The members of Glasgow’s We Were Promised Jetpacks are still in their early 20s, but the band isn’t a new endeavour. Singer-guitarist Adam Thompson and guitar player Michael Palmer have known each other since they were primary-school classmates in Edinburgh, as have bassist Sean Smith and drummer Darren Lackie. After meeting in high school, they got together and, as 15-year-old boys will do, they started playing rock music in their free time. At first, the foursome was content to bash out covers of hits by the likes of Franz Ferdinand and the Manic Street Preachers.
“When we moved to Glasgow, I think that changed things a lot,” recalls Smith, speaking via cellphone from a train heading back home from London. “Me, Adam, and Michael, when we started university, we all moved to Glasgow, and our drummer moved to Stirling. In our second year of university, we started playing a lot more gigs, and we became friends with other people in bands. There was a nice little community of young bands, and we were all about 19, 20-ish. There were some really good bands around at that time, like Frightened Rabbit when they were still fairly new on the scene. Going to watch bands like that, I think they influenced us a lot.”
It was clearly a positive influence; We Were Promised Jetpacks ended up catching the attention of Frightened Rabbit’s label, FatCat Records, which released the quartet’s first album, These Four Walls, last summer. Bristling with angular, gritty guitar lines and rhythms that tend to start quietly and build to a fever pitch of churning postpunk, it’s an impressive debut, immediate enough to give Steve Albini a boner, and with no lack of emotional intensity.
This latter quality is mostly thanks to Thompson, who holds nothing back in his vocal delivery. When he howls “I have to say goodnight / I’m leavin’ before you’re punchin’ out my lights” on the album opener, “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning”, the guy sounds every bit as shit-scared as the lyrics imply. And, also thanks to Thompson, you’d never mistake We Were Promised Jetpacks for anything other than a Scottish band. Like Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison and other contemporaries, Thompson makes no attempt to hide his accent.
“When we first went to Glasgow, it wasn’t anywhere near as common as it is now,” Smith says. “Once we started playing a lot of gigs and we saw bands like the Twilight Sad, where James [Graham] sings in a very thick Scottish accent—he’s from a small place just outside Glasgow, and I think it seemed absolutely ridiculous trying to sing any other way—I think Adam just kind of felt comfortable enough with his voice.
“A lot of bands have kind of no accent, if you get what I mean,” the bassist continues. “In the U.K., it’s kind of a generic ”˜English’ voice. You can’t really tell if it’s Scottish or English, or some mixture of Scottish, English, and American, and you’re not really sure what’s goin’ on.”
Smith declines to name any of the offenders, but Snow Patrol fans can probably figure it out for themselves.
We Were Promised Jetpacks plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Monday (March 1).