Here is a great interview with Barnaby Weir. A decent chat with Barnaby Weir
On the eve of the release of his brand new solo album Tarot Card Rock, Ellen Falconer chats to the man himself - Barnaby Weir.What inspired you in the first place to make a change to the rock n roll style of music?
For me it's not really a change because I've been exploring these kinds of sounds over the years. Most people would probably know me from the Black Seeds stuff which is obviously not rock n roll or country, it's more reggae or funk, but we're not a strictly reggae band. A lot of people get that wrong and put us in that basket, but that's okay! I see Seeds as being a more aggressive sort of a funk band really - a dance band. This album was always going to happen, so it was just a matter of when and now's a good time to be honest. For people that know the Fly My Pretties stuff, it's more in that realm of classic country and rock n roll than reggae. There's no reggae or funk on this album.Had you wanted to do this style of music for yourself, solo, for a while? Had you been sitting on it for a little bit?
I'd definitely been sitting on it for a while and not making any decisions and letting the songs build up. A lot of the songs were written at home over three years. The majority of the songs were written over 2009/2010, so they're new and there are a handful of other ones that aren't new, but that I've always wanted to release. Like a couple of collaborations with some Dutch guys. It was always going to happen, it wasn't like, 'Oh, now I should do my solo album!', it was just getting around to it, but this came around really quickly and it just developed so quickly and before you know it I had a deal with EMI, and it's all go, so I'm quite pleased with the turn around, but it wasn't like I'd been building up to this for years and thinking about it and all of that, it was a natural progression of mine in my career.
It was hard whittling 22 songs down to 16. I decided there were some songs on there that had already been released in a different capacity in a live recording or something else, it's like, 'No, let's step forward. There's some new stuff on this album, my first solo album, don't make it a retrospective thing, let's make it a progressive thing.'Was there any kind of a theme that brought all of the songs together?
I guess it's more like when thinking about the different music that I make, some of it fits into what I think is a Black Seeds genre or some of it fits into a Fly My Pretties thing and some of it is more a Flash Harry broken beat thing. These songs didn't really fit in those categories, they just organised themselves, they chose themselves really. Definitely you can spend hours and weeks and months deciding whether the songs should be on there or whatever. A combination of having too long an album and not being too retrospective of songs you've heard before was the decider.You have so many different musical projects, with this one did you revel in learning some new musical instruments?
This one was good, because it was less of a collaboration and more of a solo thing. That was really fun for me because you don't have to ask a lot of people what they think, you just do it. I mean, I still ask people what they think and respect their opinions and their feedback, but I worked mainly by myself and with Craig Terris on the drums and Lee Prebble who was recording the album. We just worked hard and it was a really quick process, it's really refreshing to just know what you want to hear and then play it, not sit round and discuss it democratically for weeks or whatever, because sometimes ideas can be watered down if there are too many chefs. So I really enjoyed that aspect of it, it's really refreshing. But in saying that, I'm not quitting the Black Seeds, I'm not quitting Fly My Pretties, it's just another thing that I want to do, something I'm really positive about actually. I'm happy with how it sounds and what it is, so I'm not like, 'This is my solo career and it's gotta be... THE BEST EVER! I'm going to really break it in the States with this!' The expectations are low, so it's quite good. It's a bit of a surprise for some people. All of the songs hold well together as an album. We're so used to iPod culture, flipping through all of our music and going, 'No, I feel like listening to Jimi Hendrix, now I feel like this...' and not listening to the whole album, but it really is an album to be listened to as a whole from start to finish, it's not just a whole bunch of singles that I'm doing. They work together thematically and they work together sound-wise. Thematically, it's life, birth, death, love... there's no hate in there. But there are all these basic themes. The songs are going to sound familiar or classic in the tones we've used - quite retro, not extremely challenging for those more alternative types. I'm quite happy with what it is.And you've included all of those themes into the album artwork as well...
Tarot card rock the first single and first video is really about not knowing the future and isn't it funny, when we first met we didn't realise we'd be doing the dishes now together or cleaning the house together - all of the domestic things as well as going on holiday together. That whole idea of not knowing your destiny and the sense that it is possibly partly planned, but also how random things are and how synchronicity works and these ideas that we don't know. We might be in control of our direction, but in terms of our destiny, we're not sure what's going to happen. But it's boring, that! But yeah, it all ties in. Some of the stories are of past relationships and break ups or whatever and some are of the future and what they might be. I'm not big into tarot or anything, I just thought it was a good name for the song and it'd make a good title for the ideas it represents on the album. Appreciating what you've got and not asking for more, but hoping for more and good experiences or love or friendships and good things as well as thinking about some of the things that weren't so good.Was it hard at all to put yourself at the front, it is your project, was it vulnerable at all?
Yeah, we've just started the project really. Stage one is complete, the CD is finished and here we are now, talking about it, so we'll see how it goes. It's about time really, because I've generally been the front man for the bands that I've been in so I'm kind of used to that, so that's not a surprise. But now it really is, the onus really is on me and the rest of the EMI team to make it a cool release, to make it good and to make it relevant. I'll be learning a lot as well on the way, managing myself and managing this project. The freedom's awesome.How did you go about writing this album?
It was just a combination of time and experiences, I'd wake up and go, 'Okay, this day is for writing music.' So I could either totally flag and procrastinate and do other things, or I commit to writing. On those days where you commit to writing, you might come up with something pretty average or a little ditty or some lyrics. But over time, it really starts making a bigger picture of what the song could potentially be. It's a demo-ing process, really. It's more like accepting... I really enjoy writing and I enjoy making music, so that's my job, that's my full-time occupation, so you've got to commit to that and you can't be lazy. A lot of hours have gone into experimenting and the cream floats to that top really and if something doesn't stick with you over a month, six months, a year, then don't put it on the album. If it's sounding good and every time it gets better, then it's a winner.
You have to be happy with everything you put on there. In the future, 10 years from now, you might look back and go, 'That track wasn't my best work and it still sounds good.' Or whatever. You're always trying to outdo yourself, do better, write better. It's not depressing personal stuff, I just write about my life, generally. And there are a few other songs in there that are more... like the song 'Do You Remember Fun?', which is just more about do you remember when you didn't have these responsibilities and doing roly-polys down the hill with your friends and reflecting.In your press release you describe yourself as a perfectionist; do you go over your songs a lot?
Yeah. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and you release this when you get to the end of the process and there's nothing wrong with the song that is finished, there's nothing wrong with the artwork, it's fine, you're looking for things to pick on and that's when you know it's done. That slightly scary thing when you put it out. I'm pretty particular about everything, like how the guitar should sound, how the bass should sound and what the beat should sound like, whether it's pretty enough, if the vocals good enough, if it's too polished and not rough enough.
Some of the vocals are actually the demo vocal, because the head space that I was in at the time, the sound of the voice at the time, was perfect for the song. That's why I made it in the first place, as a demo. Then we built on those demo's, the structure, instead of re-recording everything, we'd replace bits - replace the drums, replace the guitar. And then you'd get to the vocal and I wouldn't always replace it because I liked the sound of the slightly more naïve or slightly less polished and it can be a better delivery when you're really feeling it at the time, as opposed to three months later, trying to recreate that vibe you were feeling about that subject - that's more of an acting job. Peoples' ears can tell when you're faking. Sometimes it's good to not be too polished. By perfectionist I don't mean polish it, I mean has each song got the right feel? Is it accurate to what we want? Perfectionism has its ups and downs, but once there's nothing more that you can change and you're happy with everything, that's when it's finished. You don't want to labour too much over that either. 'Rocking guitar let's do it now. Was that rocking enough? Nooo, I kind of peed it up there. Okay, do it again.' You know? And you just keep going until you've got it. You don't have to settle for the first take.You obviously have a really good working relationship with Lee Prebble. You guys must really know how the other works by now?
Yeah, I think we've got really good ideas and we're old friends. It's been a while since I'd worked with him on something, fly my pretties was the last album that I'd worked on with lee. He's really patient and he has a fair idea of what I want to achieve. He works as a producer, but mainly as an engineer, he can really get the sounds sounding retro and good and whatever you're into. He's particularly good at rock-sounding bands and roots-y music. He was fantastic and a lot of fun and really patient with my perfectionism. If I'm like, 'the bass is too bass-y' or 'not bass-y enough', he'll say, 'No, I reckon it's pretty good, let's just take it down...' he's very flexible and patient, because I might say 'let's try this' and he'll say 'let's try this', and he might be right or I might be right. He's got a lot of great ideas about recording and a really good vibe from him, a really good attitude and we've got the friends thing, and it's the same with Craig Terris, I've known him for years and we've worked together and I appreciate and respected them both and their talents and hard work and they deliver the goods.
Wellington seems to have a bit of a community with Black Seeds, Phoenix Foundation and Fat Freddy's - basically everyone who has ever been connected to The Surgery - do you guys ever influence each other, hang out, make music together?
I'd say that my main influences are locals and friends and people around us, whether it's Eru Dangerspiel or the Phoenix Foundation who are doing their own thing and we've been friends for a long time and Fat Freddys who are doing it their own way and it's wicked and they've had heaps of success out overseas and are lovely guys.
We don't hang out all of the time because we've all got busy family lives and busy touring lives, but we had a great tour with Katchafire (they're not from Wellington) over the summer. Inspirationally speaking, it's your mates who push your boundaries. Overseas, there's new music coming in all of the time. I like hip hop, I like the Ghostface Killah album, that's inspiring too. But when I hear, say, Nudge, that blows me away, not just because I know those guys or their music's really good, but it's local. We're only one separation away, so that's inspiring, because it's what we do here...So who are some of your favourite up and coming local bands?
Nudge would be at the top of the list. Three-piece psychedelic, blues-rock act. Ryan Prebble's a great solo artist, he's also been in Fly My Pretties and the Pyramid Scheme. I really like those guys, it's just good riffs, good ballsy rock/blues based riffs. The drums are really driving and heavy and the left-hand keyboard is based on the left-hand and the right-hand Hammond I think. They've just got some really good riffs and good vocals from Ryan Prebble.
Jesse James and the Outlaws are sounding really good, their latest album. Eva Prowse who is in Fly My Pretties, she released an album just late last year, it's on the country vibe. I'm inspired by friends and people that I've worked with, like Anna Coddington - she has her new album coming out soon, I'm excited to listen to that... There's quite a lot coming out, it's hard to keep up. I'm always interested in new releases and seeing what my friends are up to.This album seems to be a bit of a party album, one that you can dance to...
Oh yeah, that's good that you say that, there are a few more up-beat tracks on there!Are you looking forward to playing those songs live?
Yeah, we're still figuring out how to do this, I've got Craig Terris and Nigel Harrison from the Black Seeds as a three piece with me to do some shows and we're keen to create some little parties as opposed to normal touring where you buy a ticket and go to the same spot that you always go to see a band, I'm keen to mix it up a bit. I think it'll translate pretty well, we've played the songs together a bit and we'll see how we go! We'll definitely be working on doing good versions of all of the songs live with only a three-piece, so we'll see how that goes, because there is quite a bit of layering on the recordings and I'm not sure that it's going to be the biggest touring band, we'll see how we go. We've got a promoter though.
I'm keen to do some parties, but I think stay away from the normal traps of when a normal band starts where they do heaps of gigs at shitty pubs and then they try to go overseas and all of these kinds of things, I'm not really interested in that. I'm interested in releasing the album and having these parties that people feel welcome, have a barbeque, check out this band, maybe a bit of cricket, a bit of bowling, take it away from the 'Please come to my gig, it's 25 bucks and you get your ticket from here...', all of that kind of stuff. I'm quite keen to make it a bit more personal.
The Black Seeds do quite big gigs and Fly My Pretties do theatre gigs and this is my chance to just have an acoustic guitar, potentially, and just do a few sing-alongs. That's the idea.