The Jetplane Has Landed
After a six-year hiatus, the hugely influential post-hardcore band from Derry~Londonderry are back with a new album, Don't Try, writes Chris Jones
It's been six years since Jetplane Landing released a record, and nine since they last toured. For many fans, the fear was that a flame that shone brightly in the early 2000s had gradually burned itself out.
Guitarist Cahir O'Doherty threw himself into his own band, Fighting With Wire, who signed to major label Atlantic Records in 2008. Frontman Andrew Ferris moved from London back to Derry~Londonderry and set about making the band's own label, Smalltown America, one the best independent imprints around. And brothers Jamie and Raife Burchell focused on their own endeavours – writing and session drumming respectively.
But now, a little unexpectedly, Jetplane Landing are back – and how. Their fourth album, Don't Try, is an electrifying example of their craft, the work of a band older, wiser, a little bruised but no less righteous. According to Ferris, it's an expression of how good it feels to be making music together again.
'There was a real joy around making the record,' he says. 'It was great to come back together and do this. We've been away for several years, and a lot has happened to us. A lot of sad things and a lot of really lovely things. We just want to tell people about that over the course of 11 tracks.'
Indeed, it has been a turbulent few years, particularly for Ferris and O'Doherty. Two key themes on the new record are home and family, with two songs – 'Walls Of Derry' and 'Magnetic Sea' – specifically addressing the band's love for their home city.
'When we finished our third record, Backlash Cop, my father died and the band had a bit of a hiatus,' Ferris adds. 'Not as a result of him dying, but as a result of having toured so hard for five years. We all travelled a lot, doing various projects, and we returned together to Derry.
'I lived in London for the first three albums, and now my home is in Derry. The thing that I meditate on when I sing these songs is coming home. That's why we close the album with 'Magnetic Sea'. There's this magnetic Atlantic Irish sea that draws me to it. It might sound very hippyish, but I think everyone can relate to that.'
As for O'Doherty, things never quite worked out like they were supposed to. After working on the second Fighting With Wire album for Atlantic, things ground to a halt and the album never saw the light of day until, finally extricated from their deal, they put it out on indie label Xtra Mile in 2012 – and then announced their intention to split up.
While the door closed on Fighting With Wire's major label dream, it allowed O'Doherty to return to Jetplane Landing full of vim and vigour – and drummer Craig McKean joined the fray too, replacing the departed Raife Burchell.
'They worked so, so hard, and it didn't fall for them in the right way,' Ferris says of Fighting With Wire. 'I think there was an element of frustration that Cahir felt and, artistically, when you're working for a large entity like Atlantic, you're steered in certain directions. I think Cahir just wanted to make something that was very free.
'When he came in, he was vital and very fired up for making this record. He was bursting with riffs and bursting with energy, and a real vision of how the record should sound. He kept saying, "This record needs to be pure Jetplane". Jetplane Landing is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but I think what we really tried to do was connect with our existing audience.'
It's a theme that Ferris returns to throughout our conversation – the idea that Don't Try is a record made for the fans that have stuck with Jetplane Landing through thick and thin. And 'pure Jetplane' is definitely what they have achieved. Don't Try is full of attitude and passion, tightly coiled grooves and killer riffs, and moments of pop majesty, like the magnificent single 'My Radio Heart'.
'We always say that this is not our band, it's your band,' declares Ferris. 'We want to unite with our audiences. We started the band almost 15 years ago, and we always want to connect with people's energy in the room. It doesn't matter how small the crowd was, whatever it took to make those eight people experience something meaningful and special... What I want people to connect with is the fact that we love it.'
And if that title, Don't Try, sounds at all negative or defeatist, that's not the intention. In fact, it taps into something very pure – the desire to be honest and true to yourself in all that you do.
'It's on [American author] Charles Bukowski's tombstone,' Ferris explains. 'It has dual meanings for us, which is why we like it as an album title. You can perceive "don't try" as "give up", but you can also perceive it as "don't force anything" – don't make any effort to create art, just be who you are and confident that the art that you are producing is the best that it can be, by its mere existence. And don't overthink things.'
One thing that was very carefully planned was the band's re-emergence in 2013, Derry~Londonderry's big year as the first UK City Of Culture. As a native and a citizen of Derry~Londonderry, as well as a small business owner there, Ferris is excited about what the City of Culture mantel has done for the city.
'It looks fabulous and it’s a great place to live at the minute,' he remarks. 'I'm a massive cheerleader for City of Culture. I think it's great. Of course, I would love to see Mark E Smith playing at the Guildhall, but the programming has been excellent and really varied.
'The vibe is great. And yes, Jetplane Landing were resolute in that we wanted to make sure our album came out during the City of Culture year. We're playing in Derry for the first time in eight years, on Friday, September 13 at the Glassworks.'
That gig takes pride of place in the band's comeback tour of the UK and Ireland, which also features a Belfast show at the Limelight on September 14. Having seen their comeback show at last month's Glasgowbury music festival at Eagle's Rock in the Sperrin Mountains, it's hard to predict anything but a huge success.
There, fans who would have been in primary school back in 2004 screamed along to the old songs with others 20 years their senior, and the band were on stellar form, Ferris's smile as wide as the Foyle. After all this time, he's just glad to be back doing what he does best. 'We don't make money from being in Jetplane Landing,' he concludes, 'but it feels like no effort. It's just great craic!'
Don't Try is released via Smalltown America on August 30. Enter our competition to win the album on vinyl and CD. Jetplane Landing play the Limelight, Belfast on September 14.