It’s a chilly night November night in Truro, N.S. as In-Flight Safety take the stage for Nova Scotia Music Week. The indie rock band with a penchant for pop hooks are playing “Destroy”, the first single from their latest album Conversationalist. Lead singer and guitarist John Mullane looks to his left at bassist Chris Pernell as he sings along the “oohs” of the songs chorus. Mullane smiles before singing the chorus of the track.
The band, which originally formed in Sackville, N.B. over a decade ago, has undergone major changes over the past couple years since the release of We Are An Empire My Dear in 2009. Of the original lineup, John Mullane and drummer Glen Nicholson are the only remaining members. Lately, they’ve been joined by friends on tour: bass player Chris Pernell (Joel Plaskett Emergency, Yellow Jacket Avenger), guitarist Jon Samuel (Wintersleep, Contrived) and keyboardist Matt Scott (Matt Mays).
“In-Flight Safety is still always what it was. We’ve always worked with a slightly ebbing and flowing membership ever since Sackville, N.B. It’s a banner we fly over the band,” says Mullane.
The band needed a shakeup after We Are An Empire. They toured in support of the record for two years and by the summer of 2011 when the ended, they were tired, playing songs that were four or five at that point.
“We finished our last set of touring in Europe and we were just burnt out from promoting it,” says Mullane. “After that, it was like we just stopped rehearsing and practicing. We took some time off. Nobody really talked about it, we just went home. We were exhausted.”
Daniel Ledwell (keys, guitars, backing vocals) was busy producing records and touring with wife Jenn Grant. Brad Goodsell (bass guitar), an original member, was busy with his day job. Mullane was working on a score for a film. Glen was going to architecture school.
Trouble connecting with songs
That Christmas, Mullane returned to a mountain of demos the band had worked on, but didn’t have a sense of direction of where to go with the songs.
“I didn’t understand how those demos fit into the broader context of what was going on in music today. I didn’t understand what we were going to do with them and how we’d finish them.”
Mullane had trouble with vocals for the demos he didn’t feel a connection with. While lots of work had been done on the songs already, Mullane knew a lot more work still had to be done and not everybody was on the same page. The new album was going to take time to create, certainly much longer than the three months spent on We Are An Empire My Dear, and that didn’t work with the busy members of the band as priorities changed.
“I personally felt we had to put another year in and I don’t think that was right for Dan and Brad to be part of that, it wouldn’t have been fair to them.”
Mullane and Nicholson head into the studio
In-Flight Safety continued with the pair of Mullane and Nicholson. They released one of the oldest songs on the new album, “Destroy” as a single in March 2013. The full album, Conversationalist, didn’t come out for over a year, finally released in August 2014.
With Conversationalist, the band took more time playing around with the production and working on creating an album as opposed to just a collection of songs.
“We weren’t going for wool and fuzzy and warm, we were going for slightly more controlled and modern,” says Mullane. This controlled sound is on display on “Crowd”, a track that intentionally alludes to songs by modern indie rock pop giants Phoenix and Wild Nothing.
For the first time in In-Flight’s discography, synths come to the forefront instead of hiding behind other layers of sound.
“We wanted to make them central characters because a lot of the stuff we’re listening to is doing that and we’ve always loved that stuff.” This is apparent on “Stockholm”, a track featuring bombastic drumming throughout and a chorus with synths that push through the vocals, guitars and bass and bounce around your head as the song moves along.
A number of threads run through the songs, giving it the feel of a cohesive record rather than a collection of singles. Intro track “Before We Were Animals” starts the album off with 58 seconds of slowed down sounds and lyrics from the single “Animals”. Instrumental track “Crowd” was the last song recorded for the album. It started off as part two of “Tie A String” but ended up taking a life of its own.
One of the standout tracks, “Animals”, contains all the elements of an anthemic indie pop single, propelled by power chords, snappy drumming and a chorus of “oohs”. But on closer inspection, it carries along a pretty bleak but brutally honest lyric at the core: “Animals, we are the worst.”
“It kind of recalled for me, Kid A and OK Computer era Radiohead where you say something overtly ridiculous but there’s something to it,” Mullane says, pointing to the track “Exit Music (For A Film)” from the Radiohead classic OK Computer and how in his opinion, the repeated lyric of “We hope that you choke” is the most beautiful part of the record.
“I was speaking to how we are the worst because we often do stuff to each other that’s not great. Hurt each others feelings and stuff. That’s just part of life. You can’t do it perfectly.”
Photos: Jonathan Briggins/Mixtape Magazine