Interview – Adam Kittredge of Jets Overhead
– by Shawn Conner
A year-and-a-half before Radiohead, Jets Overhead was already doing the pay-what-you-can thing over the Internet for its debut album Bridges.
But the Victoria band is ahead of its time in other ways; it’s just returned from taking its shoegazin’ sound to China on a 10-day tour that saw the quintet play four cities. Expect an announcement from Radiohead re: touring China in, oh, a year or so.
Released June 2 in Canada and June 23 (on Vapor) in the US, the group’s second album, No Nations, is another slice of guitar-rock heaven, with songs all swervey and psychedelic and dream-like, built on hooky melodies and boy/girl vocals courtesy band members and real-life marrieds Adam Kittredge and Antonia Freybe-Smith. We spoke with Kittredge just before the start of the band’s first tour for No Nations (latest tour dates posted below) about being in a rock band with your spouse [Freybe-Smith], rocking out in China and setting up a recording studio in a public hall on one of BC’s bastions of hippiedom, Hornby Island.
Shawn Conner: What are the downsides of being in a band with your spouse?
Adam Kittredge: We’re not finding a lot of downsides. We’ve been in a band and living together for six years now, and recently got married. But we’ve always been pretty good at being around each other for all hours of the day…
AK: Yeah. And uh, we’re pretty lucky to have found that in one another. It’s pretty hard for us to get on each other’s nerves. Thank God. Otherwise, this whole music thing probably wouldn’t be the best plan. It’s all pluses, really. You get to travel with your spouse… we just got back from China, about three weeks ago. So I got to spend 10 days with my wife, and play music and see four crazy cities in China.
SC: I would think not many people over there would know the new stuff from the old.
AK: No, and that’s definitely one neat thing about getting our sea legs back. It was nice to go somewhere where we were fairly anonymous. We were also playing a lot of different size venues, from small sweaty clubs all the way up to outdoor festivals for 5,000 people. It prepared us for the gauntlet you go through on our level.
Also, they’re really keen over there. Right now China is just discovering the enjoyment that live concerts can bring. They were going crazy. They were so receptive, not only to us but any band we played with. They cared and listened and just wanted I think to be part of something new.
SC: How’s your Mandarin?
AK: The extent of it is pretty much being able to say the national Chinese beer there loudly and without any fear. Would you like me to demonstrate?
SC: Yeah, sure.
AK: “Can we please get two [shouts what sounds like "TSING-TAOS!!"]?” They like it when you shout it.
SC: How did the trip come about?
AK: The people who run Transmission [a West Coast-based music conference/festival] are basically trying to make music-business ties over there. They’ve developed a relationship with a few promoters in China, and they’re also bringing bands over. They did it for the first time last year. This was a bit more grand, in that not only did they take us to one city, Beijing, but also set up a bit of a tour, so we went to Shanghai and Shenzhen.
SC: Did you see any Chinese bands?
AK: Yeah, we played with a few different Chinese bands. I think the most interesting band we saw would’ve been a Shanghai band that did a lot of synth-and-harp, almost orchestral-sounding music, that really built into these frenzies. It sounded more Chinese than North American. The other observation we made, which I found pretty fascinating, is that the most popular style of music is actually the ballad right now, like the power ballad. Everywhere you go, like all the restaurants, are playing what sounds essentially like Journey songs, or Toto. But singing in Chinese, really sensitive, emotional…
AK: Yeah. And I gather that is, a few people there we spoke to, told us they reckon it’s because the Communist culture is not about the individual, and you’re somewhat stifled as far as your allowance to emotional flamboyance, showing your emotions, the Chinese people are actually embracing this music because it’s so emotional, and it gets in touch with that. It’s all about the sap there right now. At the same time there’s over a billion people, so there a lot of niches. There’s a lot of heavy metal, and the fans of that style, whether Chinese or international heavy metal bands, are totally psyched.
SC: Did the people coming out to your shows have a certain look, like a Chinese version of the indie-rock look?
AK: I would say there’s a lot of looks, a lot of style in the youth. They have really crazy hairdos. There was plenty of spiky hair and tight jeans. But tattoos and piercings, not so common. And I think it’s pretty rare to see outwardly homosexual men.
SC: Did you meet any interesting characters while recording on Hornby?
AK: Oh dude, there were some creatures that came out of the woods, big-time. During that three-week period, a lot of curious people popped their heads in. Locals would actually be able to walk through our recording set up and gawk at it for a bit. There was one character we all loved named Bobcat. Bobcat, we’re not totally sure, but he seemed to live in a bus on the property. He would come around and give the odd piece of gratuitous advice about how to record, how to really get the best sound from your guitar. He was… let’s just say he wasn’t clean-shaven.
But he was a great character. We’d give him cigarettes, and the odd beer and the odd meal. And he would be super pumped on that. And on the last day, he helped us load out. And there was one dude that showed up and he literally had spiders in his hair. He’s talking to me and I’m like, What the hell is that? He had this big head of really wire-y, stringy long hair. I’m thinking, Dude there’s a spider in your hair. But that’s cool, that’s cool. He wanted to play on our record. He was like, “I’m really good, can I bring my axe down, and jam with you guys?” “Well, we’re kind of particular right now, we’re working on a new album.”
SC: Did he really say “axe”?
AK: Yeah, I think he probably did.