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August 2019
Feature

Ten Tonnes has dropped his banger-packed debut: "I try and make great pop tunes with big choruses"

“What do you want to do for a shoot, Ethan?” we asked. “Snooker!” he replied. So here’s a feature with Ten Tonnes including snooker-based photos, but with no mention of snooker at all. Enjoy!
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Published: 12:36 pm, May 03, 2019Words: Jamie MacMillan. Photos: Jamie MacMillan.
Ten Tonnes has dropped his banger-packed debut: "I try and make great pop tunes with big choruses"

So sunny is his disposition, it's hard to imagine Ethan Barnett, aka Ten Tonnes, existing anywhere outside of spring and summer. New life is blooming all around, with pretty scenes of blossom making for a picturesque view as he chats about his forthcoming debut album basking in a warm glow of almost-summer sunshine. For those who prefer to hibernate during the winter months, it's time to wake up and get in touch with an early candidate for this year's Banger Central.

His self-titled debut is the soundtrack of a young man growing up. Written over four years, it captures those major milestones in late teenage life; falling in and out of love, and a desire to escape the small town that has grown to be overly familiar. Admitting that at times he felt "antsy" with wanting to release a record earlier, the long gestation period brought with it problems of its own. "I wrote ‘Lucy' when I was 18, and I'm 23 this year, so it's a big gap now," explains Ethan. "Now, well, I don't know who I was five years ago or remember what I was fucking doing!"

Conscious that he wanted the whole record to feel ‘young', he kept pulling himself back to the bangers. "Sometimes you end up writing old ballad-y love songs that could be sung by Engelbert Van Humperdinck or whatever the fuck his name is. Proper old crooner songs. They're great, but if they were on the same record as ‘Lucy', it would have felt weird. I wanted to make sure it still felt young, and naive, very tongue in cheek."

“I just wanted my first record to be as exciting as I can make it”
Ten Tonnes

Reworking some of those older singles to make sure they fit with his current sound, Ethan and his close-knit team of writers and producers have taken their time to get things right, and it shows. Some of the last songs to be written could well prove to be the longest-lasting, moments like ‘Counting Down' - originally written as a surf rock tune, but tweaked and perfected into perhaps the standout, feel-good track on the record. ‘Look What You Started' and ‘Wake Up' also came quickly. "If you have all the time in the world you think you'll just do it whenever, but I was like, fuck I've got two weeks to get a bunch of stuff done!"

And what a bunch of stuff. Constructed like a gig, this is forty minutes of non-stop bangers with one slow number almost appearing as an encore at the end in ‘Missing You'. "I just wanted my first record to be as exciting as I can make it really; it was definitely a conscious thing to keep it like a party."

With fan favourites such as ‘Lucy' and ‘Lay It On Me' mixed in with the new, it is the perfect introduction to the world of Ten Tonnes. Suitably evasive on how much is autobiographical ("I always think ‘a good story is ruined by the truth' is the best way of describing it, but it always comes from something I've experienced"), it is another addition to that classic British guitar pop sound that runs from The Beatles through to the likes of The Kooks.

"Me and my brother used to just listen to what my sister did, all the early noughties bands like The Kooks, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and all that stuff. My first gig was Razorlight, me and my dad went to a free gig at Trafalgar Square - them and KT Tunstall played, Simon Amstell compered. I was front row for that and thought it was fucking well cool!" he laughs. "Peak noughties! Then when I was learning to play guitar, it was all The Beatles. I'm obviously not at that level, but I try and make great pop tunes with big choruses like them. Then when we were in the car, my dad always had XFM on, and all they played was stuff like all that."

Also on the Barnett-Mobile playlist were Kaiser Chiefs, a strange twist of fate eventually leading their ex-drummer and songwriter Nick Hodgson to work closely with Ethan as he progressed with the record. More help arrived with Longpigs' (ask your Indie Uncle) Crispin Hunt, both of them helping to slot all of the pieces into place.

"It's like this," he explains, moving imaginary jigsaw pieces around the table, "I have all the pieces, and they help me work them out." Just as usefully, they have helped him navigate through the pitfalls of life in the music industry. "There was a point when the label wanted more singles which is fair enough, and Crispin was like, let's just give them the biggest single ever. Before that, ‘Look What You Started' was written and finished and was all about me being a bit of a bastard. And he was like; nobody wants to hear that version."

Ten Tonnes has dropped his banger-packed debut: "I try and make great pop tunes with big choruses"
"I think everyone assumes that when we meet up, we just talk music, but do we fuck"
Ten Tonnes

With studio time split equally between two producers, Hugo White (The Maccabees) and Dan Grech (Wolf Alice, Liam Gallagher), an extended work family has sprung up around Ethan, and it is clear how important they are by how warmly he describes them. But of course, conversation inevitably turns to a certain someone in his real family - his big bro, George Ezra.

"It still surprises people sometimes, because he's got a stage name and I've got a stage name. Everyone assumes our surname is Ezra which is fucking insane. Ethan Ezra?" Anyone with a successful older sibling knows the pressures that can follow, especially if you are working in the same field, but Ethan wears it lightly. "I fucking love the bloke, so it's fun. I think everyone assumes that when we meet up, we just talk music, but do we fuck. It's the last thing we do. When we meet, he's just my brother, so we want to hang out and chat shit."

Touring with George last year was a moment for Ethan, but not a defining one. "It felt like the right time to do something together, but I'd already had experience of that size of venue with Stereophonics, so it wasn't him doing me a favour in that sense."

On the table for his BRITs win, he doesn't remember much in truth. "I watched it back, and I don't remember watching any of what was going on after his win! We didn't do much except drink and have a bit of a party," he grins.

Looking to the future, writing has already begun on a follow-up. "Because I've been in the mode of writing indie bangers for so long I have been trying to write some more chilled-out acoustic ones." Describing Bombay Bicycle Club's musical handbrake-turn ‘Flaws' as an influence, it hints at an interesting new direction though he's quick to warn that he doesn't expect a complete change will follow. "I'm just trying to keep it fun for myself," he smiles. At the moment though, he is content with keeping it fun for everybody else, and with a host of festival slots announced. "It feels like this is all picking up speed!" he says excitedly. On a day where it feels like summer is on the horizon, it is only as he hops back onto the tube that the clouds gather and it begins to rain. He really does take the weather with him.

Taken from the May issue of Dork. Ten Tonnes' debut album is out now.

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