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Jettblack: Black Gold, War Of The Worlds And Rock 'N' Roll

Wednesday, 07 August 2013 Written by Gemma-Louise Johnson

From support slots with Whitesnake, album collaborations with Thin Lizzy, a leading role in a theatre production and a new album, there’s certainly more to Jettblack’s Will Stapleton than straight-up rock ‘n’ roll.

Jettblack are preparing to release ‘Black Gold’, a compilation of covers and reinterpreted tracks, on August 19 and Stapleton is polite and charming when congratulated on the record, which, while a pleasant surprise, isn’t what you would expect from a man who fronts the band once described as the UK’s answer to Steel Panther.

On the other hand, it’s also something of a leap for a band to morph from skate rock underdogs to hard rock showmen overnight. For Jettblack though, that very notion became a reality. The band enjoyed a brief run as a punky four-piece at the turn of the millennium and despite releasing two albums as Skirtbox, they took one look at their flourishing musical talents and yearned for something more challenging. 

“When we first started, we couldn’t really play our instruments to be honest,” Stapleton said. “We were just playing anything that was accessible, like Green Day, which is easy to play with just four chords and everything. We always liked rock, all of us come from a rock background, except Matt our drummer who always listened to a lot of jungle.

“Along the way, we started to get better and better at our instruments. We were all into skating at the time and the music was just what went along with it. ‘America’s Most Wanted’ by Ugly Kid Joe never left my side, I think I had it tape, vinyl, CD and everything but I just felt it was something I could never touch. It was like this lucid music that none of us could go anywhere near, like it wasn’t allowed or something. Then it got to a stage where we started writing songs and we thought ‘hang on a minute, we can actually write stuff like this now’. So we just thought let’s have a clean slate and start again and try and make a go of it.”

They’ve come a long way, with two successful albums, multiple major support slots and a series of successful headline tours under their collective belt. Not bad for a bunch of kids with an Ugly Kid Joe record. “It’s just incredible for a band I think,” Stapleton said. “We’ve been together since we were teenagers - since we were young kids. All four of us, who’ve never fallen out or had a different band member or anything.”

‘Black Gold’ is the product of some restless feet. Instead of writing a cluster of new songs and hitting the studio to record a full length album, they’re in compilation territory. “We just weren’t ready,” Stapleton admitted. “We’re still writing songs and we’ve got loads of stuff coming together but in the meantime we thought, ‘let’s just get something out’. We had a new song that was ready [Black Gold] and we just wanted to give something to the fans.”

Thanks to their collaboration with Thin Lizzy’s Damon Johnson on the reworked Black Gold, which was initially included on their second album, ‘Raining Rock’, there’s potentially a far bigger audience waiting to hear the new record.

“We got in contact with Damon Johnson and the idea formulated about doing a more digestible edit with the title track, especially for radio play, because the original format is over seven minutes long,” Stapleton said. “The song felt as though it never really got highlighted from the last album. We shortened the song, which is quite hard to do, and Damon was up for lending his fretboard wizardry for some extra parts. The title track was the whole point of the release really, and then it just grew into this mini album, which isn’t really a mini album as it’s longer than all our other ones.

“It’s almost like a greatest hits, but not in a way. It’s got that compilation sort of feel to it. We’ve got three new songs, two of which are covers, and one of them is semi-acoustic. It’s got drums and things but it’s a taste of the direction we’re going in for the new album. It’s maybe a tad more serious, less tongue-in-cheek ‘80s, which we obviously get labelled as.”

Stapleton has also been expanding his touring experience, swapping support slots with Whitesnake, Airbourne and label-mates Reckless Love for a role in Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of The Worlds - Alive on Stage.

“The song [Thunder Child] I actually got to sing is quite a rock ‘n’ roll number really,” he said. “There’s quite a climatic end note at the end, which is quite high and which the other singers who previously sang the song struggled to hit. But the sort of note that it was, a top D or something, is the sort of note I regularly sing in a lot of Jettblack stuff. So I just belted it out and he [Jeff Wayne] was like ‘right, ok, that was good’. It seemed to go down very well.”

Having recently completed a string of UK festival appearances this summer, Jettblack are looking forward to bringing their show back to some smaller venues after a successful run at that level earlier in 2013.

“At Download and things, you get half an hour,” he said. “We don’t get soundchecks, so it’s not a true representation of the band. But with the smaller festivals we got a really loyal following and received a really good reception. It went down really well, especially up in Lanarkshire in Scotland, Les Fest. It was a great little festival in the middle of nowhere in the rain, but it was a really good turn out.”

Unlike their contemporaries - the Treatment, Steel Panther and Reckless Love to name a few - Jettblack have always eschewed the faux bubble-gum in favour of a bluesier, classic rock-inspired sound. They are significantly more parts Whitesnake than Mötley Crüe both on and off stage.

“All four of us like the odd drink obviously and everything, but I wouldn’t say we’re the cliché rockers of say Mötley Crüe,” he said. “Not that we listen to Mötley Crüe or that sort of carry on. I suppose it would be nice to have the budget that they used to have from huge record labels back in them days, to spend. You wouldn’t complain I suppose, but yeah, we’re just straight-up rock and roll, we just love the music really.”


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