People in Planes Biography
Peter Roberts – Guitar
Kris Blight – Bass
John Maloney – Drums
Ian Russell - Keyboard>
The great chasm for any musician is the distance between what they hear in their heads and what reaches listeners’ ears. Unless you’re a band committed to either effete esoterica or stage-humping feral lunacy, your success largely depends on how well you reconcile the purity of your musical ideas with an audience’s need for hooks and melody. This is what makes People In Planes so welcome: their music is equally ambitious and pleasing. The band’s debut: As Far As The Eye Can See is a richly atmospheric, sometimes challenging album that doesn’t stint on inviting melody and anthemic choruses. In other words, this five-piece band from Cardiff, Wales traverses the long distance between visionary flights of imagination and simple rock pleasures as easily as, well, people in planes.
Yes, the band name -- even that was created with a sense of equilibrium, guitarist Peter Roberts explains that “it’s quite a wacky image, the idea of the whole globe being such a small place and people floating around the world in these little tin cans,” but also hastens to add “it’s essentially a cool-sounding name, really.” He continues, "I like the image that people in planes aren't exactly where they came from, and aren't quite where they're heading to yet. It's a nice representation of how people are always unwittingly on a conveyor belt, taking them through time to their destiny."
Things weren’t always so well balanced. People In Planes started out with a penchant for the abstract, and armed with more ambition than skill. “We were trying to make esoteric music when we were really too young to really pull it off,” Peter says, “Our ideas were a little beyond our abilities.”
Peter explains the transformation evinced by tracks like “Falling By the Wayside,” with its haunting chorus and plaintive, acoustic beginning, or the stirring “For Miles Around,” simply: “We happen to write better songs now than we did before.” But to really understand how People In Planes arrived at As Far As The Eye Can See, you have to go back to when he and singer Gareth Jones were young pals on a family vacation together, and how the record that made them want to be in a band eventually made them a better one.
Peter and Gareth were 13 and 14, respectively, when Supergrass’ I Should Coco came out. “We just listened to it nonstop all day, every day.” Peter says. “That’s the one that made us want to be in a band.” So when it came time to record what would become As Far As The Eye Can See, Sam Williams, who produced I Should Coco, was an obvious choice, and he proved to be instrumental in the evolution of the band.
“Working with Sam Williams played a big part in teaching us to look at things from a listener’s point of view,” Gareth explains. “So you’re not being self-indulgent too much.”
“He’s definitely the first producer who clicked with us on a musical level and could really help us see what’s needed in a song and what’s not” Peter adds.
Williams’ guidance enabled the band to make an eclectic record where each track still feels part of a whole. The record kicks off with the tough, bluesy riff of “Barracuda” and ends with the effects-pedal dreamscape of “Narcoleptic,” stopping to admire the beautiful vistas along the way. “I like progressive records and things that take you on a journey and things which evolve the more you listen to them, so that’s an aim,” Peter says.
Helping to tie the record’s disparate elements together is Gareth’s soaring vocals. His tight hold onto the melody through the ranting titular chorus of “If You Talk Too Much (My Head Will Explode)” keeps it from devolving into a rant. Add to that the ache he infuses into “Falling By the Wayside” and the steady climb up the scale on “For Miles Around (Scratch To Void)” and the quick, seamless shift from trance to snarl on “Moth.”
“I’ve always sung. My family is kind of musical, one of those all-singing, all-dancing sort of families,” he says. “I generally think I sing quite strong, like a big sound. If Pete writes something that I wouldn’t ever think of writing, then I really have to push it. And he does tend to write the bigger, glorious, longer, higher notes. That’s made my voice stronger along the way.”
Peter often works out a song’s arrangement and then brings them in for Gareth, bass player Kris Blight, keyboardist Ian Russell and drummer John Maloney to learn (sometimes working it out entirely on his mobile phone). “You can press record on the dictaphone and beatbox the drum beat, then sing the bass line and guitar line and then the melody and replay it. And whilst you’re doing the drumbeat you can sing the line over the top of it. Live overdub things to yourself.” Yet, he still finds it important to remain open to a song’s further possibilities. After mapping out the song, he’ll head into a rehearsal space with Maloney, and “turn my amps up really loud and just sort of rock, rock it out as much as I can. There will always be this blissful moment where we’ll hit it for the first time and play it from start to finish just guitar and drums.”
For all that, some of the record’s high points were actually recorded years ago, or were outright mistakes. “The guitar solo on ‘Fire’ was done on our little 8-track in a little shitty room somewhere. We came to make a record and tried to do it again, but you just can’t recreate those moments…the vocal for ‘Penny’ was actually from our original demo that we did on the 8-track.”
”Penny” is also the recipient of one of those glorious mistakes. “I programmed the drums for that track with an Atari computer, one of those ancient things with the first-ever version of Qbase. That whole second verse where it goes boom-boom-boom-boom? I was planning on programming it as a half-time verse. I did the whole thing without listening to it and pressed play, and it was double-time. It was like, ‘whoa!’ There are countless examples of that; you don’t mean for something to happen and it’s just great music.”
As Roberts and the band look forward to their American debut, they are keen to balance their hopes -- avoiding the easy trap of being overly idealistic. There is no doubt that As Far As The Eye Can See is a triumph, but Roberts shares, “Just think about the perspective of being presented with the opportunity to fulfill your destiny and realize your life long dreams, and then the looming possibility that rejection could set in and hopes quickly become fears and failures. You know, we’ve been through a lot to reach this point; and the songs express every emotion you could feel, all of the experiences we’ve had document the ability to pick yourself up to overcome adversity. These songs live on as extensions of our experience as People In Planes."
And a new view on life, as Peter says in closing:
“We’ve got this little slogan: People In Planes are mainly concerned with living to see another day.”