“I’m interested in real conversations,” says John Mullane, sipping root beer. “There’s so many blippy digital blips, social media and whatnot. I’m interested in real-world things again.”
The singer and guitarist for In-Flight Safety stopped home for two days, in the middle of touring the band’s fourth album, Conversationalist, released in Canada on September 9 via Night Danger and Fontana North. Admittedly, it took Mullane a few years to get his voice back.
“Just imagine trying to make anything without talking about it or disagreeing or coming up with a better way,” he says. “I think we’d stopped doing that as a band and so we’re highlighting it now.”
After two albums, tons of MuchMusic play and a thumbs-up from David Bowie, members of In-Flight Safety trailed off in different directions. In early 2012, Mullane and drummer Glen Nicholson took the controls and planned a more careful route for their first release since 2009.
“With We Are an Empire, My Dear, we didn’t talk about it, we just made it. And it sounds like a bunch of guys just made some songs,” says Mullane. “There’s no real personality, so I was interested in finding our personality and injecting it into this album. We looked more forwards than back.”
Conversationalist is a highly composed 10-track record with swells and drops like fjords, alluding to Nicholson and Mullane’s Icelandic and European influences. The ambient and vast soundscapes on the album reflect their personal tastes and immersion in 1990s British rock.
“We’re not really into blues and folk. We see the value and merits and there are elements of it, but you’re not going to hear a pentatonic minor scale or a solo. We like expansive emotional storytelling,” explains Mullane. “But we still make pop music at the end of the day. I mean, it’s not avant-garde in any way, but I have baggage of blindly pursuing artistic influences without the thought of marketing. But you cannot make a record thinking about how to sell it. You need a naivete that if you just make the best record possible, it will be unique and good.”
Nicholson and Mullane took well over a year to create Conversationalist. As Nicholson studied architecture, Mullane focused more on his synth skills and guitar-playing. Both listened to criticisms of We Are an Empire from friends and the industry. And between both musicians, the songs on Conversationalist are structured complex arrangements with rich dynamic fluidity. “We talked a lot about every song and every detail,” says Mullane. “I don’t buy into the ‘just do whatever’ style of songwriting. A song is supposed to be a contrivance. For us, it’s all about stitching bits of truth into one thing, and if there aren’t enough of them in one song then throw the song out.”
In a city that celebrates traditional folk and indie-rock, In-Flight Safety feels they wave their own flag. Mullane’s music experience of the ’90s was more pop-inspired than recent revivals, and he finds that, over the last decade, In-Flight Safety doesn’t necessarily fit in. “Two Hours Traffic and The Stills aren’t around anymore, so I’m really glad for bands like Sigur Ros, The Darcys, Stars, Spiritualized. And Mardeen is a band we should be talking about. They beat their own drum, too. But the thing is, you can’t stay at home. You have to tour.”
With Ontario and eastern dates wrapped up, In-Flight is currently in the UK for the week with its rotating lineup of bandmates that includes Chris Pennell, Jon Samuel and Matt Scott. “Playing for people in real life makes such a bigger impact than just being on social media,” Mullane says. “The groundswell of support and outreach of touring can’t be underestimated. So I think overall, this album is touching on how things are so disconnected. I miss little conversations.”
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