Mark Wilson, bass player for the band Jet, looked tired as he leaned back into his leather chair. Itís not surprising given the long hard road the group has traveled. From most perspectives, Jet has been an overnight success, appearing from nowhere and then erupting with four radio hits. But success like that doesnít just happen-- perseverance has always been the companion of accomplishment.
But what does all that matter? It was Sunday night, July 25th 2004. We were at the House of Blues at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, just a stones throw from the "happiest place on earth." And Jet was coming to the end of its first headlining tour across America. I was curious to get Wilsonís impressions.
"Actually this is just like we started, you know the first time we came here." Wilson was indicating that the first couple shows that Jet played in the states werenít in support of another band. They were warm-up gigs at smaller venues where they were the featured band. "Weíve actually gone from that to this with the addition of a bunch of album sales, so I suppose it's been good! We sold out the entire tour I think with the exception of one show. So I guess thatís pretty good too considering the ticket sales' climate at the moment, which is quite low. Weíre stoked, I mean, we love coming to America."
There have been other more subtle changes too. I remind Wilson that headlining a tour allows the band a little more creative control.
"Yeah, pretty much," Wilson agreed. "The more successful you get the more power you get, not that itís power, but rather the more you can get to make the day more comfortable. Itís better than roughing it. Weíve been out on tour for over two years straight."
Anyone who has been a tour rat can attest to the toll the road takes on a band. The fans see bright lights and parties. The band more often sees an endless countryside drifting past their tour bus window. The hours pass as they harbor thoughts of friends, family and home. But with so much time on the road, itís nice to see their labor come to fruition. I asked Wilson if heís happy to finally be able to play a full set.
"Thatís the thing about it. People have seen us play six or seven times and we still get, ĎI didnít realize you played that song!í" Wilson lamented. "You know, itís because we never did get the chance to play the slow song. Itís an acoustic song with just Chris singing and Nick playing guitar. I play a little harmonica, but there are no drums in it. Thereís no real place for the song in the set unless we headline and then we can get away with it. Itís fun to do things like that"
As I mentioned earlier, the tour was coming to an end and Wilson was looking forward to a little time off. But first there was a stop-over in Japan.
"But just for a couple of days!" he added defensively. "Weíre playing a festival. And then we go home for ten days!"
We laughed as I began to tease him about spending more time in America than Australia. I was curious why a band would travel so far from home to record.
"Well, first of all, L.A. is a place that was made for making records. If you want anything you can get it. If you want Billy Preston you can get him." Wilson wasnít joking with that comment. The legendary Billy Preston makes an appearance on their album.
"You canít do that in Australia!" Wilson exclaimed. "Plus, making a record down the road from our home, thereís no struggle involved! We came over here, didnít know anybody, lived in some dive of a hotel for three months. We just played our music. Back there, we have all of our friends around. There are all sorts of distractions. Here the bars close at two, so we really couldnít get into too much trouble!"
Mocking him I asked so you were good boys?
"No we werenít really good boys. We tried to sneak in as much trouble as we could in those two hours we got every day!" Suddenly embarrassed by his comment Wilson paused before continuing, "Ummm, well, yeah! And besides, we had never been overseas before. That was the first time we had ever left Australia. I think thatís why there is a lot of naivete on the record. We had never done any of this before."
I hadnít sensed naivete. To me, the record comes across as very honest; this is seat-of-the-pants rock and roll, with the only significant change being the date. These are four guys selling energy and a well-written four-chord song.
Considering my comments Wilson continued, "Maybe it was just the excitement. And I think it will be exciting to do the next record too because weíve been touring for two years and we just want to get back into the studio."
I asked if the band had begun work the new record.
"Ah yeah, bits and pieces," he confessed. "I mean to do an album you need more than just eight songs. We need 20-odd songs so you can cut them all down into something. We donít usually write on the road that much, but when we focus on writing it seems to come out very quickly. Like, we got two days to write a song for 'Spider-Man' and we did it. Nick had done a demo, just him and his acoustic guitar. It was just a verse and a chorus, he didnít even have any of the words going. So we got two days to make it into a song and we did it. And made it into the movie too. Itís the only song that made it into the actual movie. We were just excited to work in the studio again. That was the main reason why we did it."
We began to drift off into a conversation about the state of radio in America, but soon that turned into a history of the band.
"American music is so reliant on the radio. Itís not like that in the U.K. and Australia. There you can play and make a living off the live vibe, but here itís radio." Wilson is making a good point.
In most other parts of the world, a band can easily build a fan base through performance, but all too often the American public doesnít support the little bands fighting to become big ones.
"There are like five huge radio stations in each major city and theyíre all really competitive. You have to succeed on radio here or you wonít succeed. I know it seems like weíre an overnight success, but we spent five or six years playing to no one in Melbourne before people started coming to our shows. Every band plays their asses off; struggles for some time before becoming successful. For us, there was one definitive moment. We got a residency into this bar. It held about 300 people. We got a residency there every Friday night. The first time we played, like 50 people came. The next Friday, 100 people were there. The next Friday, 200! It just grew word of mouth. By the fourth time, there was a line around the street; people couldnít get in. It wasnít long before a couple of Australian labels wanted to sign us, but we said no. We wanted to sign a deal to the world. We wanted to play everywhere. But if you sign to the world with an Australian record company itís like they are the kid brothers of the big labels. They have to come to the American labels and say, ĎHey weíve got this band andÖí A lot of the time the American labels are like, ĎNo, weíre too busy. We have enough bands.í So we just told the Australian record companies that if they wanted to sign us they had better get the big boys on board first!
"And we did a few cheeky things because, you know, thatís what we like," laughing Wilson confessed. "All of the American record companies were asking us to fly to L.A. and do showcases, but we said no, you fly to Australia and watch us play in some shitty bar in Sydney! And they did! So it was easy for us to tell which labels were serious."
I didnít see any point in hitting the usual question about influences. "Yeah, theyíre all pretty obvious arenít they?" Wilson teased. "We donít even try to hide them! Listen, we just play the music we like!"
I closed the interview by asking what the band did with their time off.
"We donít really have any time off do we," Wilson joked. "No, honestly, weíve been going to all the water theme parks on this tour. Weíve been so tired that weíre just trying to go out and have some fun!"
With that I began packing up my gear. Still leaning back in his leather chair, Wilson became inquisitive and decided to ask me a few questions, "So who is this interview for? This is Internet, right?"
I explained what DaBelly was and offered a brief history of our publication.
"I donít think weíve ever done an Internet publication before!"
Yes, Iím not surprised I replied. Actually, I requested this interview last March, I explained. And it was obvious from the reaction that it would be difficult to arrange.
As we shook hands he smiled, "Iím happy we got to do this."
Perhaps I got more than I bargained for. Jet is a good band, but more importantly the "overnight success" hasnít ruined them. If the past two years are any indication, Jet will be on tour forever. Take the time to go see them and keep your eyes peeled at those water parks. You might be surprised who you find!
Return to DaBelly