Editors' Notes For Blaine Harrison, momentum for his band’s seventh album arrived atop an Icelandic glacier in March 2017. “I received a rare bit of phone signal and checked social media,” he tells Apple Music. “My feed was flooded with images of friends all around the world taking part in International Women’s Day. I very suddenly felt this strong urge to come home. History was happening in the streets and I needed to be in the thick of it.” The Mystery Jets talisman had retreated to the small port town of Seyðisfjörður to kick-start his traditional solitary creative process, but was hitting brick/ice walls. After his glacier-peak epiphany, Harrison eventually found himself quite literally in the thick of it: becoming a property guardian for an office block on The Strand, overlooking Trafalgar Square. “I moved in, and suddenly there was an explosion in protests,” he says. “I was in this quite privileged position, overlooking the home of protest in the UK for the last 70 or 80 years and being able to witness first-hand the humanity attached to all these issues—be it climate change, Black Lives Matter, the refugee crisis, Pride, Extinction Rebellion, Brexit or the NHS.” Galvanised, the band completed their own contribution to Britain’s protest culture. A Billion Heartbeats is a muscular, emotive and superior guitar record that’s also testament to the band’s own resolve. Initially slated for release in September 2019 before Harrison was hospitalised, requiring emergency surgery for a severe infection, it finally arrived two months after founding member and guitarist William Rees departed and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. “Music feels more important than ever,” Harrison says. “We’re being taught how important community is—and music relies so much on community. It feels good to be putting this album out at a time when people really need to feel togetherness.” Read Harrison’s track-by-track guide to A Billion Heartbeats below.

Screwdriver
“I believe there's quite a cult alt-right punk band also called Skrewdriver, which is ironic because that's the very thing that the song is taking its aim on. The song came from a rehearsal jam riff sometime quite soon after Curve of the Earth was released in 2016. I had a voice note of us of playing the central riff from the song just round and round. I knew it had a certain feeling and an anger encoded into it, so I took it away and I chopped it up and I fleshed it out into a full song. There’s something about the intensity and aggression of that riff that felt like it bulldozed anything either side of it on a tracklisting, so it had to go first. The message of the song really is that if you fight hate with more hate, the end result is that no one wins. So you've got to fight them with love and kill them with kindness instead.”

Petty Drone
“I wrote the music for this when I was in Iceland, but I didn't really have a sense of what it was for and what needed to accompany it. But I knew that it had this unrelenting driving momentum to it and it felt like it needed a strong lyrical backbone to accompany it. In contrast it's got these choruses, which I wanted sonically to sound like the oxygen pipe had been cut and suddenly you're floating adrift in this unreal orbit, looking down at your own lives in disbelief. That feeling, I suppose, was what inspired the lyrics: the state of mental health in the modern world, where our self-worth is governed by the popularity contest of social media and chasing these unattainable goals, lifestyles we'll never have, and parties we're not at, bodies we'll never have, holidays we're not on. Reading some Naomi Klein books and watching the Adam Curtis documentary HyperNormalisation crystallised that for me a little bit, and I think really helped contextualise this idea that there are these systems, be they consumerism or globalisation, capitalism, which have such a direct effect on our everyday lives and I think ultimately have led us to this place of feeling so disconnected from one another.”

History Has Its Eyes on You
“This is inspired by Laura Marling’s Reversal of the Muse podcast. I don’t know if she knows yet, actually. Her partner is my best friend, so he might have told her. Until I listened to her podcast, it hadn’t really struck me as much as it should that there are still cultural spaces and professions which still feel out of reach to women. It sparked a feeling that I wanted to write a song which celebrated women who had a huge part in shaping my life. There’s a line in the third verse: ‘Teach your daughters how to climb/Show your sons how to commit/Be kind and never quit.’ It’s all encapsulated in that line, really.”

A Billion Heartbeats
“I’ve got a little writing room in the guardian building that I live in and it’s completely filled up with different protest signs I’ve collected from different marches. They represent to me little glimpses at hopes and ideals and dreams that people have come to these marches with. The music came from trying to channel some of those messages into a feeling and then music. This song specifically came from the Grenfell Tower tragedy. My girlfriend and I went down to take supplies that evening. There was this incredible sense of resilience that I saw in the community around Latimer Road. I was struck by how out of the worst human atrocity, we can be reminded of our humanity. We can be reminded of what it means to help a stranger, to show benevolence. I also witnessed such a gratitude from the community, and I wanted to write something which paid tribute to that, and to those who lost their lives, plus the injustice politically which followed. The title actually came earlier. Matt Twaites, who co-produced the record with me, was reading [Yuval Noah Harari’s 2011 book] Sapiens. He came in one day and said, ‘Did you know on average, mammals have a billion heartbeats?’ I thought how absurd yet morbidly fascinating that you can put a number on the amount of heartbeats you have in a lifetime. It made me think, ‘Well, if you’ve got a finite number of heartbeats, what do you do with them? What are you going to spend them on?’”

Endless City
“Our guitarist Will wrote the song with Henry [Harrison, Blaine’s father and former band member], and I suppose in some ways it was his parting gift to the band, because he left in February [2020]. It’s one of my favourite Will songs, and it’s a wonderful moment to walk out on. Lyrically, it takes a long, hard look at what it means to live in a city like London which is constantly expanding and rebuilding itself. It’s almost Orwellian in that it examines the characters that are just trying to keep our heads down and get by while luxury flats and skyscrapers rise from the rubble around them, representing lifestyles and cultures that they have no place in. We namecheck the Astoria, which is a venue that stood right in the centre of London and where we played our first big headline London show. Musically, it began life as a laidback ’70s West Coast driving tune—almost Fleetwood Mac-esque—before Will felt it was wearing the wrong outfit. It had on sparkly flares, so it took off the flares and stripped it back to its bare bones. At one point it ended up just with organ, vocal and these soundscape-y atmospherics, as though it was paying tribute to a Talk Talk record, like Spirit of Eden or The Colour of Spring. Slowly it started putting its clothes back, and I think where it ended up is in the right place. Exactly halfway between.”

Hospital Radio
“This was the first song released from the album and the first moment of recognition, I suppose, that we were writing an album of protest songs. Which was a bit of an issue to me, as I always thought of protest songs as floaty, Dylan-esque acoustic music. Everyone has an artist that they don’t get; I’ve got Bob Dylan, which I know a lot of people feel is criminal. I didn’t feel protest songs was the musical world we came from, but I felt very strongly that I wanted to pay tribute to the NHS. The song was written for its 70th anniversary—so we’ll call this a celebration of its 72nd anniversary. Unlike some of the other songs on the record, the lyrics stem very much from my own experiences, which are growing up on hospital wards and needing to express my gratitude at a time when I was in hospital for some surgery and the future of the National Health Service felt palpably at risk. Musically, it came from three different pieces of music, which I found across different hard drives spread out over maybe five or six years, and I like to sort of stitch them together. The lyrics are more free-form than we’ve done before. Henry and I were trying to communicate the feeling of being sedated. I wanted to try and evoke the feeling of artificial bliss—this slightly nonsensical stream of consciousness.”

Cenotaph
“This is about looking at the notion of divisions which we build to define our identity, nationality and sexuality. Any of these ‘isms’ ultimately are human constructs, and ultimately I think they’re put in place by society to create order and control. I’m a quarter Irish, quarter Australian and grew up in France, so the idea they sell of belonging somewhere feels quite foreign to me. Attending the People’s Vote march in March 2019 really stayed with me. The opening lyric here is ‘Sad melodies pass down the boulevards/On the starry seas of blue.’ That EU flag—the starry sea of blue—was this very striking image, and looking around me on that march, it reminded me that London belongs to these diverse people from all nationalities speaking different languages as it does to anyone who was born here. This isn’t a Brexit song, but it’s about the idea of belonging and this attachment we have to the idea of nationality. We’re not really from anywhere.”

Campfire Song
“This was one of the last pieces to be written, and it was an opportunity as we could see what the album needed to become a fully rounded body of work. Jack [Flanagan, the band’s bassist] and I felt when writing it that the song helped tie everything together. It binds all the themes of the record together. It’s the celebration of protest culture. It was written at a time when young people in the UK started to feel politicised. It was very much grime artists that were carrying the torch on that. Guitar music, I think, is so often afraid of upsetting audiences. I didn’t see artists in guitar music talking about the world outside their windows—which I can relate to. But we felt we needed to turn that lens outward on this record and look at society and the people in power. This song, I hope, does that in a positive way. It’s trying to find some light amongst the midst of gloom. I’m really trying to remind more than anyone that politics shouldn’t be power. It should be about people. When you come together at a protest, that power is so palpable.”

Watching Yourself Slowly Disappear
“I had this title written down in a journal and didn’t know what home it would live in for a long time. I just knew it came from grappling with my own anxieties and trying to stay afloat in modern life. It then took on its own identity in the wake of Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit taking his own life [in May 2018]. I wanted to send up a musical flare to him wherever he is in the sky, but also to anyone who does feel close to the edge and feels a need to be seen or to be heard. Scott’s music definitely did that. It made me feel both those things, and perhaps this song could be that for someone else. It’s quite a heavy tune; it’s all centred around this big riff, and parts of it sound underwater. The piano line, which is a thread through the song and has this underwater, ethereal feeling to it. It feels like you’re coming perhaps towards the end of the journey.”

Wrong Side of the Tracks
“It’s appropriate to finish here, because it pays tribute to the generation coming up who are leading the war against climate change and emissions. The people younger than me are actually educating us. I was very fortunate that I got to meet Greta Thunberg on her 17th birthday in Stockholm. There’s a power in her eyes which has galvanised a whole generation of people to care about the future of the planet. So much to the point where the generation above them are on their knees saying, ‘We’re sorry. We didn’t know.’ That’s even true of my generation. It was still a very foreign threat while I was at school. Musically, it very nearly became a ballad. Now, I think it’s hopefully the right side of ‘November Rain’. It was intended to be a song that was hopeful but without putting on the leather glove or sending out the confetti cannon. We wanted it to be a slow-burning anti-ballad.”

SONG
Screwdriver
1
5:22
 
Petty Drone
2
4:45
 
History Has Its Eyes on You
3
3:54
 
A Billion Heartbeats
4
4:56
 
Endless City
5
3:56
 
Hospital Radio
6
6:03
 
Cenotaph
7
5:11
 
Campfire Song
8
4:27
 
Watching Yourself Slowly Disappear
9
4:58
 
Wrong Side of the Tracks
10
4:35
 

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