The Scottish rock quartet We Were Promised Jetpacks sports perhaps one of the greatest band names ever.
Although it is open to interpretation, the moniker seems to represent a complicated bit of social commentary, simultaneously implying a disgruntlement at being cheated by the potential of technology and the future, and hinting that some folks are naively susceptible to a pop-culture influence that makes us hope for what we cannot have.
Or maybe it just sounds cool. You know, like a retro sci-fi thing.
Either way, the name's significance would not be worth discussing if the group didn't play music worth hearing. And the 7-year-old, Edinburgh-based We Were Promised Jetpacks trades in an arresting combination of post-punk and indie pop, highlighted by shimmering guitar landscapes, bliss-inducing arrangements and shifting levels of melancholy and transcendence.
But when asked, during a recent e-mail interview, what makes a good rock 'n' roll band, guitarist Michael Palmer nonchalantly says, "Long, permed hair, skinny jeans and shades."
None of which is in evidence in We Were Promised Jetpacks.
The band will return to Tucson to open a CD-release show for Phoenix-area act Jimmy Eat World at the Rialto Theatre on Monday, Sept. 27.
We Were Promised Jetpacks was formed in 2003, while the four members—who are now 22 and 23—still were in school, and it remains the only band in which any of them have played.
"We all met at Craigmount High School in Edinburgh and all happened to play musical instruments," Palmer says. "Someone suggested doing so at the same time, and I guess that was it! It happened very naturally. There was no big meeting with a mission statement or anything."
For a while, the band decamped to Glasgow, Palmer says. "We moved so that three of us could go to university in Glasgow. It didn't have anything to do with music or anything. We've since finished university and have moved back to Edinburgh so that we don't have to pay rent on a flat when we're on tour!"
The band's full-length debut, These Four Walls (released in 2009), is one of those albums that grows on you incrementally. At first, it sounds like garden-variety alternative rock, but it releases its charms a little more with each subsequent listen. Ultimately, the music emerges as an arresting, rough-yet-sensitive cauldron of tension and release.
When the band began, its members shared a love for influential Scottish act Biffy Clyro, as well as for American groups such as The Strokes and Kings of Leon. Nowadays, the Jetpacks guys are inspired and motivated by fellow Scots bands Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad; all three played a concert in September 2009 at Plush.
When it comes to songwriting, We Were Promised Jetpacks is pretty darn close to an egalitarian affair, although singer-guitarist Adam Thompson is responsible for lyrics and vocal melodies.
"Generally, Adam comes in with a few guitar phrases, maybe a melody or two. Then we jam it out for a bit and all try to write our own bits and get it in to some kind of structure."
The quartet's other two members are bassist Sean Smith and drummer Darren Lackie. The band is neither a democracy nor a benevolent dictatorship, Palmer says.
"They both imply that we all want to have power. None of us want the power. We all try to force decisions on each other. It's great when we're away, and our tour manager (Esteban or Anders) gets to be in charge, and we get to not think about things."
We Were Promised Jetpacks is working on the follow-up album to These Four Walls. "We are having a great time!" Palmer says. "We've been demo-ing songs with our friend, Andy (Bush), who produced the EP and who will produce the next album. We've just booked a studio, too. Exciting times!"
The EP to which Palmer refers is The Last Place You'll Look, a five-song stopgap released earlier this year. On it, the band uses string arrangements and subdued settings to re-craft two tunes from These Four Walls, as well as three new tracks. The results sound like a lush cross between Mogwai and Elbow.
"The strings on the EP were just a result of us humming things at the string players," Palmer says.
For the remake of "This Is My House, This Is My Home," he says the band simply gave cellist Suz Appelbe the direction to play a solo. "Obviously, that was much better than anything we could come up with; that's why she's the professional. It was fun writing string parts like that, though."
Having toured the United States before, Palmer recognizes the pros and cons of the road.
"Generally, it's great. It's a lot of fun playing to a bunch of people every night, and especially people who seem to care, too. It's pretty hard on the brain to be on tour for a long stretch of time, but our man Esteban will always cheer us up."
Playing a tour with Jimmy Eat World, an early inspiration, also represents the completion of a circle, Palmer says
"When we were first starting, our drummer played in another band at about the same time, and we wanted to do a Jimmy Eat World cover, and everyone learned the parts, and then we show up to our drummer's other band's show, and they're playing the cover!"