“I wanted to write about the real world, I didn’t want it to be an artistic, poised, tasteful record,” says Tom Fleming of his first solo album, released under the name One True Pairing; “I wanted this to be a rock album, a protest vote against the field of good taste. One True Pairing is a name taken from internet fan fiction, where you write the perfect relationship you always wished existed. The idea of Prince Charming and Helpless Princess living happily after is no fun at all.” The former Wild Beasts songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist is back with a self-titled debut that’s shaped by class frustration and self-despair. In its 11 songs of discordant guitar and aggressive synth Fleming channels his discontent with Britain in 2019 and a “feeling of directionless rage and cheatedness which hasn’t gone away.”
Fleming recalls the end of Wild Beasts at their final gig at Hammersmith Apollo in February 2018 as something of a reality check, coinciding with serious health issues and money trouble. “I felt numb and spent a couple of days in the pub afterwards, to continue that numbness,” he reflects; “I felt good about it in the fullness of time, but it wasn’t a particularly nice period, though I’m proud of what we did and it was as amicable as breakups get”. It was only after a long period of adjustment that he found the spirit to work out what to do next. “I never write anything unless I think people are going to hear it, I’m not one of these people who sits around at home making tracks on Ableton all day – I have to have pressure and feel like somebody cares,” Fleming explains. “I wish I had more of a sense of honest labour, but there’s a quicksilverness to it – I would like to present myself as a working man’s artist, but there’s a sense that it happens when it happens.” As the turmoil in Fleming’s life after the end of the band that he’d been part of for all his adult life receded, things started to change. “Once the fog cleared, I realised that this is fuel, it’s going on the furnace,” he says. The first demos Fleming sent to Laurence Bell of Domino were one microphone, acoustic guitar and shouting, laid down on the same four track cassette recorder he used to first make music as a teenager. “It was really raw,” he says of this desire to connect with his youthful self, “I felt that I wanted it to have a directness and a tastelessness to it”.
His musical touchstones were Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Tom Petty and Def Leppard – “big rock songs, but as it went on it started to be Depeche Mode and noisier stuff, along with Swans and Bonnie Prince Billy and the kids making hip hop, using a kick drum, a high hat and that’s it – it’s production, it’s electronic music, but it’s as small as you can make it.” The record was fleshed out down in the Sussex studio of Ben Hillier, who contributed drums and modular synth to the album. “I didn’t want a roll call of guests, I wanted it to be ‘no I can do this’, for the synths to be cutting, digital, nasty. I really didn’t want to make a singer-songwriter record – there’s nothing less interesting than a bald guy with a hat on and an acoustic guitar. This is my sub-Reddit for all the romance and hope and rage and failure and hard-won victory I’ve seen and continue to see.”
This seething blend of difficult emotions is explored in One True Pairing’s palette of taut and clipped guitar that flickers between New Wave and even at times 80s MOR titans Dire Straits, looming synths, trickling melodies. Above it all Fleming’s voice, ranging from haunting despair to croon like a Yorkshire Scott Walker, is at its best of his career, giving life to “the angry northern Springsteen record that I’d always wanted to make.” He says that “I want to be obvious in what I’m saying – it’s neo-heartland rock”. These “heartlands” are the moors above Bradford or Cumbernauld, “places where people live their whole lives and do these things and succeed and fail.” Within this there’s a continuation of the exploration of masculinity that made Wild Beasts so unique. “There’s a despair about it, being shown images of masculinity that either you’re expected to be, or people assume you are. Even in today’s environment you get these reflections at you.” Other big themes of the album are heard in ‘Zero Summer’, an exploration of the gravity of expectations on masculinity, and in tracks like ‘King Of The Rats’, repeated patterns of behaviour. As was the case in Wild Beasts, Fleming continues to wrestle with the complexities of male identity, looking critically back over his own life as he does so. “I always get very annoyed with things that come from the position of observer,” he says. “I want it to be from the place it purports to be from”. The characters in his songs are exaggerations of people who he grew up alongside, or himself, and how it feels to try and discover a sense of yourself within masculinity in a small northern town. ‘Weapons’, for instance, “is about male violence and how you’re marinated in it, from shit role models, hopelessness, fighting, even porn; all this contributes to a sense of who you should be”. Then there’s the sense that he’s always had, that even as a musician, he’d never be welcome in the middle-class world of the arts, as reflected in ‘Elite Companion’.
But as well as being deeply personal, One True Pairing has a wider political resonance. “This country is going through a terrible moment and if you listen to the art nobody seems to give a shit,” Fleming says emphatically. He believes that class is entirely discounted from the current conversation about inclusivity and privilege, “which is why working-class men are so angry”. In this and through his lyricism, “Brexit looms large, why people voted for it, the Left’s response – it’s been a very depressing episode and nobody has written about it adequately. It suddenly gave people a chance to talk about these divisions that they’d never had before.” He still sees prejudice tolerated and encouraged everywhere, fuelled largely by stereotyping and wilful blindness. “Look at me, I’m the lumpen feckless proletariat – that’s what we’re telling people? Fuck. I’m on their side, deep down, that’s what it comes down to, I’m on the side of those getting shit on. That’s what I’m writing about, from that perspective. I know what it feels like to get patronised and shoved into a corner too, and I am far from unique.”
Mystery Jets – Live In Store Performance
12:30pm (Lunchtime) Tuesday 1st October 2019
What a total SONIC treat we have for you, as we welcome back friends of the store…the incredible MYSTERY JETS!
They join us for a tasty lunch time set of songs from their superb new LP, ‘A Billion Heartbeats’ released by Caroline International on 27th September
When? – 12:30pm (Lunchtime) Tuesday 1st October 2019
How much is it? – Free Entry of course! But we are expecting this to be huge, so support the band and support your local record shop and Pre order the new LP for priority entry. Pre order HERE
Where? – Southsea’s Pie&Vinyl
*After pre ordering the new LP for guaranteed priority entry, we will send you an e mail with some instructions on an earlier entry time to collect your LP*
We’ll be selling a limited MYSTERY JETS themed PIE on for lunch, chosen by the band themselves! Along with all your usual refreshments //beer//cordials//coffee//tea…etc etc.
Be sure to read details on the new record below, very interesting how this album was conceived and much needed in our opinion.
We can’t wait for the party with MYSTERY JETS!
Join our FB event HERE (Link to come when announced)
All great albums start from a unique perspective. But try a window on the Strand, in an abandoned office block, overlooking the kind of political upheaval London hasn’t seen in a generation. Mystery Jets’ Blaine Harrison was living as a property guardian right round the cornerfrom Trafalgar Square when found himself witness to an entire year of protests. Every weekend from January 2017 on, people were marching for a different cause: “In the space of six months it was Black Lives Matter, the huge ‘OurNHS’march, Unite for Europe,” he recalls. “Then the solidarity sleep-out organised by Help Refugees, where we slept in Whitehall for the night… The protestors would wake me up in the morning. I’d just walk down and join in.”Over the course of that year, Mystery Jets’ sixth long-player, A Billion Heartbeats, was born. “This album wasn’t about making pointed opinions,” says Blaine. “It was about being a mirror for what’s going on, reflecting back the way people are feeling.” The first single Screwdriver isan uncompromising look at the rise of the rebranded alt-right in the UK, built around a powerfully positive message: “Fight them with love / then the world will be ours”. The haunting, melodic Hospital Radio counteracts images of those “missing in action”or “staring at the ceiling” with a battle cry of “our blood is not for sale”. By turns tender and fierce, abstract and full of classic rock energy, A Billion Heartbeats achieves a balance of passion, fear and hope. In a sense, it’s not just their “state of the nation” record but their “state of a generation” record too. In the last few years, a lot has changed for The Mystery Jets: the band tell the story of the music industry at large, and the challenges facing young creatives in London. Guitarist and co-chief songwriter William Rees had gradually fallen out of love with the city, relocating, as so many young artists have done, to Margate. Endless City is about that transition, a paean to his hometown, “Where the people run on fear -you might disappear trying to survive.” “Whenever I came back I was thrown into this petri dish that was running at a rhythm I was unable to keep up with,” he says. “In Margate, songs wanted to be written. In London, they don’t want to come out. It’s not tender enough. The clock is on…”Blaine had begun his writing process in the usual way -with a period of creative solitude, travelling to Iceland at New Year’s Eve in 2016and making his way round the country in a VW camper van. He rented a room in the smallporttown of Seyðisfjörður, hoping to get his ideas together. But this time, they just wouldn’t come. Climbing up the Oraefajokull Glacier, he got a burst of reception on his phone and messages from friends at the 2017 Women’s March came pouring in.“I suddenly had thesensation of: that’s where I needed to be,” he says. “I realised I had done exactly the wrong thing, removing myself from where it’s happening. Brexit had gone through seven or eight months before; Trump had just come in, why was I cutting myself off?” Exploding on to the indie scene in the mid noughties from beginnings on London’s Eel Pie Island, Mystery Jets have always ploughed their own musical furrow. They’re unique for the unusual network of relationships at their centre: Blaine and Will have knowneach other since nursery school; drummer Kapil Trivedi joined them in 2003 as a teenager and –famously -Blaine’s father Henry Harrison, once a touring member, remains an invaluable part of their creative process, a “conduit” for ideas and a “walking library” of literary references, taking the band’s lyrical sketches and pulling extra reading from his shelves to help them expand their thoughts. “He just keeps pushing you to make your words the most rounded, the most touching they can be,” says Will. Bass player Jack Flanagan joined the band five years ago and instantly meshed with their sensibilities. He co-wrote
the haunting Campfire Song with Blaine and Henry, a song which sets the process of coming of age against the political backdrop of the last 20 years: “Marched in our thousands against a war nobody could give us a straight answer for”.While 2016’s The Curve Of The Earth was an inward journey, Harrison explains, A Billion Heartbeats points the lens outwards. He was working late one night in their studio, a converted tram shed in Clerkenwell, when their long-time collaborator Matthew Twaites casually mentioned he’d read that the average human has a billion heartbeats in a life time. The album inspired by those words is not just about the political issues that face us, but our individual human attitude towards them. Petty Drone is a stunning call to arms, thick with the melodies of seventies Queen and what Will describes as a kind of “psychedelic anger”. The song’s energy belies its dystopian lyrics,inspired by the Adam Curtis film HyperNormalisation, and the modern phenomenon of surveillance capitalism: “Ostracised, de-nationalised, re-categorised… polarised, de-sensitised…”“It’s about mental health in broader terms,” says Blaine. “The paranoia you feel on realising all our experiences are being mined and sold back to us. This very new form of dysmorphia caused by our dependencyon dopamine shots from Instagram.”It really effects how you start to see yourself.” It’s a message reinforced in the tender Watching Yourself Slowly Disappear: the struggle of the individual to keep faith in an era of disenchantment.The album’s political messages are subtle. History Has Its Eyes On You was inspired by the Women’s Marches (“Sister I can see you’re tired of waiting for a sign, and this is it -let’s redesign how we co-exist.”), and by Laura Marling’s podcast, Reversal Of The Muse, in which Marling suggests the masculine spaces of recording studio and record company boardroom directly affect the way women’s records are made. It’s an equivocal perspective that underpins the album. Amid the colourful cavalcade of rich harmonies, heavy guitars and rallying cries, the album’s essential message -about personal responsibility, and the power in becoming engaged -reinforced in the closing song ‘Wrong Side Of The Tracks’, an airy anthem that looks you in the eye, with a challenges: “Tonight no one can stop them, only me and you.” The track was inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old Swedish girl currently leading the European campaign against climate change. “The song says, who are we to fuck up our future for our children?” says Blaine.The band self-produced the album with the help of MatthewTwaites. “It’s dense and very direct,” explains Jack, “because it’sless reliant on traditional ways of recording -it’s pedal board straight into mixing desk. More modern than anything we’ve ever done.” This small detail made a big difference: “We plugged everything straight into the back of the computer which five yearsago would have been seen as sacrilege,” says Blaine. “You get the wave form hitting the circuit board really hard, which makes the sonics really direct.”Kapsdescribes the new technical demands placed on the band: “When youself-produce, everyone is their own mini-producer,” he says. “I had to learn how to drum with three opinions being thrown at me -to run the “opinion gauntlet” without getting your arm blown off. But there is a family feel. We’ve had very different experiences in life, but we have always learned to communicate with something other than external experiences. Our differences help us connect.”
“We have known each other for so long, it’s beyond close,” agrees Will. “It’s a ride that we are committed to. Whatelse are we going to do? I mean, look at us, individually. Look what the band is made of -a father and a son? It’s a colourful life, and I value that more than other things.”The album features the artwork of Joshua Jackson, a banker-turned-photographerwhom Harrison met on the marches last year. Unknown to him, Jackson had taken photos of Blaine sifting through placards after the protests -mementos of resistance and hope he has become fascinated by.We increasingly hear from popstars that music shouldbe an escape these days -that there’s enough suffering in the world, enough misery on the news, without writings songs about it too. A Billion Heartbeats makes all that sound like a bit of a cop-out. These are songs of protest that get the heart racing in joy; high on hope, and serious in their message. Proof, basically, that music speaks louder than words.