‘I stand up for difficult music’: An interview with Jack Barnett of These New Puritans

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Having recently released their third full-length LP Field of Reeds, it seems clearer now than ever that These New Puritans are a cut above the ‘buzz-band’ claims based on the emergence of their debut album back in 2008.

In the midst of what appears to be a new era for TNP, I was lucky enough to speak to songwriter, vocalist and producer Jack about the new record, what the future holds for the band, and of course, birds of prey.

Where am I speaking to you from today?

I’m in Southend-on-Sea, in Essex.

It’s been roughly three months since the release of Field of Reeds – what kind of reception have you felt personally?

It’s been very positive… and this morning Elton John, in The Guardian, says that he really likes the arrangements of Field of Reeds…

One thing I have noticed with each record is the interesting and often unique changes in sound. Are these fluctuating directions intentional or completely organic?

Erm… they are organic. There is a part of me that is creatively contrary so if someone’s trying to influence it in a particular direction then I won’t have it reacting against that. It’s really just a result of sitting down – or standing up! – writing music… there was no grand plan. I think there is a perception that it’s all planned out in some way but it’s not really. It’s just putting one night in front of the other and then seeing where that takes you.

I was also made aware of a certain live hawk being obtained for the recording process of Field of Reeds as a replacement for less natural samples. Does this seem slightly abstract to the band or is it something that just felt right?

It seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do. It’s never led by thinking ‘ahh, what is the craziest sound we think we can achieve?’ It’s always from the music… It’s always just reacting to what the music demands so sometimes a particular song will demand piano, at times it will be guitar and some might need something like a hawk… It’s just part of the music like any other note… Really we just treated it like any other sound tools… and sometimes it becomes more complicated and we get led into these strange worlds of birds of prey… and other subcultures.

Were there any other somewhat more unconventional moments during the creation of Field of Reeds?

The whole thing is unconventional… If you’re going to do anything orchestral or with an ensemble you do it last, whereas for us on this album we started with it so we turned it on its head and built everything from that. What springs to mind is, in the editing process, we were in a strange industrial unit that had the air of a young offenders institution. There was a factory next door that went on twenty-four hours a day, which was quite loud. We go through all sorts of strange notions with this music.

You also featured vocals from Elisa Rodrigues on the record – how did that come about?

I’d written the music, and it was very obvious to me that it needed a female voice. It was just a matter of trying to find this person – it took a lot of research. She’s got an incredible voice. I like the sound of the Portuguese language on a basic level so it was a stroke of luck. It was quite a leap of faith on her part…

I’ve always found that the band  feels a lack of necessity in attributing a particular label or genre to its sound– how far would you say that this was true?

People have tried but they have not quite succeeded. It’s like, the less you fit into a particular category the more people try and put you into one. We’ve been called ‘nu rave’ which is quite strange. Some people refer to us as post-punk and we haven’t been a post-punk band, if we ever have, in about seven years or something. I suppose it’s a compliment. It’s not something that we are going out of our way to do. To me, it’s just a collection of songs that I’ve written… but it’s still pretty cool.

I’ve heard audiences attributing TNP as the ‘unsung heroes’ of the alternative scene. How might you react to these claims?

It’s true, yeah – I stand up for difficult music. I think there is a place for it and this music is sometimes difficult and that is something that is kind of frowned upon. But at the same time it’s also melodic. It fits into the tradition of people writing songs about how they feel, even though it doesn’t necessarily have the strokes of what emotional music should be. Ultimately it is what it is. It’s music about emotion, and impulses in music that override everything else.

Finally, what does the future hold for TNP?

We’re doing a UK tour, which I’m really looking forward to. The band at the moment is the best band we’ve had. It’s small enough that we can be agile and big enough that we can make a lot of different sounds. I like the way it slots together. Elisa is singing with us, which is great for me, because we can specialise a bit. I do my 50% and she does her 50% so we get on with that. We’ve got a European tour and a few other little projects that may happen and may not. We’ve got a new video coming out as well for the song ‘V (Island Song)’ which should be ready in about a month. So yeah, this and that really.

With a UK tour for These New Puritans fast approaching, don’t forget to check out info for the dates here.

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