Rack ‘Em Up with We Were Promised Jetpacks

It’s a normal human response to doubt. Anxieties about opportunities missed, mistakes made, and roads abandoned stir us out of sleep. Maybe it’s an evolutionary advantage to help us course-correct and learn, but the feeling—although expected—still comes to haunt all of us. We Were Promised Jetpacks (WWPJ) reanimates these worries on their latest album, Enjoy The View (out on Big Scary Monsters), choosing to frame the hesitation in a positive light. Doubt is necessary for change and change helps us grow.

WWPJ started as a high school band of old friends in Edinburgh, Scotland, but grew to become an international indie darling as the blogosphere of the late ‘aughts praised their debut These Four Walls. The following 10 years would see the band rise to heights a high school wannabe punk only dreams of, touring the world and playing their music to millions. Simultaneously, the band would face internal struggles after a decade and a half of making music together. A cancer diagnosis for original guitarist and co-founder Michael Palmer shot the band’s sophomore momentum, and they couldn’t seem to shed the success of their debut with future releases, all of which found progressively more niche attention.

Palmer decided to amicably leave the band in 2019, opening the group up to new anxieties. But with the decision came the opportunity to evolve, and WWPJ pulled a complete 180 with Enjoy The View. Lead vocalist Adam Thompson moved to Brooklyn, and the pandemic changed how the band approached songwriting. It resulted in a spacey and more relaxed direction, foregoing fear in favor of gratitude.

I called Thompson to chat with him halfway across the world before a show in Norwich, U.K. We reflected on the new album, career choices, touring tips for young bands, the Queen’s death, and Thompson’s love of snooker.

Excited for you to return to New Orleans. How has tour been so far?
Good. It’s nice to finally be doing the thing we’ve been planning for and talking about for ages. The touring bit of being in a band is, for me, the fun bit. Writing music and recording it and doing all the admin, that’s not my favorite part. My favorite part is hitting the road and playing shows. I live in America at the moment, but the band is based in Scotland. So whenever we get to tour, I get to see my friends and have a laugh. I think the older that we’ve got, the better we’ve got at it. Like we eat better, we sleep in better places, and overall take care of ourselves a little more.

There’s a lot of young touring bands out there that are still figuring that out. Do you have any tips on how to take care of yourself on tour?
You need time because you’re with people constantly. And I feel we are lucky because we all genuinely do get on, but you’re with people all the time. So if I want to go do something myself or go eat by myself, or just take a little bit of time for myself to do something… you don’t always have to do everything together, which is something we did when we were younger. But yeah, you just gotta take a bit of time for yourselves. Eat some nice food, treat yourself occasionally, and get a nice hotel every so often or whatever. But you have to do little things for further out cause that’s important.

photo by Dan Fox

I’m curious about the new album. It was recorded during the pandemic, right?
Yeah, about eight months after the first lockdown. We started writing it around the day they announced the lockdown because we knew we were gonna do one. That was the next plan. We were gonna do a bit more tour, but when we knew we wouldn’t be able to tour for a while, it was like, OK, let’s use this time wisely and make sure that you get ’em out and done. It was way different than how we’ve written music before. We were obviously used to live playing in the same room with the amp really loud, that kind of thing. We always wrote music that way but for this one, it was doing it independently. It’s really fun. It’s like a cycle; the guys send a demo back with something changed a bit and then we’d send [it] back and forth.

How did the song “Fat Chance” come about?
Most of the songs were written like that—sending tracks to each other—but in August, we finally got into a room together. And I think “Fat Chance” is one of the two songs that came from us just hanging about and noodling and then stumbling across something. So that song came quite quickly and naturally. We decided to not change too much about it. We kept the structure pretty simple. Lyrically, I think it was about a really nice couple of years of my life and where everything sort of clicked into place and made sense. And I was really happy and content after not being so for quite some time. So I really worked [that] into this album, even though it was written in a pandemic and I still hadn’t got my green card from the States so I was separated from my wife for eight months. It was a rough time, but I wanted to hold on to that positivity and a hopeful outlook that things can turn around; things can be good. And I was just trying to remember that feeling and capture it because that’ll happen again.

I know it’s kind of hard to do this with your own work, but do you have a song on the album that’s a favorite of yours or that you are especially proud of making?
I think a favorite one is, “If It Happens,” just because that’s a song that I had fun writing. I had all the parts for it wrote out 11 years ago but couldn’t quite get it right. And I’ve always wanted to do it and it worked out that we could get [it] finished for once. Because we tried a couple of times, so I was happy to finish that song. And I love playing it. It’s got nice movement, I get to play guitar for like a minute of it. I get to sing, dance.

I find it interesting how different songwriters have different paces and it varies from song to song. Do you find you have a slower pace writing songs or do you feel like it just depends?
I mean it does depend, but it does take us ages to finish a song. I would assume that four out of five songs come along quite nicely and that’s a nice experience when it happens, but sometimes one is the hard work. So you leave for a while, come back, and suddenly realize that there’s two different sections of songs that work together. Those are the moments, where you solve these puzzles, everyone really enjoys.

The last time y’all talked with ANTIGRAVITY was 2014 and you talked about Trainspotting, TV, and Scottish culture. So I wanted to catch up on a few things. You’ve been touring the U.K. recently. What is the mood of the country right now following the Queen’s death?
It’s weird. Our whole tour is during the 10 days of mourning. We had a day off to travel to Paris and that’s the day everything happened. Definitely a bit weird, but I didn’t really notice. We didn’t see the queue in London last night. We were in Hackney, another place in London. It’s weird. Some people are really into the Queen and the royal family and some people don’t care and some people are here [the United States]. So it’s a bit of a mix.

As an American, I really don’t know how it would be, but I imagined a lot of people probably just don’t care.
Well yeah, from what I’ve seen in America, it’s like, “Look at this cute royal family. What are they doing here?” And they think everyone here loves them, but that’s not really the feeling. It’s not like a universal love for the royal family. But yeah, it’s not really affecting us.

That’s probably for the best. Were there any movies or shows or anything that you’ve been into recently?
I can’t think of anything that I’ve been watching recently, no. I used to watch things on the road all the time like The Sopranos but yeah, doing a little bit less of that now. It actually feels like it’s been months since I’ve been home and watching anything.

Do you have any other hobbies that occupy your time beyond music?
I love walking. I walk in New York a lot. I have a little dog, Jelly. She’s like a little Min Pin mutt. I love playing pool and snooker. I dunno if you know snooker in America.

What is that?
Basically a big version of pool, but it’s a bigger table and it’s more difficult. But that’s actually my dream job—to be a professional pool player, I think. If I could do it all again.

So if you had to pick a different profession than being a musician, you’d want to be a—
Yeah, a pool player!

Well OK, what is it about pool?
I don’t know. I just love it. It’s a game that you can play and get better at and I love the cool culture in America of like, putting your name on the board. I can’t express how much I love beating people that I don’t know, like it’s just cool.

It’s just satisfying.
Oh, it’s so good. And man, you get a lot of proper spots in New York where people come in like really confident and cocky and then you beat them and they have to wait ages for a turn or go home. Yeah, love it.

photo by Steven Hatley

That’s super interesting to me because you guys have been a band since high school. That’s a long time to be in a band. Do you ever have thoughts about what could have been if you went some other direction?
Oh, every day. I dunno why I would do it, but it’s good for all of us to be like… this is all that we’ve really sort of focused on. I wanted to [be in a band] since like 18 or something. But I definitely do wonder what else I could have done or been up to, you know? But I guess everyone sort of second guesses themselves and isn’t sure what they’re doing is the best thing they could be doing. Sometimes it feels like this job is amazing and I love it. And sometimes it’s really difficult and demoralizing. It’s like, why are we putting ourselves through this? But it’s the nights that are amazing, where the crowd gets it and you get it and everyone’s in unison and just really positive stuff. And you come off stage and you’re chatting with their crew and bands and everyone’s just had a great time. It’s amazing. That sort of keeps you going for a while. But I have no idea what else I would be doing. This is all we’ve really done in our adult life.

I think it’s very normal to think about the other possibilities, but it’s also like y’all are living the dream for a lot of people. You’re a rock band that tours the world and gets to play their own music, you know?
It’s definitely one of those things that if someone told me that as a kid, you just say that: “Sounds great!”

What do you like the most about being a musician and what do you hate the most about it? You mentioned touring, I remember.
I definitely like touring the most. I’m not a studio guy. I get pretty bored. The idea of having to commit something down that has to stay the same or what guitar might we use or what amp—I honestly couldn’t care less. It all sounds similar to me. I love the touring part of it and the traveling. I guess that the worst part about it is entirely based upon your own motivation. How much you put into the band, you have to fall on reserves quite a lot. And you have to try and tell yourself that what you’re doing is the right thing. And not knowing what gigs you’re going to get or when you’ll be away. Missing out on weddings and birthdays and anniversaries of people back home and stuff like that. That’s always the worst part.

One of the things I’d imagine being cool about being in a touring band is meeting so many people and getting to spend time with other touring bands. Do you have any bands you’ve toured with that you really loved?
Yeah, we’ve had some really neat bands like the Scottish band Twilight Sad. And a couple of American bands as well, people that we stayed close with and hung out with and loved. You know the band Explosions in the Sky? We did a wee tour with them. They were just so nice to us. They let us borrow their van one time for a whole six-week tour… and saved us like thousands of dollars. And they took us on tour and we got to play the Royal Albert Hall in London and stuff like that. So yeah, love those dudes. There’s another band, Bear Hands, from New York that we toured with a lot in our early days in the States. I think we’ve done like four or five U.S. tours and are still really close with some of them. So yeah, that is a nice part. And like when you get to go on tour, we get to go to Austin, see these people, or New York and Philly and wherever everyone is, and it’s really nice getting to see pals for just a little bit.

We Were Promised Jetpacks will play Tipitina’s on October 15. For more info, check out wewerepromisedjetpacks.com.

Top photo left to right: Sean Smith, Darren Lackie, Adam Thompson (photo by Euan Robertson)

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