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EXCLUSIVE Interview: Charlie Barnes

Multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter and Bastille touring member, Charlie Barnes has released his new single 'Last Night's Glitter' and his upcoming album of the same name will be out July 3rd. I spoke to him about his new releases. 

How are you?

Hullo! I'm doing reasonably well thanks. Very much enjoying some time at home and trying to shut out the panic about the future of live music while I water the vegetable patch and whatnot.

Congrats on your new single. What is 'Last Night's Glitter' about?

Thank you! It feels great to have put something new out into the world after what feels like so long. For once, with me, I feel like this song is reasonably self-explanatory. I haven't hidden what I'm really talking about behind a load of what I think of as 'literary' metaphors. I feel like as I get older I'm growing more and more comfortable with dropping some of the flowery language in favour of being more direct with my thoughts. It's a growing up song, a taking stock song, an everything song. It was written shortly after releasing 'Oceanography' and doing a handful of tours in support of it, some to next to nobody, some to sold out prestigious concert halls. The 'Oceanography' album is, for the most part, about somebody in their early to mid-twenties grappling with the concept of success (and lack thereof), this song is mostly about trying to put some of those concerns to bed and focus on the things that really matter in life. After some fairly bleak moments, I think I’d managed to get to a place where I felt comfortable with where my creative career had ended up. 

What can you tell us about your new album? Are you excited to be releasing it?

I'm over the moon to be putting it out. It's taken me so infuriatingly long to get finished. It was supposed to be a quickly chucked together EP of stripped back versions of my songs, capturing the arrangements I played on a brief tour of Germany and Austria with my mates Ben (The Society Pages) and Ed (Ed the Dog), but a fairly relentless schedule with Bastille, and my hideous ineptitude when it comes to actually getting on with doing something productive, pushed it back and back and back. I think I went through about four self-imposed deadlines on this album, spanning at least a year. The original plan was for it to be an EP, but then I bought a beautiful new acoustic guitar and started playing around with loads of the material from my two previous releases and enjoyed playing so many of the songs in that stripped back way that it ended up being a full album. 

What made you decide to rework some of your previous songs and how did you decide which ones would be reworked?

Fundamentally the decision is down to two factors. Firstly, as part of a record contract you're often obliged to provide the label with bonus material outside of the main album for use as b-sides or additional songs on a deluxe edition release or whatever. Given that the 'Oceanography' album was 10 minutes longer than the minimum amount of material I have to provide for an album, I felt that some acoustic versions would suffice. Of course, originally the idea was literally me, a guitar and a couple of microphones, but it developed somewhat. 

Secondly, in spite of most of my recorded output being pretty full on in terms of arrangement, the majority of my live performances over the years have been me on my own with either an acoustic guitar or a keyboard, so part of me wanted to release something to show how a lot of the songs tend to be brought down to the bare bones for most of my audiences.

As for deciding which songs to record, that was a long process of just trying out a load of songs on acoustic guitar and seeing which ones were the most interesting in that form. It was also really nice to take some of the songs that were written on piano and translate them onto the guitar. I can't really remember when I thought of it, but I was on tour with Bastille around Europe when I spent a day working out how to play 'The Weather' on guitar backstage for a laugh, and that went immediately into the yes pile. 'The Weather' is probably the song I am the most proud of, and it always slightly irked me that to be able to play it I needed to have a piano or keyboard (I saw it as something of a glaring omission from the setlist at my show with To Kill a King at Omeara) so essentially the acoustic version started life as a practical concern!

Was it difficult to find the time to work on your solo music?

Whilst I'm sure I will regularly pretend that my usually hectic schedule of travelling for work with Bastille can be a barrier between me and getting on with being creative, that would be utter bullshit. I have loads, and loads, and loads of time to be able to make use of everything that's around me to create music on a very regular basis, the problem has always been (well, since leaving University at least) and will always be (I'm sure) my own self-consciousness and fear of any persecution or failure. It's all too easy for me to excuse myself from getting on with making music, that's why in my new studio at home I've tried to make it so that pretty much everything is always set up and ready to go, so there aren't any barriers between me and getting something done. It's certainly helped, and there are a bunch of little bits and pieces I've done for friends in there, and work I've done on this new album, that would have taken me so much longer had I not made the path to productivity so free of clutter. Getting this album done under my own steam has certainly given me a little nugget of confidence, and I'm excited to take that into the making of my next album. 

How was your guest appearance on Ralph Pelleymounter's Slow Sunday Sessions last week?

A total pleasure, in spite of my realisation that in not testing my new streaming audio setup in the context of being a guest on somebody else's stream, I had somewhat scuppered my plans for half decent audio for my first performance to people in months. Nevermind eh? It still felt like an altogether positive experience, and my wife tells me there was lots of nice stuff in the comments section. I think it's great that Ralph has been inviting people onto his weekly streams, it's such a good idea to try and keep a sense of community going through all of this. I was unbelievably nervous though. More nervous than I'd been for any show in absolutely ages!

Tell me about your upcoming Instagram Live sessions.

Well, as previous alluded to, I have done quite a lot of work in trying to ensure some half decent audio in spite of Instagram's fairly limited options where that's concerned. I'll be doing a short concert each Monday evening after the album comes out, and I'll be switching instruments for the first three weeks. Week one will be acoustic guitar, week two electric, and for week three I'll transfer to the other end of my studio and play some songs on the piano. Week four I'm yet to decide on, I guess we'll just see how things go and what people like. I'm going to try and lean towards playing things I've never played before, or played very rarely, and will be throwing in a different cover each week. I'm really excited about the first week's cover, it's one of my favourite songs from the last few years by fucking miles. 

Are there any plans for live shows?

I wish. I had a series of nights booked in at my local venue in Lichfield, The Hub at St Mary's, where I was going to be welcoming some of my best musical mates along to show off their skills, and maybe even play the odd song together. I had Ralph Pelleymounter, Jake Morley and Kyle D. Evans all booked in. The events are being rescheduled, but obviously everything has to be very flexible at the moment. As soon as I have them confirmed, I'll be making loads of noise about them of course. 

Obviously I would ordinarily be drumming up my usual list of contacts for putting together a couple of little tours to promote this album, but that can't happen right now. The first of my Instagram Live shows is going to be in support of the Save Our Venues scheme for my favourite spot in Leeds, 'Oporto'. Having played their weekly Gaslight Club so many times, and done shows of my own as well as appearing as Bruno Merz's keyboard player, I must be knocking on the Top Ten list for most appearances on that stage over the years!

What's next for you?

Well…Ben and I finished The Society Pages album just around the start of the lockdown. It's probably high time we put that out into the world. For saying it was an album written in the first 6 months of 2017, exasperatedly watching the world go to fucking bits over Brexit, Donald Trump and an ever-growing list of dying legends, it oddly seems to get more and more relevant as time goes by, rather than less. It's definitely a really fun album though, so we're super excited to get it out there. 

Then I'll crack on with my next solo album. Got loads of stuff written. It's well sad.

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