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These New Puritans

These New Puritans

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Tuesday 23rd July, 2013 11:05AM

Experimental rock band These New Puritans recently released their third studio album, Field of Reeds. It's a vastly different specimen to both their industrial sophomore, Hidden, and their breakthrough, post-punk debut Beat Pyramid. UnderTheRadar caught up with front man and songwriter Jack Barnett to discuss his change of tact, what the album is about and why he needed to record the sound of a hawk.

You played some live dates in June off the back of the release of the new album, and you’ve always found it problematic to translate your songs to a live setting. How did you get these ones to work live?

Yeah, I suppose it’s quite a daunting task at first, but it’s actually worked really well this time. This new music was written on piano and it’s a lot more melodic than our previous music. You can sit down and play this album from start to finish on a piano so it kind of suits getting reduced down and toned down. We’ve got a seven piece band and they’re awesome: we can work together and make little changes live which is great, too.

Tell me about playing with this sized band on-stage.

Well we've played with all different sizes and this is really the minimum we would place with. When we were touring Hidden we had anything up to 40 people on stage sometimes, but I really enjoy this size band.

Field of Reeds is markedly different from your previous two albums and rather than talk about the difference I’m interested in your process that created these differences. Tell me about your starting point for an album, and how you develop the full record from there.

Yeah people say that and it probably sounds like we start over but it’s a more gradual process than that. It’s like looking at two photographs of someone that are several years apart: they look vastly different together but behind each is a gradual process from which one leads to the other. I think we change more quickly than our band and we always have, I don’t know why that is.

When I write music I just put one note in front of the other and see what happens and this time it came out different. I focussed on tunes and melodies more on this album.

Was there a moment or point of inspiration that led you into this sound?

Um, let me think. I suppose there’s always a point where you write one song and you think “yes this is the right direction”. I remember when I wrote the song 'Nothing Else' I thought that "yes, this makes sense and I want to go in this direction".

I didn't think about this when I was writing, but looking back I think I started at some point writing more from the heart which sounds clichéd but is true. I started drawing on things that were happening to me in life and happen to people as human beings.

It seems like an intrinsic relationship between the lyrics and the music. For example, you took all of the consonants out of some of the lyrics to make them more sparse and therefore suit the music better. Tell me about combining the music and lyrics together to make a whole song.

The music is very easy to me – I write music all the time and I find it a natural process - whereas lyrics I have to work at quite a lot. In alternative music I think you can get away with not really saying anything in particular, but with this album I wanted to mean every line; to mean 100% of the lyrics and mean every sound as well. So I worked at it like a day job from 9-5pm. I’ve always like Japanese writing because it's extremely sparse – it says a lot with very small amount of words, and that’s the direction I was going for.

On top of that you recorded some interesting sounds and some interesting people. Tell me about recording this hawk in the studio.

Yeah I mean it’s funny, a lot has been made of the hawk and I don’t really know why. It’s just a case of us doing what the song demands and if I’m writing a song and I think something can help make the song better I will use that thing - sometimes it’ll be a piano, sometimes a bass, sometimes a hawk. It’s not like we’re going in there saying “oh what’s the craziest sound we can get away with”, it’s just that in that moment in that song that was what it demanded.

It ended up being fairly complicated and several people had to organise it - it’s quite difficult to get hold of a hawk. We approached animal sanctuaries who thought we were mad or thought we were cruel, and the studio wouldn’t let us do it because he was worried about safety. Eventually we found pest control people who had this hawk and yeah, we put it in the studio.

And you recruited a couple of new vocalists: tell me about both the female and male singers on Field of Reeds.

The female vocalist is Elisa Rodrigues. I’d written a lot of the melodies that needed to be sung by a woman, and it was just a matter of finding a singer. I really like the sound of the Portugese language.

Then you’ve got Adrian (Peacock) who sings the low bass. I’d just written songs so low that we had to find someone capable of singing them, and there are only like three people in the United Kingdom who can get that low so we used him.

You collaborate with Daniel Askill for your music videos ('We Want War' and 'Fragment Two') and he references the relationship between human beings and their natural habitat a lot. Is this something you're interested in?

Um, I’m not sure.

OK, well tell me about why you used Daniel Askill for the ‘We Want War’ video and then again for the 'Fragment Two' clip.

We met through Daniel’s brother (Jordan Askill) who also does visual stuff too – jewellery actually. Daniel's stuff had a lot to do with repeating patterns and cycles and a lot of rhythmic stuff. We had phasing rhythms on Hidden and they went really well with that and I really liked his idea: humans diving into water.

It’s a trust thing too and it’s always good when you can trust someone. I trust that he will always make something great and that’s a really valuable thing I think. I like the slowness of his stuff too: it’s sparse, it takes time and rewards attention.

Speaking of rewarding attention, Field of Reeds is an album that demands a lot more from audience and fans than your previous two records have. Do you think about that when you’re writing an album?

No haha. Maybe it should be and maybe we’d make more money if I thought about that more. It’s funny and I know what you mean. I don’t think about it at all when I’m writing music - I’m just focussing on making the best music I can possibly make. I think these days people are often guessing who the audience may be and are writing music based on that but that’s a bit of an insult I reckon. I think you should trust that your audience is intelligent.

You definitely have to put something into Field of Reeds but also I think it is filled with emotions and melodies and in a lot of ways it’s more immediate, too. Our last album was harsh whereas this is slightly more human, and the fact that it’s based around melody and tunes give it a more direct message I think. I don’t know, what do I know, I’m not a critic or anything but that’s what I think.


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