This week, Soundsphere spoke to Blaine Harrison of indie-rock band Mystery Jets to chat about everything and anything. The four-piece from Twickenham have been together for over 17 years and have released six albums in that time. The latest album A Billion Heartbeats was released this month. Topics include how Blake is dealing with the lockdown and what success means to him along with his views on how people can cope and keep motivated with a disability and what inspires him outside of music.
When we speak to Blaine, he seems in good spirits saying: “You know what, I’m actually doing alright thank you for asking, It’s a weird time for everybody, I think my life I suppose I’m quite fortunate that I’m slightly a reclusive character in the best of times. I’m sort of able to carry on as normal.” Blaine also talks about how he can “pop down to the basement and crack on with music which is a bit of a lifeline for me at the moment, as well as doing live streams, interviews and podcasts such as this, so I’m actually quite fortunate, that I’m managing to stay busy and not go too crazy.”
The band has been going from strength to strength, with their awesome new album ‘A Billion Heartbeats’, alongside millions of streams for their back catalogue on Spotify. But what does success mean to Blaine as a person? “Life can throw all sorts of things in your path, and I think the thing that I feel proudest of more than any accolades or nominations or awards or record sales or any of that stuff, is just that we have managed to get through the things that life has thrown in our path and still be able to make our art, be able to make our records and put our music out into the world, I just feel that’s the thing I am most thankful for and proudest of.”
Blaine was born with Spina Bifida, which has affected his leg muscles since childhood. Blaine spoke about his own experiences saying, “What I’d say about that is that for a long time I was quite reluctant to see myself as being different to anyone else and I suppose I rejected the idea of special assistance or that kind of tag of special needs.” He goes on to add: “I don’t feel like a disabled person, I feel like a human being.
Disability lies in the eye of the beholder, I think some of the most powerful art of the 20th century has come out of really difficult mental health challenges, people who have struggled with mental health or not being able to fit into society into the mould that society tries to put us in.”
We also ask Blaine about how people who have mental health issues and disabilities on how they can succeed in the industry or in terms of being creative: “I really think all any of us can do is be as genuine as possible and tell our own stories, I think if you are somebody who is like me who is motivated by making music or by telling stories, by being a songwriter, being an artist a performer, whatever it is, Just be yourself, don’t water yourself down, don’t try and make yourself palpable to other people, just be your true self.”
In terms of hobbies, Blaine, like a lot of people enjoys going to the cinema, the pub, reading books. He has also been a patron of Attitude is Everything since 2009, a charity that deals with making gigs accessible for people with disabilities, when speaking of this Blaine says that the journey with Attitude is Everything started a decade previously. “It was the first time we played a gig where a signer was translating the lyrics in sign language, there was a hearing loop for deaf people and people who were hard of hearing. There were wheelchairs on the dancefloor, and it was just the most incredible atmosphere, and I really was struck with this feeling that this is what all gigs should be like.” Over these past 10 years, Blaine has spoken at conferences and to other artists about what the charity is doing.
Things are improving as well, and for the first time recently, Mystery Jets have been able to book a tour that is 100% accessible at all venues. “I really feel that it shouldn’t take a band like us doing it for artists to take notice of that, perhaps for a lot of music promoters out there and also artists there not necessarily aware that there is a disabled audience that wants to come to shows, but I think there is, and I think I felt so encouraged over the past four or five years playing festivals seeing those disabled platforms grow and seeing the interest in festivals grow and it feels like it’s starting to snowball.”
In terms of what could change over the next ten years in terms of accessibility in venues, Blaine comments: “I think what it really is it’s a case of changing people’s attitudes in the industry and I think that really begins with artists because in this game I think an artist sort of calls the shots, because if you’re an artist and you go to your manager, and say that we only want to play venues that have a ramp going into them, that’s a tiny thing to ask for, but if on your next tour you say now we only want to play venues that have an accessible bar so that our disabled audiences can get a drink, or we only want to play venues where a disabled person can bring a carer with them….”
This is an important issue for sure, and Blaine says the best thing that could happen is for more and more artists to follow suit and to recognise the importance of making their shows as accessible to more and more people. He adds: “I really do think it is happening, but it needs to come from the artist and then the industry will open up around them.”
Be sure to check out their new album A Billion Heartbeats. It will hit you with some much-needed positivity in these difficult times.
For more information on Mystery Jets and Attitude Is everything visit the following links:
Interview: Dom Smith / Words: Brett Herlingshaw