INTERVIEW: Charlie Barnes

Hi Charlie, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.  Thanks.  And hello also to you, VENTS!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Will & Testament”?

Sure thing.  Will & Testament is one of the oldest songs on my new album.  I actually wrote it before my last album, More Stately Mansions, was even properly finished.  It started out with kind of a different vibe though.  It was a fair bit slower, and I was determined to fill it up with big swirly Oceansize-ish guitar sounds, until my producer, Steve Durose, who played in Oceansize, ripped most of it out and made it into a straight-up pop disco tune instead.  Who’dathunkit?

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

I mean, I think you don’t need to tread too far from a few of the lyrics to realise, more or less, what this song is about.  It’s not exactly the most chipper of subject matters, but that’s also not exactly new for me.  I am a mardy bum after all.  It kind of follows on from a few of the songs on my last album thematically, although it’s exploring a different part of that whole process, of grief, and trying to find ways to be able to move along, and trying to find some sort of positive to grab on to in it, but nothing ever really measuring up.  I dunno.  I’m rambling.  Maybe the coffee’s kicking in…

Any plans to release a video for the single?

It’s out!  And it’s ridiculous!  It features me in two worlds, one real, one fantasy, and I’m joined in both worlds by my good pals Ben (from my side project The Society Pages) and Ed (who used to be in that amazing band Fish Tank), although in one of the worlds they just sit glumly playing a game of dominoes.

The single comes off your new album Oceanography – what’s the story behind the title?

Besides being a thinly veiled reference to the best band there ever was (oh come on, I don’t have to TELL you do I?!), it sort of sprang out of the idea of feeling like drop in the ocean.  I know that nobody wants to hear some guy in a band moaning about his struggles and that, but, with the way things seem to work nowadays, with the internet, with social media, with everything feeling like it is very much about NUMERIC VALUES, it can feel like you’re perpetually in a battle of the bands that nobody’s ever going to win.  And, for the most part, all it seems to deliver is waning enthusiasm.  From everybody.  Or at least it can seem like that, when I’m really letting it all get to me.  I mean, if I have such a beef with my ‘art’ being about numeric values, I probably shouldn’t be making pop music, so I have only myself to blame, but I can’t help but feel like things were probably a bit better in the seventies…anyway.  If you want to hear me harping on about this sort of thing in an ever-so-slightly more focused and, at times, flowery, way, then there’s plenty of it on the record!  Ha!

How was the recording and writing process?

L O N G.  Man.  I took AGES.  I’d written the bulk of the songs before my last album even came out, so it was more of a case of dipping back into the pile of demos periodically, honing things, sifting out the rubbish, and word by word tweaking the lyrics.  As for recording, Steve and I worked separately for quite a lot of the making of this album, purely by necessity.  What with me gallivanting off around the globe playing with Bastille for so much of the last few years, we ended up getting into the habit of firing the demos back and forth over the internet to each other, building the arrangements up as we went along.  I took recording gear away with me on tour to make the best of use of any spare time I might have, and eventually, once we were about ready, we had a couple of weeks together where we properly hammered out all of the last remaining bits and pieces we needed to get done.  And, obviously, had a couple of curries to celebrate.

After the success from your previous record, were you any nervous while working on this new material?

I don’t see it as a success.  I don’t see this one as a success either.  I like that Beckett quote that always gets thrown around about failure.  I think it’s something like ‘Fail.  Fail again.  Fail better.’  I’m already full of ideas about where I want to improve and what I want to do differently next time, how I want to develop.  I don’t think it would be a good sign for a writer of any kind if they put something out and felt totally satisfied with their work.  It must be a nightmare to be the sort of person who sells squillions of copies of the things they create.  The levels of expectation must be horrifying.  I’m thankfully in a position whereby I can very slowly but surely just crack on with doing what I enjoy doing, and keep trying to better the last thing I’ve done, without any international super hits to live up to.

Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with or playing for someone else than when you are writing and working on your own?

I guess so, yeah.  I mean, really you just sort of do what you’re told, or what’s asked of you.  That’s extremely satisfying though.  Working on my own material, I worry about every single aspect of it; it’s my baby and I have to make sure that everything about it is how I want it to be.  When I’m working for somebody else, it’s their baby, and the only part I have to worry about is whatever it is that I’m doing.  It’s a great feeling to just crack on with the necessary graft to make sure I’m carrying the appropriate weight for whatever I’m expected to be doing, and, hopefully, that means I’m helping to make the overall load a bit easier to manage for whoever’s in charge, because I know that if it was the other way round, it would make me feel super great to know somebody else had my back like that. 

How has the road influenced the writing on this new material?

Well, logistics mainly.  I did write some of the songs while I was away on tour, or at least parts of them, but I haven’t yet done that much in the way of the actual sitting down and hammering out new ideas on the road.  At least not for my solo project anyway.  It’s a great space to be able to fill up your time with useful tasks in making music though.  I’m looking forward to starting the next waves of touring without a shedload of demos all sitting and waiting for me.  All I’ve got is a bunch of voice memos on my phone of snatches of melodic ideas to build on, and I’m looking forward to whiling away some days in hotel rooms chirping away to myself about whatever might pop into my head.

What aspect of touring and personal life did you get to explore on this record?

A couple of the songs that made it onto the record at a later date cover a few ideas about touring, or, essentially where my life is nowadays.  ‘Bruising’ is about the sort of dichotomy in which I find myself, whereby I’ll spend a tour playing in various local enormodomes, having essentially a red carpet experience everywhere I go and having tonnes of people around to help out with everything, and then I’d go back to doing my own thing, and feel like a total fucking failure because I’m in a half empty café.  Which is ridiculous, really, because I always have and always will absolutely adore playing in super small venues to intimate audiences.  It’s a very different experience to touring in the big leagues, and I count myself as being very fortunate to get to experience both sides of it.  I think writing ‘Bruising’ was a way to help me poke fun at myself a little bit about it.  Like.  Y’know.  C’mon mate.  It could be a bit fucking worse, couldn’t it?!  The song ‘The Weather’ was written after I’d started my big touring job, and it’s essentially my weepy piano ballad about missing my wife and dog when I’m away on tour.

Any plans to hit the road?

Oh heck yes.  In fact, I’m doing this interview from my spare room while I wait for the other lads to get up so we can get on the road to ruddy GLASGOW.  We’ve got a handful of dates in the UK through March, then I’ll be back to work with Bastille, except this time round I’ll be working double shifts and opening the shows with a short acoustic set of my own stuff.  So that’s gonna be pretty special.  I’m also sitting on a few more dates somewhere else for May…watch this space!

What else is happening next in Charlie Barnes’ world?

Need to write loads of new songs, don’t I?!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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