally get into a room together and the song “Fat Chance” came out of that in the first week or so. That was written sort of live together a bit and then I went home and made a demo of what we did in the rehearsal room that day. Then when we went into the following day to play it, we started playing along with some aspects of the demo and I thought, ‘Oh, this is it. This is the vantage point.’

When that clicked into place, it felt like we had our direction.

Analogue: So that was an obvious first single?

Adam: Yeah, it felt like that to us. It felt pretty easy to write, which felt good. There was one song we were working on the whole time and when it came time to record it, we scrapped it. None of us were enjoying any part of it. We were just doing it because it’s a song that we had. Whereas “Fat Chance” came about so naturally that it felt right. That was one of the tunes we thought had a catchy chorus and feels great to play. It sounded like what we wanted to sound like.

Analogue: If you’re known for those emotional builds that you mention, how much do you feel beholden to that? Or how much is that in your head?

Adam: Yeah, it’s a bit weird thinking of that stuff. We can fall into the trap where we think we can’t do anything too different because we’re just an indie rock band. There definitely is something that tells you there are rules or that there’s something you can’t sound like. I don’t think we’re all the way there yet, but on this album we’re starting to push that. We don’t have to stick to a sound.

I don’t think this record is radically different but there are elements that are different from what we’ve done in the past.

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