Interview: We Were Promised Jetpacks rocket on
• Picture: Ian Rutherford
"We were going to go last year," assures Thompson, "but in the end it was just our drummer who went down, while we stayed and partied at his mum and dad's house. It was a proper New Year, lots of drunk young lads and girls crying. Pretty funny." The four members of the band – singer and guitarist Thompson, guitarist Michael Palmer, bassist Sean Smith and drummer Darren Lackie – met at school in the capital, where they won a Battle of the Bands contest.
Their inclusion on the bill here isn't just local tokenism. We Were Promised Jetpacks have had a great year in 2009, releasing their debut album These Four Walls in June and seeing its lead single Quiet Little Voices achieve respectable levels of airplay on national Radio 1 and elsewhere. While Thompson carries an air of almost deflating modesty about him ("my ambition for 2010? To actually make some money out of doing this"), his band are widely recognised as one of Scotland's greatest hopes for breakthrough success next year.
That puts them in the same category as fellow Scots Frightened Rabbit and the Twilight Sad, both of whom are also signed to Brighton's Fat Cat label. The former band, who play on the same stage at Edinburgh's end of year party, were in fact the ones who gave Fat Cat a recommendation about Jetpacks, having shared a couple of bills with them in Glasgow previously. "They're climbing the ladder," says Thompson, "which is good to see. We've known Frightened Rabbit for a few years, so we're pleased to see them getting bigger and bigger." Presumably there's also an idea there of the progression which might be in store for Jetpacks themselves.
Where the label's other Scots representatives perhaps trade in a more esoteric brand of their home country's alternative sounds, blending elements of contemporary folk and post-rock, Jetpacks are probably the group who are most primed for commercial success. Like Biffy Clyro and Idlewild, they play rock music with popular appeal and an intelligent lyrical bent. For a group who have achieved such acclaim so early in their career, though, their lead singer gives the impression that he isn't entirely satisfied.
"I wasn't really that happy with the album we released," says Thompson. "We recorded it last November, all in one room so that the instruments blended together and it would have a really live feel. But that made it a nightmare to mix, and I don't think that gave Peter Katis (also producer to Frightened Rabbit, Interpol and the National, among others) the chance to really do it justice by the time it had to be released. I know it probably sounded fine to people who didn't know us, but we could hear it."
Is that a reasonable response, or just the band's own perfectionism talking?
"I don't think so. It was just a strange scenario having to record an album, it's so final and you don't want to release anything without feeling you've really done it justice. Still – it seems like we got away with it." Much more pleasing, from Thompson's point of view, is the four-track EP the band have been working on to promote their US tour at the beginning of 2010. Although Fat Cat's Scots contingent have enjoyed only modest recognition in the UK's national media, America's bloggers, alternative websites and live audiences have taken to them strongly.
"Yeah, that was a real surprise to us," he says. "The album went top 30 in the Billboard Heatseekers chart for new artists, and there have been some great shows out there.
"We did a joint tour with Frightened Rabbit and the Twilight Sad – it was only opening for them, but we were still playing to about 700 people a night in places like Seattle."
Edinburgh mustn't seem very exciting after that. "No, we're all really glad to be back, actually," says Thompson. "All our friends are here, we get on better with our parents now, there are great new venues like Electric Circus, and lots of bands play here now. It's an exciting time for music in Edinburgh." And, presumably, to be Edinburgh's most exciting new band.
We Were Promised Jetpacks and Frightened Rabbit both play the Waverley Stage at Edinburgh's Hogmanay Street Party on Thursday. The album These Four Walls is out now on Fat Cat.
For much more on Edinburgh's Hogmanay, don't miss Scotland on Sunday's Review section tomorrow.