September 16, 2014
Being in a band can evolve in many different ways. Some hit the mark right away, either finding their way to popularity with their first album, or achieving an artistic goal that clicks from the first rehearsal. Others still can find a mix of these amongst myriad other possibilities. Sometimes, halfway through a career certain elements can fit together just right and create something unlike anything else created up to that point. For Halifax’s In-Flight Safety the release of their third album Conversationalist seems poised to launch them skyward to places that, solely based on the merits of its music, they are ready to land.
Although it may seem a little cliché to be using flying metaphors with a band so aptly named In-Flight Safety, the connection works perfectly for the point the band’s creative core of guitarist/singer/songwriter John Mullane and drummer Glen Nicholson have reached. In conversation over the phone recently, Mullane mused about his time with In-Flight Safety, their upcoming record, and not to mention his own relationship with flying.
The expanded live lineup of In-Flight Safety. Credit: Meghan Tansey Whitton
“I don’t actually mind the landing or the take-off,” Mullane explains, “I just don’t like the top when you’re at 40 000 feet and the plane shakes.” As it turns out, the origin of the band’s name stems from Mullane’s early reservations about flying. “Somewhere along the line I wrote this epic instrumental song to deal with some of those emotions,” says Mullane. He ended up naming the song “In-Flight,” which eventually became the name for his project with drummer Nicholson. Since their beginnings in Sackville New Brunswick and the release of their first album The Coast Is Clear in 2006, the band has been producing their own consistent catalogue of sparkling, catchy rock music.
It’s fitting that the band takes its name from Mullane’s fear, because just as Mullane conquered that with a mix of time and experience, the band too has conquered their own mix of obstacles en route to the release of Conversationalist. In speaking with Mullane, what comes out most is a mix of humility and dedication to the craft of songwriting. Where earlier albums bubbled with youthful energy, much like a nervous flier “holding on to the seat the whole time” as Mullane was like to do, Conversationalist takes that same energy and hones it into a more focused sound that ends up creating something that truly feels like a complete album from start to finish.
“Animals,” the first single from the album Conversationalist
Listening to Conversationalist, you are immediately struck by the expansive and epic arrangements, all containing some of the most memorable hooks and melodies the band has composed up to this point. Part of this may be a result of the path the duo has decided to pursue in the years following the release of their previous full-length We Are An Empire, My Dear. Both Mullane and Nicholson hold down full-time gigs separate from their music careers with In-Flight Safety.
This time apart seems to have been a good thing. Most notable about Conversationalist is the amount of ambition and confidence prevalent throughout the album. Take the track “Destroy,” which explodes in a flurry of drums and guitar after an opening that lulls the listener into comfortable pleasure, shows a band that is now harnessing all of their creative skill. Or a song like “Caution Horses,” which does the opposite of “Destroy,” beginning with a bubbling wall of synthesizers and then opens up into a spacious melodic gem.
Mullane and Nicholson bring a breadth of experience, both in the life and music variety, to this album. Since the release of their previous album We Are An Empire My Dear in 2009, the duo have been busy pursuing other careers; something, according to Mullane “really brought the band to its next phase.” He continues that without this happening, Conversationalist would “sound a little more like the old records.”
In Mullane’s case, that career has still been in the realm of music as a composer for film and television, while Nicholson is reaching the end of a degree in architecture. Although they weren’t full-time with In-Flight Safety during the break between We Are An Empire My Dear and Conversationalist, their peripheral pursuits turned out to be an important factor in reaching their current position. With his composition work, Mullane notes that “When I’m doing composition for film, television, or other artists and I learn a new technique here or there…I find myself bringing it over to In-Flight Safety.”
In the case of Nicholson, Mullane notes that “With this new record we’ve had the full benefit of [Glen’s] knowledge of design.” Continuing with the same thought, Mullane remarks that “Design is a very complex and beautiful thing, and when you have a lot of training in it like Glen does now, I think you’re able to bring a lot f those standards and practices of design into other things.” One of those things being the new album. Despite their dedication to other pursuits, In-Flight Safety always manages to weigh heavily on the minds of its creative duo. “It eventually became hard to to separate In-Flight Safety from my life and it’s almost impossible now,” says Muallen. He continues, remarking that “even when I’m not doing [In-Flight Safety] full-time, it defines my place in the world.”
This ability to see the benefit of outside careers and integrate their experiences with them into the continuation and evolution of In-Flight Safety speaks to the depth with which the Mullane and Nicholson approach their music. This introspection doesn’t just stop with their jobs though. As Mullane describes, the process behind the sound of In-Flight Safety and the audience they’re playing for is something they also carefully consider. “We don’t just randomly do stuff,” Mullane explains. “I consider the tone I want to present to the audience in that I want to make In-Flight Safety songs if I’m working on In-Flight Safety. If I want to present something else then I would just call it something else.” The cohesiveness of Conversationalist surely bears the fruits of this philosophy and proves how the band has come since its previous efforts.
John Mullane and Glen Nicholson talk about the release of Conversationalist.
As the group prepares for their next tour, beginning with their album release on September 18 in Halifax, the are no more signs remaining of this fear of flying, both musically and literally. Lucky thing too, because part of this tour is a trans-Atlantic trip, with stops in England “a place where we have a lot going on,” as Mullane comments; and the Reeperbahn festival in Germany. The tour will conclude with a three day stint at the venerable CMJ music festival in New York.
No matter how comfortable things get though, there is the sense that Mullane and Nicholson are a creative pair never completely satisfied with their position. Conversationalist teems with the sounds of a band that’s both ready to break out and at the same time wears its maturity and musical experience on its sleeve. Even if you’ve been flying for a long time, there’s still things that will take you out of your comfort zone and get thinking or craving change. As Mullane himself puts it “The only problem I have is that when you’re 6’5″, it’s really hard to sleep on a plane.” Hopefully this restlessness will be just enough to keep the albums coming.
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