One-on-One with John Mullane

John Mullane//Photo: Michael Thomas
John Mullane//Photo: Michael Thomas

by Michael Thomas

In-Flight Safety has hit a milestone this year—they’ve officially been a band for ten years.

“Ten years better,” says John Mullane, the band’s lead vocalist who also plays guitars and keys. He says this with a bit of a laugh.

It’s the laugh of someone who knows that he shouldn’t get too full of himself despite the impressive achievement of existing as a band for a decade. Although the band has changed a bit in the last little while. While the band was for quite some time a four-piece, consisting of Mullane, drummer Glen Nicholson, bassist Brad Goodsell and keyboardist Daniel Ledwell, the band is now comprised of just Mullane and Nicholson.

“It is hard to stay on the same page with five people as core members,” Mullane says. The band now hires friends who are awesome (Mullane’s words) for their live shows.

The band’s origins, though, run back to Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. Mullane had just finished university, while the other three founding members were in their first few years there.

“Glen and I bonded over loving a lot of the same records at the time,” Mullane says. “So we kind of formed this club where we shared music and records.” This was the early 2000s, where jam bands like Dave Matthews Band were huge. Mullane says he and his band-mates-to-be instead bonded over their love of Swedish pop, UK bands and the sonic landscapes of Sigur Rós.

“It just sort of evolved into an obsessive need to jam on stuff,” Mullane continues. “And then we started writing stuff. And then just decided to get better at it, so we wrote or practiced obsessively.

“I read somewhere that Noel Gallagher had told the members of Oasis that they had to practice seven days a week, or they would be fired. And I read somewhere else that Kurt Cobain said something similar. So I’m like ‘Well, they’re pretty good musicians.’ So I kind of instated this: ‘Let’s just play as much as humanly possible. If you have an exam, sure you can miss one night, but let’s try to go six nights a week and take Sundays off.’ I think we played music almost every night for about a year.”

The band got a big boost to their confidence early on in their career. They happened to befriend Canadian musician Emm Gryner (known most recently for her work with the stellar Trent Severn) who in turn happened to sing backups with David Bowie on a tour. Gryner caught the band at a show in Moncton, bought all of In-Flight Safety’s hand-crafted CDs (“Do people still do that? Is it is a thing?” asks Mullane as he tells this part of the story). Then she sent one CD to David Bowie.

“Then I got an email from her, it was an email he had sent her,” Mullane says. “And the subject was ‘In-Flight’ and it said ‘Thank you for sending me the album. Nice album. David Bowie.’”

“It blew me off my chair,” he says. “You have to imagine, I just started playing in this band. I’d been playing music since I was a kid, but nothing was ever well-received. And then to have some songs that resonated with him, and he had enjoyed. Even the fact that he had to take that CD, put it in the CD player, at least one song. And then at least take the time to write the email to say ‘I got it, thank you for sending it, it was a nice album’ was crazy.”

“I think the other guys were still in school and I gave them a call and remember literally pulling them out of class,” he continues. “And then we sat their with our jaws on the floor.”

That was certainly all the validation the band needed. They went on to release that self-made demo, Vacation Landas their first official release. They would go on to release two albums, Coast is Clear and We Are An Empire, My Dear. Mullane definitely feels like each release has been slightly different than the previous one.

“We find a slightly new aesthetic per record,” he says. “I know a lot of bands say that, but I think, pseudo-objectively, we do that.” He goes on to call Vacation Land “six-and-a-half minute [long] alt-country meets Sigur Rós and Wilco,” Coast is Clear “‘song songs’ that are done in a more UK style” and We Are An Empire “a Spartan version of what we do.” The latter record was strongly influenced by the band listening to a lot of Band of Horses.

The most recent release from the band is “Destroy” which serves as a precursor to In-Flight Safety’s as-yet-untitled and currently-in-development new record. “It’s a lot more uptempo,” Mullane says about “Destroy.” “And we’re trying more uptempo stuff we’ve never done before. It’s less soundscape-y and more focused these days. We’re exploring the synth a lot more, again, but keeping the guitar as a main character.”

He said they had to release the single because their fans have been waiting too long, and also because “it’s got one foot in the old world and one foot in the new world.”

Mullane is pretty busy these days with the new album, but he’s also been highly active in Halifax’s music scene. While it is a huge producer of musicians, Mullane describes Halifax as a small town.

“Everything crosses genres, which is the interesting thing about Halifax,” he says. “I notice in bigger cities you stick to what you do. If you do electro, you kind of stick with those bands. We don’t have enough of any one band. Like Rich Aucoin will have everyone play on his record. The whole city. And everyone in Halifax will be on it, and we all played at his release show. I remember thinking if there was a bomb that went off in that church where we played the show, that would have been it for the music scene. Everyone was there. We’d have to start again with the younger kids.”

Mullane has worked with a slew of artists, playing on some records and often producing and mixing them as well, with acts like Dance MovieThe Mountains & the Trees and Andy Brown. He’s also acted as a mentor to bands like Repartee, whom he had high praise for.

“They’re so good,” he says. “I think they’re gonna be the next big band from the east coast here.”

As might be expected, Mullane has a lot of musical friends. He’s made many of them in Halifax, but also has long friendships with bands like Yukon Blonde and Library Voices, whom they have toured extensively with.

“Making long-term friends are better than any one-off show where you open for a bigger band,” Mullane says. “Play a festival with a bunch of bands, they don’t usually spend a lot of time with you.”

With 10 years under their belt and a new album on the way, In-Flight Safety are set to make many more friends in the near future.

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