|THE ORGAN INTERVIEW... SOMEWHERE IN SURREY - EARLY SUMMER 2002|
Jetplane Landing front man Andrew Ferris is very similar to watching his
band play – a passionate, invigorating, highly visual experience, a primal
scream that mainlines on pure righteous anger and energy. Jetplane Landing
are four people with so much soul it hurts. Their creation is a near-perfect,
punk-infused rock n roll beast of a band. Formed in 2001 out of the ashes
of Cuckoo (Andrew and bass-player Jamie) and My Drug Hell (drummer Raife),
they got together in a garage to record ‘Zero For Conduct’, an album that
has emerged as one of the most thrilling of the year. Steve Gibbs does
You’ve said you called yourself Jetplane Landing because that’s the impression you wanted to create when you played live, the feeling of the power and grace, the beauty and noise of a jet plane landing. Have you achieved that aim?
Some nights it gets there, it’s not about volume though, really, and I hope that… hopefully it’ll be a ten-year mission that ends up achieving that aim. We came up with the name after seeing At The Drive-In play on the Jools Holland show. And previously someone had said to us in a practice that, ‘God, you guys sound like a jet plane landing’. And then when I saw At The Drive-In, I said to Jamie (bass-player), ‘God, those guys really do sound like a jet plane landing, hang on a minute, that’s a good name for a band…’ and that’s the way it came about….sort of…..
That was an amazing performance by ATD-I on ‘Later…’ – great swathes of feedback wrung out in the vague approximation of the memory of a song, AND trashing BBC furniture into the bargain.
I remember seeing it and just going (stares in disbelief)…. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV. Television, for me, is very important: Nirvana on “The Word”, Rage Against The Machine doing “The Late Show”, At The Drive-In doing “Later” All those sort of things were real bench-marks for me when I was growing up. It’s coloured my view of music and how a band should be.
You’ve recently come back from tours with Seafood & Hundred Reasons…
They were both amazing in different ways. Seafood and HR have very different sets of fans and so it was nice for us to watch our material being reacted to in entirely different ways. .
Before that, you embarked upon your own huge national tour – what about that?
The tour was amazing, it really was. It was good for two reasons: the first reason was that we managed to finish it! Tours are pretty gruelling things, and I take a lot of pride in the fact that we can do it. But the second thing was… the band has sort of reached a small level now where people can find our records easily, or easier, people know who we are and now they’re actually coming to our gigs in significant numbers. I have to say, I’m sure everybody says it about their fans, but there’s nobody like Jetplane Landing fans, because, without exception, everyone we met on tour was just really nice, it’s just been amazing.
You said on your website’s tour diary that after five days you’d forgotten what normal life was like – is this what touring does to you?
Yeah, I think it does. Touring is kind of like a break from the norm. Whenever you get into a van and live on top of two people, after five days you start to realise the situation you’re in. It’s a bit like being in an episode of Big Brother… you sit around and you go, ‘why is everyone sleeping all the time?’ Your body changes and you shut down and you turn into a gig machine and everything’s about the gig and waiting for it. And all the time you’re trying to get ready, because you owe it to the people who pay their money every night. And it’s hard. I am not cut out for touring, it doesn’t suit me physically. It suits Jamie and Raife a lot better than it suits me. I’m hyperactive, and you have to really slow your body down completely and rest all the time, so you can play for 45 minutes. Which is strange.
But do you enjoy sleeping in a van that ships water, parking in a supermarket car park and getting woken up by police at some unearthly hour wanting to find out what you’re doing there?
It’s not the way you choose to live your life, but it does feel edifying to an extent. We do this for a reason, and we can’t command a lot of money when we play, and I enjoy the fact that we do play for those people who have bought the album in Leeds and Middlesbrough, and that’s satisfying enough. And we get such nice letters and e-mails from people. I can’t stress enough how that sustains you. So you get woken up at six in the morning in Derby by a mechanical digger, but that’s OK, because that day you know you might get ten e-mails from people saying how much they enjoyed the gig the night before. And it makes it entirely worth it.
You don’t like giving yourself days off – is that because you have a tendency to party a bit too hard when you don’t have a show to play?
No… we do take the odd night off, we had two on this tour but it was pretty much 21 shows on the bounce. We cancelled one show for one reason or another, and another show was pulled, but we book full itineraries. This is for two reasons: one, because we all have to work, so we take as little time off work as we can to do the most amount of work possible. Secondly, I think it’s lazy to play for five nights a week and take two days off. I mean, you’re only playing for 45 minutes. And thirdly, I suppose, it’s kind of to emulate our heroes a bit. What we do is a bit like what Black Flag did: it’s nowhere near approaching 6 months coast to coast, but it makes us feel a little bit closer to how they must have felt. And we do feel like we do gound work when we do these tours. People look at the itinerary and think, they realise that there’s a circuit growing that they can follow.
It’s not a cliché, but the whole ‘Get In The Van’ ethos is sometimes sneered at by people that don’t understand what it’s about and that it’s the only way for some bands to survive. In a way, it’s something of a dying art.
We are very proud of our heritage. We have a hardcore heritage in the way that we view touring, and we’re basically trying to reinstate that, because I think the work ethic informs our music. And I think our fans enjoy that about us, and we say in our songs, ‘this is not revolution rock’, because it’s not about this band, it’s about what people do for themselves. So what we’re trying to do is show what we’re doing as an investment in our band, and that’s a way to look at your life a little bit. Not preaching ‘that’s how you should live your life’, but saying to people that if you really want to do something, why not get in the van and do it? And as Black Flag would say, anyway, it doesn’t matter where you’re asleep, cos when you’re asleep you don’t know where you are.
You only officially formed in February 2001, so does it feel like everything has happened fairly quickly for you?
Yeah… it has, it’s been amazing. I’ve never been involved in something that’s had its own momentum. I feel like Jetplane Landing has a momentum all of its own, that all of us just push the wheel a little bit and it trundles forward. But the best thing about Jetplane Landing, is that the things that push it forward are not just the band, buts the other people that surround it: People like the fanzine writers and promoters, and people who buy the records and print our t-shirts for free and do our website and… all these people. Everyday holds a new surprise, and it’s about the Smalltown America (the name of the band’s label) family that’s grown up around us in the last year. There’s such good roles surrounding the band, it’s been incredible, and it’s something that none of us can keep up with. All we’re trying to do is keep writing and keep putting out records, and it’s been… I’ve been in lots of bands and worked very hard in rehearsal rooms, and nothing’s ever been like this. I’m shocked. It’s probably been the best year of my life, really. It’s been incredible.
The impression that I get is that February 2001 was just a date in an on-going process…
It was in that Jamie and I were writing together for a year before that. But loosely Jamie and I said ‘well, we’ll write an album, we’ll record it… oh, we won’t need to play! Who knows, we probably won’t even be a band, because nobody will want to hear it live…!’ And it quickly became apparent when we made ‘Zero For Conduct’ that we would have to play it live, and it very quickly became apparent after 2 or 3 gigs that people were enjoying it. And so we just picked up, and that’s where the momentum started. It has been a 2-year sort of thing, Jamie and I are a song writing partnership, and now it’s extended to a band writing partnership, where Raife has a lot more input in the material. And, again, I keep saying it, but that momentum, that contributional energy that the project seems to have of itself, is just fantastic.
Even going back to Cuckoo (Andrew and Jamie’s previous band, signed to Geffen but dropped before they could record their album), you were always looking to the future and saying that it’s not really about what this band will do, it’s more about what will happen in a few years, whether in the guise of Cuckoo or something else. Without putting it into as many words, it almost seems like there’s a master plan going on here…?
Um… I’m thinking hard about that, because I would hate for people to think that there is a plan. The best thing about the direction of the band is that it’s shifted by the people who shape it, rather than the band itself. I’ve seen that on tour. We play without a setlist… people shout requests of what they wanna hear. And that, right down to the business decisions that we make, are very much informed by the people that listen to the music. But I’d like to think that we’ll leave something behind, because I think that the most important thing about being in a band is about making records. And Jamie made an excellent point one day – he said, ‘I’ve worked out why they’re called records. It’s not because they’re called recordings, it’s because it’s a record of what you do.’ And if anything, we’d want to leave behind a body of work that will help other people.
And already I’m starting to see shifts in people’s attitudes, small shifts, and I’m not saying we’re messianic in any description, because this doesn’t suit a lot of bands, what we do, but we’re here, and if anybody wants to ask us anything, young bands if you want to know how to put out a record, get distribution, get noticed, play gigs, book tours, then speak to us, because that’s what we’re here for. This Organ thing is very typical of the sort of movement that we’re trying to encourage and re-establish, and it’s very important to us and we believe whole-heartedly in it. It’s half of what we do.
And now, having recorded ‘Zero For Conduct’ in your garage over two weeks of borrowed time, you’ve suddenly got much of the national press falling over themselves to praise the album and hail you as one of the hottest new bands in the country. How does that feel?
It’s brilliant. I mean, jesus, who wouldn’t feel absolutely blown away? I’m not gonna lie, it feels brilliant when you get a good review and it feels shit when you get a bad one. I try not to read our good press and I try to ignore our bad press. But again, the ‘goodwill’ factor…. Kerrang! giving our album 5K’s – recorded for a grand, made in a garage on an 8-track by three fuckwits who hadn’t a clue what they were doing. I’ve never engineered anything in my life, and we engineered it ourselves, plugged microphones into a tape machine and we just hit record and hoped for the best……
Do you recognise your band in all of these reviews, or do they not understand where you are coming from?
I agree with everything everybody says. I mean, I think that the criticisms that we have are fair, I think the comparisons that people draw are accurate, and I think the compliments that people give, although flattering, are probably deserved. And I’m very happy, I’m comfortable, that we’re doing our very best. And when I read a live review, it makes me think, ‘oh, that’s a good thing that we do, and that’s what people notice’. Let’s not forget, people who write about music buy as many records, if not more, than people who play music, and they’ve got just as much a valid opinion as we do. I actually enjoy music journalism, I think it’s good, it’s got a lot to offer when it’s well done, just like a good album has a lot to offer when it’s well made. I think journalists get a raw deal, and I’m not saying that in any way to be sycophantic. I think they invest a lot of time in reviewing an album. I think we, as bands, need to give journalists a bit more of a break and a bit more time.
DIY clearly means a lot to you, so what is it about that ethos which inspires you so much?
It’s everything. It’s about the revolution of the self. DIY for me is empowerment. It’s not about an anti-corporate stance, because I’ve got friends in the industry who I admire, and I think some Heads of A&R are very talented. But for me DIY means I’m 15 years old, I can take my band into the studio and I can sell 100 tapes. And that for me is just a beautiful aesthetic, and that’s something that we’re trying to foster.
Another thing you say is that you want to redefine the word ‘punk’ – in what way?
I should say that’s probably more to do with certain things that I say rather than things the band say, so I can’t speak for the band here. And I don’t mean to insult any bands who are literally playing punk music. But punk for me isn’t about a sound or a guitar sound, punk for me is a way of life. ‘Redefine’? Some people may take that as contentious, and I don’t mean it in that way. I mean that a lot of things… punk has been a misused word, it’s become a commercialised, branding element. And for us what we’re trying to do is take back punk and what’s good about punk and instil that in the way we do our tours and the way we press our sleeves and the way we make our music. Punk is about vitality, directness, independence, sex and… energy, and that’s what we’re trying to bring to our business life and the way we play our gigs.
There’s the recording studio, the label, the CD pressing, the t-shirts, booking tours yourself – you’re almost an entirely self-sufficient enclave on the peripherals of the corporate music industry. Is that how you wanted it to be?
We knew whenever we made ‘Zero For Conduct’ that it had to be. Cos it had DIY roots, we had to see it through to the bitter end, and it’s hard doing it. It’s a struggle. It means 60 e-mails a day, it means working tirelessly, and it means finding the funds to put records out. People are surprised when we say that we have no outside financiers, but what we do have, and we couldn’t do DIY… because DIY doesn’t mean do-it-yourself 3 people, or 8 people, we have a team of people who assist us doing that. We had a party for ‘Zero For Conduct’, and we had 45 names on the invite list – it’s amazing the amount of people who have given their time for free. And that’s the great thing about DIY, is that it unites people. And that’s the beautiful thing about punk, at its best.
Do you fear a day when Jetplane Landing are faced with a possible contradiction and conflict of interest, of wanting to remain independent and DIY, yet being sucked into the commercialised industry more and more?
It’s a good question. Every day is a compromise. We cannot be Fugazi, because in Washington an infrastructure exists that supports self-sufficiency to the point where it’s entirely possible to be entirely self-sufficient. What we have to do is every day we try and make decisions that we will be comfortable with. As the band gets bigger, as we start selling more records, we need to change things about what we do. But I would like to always think that we will hold our ideals true and that autonomy within ourselves will always exist.
So as the industry takes a piece of you, you’re taking a bigger chunk back.
I tell you what the thing is: The bottom line is we don’t write these songs for them not to be heard. If I wanted to make a hundred tapes a year, then I would just record them at Straight To Tape (the band’s home studio) and bung out 100 tapes a year. I would be lying to everyone if I said that I didn’t want as many people as possible to listen to my music. But I think that doesn’t come at any cost, and I do a lot of things, we make a lot of mistakes, we say the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time, but our intentions are true. We really just want to try and, whenever all this is said and done the bottom line is to have made a small difference. Cos I think there’s someone that could come after us and crack this bullshit wide open, I think we’re making a tiny dent in Britain, and as you say we’re taking what we can, but I think the people that come after us will just smash the thing wide apart. And that’s what’s really exciting.
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you are quite clearly barking mad, in a really good way, but what do Raife and Jamie make of your rantings and 100% commitment to this way of life?
Whenever I do interviews, I speak for myself, but the band are happy for me to do interviews…
Fair enough. A good point, well made. Do you feel like there’s been a real heartening upsurge in independent music recently, of people taking back control of their music?
Yeah, I think that we’re part of a small movement that’s growing rapidly, month by month week by week, and I think that interviews like this and tours like we do help. And I think with the emo explosion, that people will… most of those bands come from DIY roots, labels like Deep Elm or Jade Tree, and the ‘Emo Diaries’ by their very construct are DIY. So that can only be a good thing. It’s cheaper to make records in America, though…But DIY isn’t for everyone. It’s hard. I didn’t realise, basically, how much we were biting off, and it’s only now that we’re coming to terms with it. But ‘Zero For Conduct’ in itself has been a DIY success, we’ve sold 2000 copies of the record, and anybody reading this should take heart from that.
Why do you think in the past that being an unsigned band has essentially equated with being a shit band?
I hate that tag, ‘Unsigned’, I think it’s vehemently evil, it’s an ugly term to hinge on anybody. I hate the fact that NME had for a few weeks ‘Unsigned’ Live ads, you know, for second rate citizens. MTV2 – ‘if you’re an unsigned band you could get an advert for…’ It’s like, unsigned in certain people’s minds has equalled shit, and because I’ve been in an unsigned band for most of my life, I know that we were never shit. ‘Unsigned’ means, if anything, ‘trying a lot harder than everybody else’, and surely that’s what music’s about.
Vex Red are a perfect example – before they were given the seal of approval by one man – Ross Robinson – who happened to be one of the biggest ‘taste makers’ in the industry, all those journalists and DJs who now fall over themselves to praise the band blatantly ignored them. Yet they were making music just as good then as now.
In popular culture, people need validation. If people said Andy Warhol was shit, or (Spanish architect) Gaudi was a waste of space, or whatever, the general consensus would be that it was shit. People need validation because in popular culture you’ve got 10 seconds, so if you’re in Sleaze Nation or in The Face or the NME, people immediately think that you’re a better band. And believe me, there’s bands who have played with us on tour that are the equal of us, maybe better, but they’re certainly not shit, and it just so happens that people haven’t picked up on them yet. I think people need to have the courage of their convictions, which is again what punk is about.
You’ve said that the lyrics hold the album together, and there’s a broad range of subject matter, so where do they come from?
Um… well Jamie and I both write the lyrics, so I can only speak for my own. And they come from things that I’m interested in… and past and present relationships. So fairly standard subject matter, but what I enjoy is abstract imagery, I like scientific metaphor, cos it’s what I’m interested in, really. And I like the fact that we’re insignificant in the universe, and I think what I’m trying to say through that, if we talk about quantums or atoms or Pythagoras, we are insignificant but in our own small way we can all make a difference.
In ‘Atom’s Dream In Technicolour’, you talk about Pythagoras hiding the truth, and how this has parallels with human behaviour – can you explain what that’s about?
It’s about the fact that the…. The context of that is that there are five irregular solids in mathematics, from which all mathematics can be derived, and the Pythagoreans taught that there were four, cos that fitted in with their idea of the Heavens, also their idea of the elements. So the Pythagoreans have given Pythagoras a raw deal, in that he had the fifth solid, he actually worked out that it didn’t fit in with his teachings, and Pythagoras was a great man and a great mind, but because it was uncomfortable with him, he felt that he couldn’t speak his mind. And I think we all do that, I think we all struggle to be entirely honest with ourselves.
Do you plan to create the next album in a similar environment to ‘Zero For Conduct’?
It can’t be, cos everything’s changed. And everything changes all the time. I don’t intend making a ‘difficult’ second album, but, you know, just as ‘Zero For Conduct’ reflected my life for the two years preceding ‘Zero For Conduct’, hopefully album 2 will reflect the past two years.
Have your ambitions changed from when you started, having got so far so quickly? Have you revised where you want to take the band?
Yeah… I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hungry for a bit of success. Success in our terms would be we get to reach more people. And what shocked us the most about ‘Revolution Rock’ was that it got played on Radio 1. And it was brilliant, and that made us think, ‘hang on a minute, we got played on the radio’. And if we can make any change, surely our voice will be a lot stronger if we can reach hundreds of thousands of people rather than a few thousand.
So where do you want to be in a couple of years?
Hopefully we’ll be
doing this, every day. That’s all. That’s all I ever wanted, and for the
first time in my life I can see it coming true. I think that it’s amazing,
all I ever wanted to do was play guitar every day, speak to fanzine writers,
write some music and write some music journalism and just be involved.
And help. And we’re slowly starting to get that form in front of our eyes,
and it’s the happiest I’ve ever been. Hopefully, you know, I’d like to
leave work… cos I should say that I work in the city in London for 8 months
of the year to pay for this…
This isn’t so much a question as just a point, but there’s some kind of aura about the band that makes you not just a very good band, but also an important band – there’s more to you than merely music. Do you appreciate that?
I read that (in the Jetplane Landing review from the last issue of Organ) and I was really flattered, I just thought, ‘what a lovely thing to say to someone’. All I know is that I’m standing on stage and sometimes, whenever those two play, it f**ks me up. I just think, ‘f**k, those two are f**king good. You know, that’s a good f**king kick ass rhythm section. That’s a good band.’ And I mean… I really don’t want to sound preachy, and I really don’t want to come across the wrong way, but, you know… half of what we’re here to do is to help, and half of what we’re here to do is… if you’ve got a question, ask us. And that’s all we can do. If this band’s one thing it’s confident, and use us for that, please. Because there’s a lot of bands that are shy, and a lot of great bands that dwindle away cos they’re shy. And that’s no reason to dwindle away.
You celebrated your 25th birthday whilst on tour and wrote that now your life is 1/3 over and any choices or decisions you’ve made prior to that will inevitably shape the rest of your life…
I got a lot of stick for that. I’ve had so many e-mails about that, people saying, ‘what do you mean?!’… I dunno what you think about that….
Clearly the first 25 years are the most formative of your life, it’s what makes you the person you are. What did you get the stick for?
It’s just like, people saying, ‘I’m 32, and how can you say at 25 that your life’s over, cos my life at 32 is completely different to when I was 25, and I think completely differently’. Whereas for me, I don’t think that’s strictly true, I think your parents inform the first 8 years of your life, and I think that pretty much shapes you for the next 72. I think we need to accept that we’re stuck with our lot, and we need to just take hold and admit the problems that we have.
Do you regret any of the choices that you’ve made?
No… well, I regret certain things that I’ve done, which I talk about on the album, and I regret having hurt certain people in my life, and I regret having upset people. But I certainly don’t regret anything I’ve done to myself, I don’t regret upsetting myself and I don’t regret feeling the way I’ve felt about things, and I don’t regret the mistakes I’ve made. (quotes from ‘what the argument has changed’, off ‘Zero For Conduct’) ‘If I could make a list of all my regrets, you would be at the top of every page highlighted in red’. What I mean by that, in that song, I’m more concerned about what I’ve done to other people than with what I’ve done to myself.
Finally, Jamie was talking in some moment of tour madness about who you’d be if you ever appeared on Stars In Their Eyes – so who would you be?
I would have to be Feargal Sharkey, Cahir would be Michael Jackson, Jamie would be Sting or Peter Gabriel and despite Raife looking like Gaz Coombes (Supergrass), I reckon he could do a good Joe Cocker!