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Tuesday 17th August, 2010 10:01AM

New Zealand’s latest supergroup BARB, tries to tread where few New Zealand supergroups have attempted to tread – by trying to make a decent album. Composed of Lawrence Arabia, Connan Mockasin, Liam Finn, EJ Barnes, and Seamus Ebbs, the group formed while overseas on their respective projects. The resulting project: the mysterious BARB, captures elements of what has made each of the member’s reputation on their solid newly released debut album - catchy melodies, unconventional characters and lyrics, and sun-drenched harmonies.

How did the project come about?

We’d all been hanging out for a while. We’d been talking about it for years, and we’d even done a little bit of mucking around and recording together. And then all of a sudden Liam decided that he was going to book his Dad’s studio and get around to doing it. If it hadn’t been for him being in there and doing stuff I don’t think it would have happened. He’s quite good at doing that, driving stuff and finishing things off – I’m not so good.

Was it a natural link given you guys were all ex-pats making music overseas?

I met Liam and James and EJ – we kept on bumping into each other overseas a lot, it’s not very often that you make good friends with people that easily. I don’t think it was the fact that we were over here [in England], because I wasn’t actually seeing any New Zealanders anyway. They’re probably the only New Zealanders I got to know over here. They just ended up being really neat, and funny – they make me laugh a lot, and would hang out a lot.

Was it a hard thing to organise given your individual schedules?

Yeah it was. But we all had this month free so we just came back for a month. It was nice to record a record in a month. We didn’t know whether it was going to work out or not, but it seemed like a bit of fun, but there was pressure to get something finished paying for a studio and stuff.

Was there a sense of freedom in the project that you may not have in a solo project?

Yeah, you’re not precious about anything. You don’t want to be crap, but you don’t really care how it’s doing. It’s not weighing on you. If it’s going to get criticised, it’s not just you who’s going to be criticised.

Were the roles quite delineated, or was it a bit more loose?

It was just whatever happens really. There wasn’t really any pre-made stuff at all, it was pretty much doing a lot of stuff, going through it and picking out our favourite bits. We kind of just wrote on the spot. It was really easy, there was no stress.

Was there any planning of overall mood, or album direction?

Oh no. No planning at all. We had no idea what it would sound like.

The album is quite funky, and full of harmonies – did writing for a project like this take you out of your comfort zone?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think it was sounding different to what all of us each would have made probably. It was a little bit strange, it’d be like ‘it doesn’t really sound like yours or mine’. Maybe a little bit out of comfort, maybe a slight bit.

The album has come out a bit after the live tour – any reason for the delay?

The live tour was something we decided to do at the end of the recording. We had two days to rehearse each other’s stuff – we were just doing our solo stuff. It was quite separate really. We thought it might be a good way to goodbye before we do something separate. It always take so long for a record to come out. We kinda almost forgot about it, it’s only coming out now a year later or so.

Is it going to be a hard thing to play live?

Yeah I think it will be. I can’t remember how to do…I only just listened to the whole thing yesterday. And I was thinking about and it’s going to take a little bit to try and re-do everything. It’s going to be tricky. I’m going to try and get back sometime in December to maybe do a bit of touring or sometime in the summer in New Zealand anyway.

Were you surprised at how it sounded when you listened to it yesterday?

I’d heard all the music before but I hadn’t heard it completely as a record. I’d heard enough back then but I’d kind of left it alone after we’d finished it. It’s nice to hear it a little bit later and enjoyed it a bit more, which is quite rare because I don’t really enjoy stuff that I’m in.

It’s quite a mysterious project – do you enjoy the anonymity something like this provides?

Oh yeah, like I said before, it’s really relaxing you don’t have any pressure from anyone.

You guys aren’t worried about being seen as the Audioslave of New Zealand indie rock?

I don’t really care. I don’t care what New Zealand thinks – most of them don’t know I exist anyway. It’s not a big one to me.

Will the reputations help in getting the album out?

I really don’t know. I can kind of imagine, I think Liam’s a lot more well-known than anyone else in the group, I’m not sure but if his fans like it, then maybe they might go out and check out the rest, but I don’t really care anyway. It’ll be quite interesting actually. It’s a small tricky place actually, I don’t quite understand it.

How about in terms of your musical writing – do you think this project will help your own projects and songwriting?

It helped, but more the experience of writing with a band. I think I write better when I’m by myself and I think the other guys do too. It’s a tricky one to leave it up to someone else – if you really feel strongly about something, a lot of times we had to let things go. We were thinking if we did another one, we might get one of us to drive the record, take control a little bit. I think you need someone in charge a bit. It was definitely not how we thought it would be.

I was going to say, you guys started in bands, and then made careers as solo artists, and now going back?

Yeah it’s interesting because I’ve never ever been in a band where we’ve written together. I found it really hard. It’s really interesting leaving bits to each other. We’ve got such respect for each other that I think it comes through. You learn not be self-conscious when you need a bit of help and go ‘nah nah I really like that’. In that sort of ways it’s quite helpful. That’s a good point.

Why Leonardo DiCaprio? You didn’t want a more up-to-date heartthrob?

That was something Don wrote which is just a character when I’m with friends, a four year old boy who’s obsessed with heartthrobs. We were in the studio playing around and he just started singing and we kept that whole thing as it was, and I sang over the top of what he had sung. Most of the music we did was made up on the spot. Someone would be singing and we’d go ‘oh yep, we like that’. It was a really easy and prudent way to make a quick record.

The video is a bit strange as well…

I’ve only seen it once. We sort of just email each other and see who can we get to do it. It’s hard when we’re all really busy, and actually be there and have any input into stuff. I think it’s quite strange – you’d go ‘I really liked the bit, the Titanic scene’. I want to use this guy who’s in this short film that I did, Six Dollar Fifty Man, he’s this young boy with blonde hair. But you can’t really do anything when you’re not really there, but I think the Titanic shots looked quite real with a BARB looking woman.

Was it quite a trippy process giving it all to other people to take care of once you’d recorded?

Yeah. It was the only thing to do though. Liam was doing quite a good job trying to get the rest of us involved, but it was really hard – we’ve all got a few projects on the go.

What’s the plan with the album – overseas tours and release?

I don’t know if there’s UK, Europe or Japan, but there’s America, New Zealand, Australia. I don’t actually know, I’m probably the wrong person to talk about it. I think it is a world thing, but I haven’t heard about UK, Europe. I don’t know about a world tour – I think we’ll just keep it to a small New Zealand thing, for now anyway. Maybe a few years down the track - I hope so anyway, it’d be really fun.

Brannavan Gnanalingam