Bastille touring member, Charlie Barnes fills us in on his new solo record.
If you're a hardcore Bastille fan you probably recognise Charlie Barnes' face from all his time spent on stage with Dan Smith & Co as part of their touring band. Well, somehow between all the super glam travelling and less glam soundchecks, he also finds time to make music of his own - and his new record's a good 'un.
Hey Charlie, how’s it going?
Hullo, Dork! I’m feeling very fantastic thanks. I hope you’re also feeling really good, Dork.
Tell us about your new album, then. What’s 'Oceanography' about?
Oh, it’s all very ‘woe-is-me’ isn’t it? For the most part, this album’s about the idea of ‘making it’ and success and trying to work out what you want out of it all and feeling unbelievably guilty for being riddled with all of these sorts of thoughts while simultaneously actually doing quite well in terms of a career and all of that. I was struggling a lot with the whole music thing for a while. I was feeling fairly close to just jacking it all in and getting a proper job or whatever. But over the last few years, I feel like I’ve worked a lot of things out. It’s all good. I’ve realised that the fun part of making albums is the making part, and we shouldn’t concern ourselves too much with what comes afterwards. That part is what can really kick your teeth in sometimes.
Did you have a good time writing and recording?
I get to work with one of my biggest heroes, Steve Durose from Oceansize, so it’s a pretty sweet buzz of a time, aye. Lots of the making of this album was done separately, with me putting down bits and bobs of ideas in dressing rooms and hotels and the suchlike, while Steve was putting it all together and adding loads of his own ideas in his studio room at home. So the bulk of the writing and arranging happened over email, and that meant I’d get a file to listen to now and then where Steve had completely flipped one of the songs on its head or something, and I got to hear his fully fleshed out idea rather than looking over his shoulder while it was all put together. That was cool. Then we had a period of a month or so towards the end of the last Bastille album campaign where we started booking time together in a studio and a holiday cottage in Wales we like to use for recording guitars, so that meant we got to hang out loads and make some nice grub and whatnot. It was great going into those chunks of time with a solid idea of what we needed to do and what sounds we needed to get down. Meant we got to focus as much on making curry and playing Trivial Pursuit as we did on playing guitars. I’m slightly over-egging it here, obviously…
In what ways is it a progression from your last record?
The main thing I was keen to do this was time round was to be a bit more streamlined in my writing and make an album that hung together as a whole piece rather than doing too much wild genre-hopping like the last one. That forced me to be a bit more cut-throat than I’d grown used to being, so that felt like a pretty big step for me. I think I was a bit less precious about stuff than last time; I think I’ve been getting better at making decisions that feed the song rather than my ego. Steve’s had a much bigger input on the arrangements and playing this time, he wrote and played loads of the guitar, bass and keyboard parts. There are moments in the album where pretty much the only thing I’m doing is singing, which I’m quite pleased about really.
Has your time playing live with Bastille influenced your own sound at all?
Big time. Of course it has. It would be fucking ridiculous of me to try and suggest otherwise. Over the years with Bastille, I’ve been able to see some of the songs go from their early inception to the final result, and therefore I’ve seen how, let’s face it, one of the best songwriters working today, puts it all together. I’ve learned a lot. Seeing how the different parts we’re all playing fit together has shown me that less can be more at times, which is something I’ve always been crap at realising. Also, given that we’ve done so many festivals over the last few years, I’ve seen tonnes of artists I wouldn’t ordinarily find myself listening to, so that’s opened my mind up to a lot of new styles and sounds. It’s been bloody great.
What’s the best place you guys have travelled to together?
Ooft. That’s a toughie. New York’s a given, right? The tour we did in Eastern Europe and Russia last year was a bit of a mind-blower too. However, and I’m pretty sure the guys would agree with me, that the big highlight of our travels over the past few years was white water rafting on a day off in Boise, Idaho. If you wander around Dan’s Twitter feed for a bit, you’ll find the little tour diary video about it. Our excitement is palpable.
What was it like having Dan join in for ‘Will & Testament’?
Pretty. Fucking. Cool. Right? I hate showing people demos of things, so the guys just knew that I was often beavering away with my headphones on while we were on tour… Eventually, once Steve and I had 'W&T' pretty much ready to go, I sent it to Dan, with the suggestion that it might be quite cool for him to add some BVs to it, because, let’s be frank here, my falsetto sounds like a terrifying old lady from a horror movie. I’m not exactly swimming in pop star raspiness like Dan. So, after we’d finished touring, he made sure we got a morning in his (totally glorious) studio in London to get his parts recorded. He even made lunch. It was delicious. What a nice man.
You lived in Leeds for a bit, didn’t you? Why did you move away?
I sure did. I went to University in Huddersfield, and after graduating pretty much all of my friends and I moved over to Leeds. We moved over at the perfect time too; it was just at the point that all the best places started opening up; Laynes, La Bottega, Friends of Ham, Bundobust… I ate and drank extremely well for someone on café wages during the Leeds years. Eventually, because of the pretty intense touring schedule, my soon-to-be-wife and I decided that it probably wasn’t right for us to be living so far from our families given that I’d barely ever be home, so we returned to the nest in dear old Lichfield. It’s nice to be back. It still has the best sandwich shop on the planet.
It must be hard to spend time at home, what with being on the road so much?
That’s the hardest part. And the guilt that comes with it. Seeing all of these incredible places and having far more than my fair share of wonderful experiences, but not being able to enjoy them with the person I care about the most. We’re getting better and better at making sure we really value the moments I get to have at home. The last song on the new album is all about that. It’s called ‘The Weather’, and it’s the one weepy piano ballad I allowed myself this time around.
How do you find time to work on your own material?
Well, on tour you have about half an hour of soundcheck in the afternoon, then a couple of hours around showtime, and besides that, you’re usually completely free. So, certainly, towards the end of the 'Wild World' campaign, I started to crack the whip on myself and spend my afternoons getting on with something productive. On our last US tour, I booked myself into local recording studios for three-hour blocks in the afternoons so I could record vocals. That was really good fun actually, and I very much intend to carry on doing stuff like that, it’s a fun way to get to know a different side of a city. Between those studios and sitting around in dressing or hotel rooms with my headphones on and a tiny keyboard, I managed to get some work done now and then between the adventures.
Did creating this record give you any ideas for what you want to go on to write next?
I’ve been thinking about that a bit this week, actually. Without wanting to give too much away (given that I’ve only finished like one song so far…), I’ll just say that this time around, I’m keen to move away from the heart-on-sleeve, soul-searching material, and maybe try a little bit of acting…
What are you up to over summer? Are you playing any festivals this year?
Well, I’ll be hitting a fair whack of festival stages with work, so booking in festival appearances for myself is quite difficult, but I don’t mind that so much. With my own material, I prefer the intimate settings of small venues and half-empty cafes, so I’ve booked in a handful of UK shows with my band (now featuring Ed, formerly of the band Fish Tank, so that’s pretty exciting!). We’ll hopefully trundle over to the continent at some point too. Besides that, we’ll do whatever we can, and I’ll definitely try and sort out doing some solo shows again because those can be really good fun. Besides that, I’ll just be ruddy grafting, won’t I?!
Taken from the April issue of Dork - order a copy or subscribe below. Charlie Barnes' album 'Oceanography' is out now.